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In the Shadow of Ben Nevis

Posted by Nevis Range on 16th February, 2016

Working at Nevis Range, 27 years on, in 2016, it’s all too easy to forget the blood, sweat & tears and the huge amount of effort that went into creating the ski resort and visitor attraction that we all take for granted today.  And as a skier or snowboarder, the history of the slopes you ski, and the wider story about why they were developed, may never cross your mind.  We all love our jobs on the mountain knowing it’s a privilege to work here, so we’re eternally grateful to those that have gone before and especially to ‘Spike’ a key player in the development of Nevis Range, who’s taken the time to pen his story and share with us all.

We’ve had a sneak preview and wanted to share this short extract below.  You can order a copy of the book for yourself from the publishers.

In August I had a note from Doppelmayr to tell me that a low-loader truck, which weighed over sixty tons, was on its way from Austria with the cables for the gondola. The huge truck with a police escort was trundling up the M6 and as I had already sorted out its route with the highway authority all seemed well. The last mile of road to Aonach Mor was an old forestry track with a tiny humpback bridge over the railway line. We had improved the surface and put in passing places but it was hardly adequate for the amount of traffic that we were hoping to attract.

The day before the low-loader arrived I noticed men in yellow jackets and hard hats inspecting the old humpback bridge on the forestry road.

‘Any problem?’ I asked.

‘No, we’re from British Rail, it’s just the annual check on the bridge,’ the foreman replied.

I glanced up and noticed to my horror a sign saying ‘Maximum Load 10 Tons’. I’d passed it almost daily for the past year!

The sixty-ton low-loader had already passed Edinburgh. I fretted all day wondering what to do, there was no other way to go and the load would be here the following morning. I took the coward’s way out, did nothing and didn’t go into work the next day. At lunchtime I drove apprehensively up to Nevis Range expecting the worst. The huge truck was sitting there with a crane lifting off the spools of very heavy cable.

‘Any problems?’ I asked the Austrian driver.

‘Nein problem,’ he said making no mention of the bridge. My heart missed a beat and restarted.

In the Shadow of Ben Nevis – Ian Sykes | Vertebrate Publishing

In 1959, sixteen-year-old Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes left school and, after a short period of work at Leeds University, joined the RAF. Already a keen climber, he signed up on the promise of excitement and adventure and was posted to the remote RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in the north of Scotland. It was the beginning of a journey which would see him involved in some of the most legendary call-outs in Scottish mountain rescue history, including the 1963 New Year tragedy on the Isle of Skye.

In the Shadow of Ben Nevis tells Spike’s story from growing up in Leeds in the aftermath of the Second World War, to his time with the RAF during the cold war. After leaving the RAF, he remained an active member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team and was involved in the first lower down the north face of Ben Nevis – an epic 1,500-foot descent to rescue stricken climbers in the middle of winter.

Following a two-and-a-half-year stint on Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey, he returned to the Highlands and opened the first Nevisport shop with his close friend Ian ‘Suds’ Sutherland. Together, they brought Sunday trading to Fort William and were one of a small number of shops to revolutionise outdoor retail in the UK. Later, he was a key player in the development of the Nevis Range ski area.Over many years, and against all odds, the project became a reality and a great success.

Recounted within these pages are a great many lively tales of adventures and mishaps, told with immediacy and charm. With a foreword by legendary Scottish mountaineer Hamish MacInnes, a close friend of Spike’s, In the Shadow of Ben Nevis is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Scottish mountaineering and mountain rescue.

Join Ian “Spike” Sykes for the official book launch of his fascinating account of forty years of mountain rescue, starting a wee climbing shop and the challenges of building a Scottish ski resort, all in the shadow of The Ben. As a young man he was in the Mountain Rescue Section of the RAF when stationed at Kinloss. He was involved in numerous searches, from crashed planes to demanding civilian rescues.

As a member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team he was involved in many challenging incidents including one in which the team was awarded the bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society for one particularly arduous rescue on Ben Nevis”

“Ian Sykes saw the potential of the Ben Nevis area and had the drive to make it accessible to everyone. In so doing he has enriched millions of people’s lives by making it possible for them to enjoy and take part in mountain culture.” Mike Pescod, Highland Mountain Culture Association.