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Grant Statham to Receive Summit of Excellence

"Fools rely on luck. If you keep doing that, sooner or later your luck may run out, and luck is not something to be relied upon – the better alternative is skill. So get really good at both climbing and risk control"

The Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival has announced in a press release that pioneering mountain guide and avalanche safety specialist, Grant Statham is the recipient of the 2022 Summit of Excellence Award. The Award celebrates long-term contributions, service, and demonstrated impact within the mountain culture community in Canada by an individual or group from across the country.

The press release said that with 35 years of wide-ranging experience in alpine and avalanche risk management and critical incident response, Statham has an extensive background in climbing and skiing, on-the-ground emergency first response, leading the Government of Canada critical incident response actions and private sector consulting for incident investigations, risk assessments, and program risk reviews.

As a young ACMG mountain guide at the age of 24, Statham worked his first 16 years in the outdoor industry ski patrolling, guiding rock, ice and alpine climbing, ski touring, helicopter skiing, expedition climbing, teaching avalanche courses, and working as an avalanche consultant. Beginning in 2003, Statham has been guiding part-time and working for Parks Canada, first as their Avalanche and Mountain Risk Specialist, and since 2013 as a Visitor Safety Specialist where he often has to climb or access extremely difficult routes via a helicopter sling to rescue those in peril.

Statham has taken on the role of post-incident liaison with family members, along with developing first responder mental health programs for Banff National Park. In 2019, Statham was part of a team that led the difficult search and recovery operations on Howse Peak where Jess Roskelley, David Lama, and Hansjörg Auer tragically died attempting a second ascent of the route, M16. For this work he was awarded the CEO’s Award of Excellence by Parks Canada.

Statham is perhaps most recognized as a pioneer and leader in avalanche safety. Following the tragic avalanche deaths of 2003 at Roger’s Pass, he was responsible for conducting Parks Canada’s Backcountry Avalanche Risk Review and he subsequently developed and implemented the polices and regulations around Custodial Groups in the National Parks. At the same time, he led the development of the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale, North American Public Avalanche Danger Scale, Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard, and the AvalX public forecasting system, the main tools and resources still used by avalanche forecasters and in public avalanche bulletins in Canada and worldwide.

Over the past few seasons, Statham has been getting the message out there that ice climbers should carry avalanche gear when in avalanche areas. In an interview with Statham here, we asked him that if he could tell young and old climbers one thing about safety, what would it be? He said:

If you love to climb and plan to do it for your entire life, then your best chance at success is to take the risk seriously and minimize it at every chance. That doesn’t mean eliminate it, or you’ll never climb anything, but in every scenario try to minimize your risk. Why not stack the odds in your favour? Sure you can probably get away with shortcuts if you’re an occasional climber, but that’s just luck. Fools rely on luck. If you keep doing that, sooner or later your luck may run out, and luck is not something to be relied upon – the better alternative is skill. So get really good at both climbing and risk control. Learn about risk and how you can reduce it. Be psyched when you climb something awesome in good style, which includes being light, fast, minimalist . . . and smart.  

Top skier Kylee Toth and Grant Statham at a 2021 ski and climbing event at the Canmore Brewing Company. Photo by Brandon Pullan

Statham also helped found Avalanche Canada, has been an Adjunct Professor since 2016 at Simon Fraser University, and an alpine risk management consultant since 2013. He is the author of dozens of papers, conference proceedings and articles on the subject of avalanches, risk, and snow safety.

Statham continues to work as an avalanche risk advisor with all levels of government and the private sector, having written many consultancy reports in Canada as well as New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and Japan. Statham has written expert reports to legal and investigative teams in military, public and private sector incident investigations. Through all this, Statham has maintained his passion for climbing and skiing and is recognized as a friend and mentor to many.

In fall 2021, he gave a talk for The Bow Valley Mountain Club about a recent study that he was part of that looked at avalanche danger on popular ice routes. We’ll have an in depth look at that study at this winter’s issue of Gripped magazine.

Presented by Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival since 1987, the annual Summit of Excellence Award is presented in memory of Calgary climber Bill March, an internationally respected mountaineer, author, and educator, who led Canada’s first successful Everest climb in 1982. Recent award recipients include Helen Sovdat (2021), Raphael Slawinski (2020), David Smart (2019), Jacques Olek (2018), Don Serl (2017), David P. Jones (2016), Pierre Lemire (2015), Urs Kallen (2014), Ben Gadd (2013), and Geoff Powter (2012).

The 2022 Summit of Excellence Award is sponsored by Norseman Outdoor Specialist and Mammut. The award will be presented during the Festival on Sat., Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jenny Belzberg Theatre.

Enjoy Statham’s story about an ascent of The Wild Thing in the Canadian Rockies below.

Statham on Safety