Ian Sykes: 'unsung hero'

Ian Sykes: 'unsung hero'

An ‘unsung hero’ of the outdoor world has been awarded a top accolade.

Ian Sykes is best known for his push for the development of the Nevis Range facilities on Aonach Mòr. He is also the founder of the Nevisport chain of shops. Today, he was announced as winner of this year’s Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

He will receive his prize on Saturday as part of the Fort William Mountain Festival. Previous winners were Jimmy Marshall, Richard Else and Hamish McInnes.

Mr Sykes, a member of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, was appointed an MBE in 1990 for his services to sport and mountain rescue. A resident of Fort William, he was described by award organisers the Highland Mountain Culture Association as ‘still a relative unsung hero of skiing, mountaineering and mountain rescue in Scotland’.

His chain of Nevisport stores began with a ‘wee climbing shop’ in Fort William and eventually grew into a multi-million pound empire. He and some friends planned the Nevis Range ski centre, which celebrated its 21st anniversary last year.

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.

He also started Nevis Radio and has been an outdoor adventure instructor, a sled dog driver for the British Antarctic Survey, a suspected terrorist in Uruguay and, for many years, a committed climber all over the world, opening up many summer and winter climbs in the UK and South America.

Mike Pescod, chairman of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, said: “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. His twelve years of hard work political lobbying, or ‘warfare’ as Ian likes to call it, that resulted in Nevis Range being set up have helped Lochaber and all of Scotland be recognised across the world as a top class adventure tourism destination for everyone.”

Mr Pescod explained the rationale of the award, which is modelled on the Summit of Excellence Award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival: “To some people the draw of the mountains is so strong that they devote their entire life to them and make a massive contribution to the culture surrounding them in doing so.

“Recognition of their talent and commitment is rarely sought or given and this award is one opportunity to do so. We feel that this award will not only celebrate their achievements and contributions but will also represent the recognition of their peers.

“By awarding one exceptional individual every year we will create a list of ambassadors who will represent the best in mountain culture in Scotland and beyond.

“We believe that the continuing success of the Fort William Mountain Festival, together with an increase in its significance and importance by the annual presentation of this award, will also be reflected in economic and cultural benefits to the people of Scotland, particularly those that are resident in mountain or rural communities.”

Proposed recipients must either be a Scottish citizen, a resident of Scotland or have been a significant contributor in their field to mountain culture within Scotland.

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