Backcountry 2014 – 2015

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Thanks to Alf Skrastins for the introduction and suggestions:

Here are a few suggestions for ungroomed trails that can be OK for XC touring skis:

-The Telephone Loop at West Bragg Creek.

-Highway #66, past the gates at Elbow Falls and up to the Rainy Pass area

-The Eagle Hill trail at Sibbald Lake along Hwy #68

The three trails listed above are in the foothills and are best between late December and mid-March, when enough snow has fallen along the eastern side of the Rockies. Use the West Bragg Creek trail reports as a guideline.

The following trails are in the Kananaskis Lakes and Smith-Dorrien valley areas. They typically get a lot of snow. These trails are free from avalanche risk. -Hwy #40, south of the Kananaskis Lakes turn-off. This used to be trackset at one time.

-The Smith-Dorrien trails between Sawmill Day Use area and Chester Day Use area. These trails used to be groomed, but have not been maintained for several years. The ones that are in better shape (less little trees and deadfall) will hopefully be signed as snowshoe trails this winter.

-The Burstall Pass Trail to Burstall Flats.

-The Chester Lake Loop

-The Rummel Lake trail

-The old logging road that runs between the Mt. Shark road near Engadine Lodge and Commonwealth Creek.

In Banff Natiional Park, there are several trails that can be good.

-Boom Lake trail is signed as an ungroomed XC trail, but it also gets a lot of snowshoe traffic.

-Healy Pass is a favorite of mine, but you’ll need a good snowplow on some of the hills. I prefer wider skis for this one.

-Taylor Lake and Tower Lake trails are also used as touring trails by folks on XC ski gear, but they both gain a lot of elevation and require nearly constant snowplowing on the way down. I prefer to use wider backcountry skis for these two trails.



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    Skiing in June, on the glacier!
    We got up Mount Gordon and Vulture Col:
    Excellent spring touring conditions.

  2. Sunshine Meadows Spring Bonus!

    Monday 18th May: arrived at parking lot 8:30 am, not busy, parked in third row, had to go through security to get to gondola?? No real queue, quite efficient.
    Sunshine Village: 9:30 am, very quiet, no queues, two complete noobs on Strawberry Chair = us 🙂
    “Snow” at top quite rock-hard ice, challenging, but we discovered a skate-skiing training camp with a substantial groomed loop up in the meadows and plenty of cheerful skate skiers, many going off track to explore and having a blast.
    By 10 am sun very high, top of crust beginning to soften slightly. We headed up Quartz Hill (lower) in spite of sketchy snow cover. It proved mostly sufficient.
    By noon, we were starting to suddenly sink in here and there, and returned to the downhill slopes via the skating loop. Culture shock! The slopes were crowded with crazy skiers and boarders, and then we encountered the Slush Cup……
    Managed to escape before 2 pm, found parking lot jam packed, and beat the holiday Monday rush — phew!
    We hadn’t been to Sunshine to ski since 1986, and were very nervous about going, but we survived and had quite an interesting day 🙂

    I hope that link works??

    • The link works fine. Very nice photo account of what looked to be a splendid day. Just enough snow on Quartz Hill.
      The thought of two ski tourers winding their way down past the Slush Cup crowd makes me laugh.

    There is still good skiing out there! Sunday was a fine day for a tour of North and South Burstall Pass. There was a nice firm base and a bit of fresh powder on top.
    Several skate skiers were also enjoying the smooth, fast condition on Mud Lake, the Hogarth Lake Trail and the Burstall Flats areas. The key is to check that there was a solid overnight freeze and to ski early enough that the heat of the day does not break down the crust.

    • As I was hunched over digging flagstones in the garden I glanced up at the puffy cumulus clouds moving by swiftly on a west strong wind, and for a brief moment I was taken away in time and space, where I smelled the high alpine air and caught a glimpse of your ski tracks below Whistling Ridge -)

      Great day at Burstall Pass !

    • Stunning and inspiring as usual!
      I did a tour of Mud Lake and Hogarth Lakes on Monday (for the first time!) and had a lovely time 🙂
      I would also like to add that the south Smith-Dorrien road is in surprisingly good shape for April – dry and relatively smooth!

  4. Narao Shoulder (April 15, 2015)

    After hearing that the north-facing slopes leading to Narao Peak were in good shape on Sunday, Elisabeth and I headed out for another day in Paradise. We hit the trail to Lake O’Hara at 8:15 with the mercury sitting at -8C. All day long, but for a few moments at the top of our runs, we were protected from wind and enjoyed pleasant temperatures hovering around the freezing mark with bluebird skies. Our first run down (after a 450 m climb) was through tight trees and I didn’t like it at all, even though the snow was lovely. Not satisfied, Elisabeth broke trail to a high point further along the northwest side of Narao where, after another 400 m gain (hard for an ol’ man with only 4 hrs sleep but not an issue for my Energizer ski buddy) we found a gorgeous open slope. While I rested, Elisabeth did two runs and then I went up. Wow! All the way back to the road, we had nice snow, though it was a bit warm and sticking to skis lower down. If the temperature stays cold at night, it should be good for a few more days.

  5. The Easter bunny left a nice fluffy present for skiers, and I suspected that the track skiing would be good at the south end of PLPP.
    But…..April powder is fleeting, and with 20-25 cm at treeline elevations- the decision was easy. My brother Andrew and I, along with 11 others in the area, skied the Pig’s Back loop in the Spray Valley on Sunday, finding excellent ski conditions at the tail end of a season where good backcountry skiing in K-Country has been elusive. The new snow stayed dry and free of wind affect at upper elevations, but at day’s end was moist in exposed areas at valley bottom.
    A handful of pix, best viewed as “Slideshow”.

  6. Assiniboine March 8 – 11

    Yes, at last, the long awaited report from Assiniboine! I took 500 photos, now winnowed down to 60 which is probably still too many…….

    Day 1: It was a spectacular day to fly from Mt. Shark. I took many photos, but window reflections ruined most of them, so only posted a few here. The flight is only a few minutes, but breath-taking all the way. My first helicopter ride, too, very exciting!
    That afternoon, after an introduction to our avalanche gear, we were taken on our first short ski tour. We were surprised to find that we were guided everywhere, which led us to many adventures we would never have had on our own. Divided into two groups: cross-country (us), and Alpine touring (high tech!), each group with its own guide. Our first tour was toward Naiset Point, down through trees and moraine to Lake Magog and back, with some unexpected bushwacking and other challenges!
    It was a very hot, sunny day, which, combined with wild winds later, did the snow no favours. It became very crusty, and the trails quite icy, with only a few pockets of powder left in the most sheltered spots. The situation did not improve while we were there, so the Alpine group did not get all the lovely “turns” they were hoping for, but we all had some spectacular tours. The guides did their best to find the best snow conditions for us. Our half (kicker) skins were invaluable; we wore them most of the time!
    Also, just watching the clouds and light changing on Mt. Assiniboine was quite fascinating, and I have included a few pictures of that!
    Day 2: Tour to Og Lake, going out the high route up and down what seem to be called the Jones Benches, with some fantastic views, and returning up the valley and against the wind! The cloudy conditions were a bit of a relief after the brutal sun of yesterday, but the wind did get wild.
    Day 3: Another clear day, superb for a spectacular tour to Wonder Pass and the lovely benches to the east. We climbed a fair bit up from the pass, finding crusty snow made for some challenging descents, and found gentle traverses where possible. We did not see any animals, but found some tracks which our guide thought were very fresh wolverine tracks, and lots of pine marten tracks too.
    Day 4: We had planned to ski out, but conditions had deteriorated too badly, so we paid the big bucks to take the helicopter back to Mt. Shark. Before leaving, apparently I was the only one still interested in skiing, so I had a guide all to myself! With only an hour, we did a similar tour to that on day 1, finding a different route, and a tiny bit of powder well buried in the trees!
    The helicopter took off, circled around, and surprised us by landing again! So maybe none of us really wanted to leave?? But no, apparently there was something amiss, so probably good that someone noticed and fixed it. We took off again, and this time headed to Mt. Shark, where we arrived safely back at the helipad.
    That was a great adventure, and the staff at the lodge were absolutely wonderful. We all want to go back!


    • GREAT JOB Diana, not only on the excellent details of snow conditions and your various guided tours, but of your photo display. Am guessing this was some special birthday gift ? of rather, like me, something you’ve had on the To Do list for a long while? Now you are ready for Norway hut to hut ski touring with DNT!!! I never took my skins off there as I was too chicken in the hard snow/ice /wind swept conditions.

      • Thank you, Helen, you are most kind. Yes, I have wanted to do something like this for several decades, and this is a special anniversary. I would love to go to Norway! Have you been? What is DNT??

        • I know that from Stryn, you can go over the Jostedal glacier. There is a hut on the other side of the glacier where you can spend the night, and then descend the next day. The hiking/skiing club in Stryn are a great bunch of people. When I visited (31 years ago !) I saw their ad in the window of one of the shops. Soon after, I met a lot of great people who love the outdoors as much as we do. Of course, having learned to telemark at a modest level in Calgary, I had to show off to the Norwegians, and it was sort of like bringing coals to Newcastle. But the descent slope was quite moderate, and one could have zig-zagged down the glacier too. Light touring gear is a minimum, of course.
          Not sure what DNT is. A tour group perhaps?

          • DNT is Norwegian translation for Norwegian Trekking Association. This is their home page. They run summer and winter trips and leaders are often very experienced DNT volunteers who get their huts/food paid for by leading a group. There are more huts in Norway than you could possibly believe and they are rated on 3 levels -see map on home page. SkiTrips are rated by # ski poles and we did a 3-4 level trip a few years ago starting at Finse (the highest railway stop in the country). We went late March but global warming is affecting snow in Europe so would not go so late again. Our itinerary had to be altered by our guides on a few occasions because the huge lakes one skis across were melting. I went with a girlfriend and it “stretched me a little” as the conditions were very challenging. I was the first person, I am positive, who showed up with a pr of snowshoes as my “backup plan” and used them on more than one occasion. Well worth looking into for the next big anniversary or birthday Diana !!!
            p.s. thanks for update on Legacy Trail. Took my bike out today for the first time and that will almost surely guarantee a big dump of snow within 48 hrs.

            • Well, now I have to go and get a good map of Norway. That all sounds very intriguing!
              Now I am eagerly awaiting the big dump of snow…….

        • Diana, my visit to Norway was in June (’84 !). I dusted off some old photos and hope that they will help entice you to go!

          • Oh, yes!!!!!! Henry, those pictures are fantastic! You must have scanned them all? And the sun always shines….. Photo #12 looks downright dangerous!
            Thank you 🙂

            • Well, I have to thank you for the wonderful photos and story from Assiniboine, which started this thread. That’s a place I want to experience one day!

    • Amazing pictures and wonderful story DIANA… Congratulations!
      We just got back from a 3 day trip, which only got us HALF WAY there. Erling Strom built the original “Half Way” cabin for his supply trips from Banff to Assiniboine. We were lucky enough to be asked by Parks Canada to do a survey of wildlife occupancy in the area, and we were allowed to stay in their warden cabin as volunteers. Here are a few photos:
      While we had to walk the first part, we eventually got to ski and record plenty of wildlife tracks. Travel conditions on the snow were actually excellent given all the recent freeze thaw cycles.

    • Very nice! My wife has the same “wood grained” skis and I have the same Osprey bag!

  7. March 18 – Skied out from an amazing few days in the Assiniboine region. It’s still a winter wonderland up there and the lodge generally still has availability. If you’re looking to get in a backcountry trip before the end of the season, I highly recommend it! Great for both light touring and AT.

    Skied the Watridge Lake trail on the way out. Mt. Shark trails are covered with a few cm of wet, heavy slush from Sunday’s snowfall. The area is skiable but I wouldn’t recommend it.

    Maybe it was LUCK OF THE IRISH, but we had lovely day up in Lake Louise today:
    Travel conditions were excellent as temperatures here have been steadily below freezing for a while. A great opportunity to explore this valley, not only for the spectacular views, but also to witness how it is home for so much wildlife.

    Views, Views and more Magnificent Views.
    This is the season for easy travel conditions in the higher backcountry.
    Take this well travelled route up… and enjoy these views:
    A little fresh snow on a solid snowpack makes this area particularly enjoyable right now!

  10. For many backcountry skiers, the highlight of the ski season is a week spent at one of the remote lodges scattered throughout the mountains of British Columbia. Usually located near treeline and accessed via helicopter or snowcat, they offer a comfortable base amidst terrain selected for good skiing and abundant snowfall.
    Jo and I have felt blessed to spend a couple of weeks each season as custodians at the Campbell Icefield Chalet, located northwest of Golden at the head of Bluewater Creek. As well as the fine skiing, we have enjoyed meeting skiers from all over North America, some who have become good friends. It was with just such a group of friends met at Campbell that we spent the week of February 21-28 with.
    Lucking out with the weather- we enjoyed mostly bluebird skies, mild temperatures and light winds. While only 5 cm of snow fell during our stay, a refreshing the night before we flew in made for great untracked powder skiing in the alpine. Thankfully- raincrust from the last of the pineapple express systems that have plagued Alberta and BC skiers this winter stayed below the lodge elevation. Anyhow, enough talk- I’ll let the slideshow tell the rest-
    (click on “slideshow” at upper left on gallery linked to above)
    For those interested in the wide variety of BC backcountry lodges, some of which offer a more nordic touring experience rather than the powder skiing that most focus on-

  11. Sunshine Meadows toward Citadel Pass – Sun, Mar. 8

    Beautiful day to meander around Sunshine Meadows yesterday. The snow was crusty/variable, so it wasn’t a day for turns, but it was a perfect day for views and exploration. We called it a day at the high point 3km short of Citadel Pass – we weren’t willing to spend the $45 for the “cross country lift ticket” at Sunshine Village, which meant skiing 5km and 500m elevation just to get to the “trailhead”. The full trip is definitely possible, but I recommend getting an early start (ie before noon) if you want to make it the whole way!

  12. Smutts pass: sun mar 8.
    Aimed to summit smuttwood peak (unofficial peak above birdwood lakes between smutts and birdwood). Far too windy at smutts pass to seek out more wind up high so turned back at that point. Terrible wind blasted snow for the ski back down to valley with the odd pocket of softer wind affect snow to keep you on your toes for the transitions. Other than the wind it was a bluebird day. Nice down in the valley out of the bigger winds. The wind at least kept the snow cool all the way back to road. Only about 4 degrees at the car just after lunch. Seems that snowshoers have discovered commonwealth creek. Saw one odd track on the way back, somebody walking with a single snowshoe and a single boot. Or two one legged hoppers who happened to have their stride perfectly aligned. ???? Strange stuff.

    Today was the perfect day to go to the Palliser, so we did:
    Awesome travel conditions… 5 cms of fresh snow on an unbreakable crust… so 33 km was a breeze!

  14. Heather Ridge
    Had a great backcountry ski around Heather Ridge today despite a cold wind. Heather Ridge is south of Ptarmigan Lake above the Lake Louise ski area. The route goes up the ski out past Temple Lodge to Boulder Pass as per the Skoki trip. Instead of turning left on Ptarmigan Lake to go to Skoki, turn right and climb up to Redoubt Lake. Here the views open up to the south looking down Baker Creek and over to Pulsatilla Pass and parts of the Sawback Range. At the end of Redoubt Lake there are some sheltered slopes to make some turns going down to the meadow below.

    Then a gentle climb starts going through larches that soon opens up back into the alpine as the trip rounds the south side of Heather Ridge.. We followed some animal tracks for 2-3 kilometres over the col between Heather Ridge and Brachiopod Mountain. The tracks were probably cougar because of the tail drag marks. It appeared the big cat went down to Baker Lake but we stayed high and veered left so we could come back onto Ptarmigan Lake at the east end without the need to climb up from Baker Lake. Then it was a windy head wind ski back up to Boulder Pass. The ski back down to Temple Lodge was like a bobsled run that was fast, full of bumps and quite challenging. This made the final run down the ski-out to the Fish Creek parking lot a breeze.

  15. Gypsum Mines Feb. 28th

    Even though the mercury had plummeted to -18, we were determined to get out for a ski today. Our objective was Gypsum Mines, a good 2 hrs up an old logging road access after crossing the lake from Peninsula Day Use area. It could not have been a better choice. We had searing blue skies, little wind, no other skiers, broken trail and nice powder at the top. The ski out was fast and a little icy at the bottom, but a skiff of snow made it easy to control speed. With more snow, this would be a wonderful day trip as there are is good terrain at a variety of slopes and aspects. Nice tree skiing for the eastern front ranges.

  16. Two of us skied up to Healy Pass on Feb 27. We skinned up on AT gear, but many folks do this trip on lighter metal edged skis. There was about 3cm of new snow on the trail. We took 3 hours to the pass, where we enjoyed stunning views in brilliant sunshine and no wind. Two runs off the back side were perfect with 10cm of new on a firm base. Fast and fun ski out. We only met one other skier all day. 6 hours total with a moderate pace.

  17. Chester Lake

    Okay, so don’t laugh.
    Hubby and I haven’t actually skied to Chester Lake for almost 30 years for, well……. reasons… Same goes for most other “backcountry” trails.
    Anyway, now he is retired and I very recently heard about kicker skins, I got us some to try to breathe new life into our skiing adventures. Today was the day we finally tried them out, with pretty good success. I wouldn’t want anyone to see us lurching downhill on them though!
    The trail to Chester Lake is well skied in and in good shape, though by the same token you might call it hard-packed and fast. The day was spectacular, my only complaint being the hot sun, which was rather brutal.
    We toured up to the Elephant Rocks, and while we couldn’t have done it without skins, we still found it quite challenging, especially the descent. I strained muscles I didn’t know I had!
    All in all it was good fun, and hopefully the start of a whole new chapter.

    Pictures here, I hope (I’m terribly slow at this):

    • Well done,,, don’t forget to remove the skins for the way down… less lurching!
      Backcountry is the place to be now.

    • Best to be avoided on the weekends these days, or go elsewhere. Seems that snowshoers are more prevalent than skiers now, with a significant chunk not knowing there are separate routes or a one way ski route, whether it be out of following other snowshoe tracks or being uninformed. Might be some confusion with the post flood trail rerouting too.

  18. The original ELK PASS and ELK LAKE, Banff
    Start high and stay high for supreme snow (and spectacular views):
    Above 1800 metres it was powder… and we got to 2224 metres… and beyond!

    You are more likely to see a wolverine than people on this trail this weekend.
    Today we headed up Forty Mile Creek to enjoy “Spring Skiing in February”:
    This area is wolverine habitat… and we were not disappointed.
    Happy Valentines and Family Day Weekend!

    • You also seem to have found Collembola heaven.

      I’m curious. Is that climbing skins on LT gear?

      • Yes Henry, those are climbing skins on Light Touring skis.
        The Collembola have disappeared with the return of the cold.
        Now I am not sure whether I like it warm or cold!

    I had a pleasant tour to Burstall Pass on Feb 12, with better conditions than expected. There was a bit of new or wind-blown snow and the snow from earlier in the weeks was still soft. The trail had been packed smooth by a whole bunch of snowshoers and the skiing across the flats via Upper Burstall Lake was smooth, firm packed and easy. There had been little traffic up that nasty-poorly designed trail up the headwall to the upper meadows. The snow below treeline was soft and powdery, but it became windslabbed as soon as you got above treeline. The ski down the creek route from the upper meadows was in good shape and the ski out was fast and smooth.

  21. Rummel Lake, February 8.
    A fine day for a spring ski tour- in February!
    Plenty of new snow of course, but the trail was well hammered down by all manner of users- skiers, ‘shoers, walkers and even two fatbikers. No problems with that as the heavy snow had set up very firmly on the trail. The rain crust underlying about 15 cm of snow disappeared at about 2000m, however the storm snow was damp up to our highpoint in the meadows above the lake at 2250m, except in the most shaded locations.

    Looking into the snowpack at the location in the above photo found an HS of 110, HST 30 above a 3cm crust from meltdown #2, then another crust 15 below that, all sitting on 60 cm of loose facets. Off trail travel was generally easy with good support, but ski quality on some very low angle safe inclines was not great.
    With the fast hard packed conditions, the trail back out was like a bobsled run at times. Still, a nice day out in the mountains 🙂

  22. February 7, 2015 Headed to Skoki

    Rained most of the way from Canmore to Lake Louise at the parking lot it was light snow so thought give it a try. Hill was slippery right away so put on VR50 in hindsight should have put on the skins it would have been better option. The skis worked pretty good but snow was sticking as we got closer to hill. After on the skoki trail scrapped off and went with VR45 we were breaking trail snow above ski tips all the way after on the hill. We turned around at top Boulder pass snow deep and pretty overcast so having a hard time skiing. There was another group behind us so made the trip out fast until halfway hut at that point temperature rose quite a bit and back to major clumping scraped off again.
    The hill down had changed quite a bit since we climbed and lots of traffic on it on the way down. Really icy on way down. If the snow conditions been better it would have been a great day to ski to skoki almost no wind.

  23. Skied into Skoki today with my friend. Temp around -10 when we started and overcast. Nice conditions due to the fresh snow covering the nasty ice layer from last weekend. Barely any wind at Boulder pass and on Ptarmigan lake. When we arrived at Deception pass clouds from the west moved in and light flurries began. After a quick descent to Skoki lodge we popped in to warm up and have a hot drink and snack. Started back at 2:30. Once back at Deception pass visibility was reduced which made the ski down trickier. Managed to get a few turns in along the way. The rest of the ski out was great fun on the narrow trail and ski out. Then to Bill Peytos at the lake Louise hostel for beer and burgers!

  24. Jan 25 Sulphur Mtn loop
    Shortly after turning onto the Goat Cr trail the track went down to an old (single) skier track. The snow was rain crusted but progress was good. The crust faded. I made the turn onto the Sundance Pass trail a big late. This led to some short-lived unpleasantness whilst I got back on the trail. The trail was easy enough to follow – at least until some small meadows south of the pass. Here the snow got soft and deeper and the animals dispersed making headway slower. I was able to pick up the trail near the pass and continued on to the tracks I broke last weekend. From here it was easy to complete the loop. Chuck served as my transportation coordinator early in the morning so my car was waiting for me at Cave & Basin. It was a less interesting loop than I thought it would be. One does need to be careful when stepping on and over fallen trees as one can break a ski. I would know 🙁

    • Hey Russell,
      Glad you survived!
      Where are the photos?
      I saw a big camera strung around your neck when I dropped you off.
      How did you deal with a broken a ski?
      If readers want to be reminded of what this route involves, check out:
      …including how I dealt with a skin attachment that broke!

      • The ski broke right behind the heel ‘pad.’ The top cap buckled but held as did the base and the metal edges. As such the tail stayed in place. It just did not have any strength to speak of. I actually did not notice for a while as I was in deep snow at the time. I left the skins on at the point when I had intended to take them off. I was that much more careful going over the remaining trees. The skins also kept my speed down for the final descent. This would have been a good thing even with intact skis given the vertical and horizontal trees.
        Speaking of trees, I really only found one place after leaving the Goat Cr trail that was clear enough of them to take a picture. Being more into landscapes than trailside pictures, this is the main reason for saying it was ‘less interesting’ than I thought it would be.

  25. Tried to escape the Pineapple Express by going to Lake O’Hara today but ended up right in the middle of it! Started out using vr60 but a couple kms in scraped that off for vr75. Yikes! Really wet snow and +8c temps all the way to the lake. Did some waterskiing on the lake then a snack and a quick hike up to the Elizabeth Parker hut. Met lots of tired looking skiers plodding their way in on our way out. Although conditions weren’t great the wonderful scenery made up for it!

  26. Skied to Chester lake yesterday. Temp around 0c. Lots of cars in the lot. Encountered a large group of snowshoers on the ski trail further up who were hogging the trail and wouldn’t let us pass. (Some people need to learn trail etiquette and how to read trail signs! Rrrrr!) Escaped the crowds at the lake by heading up to the elephant rocks for a quick snack then into the upper valley for a few turns. On the way back had to plow down the very rough trail that had been chewed up by the snowshoe army. Glad I had my tele skis on! Other then that a beautiful afternoon for a ski!

  27. Burstall Pass- January 24
    A great day out with lots of blue sky, a bit of sporadic wind and 10-12 cm of new snow. No slogging on skins required for the flats going in or out, as temperatures were steady around zero making for good kick and glide on V45. The treeline open slopes and larch glades offered up very good skiing on a solid snowpack of about 150 cm. After chewing up our favorite lines on several runs, we headed all the way up to the pass to finish the day, where as expected we found wind scoured or slabby snow for the most part- still skiable but just not as enjoyable as the powder in the larches. The afternoon sun and views from the pass were worth it, though-
    The exit gully down the headwall could use a bit more filling in, but is very skiable.

  28. Stanley Glacier, Jan. 17th

    A good day on nice snow up to “Lunch Rock” and beyond at Stanley Glacier. The up-track to the “Rock” was well-traveled but had about 5 cm of fresh snow. No sign of slides until deep in the bowl. Very little snow on the north-facing slopes that are often the best for powder. Variable wind-crust higher up.

    On the way out, we skinned up again and climbed about 250 m up a south-facing avalanche run-out zone that normally would be left alone. We found kneed deep powder all the way to valley bottom.

    If you’re thinking of skiing out the creek, DON’T! I found several chest-deep holes just under the snow and had a real time getting out of them, much to the amusement of my “buddies”. Still, a great day out.

  29. Prospecting for powder in the Kananaskis, January 18-
    Given a snowpack that seems to be about a month behind schedule, we kept our expectations low, and were pleasantly surprised to find them exceeded. At our less traveled locale in the easterly Smith-Dorrien, we found an HS of 50-60 cm at 1700m, 80 ish at 2100m. Storm snow of only 5 cm was a bit disappointing, but with lots of untracked terrain about, it didn’t really matter. The December rain crust 20 cm down in the heavily facetted snowpack carried well enough most of the time for easy trailbreaking, making for skiing best described as better than OK 🙂 It was well worth repeating for several runs of 200 vertical m. A very satisfying day out-

  30. Sun jan 18: smutts pass. Windy cloudy snowy day. Didn’t venture up to pass as a result and stayed below treeline. Decent enough snow near pass but lesser amounts at the eastern end of drainage. Lots of shrubbery to deal with in the Avi paths. Good descent below meadows with the fresh snowfall.

  31. upper Sundance Cr (Jan 17)
    NB: This trail / area is closed Apr 15 – Nov 15.
    What the snow lacked in depth it mostly made up for with support – with the aid of moose and/or elk tracks. Between the animal tracks, blazes on trees, and some old saw cuts, I was able to follow the trail quite well. There was enough windfall but not an onerous amount. Given the closure of the area in summer, I doubt this situation will improve anytime soon. I stopped about 1.5 km from Sundance Pass. Looking forward to attempting a loop of Sulphur Mtn sometime soon.

  32. Well, I sure picked a busy day to visit Rummel Lake. There were about 25 cars parked at the start of the trail, at the Mt. Shark road junction. The trail to the lake was well packed and fairly smooth. We toured up to the meadows above the lake, did a few turns on some short slopes and short-cut the trail via a few glades on the way back. The snowpack near the lake is not great… about 80cm snow depth, mostly depth-hoar and facets, with just enough strength to support a skier while off-trail. Still, it’s a lovely tour and great scenery.

  33. Boom Lake — Backcountry “Lite”

    It was a beautiful winter wonderland in the Vermilion Pass area today, and we enjoyed a lovely tour up to Boom Lake. Followed some skier tracks across the lake lengthwise, but turned around about halfway due to some open water showing through. The trail was in very good shape, but we met many snowshoers and a surprising number of hikers on the way, which really didn’t help. Winter hiking seems to be becoming quite a thing lately, and the hikers don’t all seem to know about skiers. It adds some challenge to those downhill runs!

  34. Bryant Creek Warden Cabin Rtn

    Skied to the Warden Cabin today -5 at start and 0 when we finished around 1:30.
    Used a new wax for us this year that is for older snow and cover temp range -1 to -20.

    It was a bit sticky on Watridge Lake Tr both going and returning but did its job on the Bryant Creek trail. Couple of cms of snow on skier track.

    Sun shining when we got to cabin very fast out. Trail quiet pretty well the whole way.

  35. We skied Redearth Creek to Sunshine parking lot today. Good conditions for a big tour. Broke trail on about half of Pharoah Creek. Northern end of Pharoah is challenging because of deadfall and trail washouts, then fine south of Pharoah campground. We were on AT gear and happy for it.

    • Thanks for this Scott & Elaine.
      Can you clarify which route you took up Pharaoh Creek? Did you take the lower route in the canyon, or the hiking route up on the eastern side?
      Did you notice ski tracks on the other route?

      • We followed the creek for the first half, Chuck. I don’t think there’s any other option. For this first half, sometimes we could find the summer trail and sometimes we had to improvise. The route was ski tracked for maybe a kilometre after the Redearth warden cabin and from there on, we broke trail until the Pharaoh Ck campground site. From the PC campground to Egypt Lake, the ski tracks were in great shape. Thanks, skiers! From this point on, it was finally possible to ski the eastern side above the creek, and that’s what we did.

  36. We climbed out of the valley cloud along the Smith-Dorrien, into an afternoon of touring around the Chester Lake-3 Lakes Valley in glorious sunshine. The snowpack in the larches near the elephant rocks still only measures about 1m, but the midpack is supportive giving easy travel at treeline, and some fine turns on short N aspect gladed runs in 3 Lakes Valley. Kudos to the skier we met who was descending the trail on narrow racing skis, as the Chester trail is very well packed and fast!

  37. Cascade River passed Stony Cr
    The ’13 floods did quite a number on the piers for the bridge over Stony Cr. There is a new (temporary?) foot bridge in place but the ice worked well. I followed the tracks of a single skier for a ways. These ended and I proceeded to break trail until a few minutes passed the collection of small (spring-fed?) rivulets that flow all winter long – let’s call it 3.5km passed Stony Cr. The snow was somewhat supportive. Lots of wildlife tracks.

  38. Taylor Lake-Panorama Ridge Jan 10, 2015

    It was a great day for the backcountry with temperatures at about -8 to start and -4 at 3 p.m. No wind to speak of and plenty of fresh snow to make the ski down fun and not dangerous. We even had a mix of sun and clouds, while all around us, the clouds foreshadowed another snowfall. There was a nice up-track all the way up Panorama Ridge, which we did not summit for lack of time. The powder on the treed, southeast slopes was very consistent. Along the way, we met an intrepid group of 4 women who were using a variety of skinny skies (some waxless, some with “old school”, three-pin bindings. They said that Swix Blue was working well. I didn’t envy them the express bus down, but the views were astounding.

  39. Black Prince Lakes Jan 7, 2014

    A beautiful day to be in the backcountry, spent with a dozen folks who all had the good habit of sharing the trail-breaking. The fire road up to the interpretative trail below Black Prince was well worn with about 8 cm of fresh powder. As we ascended further, we opted to stay off the summer trail, a bit of a terrain trap, and went climber’s left toward the cataracts and eventually, to the bowl below Mt. Warspite. The trail breaking was pretty tiring, I must say. At 12:30, we reached the bowl and had lunch with no wind and temps just below zero. Clear evidence of slides on the steeper slopes of the bowl and lots of wind effect apparent on west-facing slopes. The snow was thin and I got a few new scratches on my AT skis, but it was a joyful run down. Certainly one of the best days in recent memory for backcountry skiing in Kananaskis. Distance was about 11 km and elevation gain 625 m.

  40. Backcountry B.C. (Rossland and Kootenay Pass)

    Dec. 27-Jan. 3 the Ramblers made their third trip to the Kootenay Boundary region for a week of skiing. Because we had never skied Rossland before, we spent the first three days there before heading to Salmo and the Kootenay Pass.
    Even though the base was about 1.5 m thinner than in previous years, we managed to find good powder most days. The routes included Mt. Elgood, Mt. Crowe (Rossland Range), Lighting Strike and Cornice Ridge (The Pass). The rain crust and high avalanche danger prevented us from venturing into more complex terrain. Wind crust was an issue on Cornice Ridge. Still, the snow was better than Albertans normally experience and the tree skiing was sublime. Anyone with info on backcountry skiing near Kaslo, write me (

  41. Sun jan 4: tent ridge. -25 at the car at 930. No inversion higher up and not much punch to the sun when we finally popped into some at tree line. Thin and bony at the start, improved quickly, but still sporty in the upper creekbed with lots of log rollers and open water made for a couple of tricky crossings. Decent powder in the trees below ridge too, crusty higher up so didn’t venture above treeline. A bit of storm snow sluffing in the steeps but not significant. Needs another foot at least to make the creek descent more enjoyable, had to keep the speed down.

  42. Shadow Lk (Dec 31)
    Chilly in the morning. The snow at the hill at the end of the groomed trail was icy and foot broken – so I did the same. Maybe once this is broken by a skidoo it will be manageable with skis. The track at the moment follows the summer trail longer than usual. I broke some trail along the north side of the lake. This lake, moreso than most, is prone to water on the ice under the snow so I stayed close to the shoreline. My tracks were dry on the way back so I would call it ‘successful’ – but this could change. The groomed portion of the trail was well packed. In the cold conditions it was a quick descent.
    A quick peek at the Pharaoh Cr trail by the warden cabin indicated that it had been broken. There were two cars in the lot when I returned. Not having passed anyone, this suggested some people were spending New Year’s at Egypt Lk.

  43. Dec 30: Did some AT’ing on the east side of the Icefield’s highway on West Cirque and another run on the south shoulder of Observation. Lake Louise was -27 as we drove by, but by the time we got to treeline, it was -7C. Nice inversion with brilliant sun.
    Pretty thin still down low, albeit skiable if you keep your tips up over the fallen trees, and other surprises. At tree line, the snow is generally hammered by wind effect. No cracks, whoomps, or any signs of avalanche activity. We could see impressive lines everywhere near Bow Summit. It’s been busy up there, although not today. That all said, I wouldn’t venture into steep thin snow packs up high.
    Snow’s coming – right?

  44. Two of us skied up to Burstall Pass on Dec. 23. Snow conditions where better than I expected. We used AT skis and skins and the slopes below the pass where good enough for 3 powder runs. There is a buried rain crust up to about 2000m, but above that the ski quality is actually pretty good for this time of year.

  45. SKOKI
    Better classify this as a backcountry trip, as this is a fairly significant day trip at this time of year. A few early season hazards still exist, but snow conditions are excellent.
    I used track skis, but AT (All Terrain) gear would work well.

  46. Chester lake sun dec 21: an inch or two of fresh this morning made for a pleasant trip into Chester, the elephant rocks and up to the shoulder. Was surprised to actually get some nice turns in descending the east side of the shoulder down to lake. A few rock scrapes as it is a bit bouldery there. Crust was present in the open but carried well. Non existent on less sun exposed aspects or up against tree fences.

    For the skiers who dropped a red toque on the way up, we grabbed it and thought we’d catch you but didn’t. It is now sitting on the lost and found shelf in the pocatera hut. Tried to sell it instead or barter for chocolate, but no takers, so perhaps it will sit there for a bit with no issue (-:

    Parking lot was jammed with cars when we left. It appeared that most were snow shoers and walkers. Very few skiers.

  47. Did a tour with EB into the S Heros Nob approach & skied the head wall areas on Nov30. Very cold, -30oC when we hit the trail at 10:45 – saw a few other foolish/brave souls parked along the road by Black Prince. No wind at all and observed no wind effect in the valley. Approximately 40 -60cm of settled fresh relatively unsupported snowpack. Crossed creek near normal snow bridge on bare ice. Lots of pack settling (whumping) on main approach trail. At first slide path noted recent activity overlaid with 25-35cm fresh. No whumping observed past this point but lots of recent slide activity evidence. Did a couple of runs & left before our toes were completely frozen! Back to road around 15:00 & appreciated the hot beverages we had the foresight to thermos.

  48. Skied up to Chester Lk on Saturday. Lower half has some rocks showing, upper half is fine. About 45-50 cm in the meadows up near the lake. You will definitely hit rocks on the way down.

  49. Healy Cr – Simpson Pass – Sunshine
    Made a loop up Healy Creek, Simpson Pass and over to Sunshine Nov 22.
    Nice warm start to the day, snow very sparse at the parking lot. We carried our skis for about 1.5 km before we dared put them on. The snow deepened as we ascended and was fairly reasonable (30cm) by the time we arrived at the 6km campsite.
    We had planned to ski to Healy Pass and back, but with the trail conditions so poor we decided to venture up Simpson Pass and head toward Sunshine on the summer trail. The snowpack was between 50 and 60cm most of the way and very unconsolidated. The ski pen was close to 40 cm and the slogging was tough. The wind kicked up later in the day and it was downright freezing by the time we hit Sunshine around 2:30pm. Interesting to note how much better the snowpack was at Burstall Pass last weekend.

  50. Sorry Bob, can’t make it work. For the determined, there is a working link to this excellent loop on the Chatter Creek website which also has a nice webcam. I give up on links, Google it.

    mm5d2_pcp3+///3 This is a good weather loop from Univ. of Washington that shows some promise.

  52. Burstall Pass, Monday Nov 17

    Toured up to Burstall Pass today to check out the conditions. The temperature
    was about -14º at the parking lot at 10am and it stayed cool all day. The trail is in excellent shape for the most part even though it’s mostly bootpacked. We had to remove our skis in the thick trees and on the headwall but otherwise there was almost no rock showing.
    Snow depth at the top of the headwall was 48cm, 60cm in the upper valley and 80cm in a small depression near the top of the pass. We managed to get a few turns and had a fun ski out. We were lucky to see a Northern Pygmy Owl in the trees near Burstall Lakes.

  53. Thanks for the motivation Alf! Buddy and I splitboarded the short hop from Sunshine to Twin Cairns on Sat. Snow was the same as you reported. Got a nice gentle run down that NNW slope just over the north shoulder then a couple down the E face, one very nice, one beside it pretty rocky. Weather and views were astonishing. Stopped by the ski patrol on the way up and got a very friendly briefing from Brendan. SVSS were calling it Low,Low,Low on Sat.

  54. SUNSHINE MEADOWS, November 13, 2014
    OK…time to get the backcountry ski reports going for 2014/15.
    Peter F and I toured up the Sunshine ski-out (road) to get a few runs at Sunshine Village, before the resort opens for the season on Friday. However, once we got to the top of Strawberry, we realized it was too amazing a day to waste at a ski resort… even if we were the only ones skiing there! We set off across the Sunshine Meadows in the direction of Citadel Pass, via Quartz Ridge. Snow conditions were simply outstanding! 60cm of snow depth with 20cm of light snow on a very supportive base. Ski penetration was 15cm and travel was fast and easy on Swix Blue wax. (Never used the skins after leaving the ski area boundary). The snow was largely unaffected by wind and we effortlessly across rolling meadows and down open glades and virgin slopes.
    Standing at the high point, in the shadow of Quartz Peak, we were rewarded with a grand view of Citadel Pass and Mt. Assiniboine. It was tempting go farther, but alas, the days are short! We toured back, approximately along the route of the summer hiking trail to Peyto Pass on the Great Divide ski runs. We paused for a few seconds to admire the golden glow on Mt. Bourgeau, then skied powder lines down to TeePee Town chair and over Wolverine hill and on down the ski out. It was a wonderful 24km start to the backcountry touring season!

    • Well done Alf!
      Great planning, great writing, great photos and obviously great skiing..
      And despite the driving time with long ski hours on a short day, you take the time to share the joy!
      Back country seems a great option right now.

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