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Banff Mountain Book Competition announces 2021 category award winners

By Jess Elliott Posted on October 18, 2021
2021 Book Competition Award Winners with Logo

BANFF, AB, October 19, 2021 – Banff Mountain Book Competition is pleased to announce the 2021 category award winners who will go on to compete for the Grand Prize on November 5 at this year’s Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.

The book competition is an internationally recognized literary competition that celebrates mountain literature in all its forms. Over $20,000 in cash is awarded annually with eight awards: mountain literature (non-fiction), mountain fiction and poetry, mountain environment and natural history, adventure travel, mountain image, guidebooks, mountaineering articles, and climbing literature.

The eight category award winners are selected by our international jury from a longlist of 25 finalists (chosen from a total of 153 book submissions, from authors across 11 countries).

The 2021 Book Competition jury members are Heather Dawe (UK, writer, artist, and founder of Little Peak Press), Bernadette McDonald (CAN, award winning author of 11 books, and former VP of Mountain Culture at Banff Centre), and Pete Takeda (USA, writer, and professional climber).

Category Award Winners

Mountain Literature (non-fiction) – The Jon Whyte Award
$2000 - Sponsored by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Structured Chaos
Victor Saunders, Vertebrate Publishing (UK, 2021)

“In his unique, conversational style, Saunders has taken us on a wonderful journey; sometimes heart-breaking, often hilarious. His observations are surgically precise, his evocative descriptions are skilfully penned and his personal reflections are unstintingly honest. From his early awkward years to his many impressive climbs in the Great Ranges, what stands out above all in Structured Chaos is the value he places on friendship.”

– Bernadette McDonald, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Mountain Fiction & Poetry
$2000 – Sponsored by the Town of Banff
Dammed If You Don’t
Chris Kalman (USA, 2021)

“Kalman’s third book asks a very topical question: Can we love a place to death? Kalman answers this question with a spare quality that evokes a bit of James Salter. His portrayal of a lush, pristine Chilean valley is immediate and profound. His writing is peppered with the intimate details that also bring the characters, their foibles, and struggles to life. Their dilemmas soon become our dilemmas. Perhaps the best thing about Dammed If You Don’t are the plot twists, building to a final scenario that is plausible, disturbing, and strangely uplifting.”

– Pete Takeda, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Mountain Environment and Natural History
$2000 – Sponsored by Canadian Mountain Network
Finding the Mother Tree
Suzanne Simard, Allen Lane Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada (Canada, 2021)

“Simard has proven, without doubt, the power of storytelling in the communication of science. A forest ecologist who is renowned for her breakthrough research into the underground communication of trees, she has brought this mind-boggling world she calls the ‘wood-wild web’ into our minds, and perhaps more importantly, into our hearts. From her childhood, growing up in a logging family in rural British Columbia, to her life as a celebrated scientist battling cancer, she has woven together stories of relationships – both human and ecological – so skilfully that her book reads like one seamless, interconnected tale. In doing so, she bridges the gap between science and emotion in a way that feels more like a call to action: save the forests so that they can, in turn, save us.”

– Bernadette McDonald, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Adventure Travel
$2000 - Sponsored by World Expeditions
Two Trees Make a Forest
Jessica J. Lee, Hamish Hamilton Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada (Canada, 2020)

“Exploring physical and cultural landscapes, this book made us question the meaning of ‘adventure’. Travelling through her ancestry and her family’s roots in Taiwan, Lee seeks and finds her own place amongst the mountains, trees and people of their home. Two Trees Make a Forest is full of evocative descriptions of the land along with a gentle, determined search to find belonging. Lee unravels a complex, ultimately grounding family history during a brave and enlightening journey.”

– Heather Dawe, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Mountain Image
$2000 – Sponsored by Banff Culture Collective
The Great Sea Cliffs of Scotland
Guy Robertson, Scottish Mountaineering Press (UK, 2020)

“The outrageous beauty of Scotland’s sea cliffs had this jury checking weather forecasts and flight schedules to Scotland’s ragged coastline. The spectacular photographs are richly supported by exciting first-hand climbing tales, lyrical natural history prose and some fine poetry from Stuart Campbell. A visual and literary gift.”

– Bernadette McDonald, 2021 Book Competition Jury

$2000 – Sponsored by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides
Irish Peaks
Mountaineering Ireland (Ireland, 2020)

“A wonderful showcase of the rugged beauty of the island of Ireland’s upland landscapes, Irish Peaks made me want to head for these hills. This book combines detailed route guides to the highest 101 mountains with incredible photography and comprehensive guides to their natural and hill-walking history. Ireland is a country where access to the mountains is not a given. Irish Peaks shares the invaluable route knowledge of local experts with the visitor; clearly mapping and explaining established lines into and over the ground. This is an inspirational guidebook that will surely entice many hill-goers to further explore these mountains.”

–  Heather Dawe, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Mountaineering Article
$2000 – Sponsored by Rab
Letters to a Young Climber
Doug Robinson, Alpinist Magazine (USA, June 2021)

“A thoughtful meditation on the power of mentorship. A legendary climber and guide for most of his years, Robinson draws on personal history to show us what mentorship is. He reminds us that the ever-evolving process extends beyond a climber’s personal ambitions—into something more meaningful. Through sharing and teaching, climbing becomes a potent vehicle for growth, one that adapts as our world changes.”

– Pete Takeda, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Climbing Literature
$2000 – Sponsored by Mountain Life
A Feeling for Rock
Sarah-Jane Dobner, Dob Dob Dob (UK, 2021)

“A Feeling For Rock is a unique take on climbing. The sensuality of movement on the rock, the feelings for place, of sea-cliffs, gritstone and mountain crags. Dobner explores in fresh ways and is not afraid to question perceived norms. Provocative pieces, climber interviews and cartoons sit alongside poetry, prose and photography that show and describe the beauty she sees and feels in the rock landscapes around her. Dobner makes this eclectic mix work, binding it together with her love for the climbing life.”

– Heather Dawe, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Special Jury Mention
More than It Hurts: And Other Stories of (Mis)Adventure by Womxn Who Climb and Mountaineer
Wendy Bruere, Climb and Wine (Australia, 2020)

“More Than It Hurts is in a class of its own—a compilation of fourteen climbing stories by women who climb and mountaineer. In these pages one discovers: a deeper acknowledgment of fear and joy; discussions about identity and dysphoria; climbing’s power to nurture the love for nature and for others; and how the vertical world can foster the peculiar courage required for personal growth. This is an important book, selected and edited to, “celebrate a broader and more diverse range of adventures on rock and in the mountains.” Each story is a refreshing reimagining of the climbing narrative.”

– Pete Takeda, 2021 Book Competition Jury

Grand Prize – the Phyllis and Don Munday Award
$4000 – Sponsored by the Alpine Club of Canada
The shortlist of category award winners above are eligible for the Grand Prize. The Grand Prize will be announced Friday November 5, 2021.

Authors in attendance at this year’s Festival include Steve Swenson (Karakoram: Climbing Through the Kashmir Conflict) interviewed by author Geoff Powter, Angie Abdou (This One Wild Life), Kevin Van Tighem (Wild Roses Are Worth It), and virtual attendance by Victor Saunders (Structured Chaos), and Chic Scott (Mount Assiniboine: The Story).

The 46th annual Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival will take place this year as a hybrid event from October 30 to November 7, 2021. The Festival will be a mix of select in-person live events complemented by a robust online film program. For more information and to view the live and virtual schedule, please visit

If you’d like to provide media coverage of the 2021 Festival, please submit a media accreditation application form

For more information or image requests, please contact:

Jess Elliott
Media and Communications
Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival
107 Tunnel Mountain Drive
Banff, Alberta
T1L 1H5        

About Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival: Created 46 years ago, Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival has become the premier event of its kind in the world. The nine-day Festival hosted by Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Banff, Canada, showcases the world’s best films, books and photographs on mountain subjects – climbing, culture, environment and natural history, exploration and adventure, wildlife, and sport – and attracts the biggest names in mountaineering, adventure filmmaking, and explorers as presenters and speakers. International juries will also award over $40,000 in prizes for films and books submitted to this year’s Festival competitions.

Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival Partners: The 2021 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival Presenting Partners are: Rab, Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, and BUFF®. The Festival is also sponsored by Oboz Footwear, Yeti, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Doña Paula, World Expeditions, Kicking Horse Coffee, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Summer Gondola, and Lowe Alpine.

About Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity: Founded in 1933, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a learning organization built upon an extraordinary legacy of excellence in artistic and creative development. What started as a single course in drama has grown to become the global organization leading in arts, culture, and creativity across dozens of disciplines. From our home on Treaty 7 territory in the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity aims to inspire everyone who attends our campus – artists, leaders, and thinkers – to unleash their creative potential and realize their unique contribution to society through cross-disciplinary learning opportunities, world-class performances, and public outreach.