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Rocky Mountain Books celebrates 40 years of publishing

To celebrate 40 years of mountain storytelling, Rocky Mountain Books will be hosting Rough Draft during the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival – the free social event on Saturday (Nov. 2), is from 5-7 p.m. at the Kinnear Centre on the second floor patio

BANFF – Everyone loves a good mountain tale, but not all stories are told in the same way.

Whether your preference is mountain history, adventure travel, outdoor culture, environmental consciousness, Indigenous studies or contemporary photography, Rocky Mountain Books (RMB) has it ALL. They even offer books for children.

“Everyone at RMB is extremely proud of our history and the authors that we’ve published during the past 40 years,” RMB publisher Don Gorman said.

“The founders of the company built something truly unique and vital in terms of growing and promoting the outdoor and mountain writing community in Western Canada.”

RMB now publishes 20 to 30 non-fiction titles every year relating to mountain culture and outdoor lifestyle, but we all have to start somewhere, and for RMB founders Tony and Gillean Daffern that humble beginning was a single guidebook.

"We had hoped to get the first Kananaskis Trail Guide out for Christmas 1979,” Tony Daffern said, “but in the end it came out in mid-January.

“We sold all 5,000 copies by the beginning of May. A reprint was published early July, another 5,000 and sold very well. We can’t remember if we did a third printing, but probably did.”

A second book followed later in 1980. Waterfall Ice was released in time for the ice climbing season. In 1981, RMB published their first colour book, The Magic of Lake O’Hara.

“At this time, we used the goat logo,” Daffern said. “It was laid out on a Mac Plus computer and was our first foray into digital publishing. The printer, Friesens, was experimenting as well. But we got it out.”

With growing success came an increased workload, and the Dafferns hired their first staff member to work on producing the maps for the second edition of the Kananaskis Trail Guide, which was published in 1985.

More authors and more books eventually led to a staff of five, and the catalogue expanded from guidebooks to include biographies of local outdoor people and large format photography books.

“Our most noteworthy publication during this period was Chic Scott’s Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering,” Daffern said, “which has become a classic and of which we are very proud."

In 2005, Don Gorman took over as publisher at RMB. The University of Victoria grad has been in the Canadian publishing industry for 20 years, but at the time his ideas would require a lot of effort and no small amount of faith that the investment would pay off.

“It was pretty daunting and scary, as there really wasn't much to publish in terms of new material,” Gorman said.

“RMB had a very strong and foundational backlist based on what Tony and Gillean had built, and my vision was to continue with what they had started and grow it in new directions.”

In addition to Gorman, the current team at RMB includes senior editor Joe Wilderson, art director Chyla Cardinal, marketing and publicity manager Jillian van der Geest, Cory Manning in sales, and Grace Gorman in social media, digital marketing and foreign rights.

With over a dozen RMB authors counting themselves as current or former Bow Valley residents, a strong local literary culture has also developed around the company. One of the more prominent of those locals is Bob Sandford.

Robert W. Sandford holds the EPCOR Chair for Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health. His book Our Vanishing Glaciers: The Snows of Yesteryear and the Future Climate of the Mountain West won the Lane Anderson Award for Science Writing in Canada in 2017.

Our Vanishing Glaciers is but one highlight in a collaboration between Sandford and Gorman that goes back to 2007.

“We got into a discussion about how books were so important and how publishing was central to creating a culture commensurate with place,” Sandford said.

“We talked at length about sense of place. We talked about what was happening to place, and I talked to him about the concerns that I had had in terms of what was happening to this community and the loss of its authenticity.

“And the fact that the people who had established the nature and character of this place in many cases could no longer afford to live here.”

The discussion helped shape Sandford’s Weekender Effect, the first in RMB’s 25 book-strong Manifesto Series.

“Those books and authors have been an important part of our expansion and they've allowed us to take the RMB brand into areas that it had never really gone before,” Gorman said.

“The hiking, climbing, travel, and outdoor adventure component of what we do is still the driving force behind RMB and I don't see that changing anytime soon, though we will certainly continue to add new elements to our publishing slate of titles being offered every season.

“We hope to continue being the publisher that western Canadians turn to when they want to tell their story. There are plenty of stories still to tell and plenty of outdoor writers, adventurers, and creators in the Bow Valley that I'm eager to work with.”

What started out as a single guidebook has turned into a prolific, and award-filled, four decades at RMB. In addition to the Lane Anderson Award, RMB authors have taken home the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and the Banff Mountain Book Award in multiple categories.

Including this year’s winner for Climbing Literature, Inner Ranges: An Anthology of Mountain Thoughts and Mountain People, by Geoff Powter.

To celebrate 40 years of mountain storytelling, Rocky Mountain Books will be hosting Rough Draft during the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival. The free social event on Saturday (Nov. 2), is from 5 to 7 p.m. on the Kinnear Centre second floor patio. Drink tickets can be picked up at the RMB booth at the Mountain Marketplace. The RMB mandate is Think Outside, so dressing for the weather is recommended.

Authors will also be making guest appearances at the RMB booth at the Marketplace on Nov. 1-3. New releases, author biographies and a complete list of available titles from RMB can be found at