“You saw also the potential of helicopter use also with avalanches?”

(31:54) Oh yeah, oh yeah! Let’s go with that one…Trudeau came to the Rockies. I took Trudeau up to Athabasca. We climbed Athabasca over the Silverhorn Ridge, so we became basically friends. Justin Trudeau and my daughter actually played together in the backyard. I knew Trudeau very well. Then in 1982, the International Commission wanted to come to Canada. So we invited 16 nations to come to Banff to the Banff Centre and they were here for two weeks. There was the ground and mountaineering subcommission, the helicopter subcommission, the medical subcommission, the legal subcommission…an avalanche subcommission, all of them came. We had a heck of a good time except that my office in Calgary, Parks Canada, got scared of the whole thing. They supplied virtually no money, a few thousand bucks. I managed to get from the president of the University of Calgary Medical School and from the Heritage Fund of Alberta, enough money to run the whole conference. But Parks Canada (gave) nothing, pennies…They were scared to death. After it was all over, all of the nations sent letters to the Prime Minister and to Parks Canada and nobody knew how to react, let’s say. So all of this happened and then the Canadians did the first ascent of Everest…(1982). Trudeau’s office phoned me and said, “Come to Ottawa.” “Come to Sussex because I (Trudeau) don’t know what to do with these guys, the mountaineers, and we sat on top of Athabasca so you better come and help me.” I flew down to Ottawa and went to Sussex. I found out that the guy who ran the show there in the house had very good scotch! After a while, the Canadian expedition came in and they were all in their orange suits, all lined up and then (it was) one of the most embarrassing moments in my life! I was sitting at the very far end where the greenhouse was, looking out at the greenhouse. Trudeau walked in, walked by all of these guys, came over to me and said, “Peter, I am so glad that you could make it!” Bill Marsh said to me, “How in the hell did you get here?” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know, but the Prime Minister sent me a note and he phoned and said, “Come and have a scotch with me!” Then we went off to the question period…

(36:50) Well, after that you know I ended up looking after Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island, Cape Breton Highlands, South Moresby, Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Pacific Rim and the Queen Charlottes. Those were the Parks which I worked in and trained all the wardens and set up all of the helicopter rescue systems and purchased all of the equipment for these parks. Well, from one end to the other…

(37:48) But in the meantime, way back, Walter Perren had an agreement with Winnipeg to bring down a motor brigade to look after avalanches in Banff National Park and that didn’t work well at all. They were basically trying to control the Sunshine road and that was just a fiasco. But after Walter died, I did set up a whole bunch of snow research stations, starting with Saskatchewan Crossing and Parker Ridge, all the way down to Sunshine and we started to collect information. During this time Keith (Everts) tried to get a job in Banff National Park. He was working in Rogers Pass at the time and he was travelling back and forth and back and forth. It was a horror show. So I hired him to actually start looking after the Sunshine ski area and a research station which we built up to more than just collecting snow data…Then Keith worked on that. In the meantime, I had had some really, really bad experiences with the motor brigade that came out of Winnipeg because they were overshooting the road which it could have hit motorists landing on the Trans Canada Highway on the other side. I had a big argument with the Commander and I said, “Look, I don’t want to see you here, ever again.” And they left and they never came back again. But in the meantime Eddie Arnman who was a helicopter pilot, had made a small metal box and he filled it up with carbide and a water bottle. He welded it shut and where the water bottle was he made a red cross on it. What he did was he just took his helicopter and flew it to the mountains, bashed the red cross and threw the little thing out and the carbide in it made an explosive reaction. It went “POOF” but it didn’t do too much. So Eddie, being a friend of mine talked about this and we finally came up with the conclusion that we should end up getting some explosives. I went into Calgary and I went into C.I.L. (Canadian Industries Limited). The CEO of C.I.L. in Calgary was a guy who had previously been a mine manager in Peru. I knew Peru very well because by that time I had done a number of expeditions in Peru. We got very friendly and went for lunch. I told him this problem of avalanches and helicopter bombing and he said to me, “Well, you know high explosives you cannot carry in an aircraft, but blasting agents are below that high explosive deal and you can carry them in a helicopter.” So he said, “Do you want to have some low grade explosives?” I said, “Yeah, I would love to!” And he said, “I’ve got two tons sitting in a bunker that are supposed to be blown up because they are outdated and if you want them, you can have them. I will give them to you.” So we had another couple of drinks and the next thing (that happens) is the C.I.L. truck arrives in the Banff compound and the store man goes, “Oh shit, what are you doing?” He said, “I’ve got a present here for Peter!” “What is the present?” “Well, it is two tons of nitron.” It ended up in the powder shed. I got the stuff together made a few more phone calls to C.I.L. to see how to use it and this is how we started helicopter bombing.

“Had they done it also in Europe?”

(44:12) Oh God no! Europe had not done helicopter bombing…what Europe had was…like a chairlift. But they had placed them at the trigger area and they used to run an explosive up to the trigger area which would then drop off a lift and fall into the snow and explode there. But they hadn’t used helicopters. Nor had the Americans. I got stuck with Willi (Pfisterer) in Alta (Utah) for a week. I finally convinced them to get a helicopter and showed them how to do it. This was the first time Alta ever did helicopter bombing. They opened the road again so that we could get out, Willi and I…

peter fuhrmann
Peter Fuhrman at 2009 Warden Centennial Celebration

(45:41) Freddy Schleiss you know was totally against using helicopters in Rogers Pass because you couldn’t fly and you’d have to shoot during the high explosive area time and all of this sort of stuff. (‘Freddy Schleiss and his brother Walter were Avalanche Forecasters at Rogers Pass’.  Peter Schaerer was an Avalanche researcher  with the Dept. Of Public works and was based at Rogers Pass. ‘ Suffield is an Army base’.). But that was alright. What came next was Peter Schaerer arrived at Sunshine with a huge primer cord, which is an explosive cord. He dug a trench into a cornice and then detonated it. He thought that that might be a good idea to pre-plant explosives in avalanche areas. Well, I went to Suffield and I talked to these guys about pre-planted charges and they sent a whole crew down here. We talked about it and we looked at the Sunshine road. What came out of it basically was that they developed a bomb which could be ignited from the ground by the electric charge up on the mountain. But the problem was that these initial bombs were very, very expensive. So what we figured out, and Keith was involved in that as well, and Andy Anderson was, that if we placed different bombs in the avalanche areas and then wired them all to one common detonator which could be charged then by an electric ignition, then these bombs would go off and they would be very cheap. I think this is still what is happening now. Except there is no snow here! So this is how this whole thing developed. Andy Anderson and I went back to Suffield numerous times. We revised the system and redrew plans and everything else of the various areas up at Sunshine. That was what the whole system was about.

(48:35) I came back in 1971 from Mexico . (1971 was one of the heaviest snowfall years on record in the Canadian Rockies.) And I said to Billy Vroom, what have you done as far as bombing is concerned? “Well, the snow is so deep and the hazard is so high and we are so scared, that we haven’t done very much.” The first thing I looked at was the Sunshine parking lot. I had it evacuated and bombed the Goat’s Eye. You know the story, buried 30 cars, knocked two buses over, destroyed the building there and all of this good stuff! Then I gradually went around and bombed the Jasper Highway, the Banff Windermere Highway, and all of the slides that could endanger anything. Halfway through all of this bombing, I was flying with Jim Davies, and a message came over the wire, “STOP ALL BOMBING AND RETURN TO BASE!” This was Gar Meiers, the Assistant Superintendent who came from the east and didn’t have a clue! Jim said to me, “Did you hear anything on the radio?” I said, “No, I didn’t.” He said, “I didn’t either so let’s continue!” So we continued, closed the Park, there was no in and no out. We had a lot of fun! While all this was going on, the backstabbers at the office obviously said, “Well, now is the time to get rid of Fuhrmann.” What they did was they went for a meeting Monday morning at 10:00 at Gar Meiers’ office. There were maybe about six or seven Gar Meiers’ supporters sitting there. But I had phoned my boss Jimmy Sime who asked, “You are in trouble again?” I said, “Yeah, I need some help!” He said, “Well, I am going to bring Jim Raby down with me.” So Jim Raby and Jimmy Sime arrived and we went into this office and here was Gar Meiers sitting with a whole crew and he read all of the destruction which I had caused, the Sunshine road, the Windermere road, the (hwy) 93 up to Jasper, on and on and on it went. When he was finished, Jimmy Sime looked around and he said, “And how many people were killed?” “None!” Jimmy Sime and Jim Raby said, “We did one hell of a good job. Goodbye!” The two of them got up and I followed them out the door and I never heard another word…

(53:36) There was one other funny story though with helicopter bombing. I had come back from (Highway) 93, up in Jasper and I had just bombed with Jay Morton actually. (We bombed) from Parker Ridge all the way down, the Weeping Wall…all the way down, it was huge. The slides were gigantic! When you sit in a helicopter and you have to light the bombs, you have a pull wire lighter, the wax sprays over you and burns holes in your pants. I came back to Banff and I phoned because it was after hours the stores man…Louis Trono. I phoned Louis Trono and he said, “Peter, I am just sitting at supper with my wife and I cannot come now!” “Okay fine!” I phoned the next one and the same story. And I phoned the next guy and he said, “Well, no I can’t come down, I have a problem and da, da, da, da…” I got so angry! I had Bob Wood who was then an Area Manager with me and I had my car. I said, “You know Bob, I am totally utterly fed up! Here I have been flying for close to ten hours. I am full of wax, there are burns in my pants and I have about 150 pounds of explosives sitting here and I don’t know what to do with them? I can’t take them home. We have to put them into the shed.” So we drove up to the shed and I put a chain around the big, big bar that secured the shed. I hooked the chain to my bumper. I backed up and then I flew! There was a huge bang! The door had been ripped open from the powder shed, my bumper was gone. The chain had whipped back and destroyed the back window…so we put the door back on the shed and I took my car over to the garage. I put a note on it, “Please fix. Peter” Then I drove home in my own car! You know what happened the next morning? There was an envelope on my desk in the Administration Building with a key to the powder shed. I never had another problem!

“Did you retire then in 1991?”

(56:23) 1991, yeah.

“In retirement you still keep very busy?”

Well, I was guiding until three years ago. I am doing stained glass now and I am doing a lot of stained glass in sculptures.

“Do you travel?”

Well, I traveled a lot after my retirement to the Dolomites. I did a lot of climbing in the Dolomites. I went to Mexico…I went to Mexico 32 times. I drove down 32 times and back.

(57:19) You know, during the time I worked for Parks Canada, and being a member of the Canadian group, well basically the representative of the International Commission, Willi Pfisterer and I went over to Europe every second year. That went from 1974, until we retired. Every second year we went to Europe to be part of all the different conferences. They were in different countries every year. There were some unbelievable conferences like the helicopter conference at the Eiger where they worked with six hundred foot ropes, cables basically under an Alouette Lama to haul people at a demonstration out of the steepest section of the Eiger north face. At that conference there were 16 nations represented. They had 25 machines of different types there. You wouldn’t believe the information or the knowledge that Willi and I received going to all of these conferences! It was unbelievable…Shortly after I retired I got a letter from Martin Schori, who was the President of the International Commission at the time, a Swiss guy. He was a Swiss General basically. He sent me a letter and he said, “How come Canada quit the International Commission?” So I phoned and Clair Israelson was in my position at the time and he said, “Yeah well, we didn’t see any benefit in it anymore so we told Ottawa to cancel it.” I said, “Clair, you can’t do that.” He said, “You are not working for this outfit anymore, so just forget it and goodbye!” Chretien was Prime Minister and I sent him a hand written two (page) letter and I said, “Canada is the nation that is a total embarrassment now internationally!” I gave him the background and everything and you know what happened? Three weeks later, they sent three guys to Switzerland to Martin Schori. They apologized and reestablished Canada as a member of the International Commission and we still are. I thought, “You idiots, you!” I have gone through politics with Parks Canada starting with Trudeau and the whole gang, I know my way around. I just wrote to Chretien and said, “Prime Minister, this is a horror show! You fix that.” And he did!