Mountain guide Helen Sovdat is the recipient of the 2021 Summit of Excellence Award from the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. 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.
Sovdat’s love of the mountains started with explorations from her home in Vancouver. Soon she was helping to pioneer several long ski traverses in the Coast Mountains. She later moved to the Rockies, beginning a long and accomplished guiding career. Sovdat has enjoyed sharing her passion with many people, helping them to develop skills, travel safely, and achieve their goals in the mountains.
Sovdat has proven herself in many of the world’s great ranges. From the St. Elias to the Andes, and the Himalayas, she’s made ascents of Ama Dablam, Manaslu (8,156 m, first Canadian ascent), and Cho Oyu (8,201 m, first Canadian women). In the Canadian Rockies, she’s climbed all 56 11,000-foot peaks.
She was the third woman in North America to earn full certification as an ACMG/IFMGA Mountain Guide. At a time when guiding was dominated by men, Sovdat was determined to show that women could be strong leaders if given the chance. She spent years exploring new and challenging terrain, with guests in tow, refining her guiding skills to a high level. This set her on a course to eventually becoming an instructor for the ACMG Training and Assessment Program.
“Helen Sovdat is an inspiration to women and to a new generation of guides everywhere,” said the Summit of Excellence Award selection committee. “She prides herself on being both encouraging and inclusive. This has made her a much-loved friend and mentor of the mountain community.”
Sovdat has put her guiding skillset to good use, leading expeditions in Canada and abroad, heading up Alpine Club of Canada General Mountaineering Camps, and working for more than three decades as a guide for CMH Heli-Skiing.
Since achieving her accreditation, Sovdat has devoted time to creating opportunities for aspiring guides and leaders to accompany her on mountain trips and ski traverses so that they too can gain experience and learn through her mentorship. She feels that it is important to give back to the mountain community that helped her early in her career.
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 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 2021 Summit of Excellence Award is sponsored by Norseman Outdoor Specialist and Mammut. The award will be presented during the Festival at the Voices of Adventure interview with Steve Swenson on Sunday, Oct. 31, in the Jenny Belzberg theatre.