As the story goes, it’s a good thing that the creator of heli-skiing wasn’t climbing Mt. Assiniboine around the time that his second son was born.
Robson Gmoser, named after the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak, was born on June 20, 1969 to Margaret and heli-skiing pioneer Hans, who founded Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) and fuelled an industry that continues to draw adventurers from the world over.
And that’s exactly what Gmoser was right up until his Mar. 10 death.
“He was just always up for an adventure. Everything was an adventure,” recalled Gmoser’s cousin, Natalie Renner.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise given that he grew up in part at CMH’s lodge in the Bugaboos surrounded by breathtaking scenery and plenty of strangers, but adventurous strangers.
“Robson was up there lots as a kid and growing up with the guests,” said Gmoser’s longtime friend and ski guide partner Tom Raudaschl.
“He grew up at the lodge with strangers all around him and so did I, I grew up in the hotel business…I really like people and so did Robson,” he added.
That upbringing appears to have had an impact on two aspects of Gmoser’s adventure-filled life.
He pursued a career as a mountain guide but he also became an exceptionally outgoing, friendly individual who was everyone’s best friend.
“If you were a total stranger, in about five minutes you’d be captivated by him. He was just an open, welcoming person…it didn’t matter if you had nothing in common. He was so good at finding whatever it was to connect people,” Renner said.
Combine that personality with what Raudaschl calls a deep, distinct belly laugh, and it’s easy to see why so many people were drawn to Gmoser.
“We always joked that he doesn’t need to ski with a transceiver because if he gets buried we’d hear him laughing,” Raudaschl said.
Raudaschl met a young Gmoser not long after the former moved to Canada in the late 1980s to work for Hans and CMH.
Later, the pair began guiding together in 1999 out of the Battle Abbey lodge, situated a 15 min helicopter ride southwest of Golden.
Raudaschl, Gmoser and cook Hannelore Achenbach formed a sort of backcountry power trio, providing guests with an experience that led to countless repeat visits.
One of Raudaschl and Gmoser’s running jokes was to speak to each other using a variety of languages and accents, with both men able to speak French, German and Spanish.
“We always had a good time playing off each other and the guests liked that,” Raudaschl said. “We weren’t always herding them…when we saw they were quite competent in the mountains we’d let them pick their own lines or we’d take a run and tell them to meet at the bottom.”
The pair continued to work together through this season – Raudaschl says they spent over 50 weeks guiding together over the years – and butted heads on remarkably few occasions.
“We always agreed on where to go and what to ski or if we didn’t we’d work it out,” he said. “On other teams you’d (need) lots of discussion about certain things…with Robson that was never the case.”
Raudaschl was guiding with Gmoser on that fateful day on Mar. 10 when an avalanche buried and killed him.
Early in the afternoon, Gmoser took two guests back to the lodge while Raudaschl completed the last few runs of the day with the remaining party. Gmoser took advantage of the extra time to venture out and begin scouting locations for the following day with practicum guide Darren Vonk. The pair explored one potentially troublesome traverse not far from the lodge, with hopes that the conditions would make it skiable.
“It’s kind of a place you don’t want to go just blind with a group…you have to fix it up a bit,” Raudaschl said.
The area was pretty much set up when Vonk checked in with Gmoser over the radio and didn’t receive a response. After further messages went unreturned, Vonk initiated a rescue operation.
Sorcerer Lodge owner Tannis Dakin was immediately placing calls from her home as Vonk worked to locate Gmoser and begin digging.
The response from Great Canadian Helicopters was swift, with Rob Darlinghouse and Chucky Gerrard among the crew on board.
Meanwhile, Vonk found Gmoser’s body and immediately began his attempts to revive him.
“Darren did everything right. He probed, he dug, he uncovered his chest and face and he was already doing compressions and CPR before anyone else arrived,” Raudaschl said.
Several doctors were among the guests at Sorcerer Lodge that day and were brought to the scene once Gmoser’s body was located. Their numerous attempts for a revival failed and Gmoser was taken to Golden hospital and pronounced dead shortly after.
That night Raudaschl and the rest of the guests and staff at Sorcerer Lodge stayed up most of the night trading stories about the beloved guide.
Beyond his expertise in the mountains, it will be that distinct laugh and fun-loving personality that will ensure that the memories of Gmoser live on.
Raudaschl recalls one incident that defines how laid back his friend and colleague really was.
During a run through some trees, the antenna of Gmoser’s radio came right up and into his nostril, causing a nose bleed.
“When he came out of the trees at the bottom of the valley, there was blood everywhere and he was laughing and laughing…he looked like a crazy guy with this funny laugh…he laughed about everything,” Raudaschl remembered.
Gmoser split much of his time between Canmore and Golden (he had houses in both and lived full-time at his Mt. Seven lodge in the past), but wherever Gmoser happened to be, there was sure to be plenty of people around as well.
“The thing about his place (in Golden)… is that it was such a hub for a lot of people, you’d go up there and he’d be having a barbecue or making a pizza in a little stone oven and there was always people around. If you knew Robson was around you’d just want to go up there and hang out…it’s hard to have him gone,” Renner said.
In addition to his many friends, Gmoser leaves behind his wife Olivia and their three-year old son Max, who has already begun to feel his way around the slopes.
“Robson had a child-like wonder of the world. I think he was able to share that with Max really well, like two buddies,” Renner said.
Mountain guides are all too aware of the risks they take in their line of work. It’s something that Raudaschl and Gmoser discussed often and it influenced their decisions on a daily basis.
“That’s always inherent, that’s always there. You try to do your best and probably 999 times of 1000 your decisions are good and one is not so good,” Raudaschl said.
Maybe that’s why Hans wasn’t keen for his son to follow in his line of work.
“His dad never encouraged the boys to be guides, he actually discouraged them because there are those sad moments,” Raudaschl said.
But for a man who shares his name with a 3,953m high mountain and grew up in the Bugaboos, what other career path could he really have taken?
Truly, if ever there was a man that was born to spend his life in the mountains, amongst the beauty of this vast wilderness, that man was Robson Gmoser.