Eighty-one kilometers west of Calgary sits the small town of Canmore, Alberta. The town rests in the valley of the Alberta Rockies, at the corner of Banff National Park. It is the home of just 14,000 people. One of these locals is Lynn Martel, a writer, photographer, and glacier storyteller. In November, Martel released her latest book Stories of Ice: Adventure, Commerce, and Creativity on Canada’s Glaciers.
The book is a testament to Martel’s local community. The stories reflect the diversity of the people interacting with glaciers. She details the journey of mother and daughter Martina and Tania, who skied the harrowing Coast Mountain traverse in 2017. She highlights the unique style of professional glacier photographer Paul Zizka, and the ice core measurements of glaciologist Alison Criscitiello at the Canadian Ice Core Lab. Each story is woven together with vivid images — including photos by Martel and other local photographers — that help the reader to feel the wonder of the glaciers, and make the remote wilderness seem immediate.
Martel is no stranger to writing about mountains or glaciers. She has written about mountain adventurers and researchers in 13 previous books. She studied creative writing at Concordia University, but considers the past 40 years living in her mountain community as her greatest education.
Throughout her writing career, she has also written for many outdoor magazines and newspapers, including her local paper, Rocky Mountain Outlook, for the last 18 years. She was a featured writer for the Banff Mountain Film Festival this year. She often tells the stories of other mountain and glacier experts, though she is an expert in her own right — Martel spends summers as a hiking guide, and enjoys backcountry skiing, rock climbing, hiking, and simply getting outside whenever she can.
Releasing a book during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, so Martel was not able to hold the launch that she had planned. However, the launch itself was a reflection of the stories in her book — she hosted a socially distanced outdoor party in the snow.
This book has been well-received by glacier enthusiasts and environmentalists all over the world. It is also a bestseller in Canmore’s local bookstore, where Martel notes that it is displayed proudly on the shelf next to Barack Obama’s new book.
Lynn Martel recently spoke with GlacierHub writer Abby Meola about her inspirations, writing process, and hopes for the future.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
GlacierHub: What was your original interest in this region?
Lynn Martel: I have lived in the Rockies for going on 40 years. My life has really been in the mountains for a long time. In our community, we are out in the wilderness every weekend — it’s what we do. Living in this area for all this time, I am endlessly inspired to write about my surroundings.
When did you start writing about glaciers?
I started writing about my mountain world and community because this neighborhood is full of really interesting, highly accomplished people — adventurers and athletes, scientists and artists and writers. Somebody is always involved in some interesting project or adventure that I think is worth sharing. Through years of going out with people from my community from mountain guides to glaciologists, I learned many different ways to think about glaciers.
Your book weaves photographs into the stories. Why did you choose to include so many images?
Well…my publisher let me! I had seen other glacier books, and often the photos are taken from above the glacier, not from the ground. I wanted to show glaciers in every scenario as I live them, even on stormy days, so that I could capture the many moods. I hope people can read my book and imagine a landscape that they know nothing about, and I think the photos will help them to do that. And some of them are just darn pretty!
Who do you hope will read this book?
So far, I have found that people who are already connected to glaciers in some way are very excited about [Stories of Ice]. I also hope that anyone who is curious about our natural world will find their way to the book, because I think it explains how the natural world is part of our lives. Nature is keeping us alive, even when we don’t know it.
Glaciers are relevant to all of us. Even in New York City, it may be removed from glaciers now, but evidence shows that it was once glaciated. Everyone is connected to glaciers in some way, but may not realize it if they don’t interact with glaciers in their life or work.
This is a storybook about glaciers, so anyone can learn from it no matter their starting place — from the most seasoned mountain guide to someone who has never stepped foot on a glacier.
How does this storybook relate to other glacier storytelling in the past? How did other books or films about glaciers influence yours?
Some of them really inspire me. I am at an age where I couldn’t think about traveling across a glacier for five months, but I just love to read stories about it. There are not many people in the world who have done something like that, so it is fascinating to hear accounts. [Other glacier stories] also inspire me to get involved in conservation efforts, which I have been doing more over the years.
Stories of Ice explores glaciers from many angles — art, science, industry. How did you decide what avenues to explore? What didn’t make the cut?
As a writer that is always the challenge: deciding what to leave out. When I turned in the manuscript it was 20,000 words too long, and I knew that. In reality I had the very start of this book from articles that I had written over the years, and they were structured into different categories: art, commerce, science, and so on. And then I went digging to fill in the holes and pursued stories I had heard about years ago and never had the chance to explore. And reading. I have been reading my whole life.
So, you had this whole set of stories, when did you start to shape it into a book?
I have to give a big credit to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. I have been involved in many different ways over the years, as a volunteer or a journalist. They have a Mountain and Wilderness Writing Program. I applied for it with this project in mind in 2017. Up until that point, the book was a big idea that I had only worked on here and there. This program changed that — when I left at the end, I had a much clearer picture of how to continue. It is not often that we get the chance to work for three weeks without the distractions of life. As a writer, that was a huge gift.
I also have gratitude for my partner, who helped to support us while I was working on this project.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I am promoting the book as much as I can despite COVID. As a backcountry skier, you learn to watch the weather and shift your plans based on the paths that you can and can’t travel. That is what I am trying to do with the book. I may not be able to do the speaking engagements that I would like, but this is challenging my creativity to think of how to get these stories out there.
I am giving a Zoom talk at the Vancouver Public Library in February, and I hope to give more presentations, hopefully one day back onstage.
What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Our natural world is so full of miracles and wonder. We really need to put more effort into protecting it. Gosh, it seems so simple. But not everyone gets to be in touch with their surroundings. I hope this inspires people to protect our natural landscapes, because we do not have enough left.
Stories of Ice is now available through Rocky Mountain Books.