Media release: Top Scottish honours for master of mountain sport, Ian Sykes

TODAY (10/02/11), Ian Sykes MBE, a ‘true architect’ of Scottish skiing and mountain sport, becomes the fourth recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

This prestigious annual award recognizes and celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of one inspiring individual and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s mountains, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

It was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, and is sponsored by Rio Tinto Alcan through the Scottish Community Foundation.

Previous winners include: Jimmy Marshall (2010), Richard Else (2009) and Dr. Hamish McInnes (2008).

Although he was awarded an MBE in 1990 for services to sport and mountain rescue Ian Sykes, from Fort William in the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’, is still a relative unsung hero of skiing, mountaineering and mountain rescue in Scotland.

In 1970, Sykes opened a ‘wee climbing shop’ in Fort William, Nevisport, which was, for many years, the hub of all outdoor activities in Lochaber.

Over the next 30 years under Sykes’ control, this one shop grew to a national chain of 13 shops with a turnover of more than 12 million pounds; a brand that took the Nevis name right across the UK.

It was during this period that his passion for skiing saw him team up with friends to plan, build and open the Nevis Range ski centre on Aonach Mor, near Fort William.

Arguably the most successful ski area in Scotland, Nevis Range celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2010 and continues to be a major tourist destination and local employer in the Highlands and Islands.

In recent years, the Nevis Range has diversified into a year-round mountain activity resort and is the host of national and international mountain bike and motorcycle trials events that have brought millions of pounds to the local and Scottish economies.

Nevis Range and its top-class mountain biking facilities and events has also been instrumental in Scotland achieving Global Superstar status from the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).

Sykes was also a Mountain Rescue Team member for many years. Initially 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.

The team were awarded the bronze medal from the Royal Humane Society for one particularly arduous rescue on Ben Nevis.

Ian Sykes has also turned his hand to radio.

In 1992, he started Nevis Radio, formerly known as SkiFM, a ski weather and information station, that is now a successful community radio station with thousands of listeners across Lochaber.

He 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 and passionate climber all over the world, opening up many summer and winter climbs in the UK and South America.

Mike Pescod, chair of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, 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 12 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.”

Ian Sykes will be presented with his award on Saturday 12 February 2011 at the Nevis Centre, Fort William, by 2010 winner, Richard Else, after the showing of a short film that includes still photographic highlights of his lifetime achievements and testimonials from his peers and friends.

A spokesperson from Rio Tinto Alcan said: “We are very proud to sponsor the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture through the Scottish Community Foundation.

“The ethos of this award fits well with Rio Tinto Alcan’s business culture and our drive for sustainable operations within this spectacular mountain environment.”

For full details of the Fort William Mountain Festival programme and to book tickets go to –


Media contact:

Paddy Cuthbert | Podge Publicity | M: 07968699636 | e:

Notes for editors:

The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture

Mike Pescod, chair of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, said: “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.”

The idea for the award has been modelled on ‘The Summit of Excellence Award’ introduced at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 1987 and awarded to an individual who has made a significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies.

In rewarding the best of the best contributors to mountain culture nominees are required to fill at least two of the following four criteria:

* Has promoted mountain culture over a sustained period of time and not less than five years. This promotion can take the form of outdoor enthusiast / writer / rescuer / artist / photographer / musician or any combination of the above

* Has encouraged and/or educated others to engage and indulge in mountain culture in either physical / artistic or musical methods

* Is or has been inspired by mountain culture and support it in all its various forms
Has ‘achieved’ within their own field of mountain culture and excellence

The prestigious Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture has its integrity ensured by a further set of criteria. Potential recipients should:

* Have inspired others in their particular field and beyond within the scope of Scottish mountain culture

* Have influenced at a national/international level.

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.

The Fort William Mountain Festival, presented by the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’, runs from Friday 11 to Tuesday 15 February 2011 –

Festival information:
Tel: E:
Book tickets:
Online – .
Ticket office – Nevis Centre, An Aird, Fort William
Phone – 01397 700 707
Concessions for under-16s only.

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Contact: Paddy Cuthbert