Alf Skrastins has provided a list of trails that are suitable for xc touring skis.
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Sun oct 2: highwood area
Only an inch of fresh from Saturday night, down to about 6600 ft in morning. No old snow from past storms lingering underneath except higher terrain above 9000 ft. No observations of Rae glacier to report.
I figure it was time for another ski report.
Skiing was great at Rae Glacier, near Elbow Lake today. Several waves of intense thunderstorms required quick changes of clothing, but it made for interesting lighting.
Oh, sweet!! 🙂
So I got out my telemark skis and skied a little bit on my property, on less than a centimetre of wet snow. It actually worked…
I was expecting to see snow on the web cams this morning. It must not have lasted long.
Did you look at Bragg Creek?
A tweet from Bragg Creek alludes to about 6cm of snow.
Good for you! I’m a little envious, being away from home……
I went to West Bragg today to bike, but there was too much mud, a consequence of the snow. There was considerably more in Rainy Creek, at least 6 inches.
I figured it was about time for another SKI report.
I’m just back from a 4-day backcountry ski trip to Monashee Chalet, in the northern Monashee Mountains, near Blue River BC. I usually go there for a May Long Weekend visit, but the warm weather this spring suggested that it might be a good idea to do the trip a bit earlier in the month.
The Chalet is located 14km from Hwy 16 and the way in is always an adventure. You never know how far up the road you can drive and when you can begin skiing. After 4 kilometres of alternating snow strips and hiking, we were finally able to ski the rest of the way in to the lodge. Two full days of ski touring featured hot, hot temperatures (24C and 26C), following good overnight freezes. It was clear, sunny and calm. Perfect conditions for corn snow touring and turning. On the last day, it was cloudier and only got up to about 10C. A quick ascent of Finn Rock was followed by a ski and finally a hike back to the car.
Did the 4 string guitar sing into the wild Monashee night?
Was a follower of SkiHere.ca responsible for the nice turns that are visible in the fresh snow from the top of the Nakiska mid-mountain Gold Chair web cam?
Just back from an amazing week of Ski Touring at the Campbell Icefield.
Check out the captioned pictures at:
Chuck, I am unable to view your amazing pictures 🙁
Works on my Macbook, but a bit “quirky”.
Chuck- very nice photos! I was wondering how the snow conditions at Campbell were holding up to the warm weather.
It looks like we should have stuck around for a second week up there.
Congrats on the East Peak circuit- a big day and it feels pretty committing once you have dropped off the north side of the col.
I too could only view perhaps a third of the images (FF v43 on Winders 10).
The ones that couldn’t be viewed displayed larger way points on the map.
I think Everytrail was down for a while, but it seems to be working again. I encourage you to try the original link again because it provides an interactive map. But if you are getting frustrated, please check out this link instead:
I’ve included an extra Alpenglow as an apology for the inconveniences!
It was worth complaining in order to see your alpenglow photo -)
Everytrail still not working for me today, but oh those picasaweb photos……..what a magic transport of delight, fit for much drooling 😉
Knowing that xc skiing is hit and miss, Bryan, Rob and myself did an alpine tour on skins up Robertson Glacier to near the top (9000 feet). The snow conditions were excellent! We didn’t see anything resembling an avalanche, although I wouldn’t have ventured out of the main valley. Still lots of touring to be had this season.
Check the pictures out at:
Fresh snow… and it is still snowing!
The skies tried to clear all day today, but the snow won. This area will be great for a long while yet. Make sure you check out the frozen waterfall: https://picasaweb.google.com/110857225306442901854/ChickadeeValley02?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCOjo3ufMyqGcvgE&feat=directlink
Chuck, do you know how far it is to the waterfalls? I know they are on the left (northwest) side of the valley but have yet to find them when I’ve snowshoed in.
It is 6 km to the waterfall.
Sorry for the slow response… I had not noticed the question.
This link may help, which is from our trip on April 24, 2014:
We will need the forecasted cold temperatures to get in there again this year!
Today was my get as much done before winter ends day, and what a spectacular day it was! Started at Chester lake parking at 8:30 in a chilly -22c under clear skies. Not a soul around. Skied to the lake then up to the elephant rocks. Went into the upper valley and got a few good tele turns in. Lots of evidence of fresh avalanches in the area. Back down to the lake and then back to the car. Only saw a couple of people in the parking lot. It’s not the busy Chester lake I’m used to! Then off to upper lake parking to ski up the connector to elk pass parking. Had to put some v40 on for the steep hills. Chatted with a few folks along the way. Turned off at blueberry junction and headed to fox lake. Lots of ski tracks in the meadows round west elk pass but no tracks at fox lake. Met a solo skier on my way out. After I headed to west elk pass then followed a track to masid’s couch? (sure looked like a couch!) then along a track to the power line. There’s a lot of duct tape wrapped around trees as you approach the power line. Pretty unnecessary and a big eyesore in my opinion as the route is well flagged already. Turned back at the power line and headed back to blueberry junction. With two hours of light left I decided to head up blueberry hill. Ran out of water along the way so had to climb down into fox creek to refill. Had a short break on top then back down elk pass trail and the upper lake connector to my vehicle. The wax I used on my tele skis worked awesome all day and I was sure glad to have the metal edges for the downhills! Definitely one of my favourite days this winter!
So, you ran out of water too. While climbing Whiskey jack, I toyed with the idea of trying to get some water out of Spotted Wolf Creek but it just looked too difficult, and I was scared of falling in!
Ha! Thats exactly what I was thinking! I managed to sidestep down part way and then use my macgyver skills to fill my bottle without falling into the creek. I just hooked my nalgene lid onto my ski pole strap which gave me plenty of reach. Worked like a charm!
It was indeed MaSid’s couch, and MaSid you ran into. Glad you got to enjoy it a bit. Great spot for some afternoon lounging. I probably spent two hours there and drank too much water. Otherwise I would have gone up blueberry too. Just wanted to keep skiing, but no Nalgene for pole hooking a refill. Happy birthday bob! Missed saying so in person by a few seconds.
Tue mar 15: mt fox area via elk pass.
Ankle ski pens in the flats off trail from blueberry. Boot top in steeper terrain in the trees, east aspect. Skied 25 to 35 degree terrain just below treeline. Good supportive snow pack even on the steepest rolls. No wumphing or cracking. No significant sluffing on descent. Snow stayed dry in the trees on this aspect and height. Storm snow seems to be bonding well. Didn’t do any tests, didn’t feel necessary. Loose dry sluffs and spindrift coming off fox in unskiable terrain from the strong winds above treeline. Stayed out of alpine due to obvious wind affect visible, and being tired from the trail breaking. Good worthwhile turns in drier snow for once even though only about a 700 ft run today. Helps when you make up for it with some basking in the sun lower down.
Elk Cabin March 11-12-13.
We skied into Elk Cabin for 2 nights March 11-13. About 8 cm fresh wet snow when we started out Friday morning. Nice warm sunny day. It snowed Friday evening and on and off all day Saturday with a few sunny breaks in between snow showers. By Saturday morning the new snow (Thurs-Fri) totalled about 12 cm and another 10 fell Saturday night. The weather cooled off a bit for Sunday morning so the snow was slightly drier. Both lower and Upper Elk Lake still well frozen but there’s plenty of open water in the meadows between the lakes.
March 13 brought good luck, in the form of a surprise overnight dump at treeline elevations in the Smith Dorrien. Excellent powder skiing conditions can still be had in sheltered locations, especially between about 2300-2500, as solar effect was limited during the day and temps stayed cool. Less storm snow above a widespread light crust, made for grabby turns sometimes at lower elevations in the trees.
With 5 to 15 cms of fresh snow overnight, we thought we would check out a new luncheon destination today.
Starting at Mt. Norquay, the trail has been well travelled as far as the Edith Pass junction. Beyond that the trail will have to be rated as Backcountry as it is exposed to tree avalanche paths and six challenging creek crossings.
As seen in the following link, winter is the time to enjoy this trail, before the horse traffic:
The track only shows our return trip which took 4 hours, but the full trip took 10 hours.
Very inspiring, as usual!!
I notice on the map, what we know as Stoney Squaw is marked as Snow Peak. Also they show the old trail up to Johnson Creek from Massive, not the Inkpots trail. I wonder where these topo maps come from? I could look at them all day!
It always amazes me that Parks Canada trail signs never show distances – the distances are not going to change. Makes me wonder why, and if Parks Canada is becoming irrelevant as an information source as one has to refer to maps, trail guides and other sources to get distance information.
Fri mar 11: Chester lake +
Good vitamin d and suntan tour. Just less than an inch of fresh at trailhead and -5 at 9am. About 3 inches at elephant rocks. Bases icing up on the way down from high point in alpine (too much sun?). Stopped twice to scrape and apply paraffin wax. All good after that, but maybe it was just being back in the shadow of the trees. Wet and a bit slow back on the old logging road. My tracks were only obliterated partially on return by walkers once past all the meadows, so only a 9.5 out of 10 kind of day. Surprisingly few people for such a good weather day.
Wed mar 9: Taylor/obrien lakes.
Thin and icy down low, but no hazards sticking through. Fresh dry snow higher up (9 am start) and stayed cool enough up there. Great snow on a north aspect at treeline with good mid pack support. Descent was a little bumpy and fast on the lower third without the cushion of fresh snow. +3 back at the car at 3 pm.
Fine powder skiing and good touring conditions were found Wednesday on the Pig’s Back circuit in Commonwealth Creek. Crust was prevalent on all aspects up to about 2200m, covered by recent light snow which ranged from a few cm at roadside, with up to 15-20 above 2400m. Winds were light, and with mostly cloudy skies and temps staying not far from zero- the snow remained dry all day, even at lower elevations. Continuing around the loop after several very good runs up high in the vicinity of the pass- decent ski conditions were found down to about 2050m, from there to the valley floor the crust made for tolerable, but not overly enjoyable skiing. No outward signs of instabilty were observed, but we kept to well supported, filled in terrain and avoided cornices and any steeper thin areas. With a warm, wet, windy system on the way- it seems that conditions are going to change rapidly for the worse in the short term.
A snapshot in time-
Campbell Icefield- February 20-27. I’ve been feeling kind of jaded about our local skiing, since returning from a fabulous stay at the Campbell Icefield Chalet. Along with a team of friends we enjoyed excellent skiing and fine weather, not to mention the great dinners put on by the group during the week. I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story-
thanks for sharing your pictures – all that snow and here we are trying to hold off hiking
Given the options of no snow and warm to the east, rainy in the valleys or snowing along the divide, I headed to Chickadee Valley in the hopes of finding option #3.
It was +1C and snowing as we started and it only snowed more as we headed up-valley. About 5cm accumulated while we were at the upper end of the the valley.
The snow was moist and heavy above 2100m elevation, but still pretty skiable.
On the way out, the snow got wetter, but the snow storm stopped and the skies started to clear up. We were finally rewarded with views of the surrounding peaks.
Sweet! We nearly chose that trail too, so might have met you somewhere other than Bragg Creek 😉
Speaking of Bragg Creek, did the race actually take place there? Did they bring in truckloads of snow??
Yes, the Alberta Youth XC Ski Championships were held at West Bragg Creek over the weekend, as planned.
Volunteers harvested multiple tons of snow from shaded, sheltered areas and covered the icy-hard trails, which had been renovated by the volunteer groomers. This provided very good ski conditions on West Crystal Line, Middle Crystal, Crystal Links 1-4 and Bunny Loop. By all accounts, the event was a great success!
So are the conditions still good on those trails?
They should be good for a few days, but this warm weather is not helping to preserve it!
I did a tour in the Commonwealth Valley on Thursday. It’s been snowing dribs & drabs in the area since last Saturday and it’s accumulated 10-15cm of new snow in that time. Touring up the valley was easy with the new snow on old tracks and there were powder turns to be had at the usual slopes. It snowed all day. The temperature was -1C in the morning and actually cooled to -2C by late afternoon.
Chickadee Valley, Feb 28
We had a very nice tour up Chickadee Valley (Whymper Creek) on Sunday. Several centimetres of new snow softened the well-packed skier/snowshoer trail up the valley and it continued to snow all day. The route largely goes up the course of Whymper Creek and earlier in the season there are lots of open water holes along the way. On this day, most of the creek was frozen over and snow covered, so travel was pretty straightforward.
We continued to the end of the valley and skied a few powder runs past the end of the trees. There was some wind affect on the slopes, but there were enough areas with soft snow to provide some very enjoyable turns.
There were a dozen or more cars parked at the Rummel Lake “trailhead”, at the Mt. Shark/Engadine Lodge junction. Pretty well everyone else on the trail today was a snowshoer. We followed the well beaten snowshoe track, where it was easy and deviated onto fresh powder snow whenever the snowshoe route went too straight up, or wandered aimlessly back and forth. We even managed to find a bit of powder skiing on sheltered, north aspects. On sunnier aspects, there was moist snow on top of a thin sun crust… but not enough to make trail breaking or turning difficult.
What a great day you had. The yin and yang of t-shirt skiing in the sun, and then those magnificent storm clouds and peaks. Spectacular images Alf!
Feb 25/26: sunshine meadows.
Glorious sun and blue skies for a tour and camp. Seemed to stay below zero up in the meadows with a bit of wind to keep the snow cool. Steeper south aspects had moist surface snow, but not bad at all, no stickage. Lots of cornice failure and slab releases on east face of Quartz ridge. Nothing made it to the trees. No evidence of slides on the big east face off the summit of Quartz. Skier tracks on the mellow slope further north showed good turns. Track was good in and out. No significant wallowing off track. Snow pack holding together well, shallow ski and foot pens off track in the trees. Spring time snow pack?
Mosquito Cr / Meadows (Feb 21)
I followed the tracks of what turned out to be 7 snowshoers. I passed them and followed a pair of fresh AT tracks. Between these groups I did not need to skin up for a while. I had lunch in the shelter of a big rock near the base of the ‘bump’ between the two Molar passes. I proceeded to a small lookout in time to see the team on AT gear make their descent. I talked to them later down in the trees. They made an early start and got to North Molar Pass. It was their consolation choice due to the avalanche conditions. They indicated they had triggered (a small?) one. There is a lot of faceted snow some inches under the surface.
Fri feb 19: Taylor lake.
-3 in lot at 9. Looks like the rain showers of yesterday afternoon went almost up to 6000 ft in this location. Snow after that, but moist enough for major clumping despite skin wax. Bailed on the attempt shortly thereafter as a result. Good little zoom in the fresh stuff until intersecting with the snow shoers and the more crusty trail.
Thu feb 18: wolverine valley.
Spent a half day in the meadows. -2 at fish creek at 9. +4 at 2pm on return. Still some punchy spots off the main track in the lower meadow. Of note was a day or two old slide coming off the sw face opposite wolverine ridge on the other side of the valley. Right as you pop out of the trees to the flats. Started as a sluff off the cliffs at ridge top and pushed out a wind slab in a tighter gulley feature and ran 100 feet shy of valley bottom, 30 cm crown maybe? Nothing else observed. Some tracks coming down the mellower gladed ne shoulder of wolverine. Ski out was moist and slow again. A couple or 3 brown patches starting to show through.
While there is no avalanche risk on our route today, I’ll post this under Backcountry as we used skins to climb the 300 metre elevation gain on this 7 km tour.
This scenic tour off the Icefields Parkway is a fabulous way to enjoy the crisp conditions at higher elevations.
Lots to explore here:
Nobody else there today… we will be back!
Tue feb 16: hidden lake.
Lots of sled traffic in and out of skoki hauling in necessities. Must have been a thirsty bunch up there over long weekend. Some fresh snow on the trail. Larch chair wasn’t operating all day. Still some bottomless mank in a few open areas off trail. Moderate winds most of day, strong up high. Light flurries on and off. 120 cm at lake. Somebody left an orange (food?) bag on the bear hanger at the hidden lk camp. Nice spring time bear snack when the snow is high enough. Moist and slow coming down lower half of ski out.
Amiskwi Lodge Feb 7-14
I’m just back from a week of backcountry touring and powder skiing at Amiskwi Lodge. The lodge is located at the north edge of Yoho Park, about 30 km from either Emerald Lake and Bow Lake. Access is by helicopter from Golden BC.
We arrived to find that 25cm of fresh snow fell in the previous 48 hrs. A few sunny days gave us the opportunity to explore the meadows north and south of the lodge. Then successive bands of snow storms provided us with an additional 45cm of light powder snow for the remainder of the week. All of our tracks and turns were covered over, providing a clean slate for the group that came in, when we flew back to Golden.
That looks seriously spectacular! Thank you for the beautiful slideshow 🙂
Does one need AT or Telemark gear to properly enjoy the region?
Amiskwi Lodge sits on a gentle bench of terrain at about 2200m elevation. This extends about 5 km north and 5 km south of the lodge at roughly tree-line elevation. Above this bench are open/alpine slopes and bowls. Below are steeper treed slopes with open glades of different lengths, widths and steepness. One can certainly enjoy a number of nice wax tours with lighter “XC” style backcountry skis and there are many gentle slopes for easy turns.
Wider telemark or alpine touring ski gear are my choice to enjoy the longer, steeper powder runs.
It’s a great spot for anyone who enjoys a mixture of touring/exploration and powder turning.
Mon feb 8: Taylor/obrien lakes area.
Thought I’d get in there before the heat did. Cleared a few trees from the trail, some old, some new. Made for a better out with no sudden issues. One big one still but the detour is fine at speed. The summer staff can take care of that one, too big for my folding saw. 110 cm HS at 6500 ft on a north aspect. About 90 on the south side of the same ridge. Snow was getting moist on south in afternoon but was staying dry on the shady north aspect. Found some nice lines to ski when conditions permit. Got into some steep pillow terrain below ridge feature but didn’t top out due to storm snow popping off the pillows on what appeared to be a wind crust. Came down and tried another way but the tank ran dry before getting above tree line. Trail breaking wasn’t too bad, just the occasional wallow. Pretty good in the trees. Open areas produced a bit more trouble. No cracking or whoomphing other than the minor pillow pops in the lee below ridge line. Hand pits also producing easy shears on the switchback turns in steeper terrain, storm snow only. -11 when I started at 9. +2 back at the road at 3. Lots of sherif activity on the road on return. Counted 4 radar traps in the park.
I’m curious as to the history behind the acronyms HS for ‘snow depth’ and HN for ‘new snow increment’.
Avalanche forecaster acronyms, presumably from snow profile and field journal notations. HS is height of snow. HST is height of storm snow, or so I recall. Couldn’t find a useful acronym glossary on line. If anyone can find one, please post a link.
Thanks MaSid. That ‘HS’ was bothering me -)
Spent the last four days in paradise (aka Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park) ski touring. Cold snow on the way in helped us get there in eight hours. Some deep trail breaking in open areas due to the faceted snowpack. Otherwise about twenty cm ski penetrations. Got a tour in to sunburst cerulean lakes on the Friday, then super high winds and snowfall with near zero visibility kept us closer to the lodge on Saturday. Sunday awoke to clear sky and no wind temp round -10. Broke trail from the naiset cabins (where we stayed) to the pass. Getting down Assiniboine pass was great with the fresh powder and we chose to detour around the avy runout at the bottom just in case something came down. Broke trail back to the Bryant warden cabin where we had lunch. Unfortunately from there on an army of idiots had walked (all the way to mt shark!) on the ski trail and destroyed it. Most skiers we passed on the way out were pretty upset with the damage.We never caught up with the hikers so hopefully someone else along the way gave them a thorough tongue lashing! Other then that another great time had up at Assiniboine!
We toured up into an area at the south end of the Smith-Dorrien on Sunday. Around 10 cm had fallen near treeline, without much wind affect. This made for more stable conditions, but also- less fine powder skiing than what we had found at Burstall on Saturday. The snowpack in our skiing zone between 1900-2100m averaged around 80cm- pretty much all facets with three crusts in the upper 30 cm holding things together and giving OK support for turns- mostly. Much to the amusement of my wife and two friends- I found out just how suddenly the upper snowpack could give way by performing a full on faceplant while skiing over a steep embankment as they stood watching. No damage done other than an ice cream headache, and luckily I was the only one with a camera 😀
Much of the area had been skied up quite a bit previously (guilty as charged) and with only 10 new atop the layered crusts, the best lines were not all that fun to ski. Looking around though, we found a shorter low angle area that was untouched, and farmed that for some very enjoyable shallow powder skiing.
Obligatory snowshoe rant:
In the morning on the way up the old access road, which is typically at least the width of a groomed doubletrack ski trail- the already broken skier set featured two parallel lines of smooth ski tracks, separated by 1.5 to 2 m of soft snow, and with at least 1m of space off to each side also.
Thus-LOTS of room! So why oh why did the webbed horde who had obviously followed us up at some point in the day, insist on stomping both sets of ski tracks into a bumpy mess? Descending the road was not an issue on AT skis- just not aesthetically pleasing, but the pits and bumps that covered the trail in many areas would definitely have presented a challenge to skiers on light backcountry touring gear. I observed the same behaviour on the wide Burstall trail on Saturday- including by a group that was led by a guide!
I’ve usually adopted a live and let live attitude with snowshoers- but I’m beginning to lose my patience. It’s really about time that they adopted some of the standards of etiquette that skiers in general try to follow.
Or- learn to ski! It’s way more fun 🙂
I’ve gotten to the same point. Think I will draft a multi-use trail guidance document. Something simple, that explains the why and makes being more public minded (e.g. no benefit for one group at the expense of another) easier/understandable and part of the norm. Then send it off to the k country folk to do with as they see fit.
Probably because their little snowshoes can’t handle actual trail breaking. So they walk on the ski tracks.
Pharaoh Cr on new summer trail (Feb 6)
I got to the Red Earth ranger cabin and saw ski tracks going up the creek and up the new summer trail. There were fresh snowshoe tracks going up the latter so I followed them. This trail is well marked by ample flagging and blazes. It is narrow in places just after the junction while climbing 🙁 The temperature and fresh snow had lots sticking to my skis so I left the skins in the pack. In hindsight it would have been better to use them as I took efforts to retain the snow build-up which slowed me down and tired me out. I met the snowshoer on his way out. I got to where he turned around and went a ways further. Not sure how far I got (GPS batteries needed charging). The trail was trending down. Not wanting to regain much elevation, I turned back. I did pass a number of small summer bridges over creeks. As a summer trail it would okay. As a backcountry ski trail, the repeated ups and downs (modest in size but frequent enough) where a detraction.
Lots of snowfall in the Spray/ Smith-Dorrien Valley today. There was about 15cm of new snowfall on the Burstall Pass trail. Temperatures ranged from -3C in the morning to -7C by late afternoon. The winds were howling all day with periods of extreme gusts. There was lots of wind transport, forming slabs in the alpine and in open areas at tree line. There were quite a few skiers, split-boarders and snowshoers out, so the trail was well packed and travel was easy. A bit of V40 was all you needed for grip and glide between the parking lot and the Burstall Flats area.
Thought gets bet today would be Mt Shark hopefully all the way to Bryant Creek cabin. Snow squall started just as we left Canmore but good traveling unti turned onto Mt Shrk road got about a km and flagged down to pull a vehicle back on road all going well until a second car thought okay to around and slid off override glad we did not get hit. So almost hour later at parking thanks to all that stopped and help the stranded skiers. -4 when left parking lot broke trail for about 7.5 km until snowshoers heading out. One with wax less worked well one pair of wax able with vr 45 were mostly okay little sticky at end. Mine not so much cleaned them off at lunch back to vr 40 not much gripped but could move along. Saw a Martin or Fischer chasing rabbit and then the rabbit crossed trail right in front of me a couple of times. Reminder to all to watch for trees 2/3 up hill on return a gust of wind came up and tree came down on trail 35 to 40 feet in front of me. At that point really needed day to be ordinary run of mill ski outing.
Wed. Feb.3 – Whymper Valley (aka Chickadee Valley) –
Had a wonderful day today, skiing up Whymper Valley. 10 below and partly cloudy all day. Very good snow all the way: a few cms of new dry snow on the trail, which made for easy waxing, and about 15 cms of new powder on the slope at the far end of the valley. Very nice.
I think the skiing should be very good this coming weekend in the Vermilion Pass area: Whymper, Boom Lk., and Stanley Gl. trails, and maybe on the Taylor Lk. trail too.
Tue feb 2: Chester lake.
Went for a stroll on AT gear up above elephant rocks. Didn’t get the sun forecast for Canmore and given the faceting off trail, didn’t do much exploring around as anticipated. Main trail was in relatively decent shape until the walkers and dogs dug it up a bit. Snow shoe trail was nice and packed so looked like majority of shoers were using it. As such, didn’t have to skin up it to pack it down, despite enjoying the irony of doing so. (-; Up in the meadows near the lake the trail has gotten quite wide compared to past years. It seems that wHen it gets uneven due to non-skier traffic, a skier will put in a new clean track (as do I), and then a group will come along and walk abreast in the track. This might become a bigger issue given the spring closure that occurs in the area due to the packing of the trail. At one point I put in a new uptrack beside the narrower snow shoe damaged trail above elephant rocks only on return to see it walked in by a large group. So much for preparing a nice smooth descent for myself. Given the continued multi use issues in this location I made note of it to staff at the visitor centre. Until something changes, not likely to return here even though it’s a great spot for a half day tour. It will be unfortunate if this ceased to be a skier destination if any new tactics to improve multi use trail eticate don’t work. On anther interesting note, stopped in at elk wood for a bit of sun and noticed “caution: blind skier” signs at the trailhead. Wow! Some brave and determined folk out there. Awesome. Inspiring. I really have no excuse for not skiing.
Skied up to the top of Bolder Pass (Skoki) and back as a day trip. Beautiful snow conditions. The trail is not for beginners. It still makes me wonder at the number of people who are heading into skoki and it is their first day on skis. That being said if you can do lookout in kananaskis you can probably do skoki. Metal edges on skis are also useful. Enough skiers go through the full backcountry skis are not a necessity.
Chester Lake environs- Jan. 31
It was busy of course, with snowshoers outnumbering skiers by at least 3 to 1.
Beyond the Elephant rocks after lunch, we left the crowds behind for our usual loop over ‘”3 Lakes Knoll”. Off the beaten track we found 15 cm of recent snow, and a moderately supportive snowpack of 120 cm composed mostly of facets, which made for occasional wallowing while trail breaking. A short run with good turns in untouched snow, was enjoyed in sheltered N facing larch glades.
Back at the lake- a horde of the web-footed seemed to need direction back onto the snowshoe route, rather than descending the ski trail. Now- usually I am not keen on over regulation and signage in the outdoors, but it seems to be to be a bad idea for slow moving ‘shoers to descend the “ski” trail with their backs to quickly descending ski traffic. A couple of close encounters on winding corners reinforced this. Other than that, the ski out was perfect with great soft-packed conditions 🙂
Other than some too brief sunshine while gearing up at the trailhead, it was a dull (but very pleasant out) kind of day that did not inspire much photography.
Reviewing the handful I took though- I like the contrast of brightly coloured skiers with the monotone landscape-
Sun Jan 31: Wolverine valley.
Casual tour today. Didn’t bother with any of the steeper slopes given conditions. Lots of wallowing in the meadows when losing the buried trail. Didn’t improve too much with height gain. Thin at our high point, about 8000 ft, so descended from there. On descent ski tails would punch in and out of the facets, making for some unbalanced skiing. Left the valley and spun up to the half way hut for added fun. Main trail is nicely packed but not icy at all. A few rollers here and there. Anything off trail in this area was also a struggle, mostly due to the inconsistency and a lack of support for poles when you needed it most.
Near Hidden Lake
Seven skiers ventured out Saturday and, although the plan was to go to Purple Bowl, avalanche conditions motivated a decision to be conservative. We skied to Halfway Hut and then went west to the south of Hidden Lake while climbing to some gentle open slopes south of Mt. Richardson. No whoomping or signs of slides all day. Good snow, but a bit wind-affected as we climbed. All told, a great day out with temperatures hovering between -7 and 0. Although blue skies would have been more “inspiring”, the effects on the snow were lessened with the generally overcast conditions.
Crowfoot Glades- January 29.
The 20-25 cm of light new snow was not quite enough to completely erase the multitude of old tracks, nonetheless we found very good powder skiing.
At least 12 other skiers in the area so I’m not revealing any secret here- it’s very popular.
The treeline and below snowpack was generally supportive- 30 cm ski penetration with occasional soft spots, and some whoomphs felt as the underlying facets collapsed. Exception to this was the deep wallowing and slabby conditions endured as we broke a track across the lake and flats in the morning.
Can’t say much about the alpine conditions- we didn’t go far there.
A widespread avalanche cycle was underway with many slabs failing on the surrounding steeper moraines and scree slopes. Some of these ran quite far, with one reaching the very bottom of a commonly skied line. We stuck to moderate, well supported terrain, well away from any overhead hazard, and enjoyed a great safe day of skiing in what I would describe as very typical conditions for January in the Rockies.
We skied red earth Creek to Pharaoh creek to Healy pass to sunshine today. Broke trail pretty well all the way to the Egypt Lake warden cabin. Snow was in great condition except for wind slab going down Healy pass. Long day for us!
Hi Scott and Elaine,
Did you follow the creek or the new summer trail? If the creek, might you comment on the conditions?
Paradise Valley (Jan 23)
(Paradise Valley meets my criteria for being back-country, so…)
I followed some freshly re-broken tracks to the first bridge which then followed the creek to the second bridge. In a few sections the track goes in places that will not be viable later in the season. Shortly after the Sheol Valley junction the tracks stayed with the creek instead of angling into the forest with the summer trail. They made it to the bridge for Lk Annette. The fresh tracks went that way. Some old tracks continued to follow the creek. So I tried that. After a while they crossed the creek on a snow bridge that collapsed as I probed around. After some hemming and hawing, I chose to break for the summer trail. I was able to connect with it and found some old tracks. Yay! These continued in good fashion for a stretch. Having been up the valley in previous years, I knew the spot where it is good to cross to the south side. There were no good snow bridges there 🙁 The old tracks continued on the north side. A while later they stopped having been pinched off by terrain and the creek, again lacking viable bridges. I had lunch and headed back. I stayed with the summer trail to the Sheol Valley junction. It worked very well. If one wants to get to the upper part of the valley this year, be prepared to search for a bridge and do some trail breaking in snow that is not that supportive.
Thanks Russell for such an informative report.
By the way, do you have any comment on being able to enjoy sun in Paradise Valley?
I usually try to delay this trip until the sun comes around Temple.
Weather and geometry 🙂
Temple and Hungabee are large so one is commonly in the shadows even later in the season.
Taylor Lake/Panorama Basin
The Taylor Lake trail is a steady uphill tour for about 8 km. The official reward is a view of Taylor Lake. But if you follow an unofficial winter route up the creek drainage, your reward is the spectacular Panorama Basin and the north-east arm of Panorama Ridge. This basin contains one of the most extensive larch forests in Banff National Park and is a delight to visit in the winter.
It’s a climb of about 600m elevation to Taylor Lake, 800m to a common viewpoint on the ridge and 1000m elevation to the usual high point on the ridge.
It’s an exhilarating run back to the parking lot, if you have metal edges and enjoy the downhills. Or it can be a frightening thigh-burner, if you cautiously snowplow all the way down. I like it, but it’s not for everyone.
We went to Panorama Ridge today (Saturday). A wee bit of new snow and no raincrust made for relatively soft conditions on the Taylor Lake trail, considering the horde of walkers and snowshoers. From his pictures- Alf enjoyed much nicer snow above tree line. Today, the alpine was badly wind affected and also had a suncrust in spots on steeper S exposures. Still, a very worthwhile viewpoint of the Bow Valley, even if skiing back down to the larch glades was a bit taxing. Once in the sheltered glades, the turns improved but the snowpack was fairly typical of January in the Rockies- a bit unsupportive in spots courtesy of the faceting process. The ski back down the trail was fast and fun requiring quick turns and reflexes- imagine a twisting ten foot wide downhill run through the forest, thanks to the snowshoe clad grooming crew who preceded us 🙂
Spent the weekend at beautiful Lake O’Hara with family and friend. -10 skiing in on Saturday on a skier set track. Gentle snow fell along the way. Met a large group of 20+ heading in to the Elizabeth Parker hut. Gently snowed all night. Did a short tour this morning onto the lake to admire the amazing scenery and peaceful silence under blue skies. Skiing out was easier with the fresh snow. I can’t think of a better place to spend a weekend!
I hope that I’m not charged with some civil (or uncivil) offence if I write about a “Club Trip” that will be chronicled in said Club’s web site. Anyway…easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission, eh?
The Ramblers had a back-country tour in Kananaskis today when we skied up to near Rummel Lake and then took a right to traverse over to Chester Lake. Hats off to the group of hearty folk, an astounding 16 in number and as varied in personality as…well, pretty much any group of 16 outside of the U.S. Republican Party. Not a soul was lost or injured and everyone had a great time of it.
The weather was in our favour. Expecting a cold start, it was a balmy -8 at the trailhead and -2 on return. Hold it! Why is the other end not the “Trailtail”? No matter. We also had more sunshine than in the city, it seems. No winds to speak of and the usual stellar winter views around the Lake.
That being said, we do need snow …and badly. Conditions were quite variable, with a thin crust on south-facing slopes and the normal descent from Chester pretty skied out. Still, a great day, all told.
Paradise Valley: We did not venture very far into the backcountry, but skied up the Paradise Valley trail from the Fairview trail. The snow was pretty nice, but we encountered a great deal of deadfall on the trail, especially beyond the horse trail junction, and a few nasty little gully/moguls. We were also reminded of the Pipestone tree-falling story, as many heavy-laden trees leaned over the trail. It was quite chilly, but fortunately there was very little wind.
To avoid most of this on the return, we followed some like-minded skier tracks down the creek as far as the horse trail bridge. It was good to have tracks to follow, but the route was a little sketchy at times.
Running theme for this winter (?) – spectacular hoar frost crystals on the trees along Fairview trail and elsewhere 🙂
Sun Jan 10: mount whymper/north bowl via chickadee.
Good ski track most of way up until above moraine, then blown in. Thanks to the three gents ahead of us for busting the final trail to the col. Dust on crust essentially above trees. Had to switch to boot packing for final 500 ft of gain or more, too much slipping on the hard slab underneath. Difficult descent in the variable crust snow for upper half (40 degree slope). Better snow lower but lots of tracks and sluff lanes made for an inconsistent descent. Regardless, a good objective for the summit minded when Avi risk is low. Bring your stiff skis though. I made the mistake of using my light skis, caught an edge and took a good wipper on the steep part. Slid quite a ways given the crust. Only bruises luckily. The trail braking party descended the south side and reported not so good turns for most of it.
Tree warning: forgot to mention the dangerous tree right at the trailhead. Large tree with a split trunk to north of trail right at the road. It was making some nasty cracking sounds in the wind and was threatening to fall over. Should likely be cut down before it falls on someone.
Headwall Chester Loop Jan 10
Skied the Headwall Lakes valley over to Chester Lake today. It was -25º at 9:00 am in the Chester parking lot, but luckily warmed a bit through the day.
Started with a well-worn snowshoe trail over to Headwall Creek then much bush thrashing up the creek, plenty of deadfall and slow travelling. Snowpack in the alpine is thin with plenty of rocks to get your attention. The climb over the pass into Chester Valley was quite good, bulletproof base with a bit of snow on top and an impressive cornice at the top. The other side however was not so great, lots of rocks lurking under the surface. We managed to get down without too much damage then joined the throngs leaving Chester Lake for the quick luge run to the car.
Jan. 9, 2016
Four skiers made their chilly way up to the Gypsum Mines in Kananaskis Country today. Starting temperature was -18 with a very cold wind but once we crossed the lake and entered the trees, things got better. Brilliant sunshine helped. Nice skier tracks all the way, and still some nice lines through the trees that weren’t too trashed. Stable snow in all locations with some surface hoar frost.
A great day out!
Thu Jan 7: Healy pass
A couple or three inches of fresh in the morning. Did some laps on an Avi slope first. Felt like powder with the top facets on the way up and down. Boot top ski pens trail breaking. 1 cm sun crust (weak) on afternoon aspects around 7000 ft sitting under the 10 cm of fresh but no issues on descent. Tracked terrain became fast quickly on descent. More dust on crust kind of skiing up around the pass. Excellent descent on the main trail all the way back. What a blast with the fresh snow!
Tue Jan 5: Simpson pass/sunshine loop.
Casual solo tour. Main trail up Healy is solidly luged. Skin track up Simpson with limited downhill tracks mashing it up. Would be a bit of a chunky ride down that way. About 90 cm at Simpson pass. Slopes below headwall were mostly facets on top, unconsolidated enough that it really wanted to sluff, almost close to steep enough. A little spooky above the cliff traversing south, collapsing snowpack near rocks and trees, better up into the meadows. Ankle to boot top ski pens most of time with some knee to thigh wallowing occasionally around the cliff band. Mild day, slight breeze.
Smith Dorrien backcountry- January 3.
With the bluebird weather, we opted for a tour on the sunny side to a viewpoint. Expectations of good powder skiing were kept in check by the lack of recent snowfall, and reports of wind affected snow up high.
From roadside up into the alpine, the snowpack was consistently in the 70-80 cm range, and still supportive. Below treeline- faceting of the entire pack was well underway, but it still held up under a skier. In some untracked flat larch glades- numerous whoomphs were observed with the snowpack settling about 3 cm at each occurrence. I would suspect that this is resulting from collapsing of the buried Dec. 4 surface hoar layer. Treeline to alpine snow consisted of about 30 cm faceted snow above a reasonably strong midpack, overlaying a softer layer that is likely faceted too. We did not dig, but it seems apparent that the snowpack is in the process of becoming more typical of what would be expected for Kananaskis in January. Trailbreaking was moderate with 25 cm ski penetration, and sheltered areas offered up some very good untracked skiing!
Good info Steve. Thanks. Familiar with that spot. Did you go straight up the throat of the gully or sneak around up the more west slopes?
Not going to go into much detail here. There are actually 2 gullies, separated by the forested shoulder that we used for our uptrack. As in most places that offer the possibility of good turns, there is potential avalanche hazard. In fact- the more easterly gully was the site of a fatality many years ago.
Understood. Thanks (-;
Jan. 1, 2016
Again, the Ramblers were blessed with warm weather, bluebird skies and heavy, but otherwise heavenly snow for our first ski of the new year. We were a bit slow in getting out of the stable after our raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations, ending about 9 p.m. last night. On arrival at the Pass, the temperature was a brisk -14 C, but as we ascended to Cornice Ridge, the sun began to do it’s magic and soon we were stripping off all but the most essential layers. The air temperature rose to -3 at 2:30 p.m.! The southeast facing slopes off Cornice Ridge were very stable, though the snow was a little slow. After our first run, we hit an uptrack to the saddle between Cornice and Buzz’s Ridge (I think) and skied down fine lines again. Up again, this time heading climber’s right from the saddle to the top of Buzz’s Ridge for a long, beautiful last run of the day. Chip did a spectacular face plant half-way down the run, but even that didn’t diminish the enjoyment one jot. We skinned up at 1:30, used a well-travelled up-track back to a mid-elevation junction with the Cornice Ridge and had a pleasant, though somewhat “chewed up” descent to the cars. What a way to start 2016!
Sounds amazing! I have been wondering if there are any “easy” trails at Kootenay Pass? Or are they all for serious alpine touring types?
Dec 30: mount James walker.
Brrrrr. Cold day. -25 at parking lot at 9 am. And the valley is in shade much of the day this time of year. Some thin zones approaching treeline going up the headwall. The plateau and bowl had marginal snow cover given all the wind scouring, so turned around after a quick lunch.
The Ramblers ended the year with a bang on the south side of Kooteney Pass. We started out from Salmo at 8 a.m. under heavy cloud, but by the time we reached the Pass, we had brilliant sunshine. It was a chilly start at -15, but the ascent of the fire road warmed us up nicely. The first stop was a low point on Ripple Ridge, which we dropped off on the south side in heavy powder. We put in an uptrack east and then climbed up onto the Baldy Rocks ridge 3 times, taking runs off different aspects each time. There was a temperature inversion so that on the ridge tops, we found the thermometer reading -2 at mid-day. Stunning! Back to the car by 3 p.m., early enough to stop in the local grocery store for New Year’s Eve supplies. The snow was so good, we’re headed back tomorrow to do the north side.
Trip Report. Today a group of 5 Ramblers went up to “just about” the summit of Mt. Elgood (2205 m) on an amazing backcountry trip. Christine, John, Maria, Yoko and Chip were at the trailhead at 8:45 and made the 700-ish meters of elevation gain by noon. The thermometer read -8 C at the start and -7 when Chip and Yoko ended at 2 p.m. The more energetic trio of Christine, John and Maria went up for another run, but were back at the hotel by 4 p.m. Beautiful sun much of the day, no wind to speak of, shin-to-knee-deep powder up high and very good coverage in the trees as well. It’s really hard to imagine much nicer conditions and the haunting, sometimes comical rime on the trees was pure winter magic. Avalanche rating was low, low, moderate for the area and no slides visible in the area.
Mount Plewman, Rossland Range, B.C.
Along with 7 other members of the Rocky Mountain Ramblers, we spent the day skiing up almost to the summit of Mt. Plewman, just a few minutes away from Red Mountain. We started at 8:40 a.m. at -5 and the temperature did not change much all day. Brilliant sunshine interspersed with thin fog made for some variable conditions but, it was an absolutely fantabulous day. We skied 25-30 deg slopes of champagne powder and even the tree skiing was grand. After 2 runs, we were ready to head out, but the total elevation gain was around 850 m. Back for more in the same area tomorrow! Total time was 7 hrs car to car.
With stable avi conditions, today was the day to go beyond our earlier reported Yoho Road trip.
Delighted to find that it had been snowmobile packed all the way to Takakkaw Falls:
Decided to post this under Backcountry, due to the route’s avalanche exposure, but all is good now. Enjoy!
Commonwealth Creek & Smuts Pass – Monday Dec. 21
Winter wonderland! Excellent skiing conditions in the valley and all the way to the pass, but bare at the pass as usual. About 10 cm of new dry powder on almost 1 m of settled base. About 50 cm of powder on the slopes below the pass, so all the other skiers in the valley were downhill skiing on the avalanche slopes & gullies (the new version of “backcountry skiing”). Luckily no avalanches resulted.
Sun dec 20: west elk pass environs.
Casual/ exploratory day. Toured up the interprovincial border cut line towards frozen lake. Just over a meter of well consolidated snow at about 7100 ft. Mid boot to boot top ski pens. No wind affect in the trees. A few inches of new snow since the last grooming on elk pass trail. Snowed lightly most of day in that area and extended further north later in the day. Mild day, about -5. And I couldn’t resist adding more walls to the couch comfort zone. Needs some artwork now.
Excellent untracked powder skiing was found on Sunday in the Smith-Dorrien 🙂
Starting out from the road, there was a light rain crust under a few cm of new snow, that disappeared below 1800m. We skied several runs from our highpoint of 2100m, down to 1900m, in a snowpack that was unusually supportive for Kananaskis in December. At that elevation range, the pack averaged about 80, with a ski penetration of 20-25 cm. The December 4 buried surface hoar layer was evident but not reactive, with only occasional localized minor cracking as it settled a bit around the skis. We stuck to moderate well supported slopes, but there were others in the neighbourhood doing a bit of volunteer stability testing on some steep slidepaths, with no apparent results.
Second hand report:
“The kids” skied up to Boulder Pass on Saturday. They followed snowmobile tracks, which they said were a bit rough and bumpy, but provided reasonable travel conditions. Near the pass it was windblown with bare, gravel sections, but on the whole they had an enjoyable outing. Yes, I am jealous……. 🙂
Sun dec 13: Smutts pass area
Good day of powder skiing for turns. About 4 inches of fresh at the trail head, along with lots of cars at 930. Mild day. -5 most of the time. And light snowfall all day long added to the fun run out along our tracks (other than the snow shoers who insisted walking in the ski track). About 3 feet of snow at 7400 ft with a foot of Lower density snow over a fairly solid base. Did a bunch of laps on the avalanche slope exit from the pigs back circuit until we trashed the whole slope with tracks. Nice and sheltered there so no wind affect. Then busted over to the big slope coming off the east face of smutts. A bit more wind affect down low in the open fan area and a few shallow spots. Some Avi debri in the throat of the central gulley so just skied the edge of the slope. We did get some planar shears on the crust/facet layer in a test pit but hard to trigger. No whumfing or cracking at all today.
We skied up to the meadows below Healy Pass on Thursday, and I am happy to report that the conditions are excellent both on trail and off: about 10 cm of new dry snow on a good 60-cm base. One of the best runs back down the trail that I can remember!
We’d dec 9: tower lake
An inch or two of fresh at the trailhead this morning at 10 am. Moist snow at the start, until gaining a 1000 ft or more. About 4-6 inches of fresh at the lake, for a total of just over two feet. Just enough on the trail to cover any rocks. Hit them with my poles lots but not with the skis. Nice ride down in the fresh stuff. Might have been some grooming along the 1A. Evidence near the hostel of new shallow track setting. Will post a report if I check it out.
Little Elbow mini-excursion
Pretty tame compared with other reports here! But with many roads about to close, we opted for something a little different.
The campground road was closed, so we had to park in the summer trailhead lot and ski through the campground area. It was a spectacular sunny day in Little Elbow Rec. area, worth the drive out just to see it.
At first we sadly followed ATV tracks, but they soon diverged. After that it was foot traffic, aka hiking boots, until Nihahi Ridge area, and then we were following, mystified, some strange little sled tracks. The mystery was solved when we met the owner coming the other way (see photos). This kind of multi-use trail I can cope with!
The snow coverage was very good for the most part, with a few thin spots and a couple of tricky hills with too many rocks. It was still quite cold and powdery, even out in the sun. We soon got into seemingly permanent shade in the valley, good for the snow but rather chilly. Our trip was cut short, and my hopes of a sunny lunch spot dashed, when we encountered a missing bridge a few hundred metres past the Nihahi Creek turnoff.
After a welcome cup of hot chocolate, we enjoyed a fairly speedy return. The campground was still in the sun, but not for long!
Oops, I forgot to link to the photos:
The blue bridge has been missing since the flood; they keep saying they will replace it but so far they haven’t !
Always a good idea to check the trail updates database at kananaskisblog.com before you go on a trip in the Kananskis you haven’t done since the flood.
I suppose it is quite low on priority list, especially with the access limited to half the year?
I will check out kananaskisblog, thank you!
“They” meaning Parks.
Could be. Not sure why though as that’s a pretty popular trail.
By the way next time you do it, at Nihahi Creek crossing pop left to the river for a minute and check out the new waterfall where the river cut a corner during the flood!
Nov 25: Chester lake
Lots of wind affect at treeline, above and in open areas. Not really a destination for turns at the moment, but the trail was fun with a bit of fresh on it. About 30 inches of snow in the trees just above the lake near elephant rocks.
It was a chilly, but beautiful day to tour up to the Healy Pass area for some exploration and powder skiing. Great conditions on the entire trail (except for the stupid bridge over Sunshine Creek). And fabulous off-trail skiing on a deep, firm base with light, fluffy powder snow on top. It full-on mid-winter conditions, complete with -20C temps, low-angle sun, crystal clear skies and sparkling white snow.
That looks spectacular! I hope the avalanche danger is fairly low???
Yes, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, the Avalanche hazard is low at tree line and below treeline. So, it’s a perfect time to do tours like Healy Pass.
NOV 22 “THOR’S FOLLY”
About 2.3 km from the Boom Lake trailhead is an enticing Parks Canada sign promising O’Brien and Taylor Lakes if one turns right instead of continuing on to Boom Lake. 10 metres later that promise is compromised by the ominous warning “No Well-Defined Trail Beyond This Point”, and an opening in the trees that heads straight uphill at a dizzying gradient. Although I’ve known about this trail for a long time, the only printed reference I could find of it was in a dog-eared copy of the 1978 edition of The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, which refers to it as “Thor’s Folly”. In case the trail’s name was insufficient to dissuade the reader, the book reinforces Parks Canada’s warning with the statement “few have completed the journey without a good deal of bushwhacking”.
Since no trip is worthwhile unless it has a generous section of bushwhacking, 8 of us headed out today in search of adventure. We were on a combination of AT and light touring skis with full length skins. The trail was fairly easy to follow – just go straight up. Even with our full-length skins, we had barely enough grip to negotiate the trail. 1.5km and 340 vertical metres later, the trail finally levelled off.
We were rewarded with small meadows, sunshine, and great views of Castle, Storm, Stanely, & Whymper. The trail from this point was quite pleasant and appeared to be recently marked with flagging tape and – South of O’Brien Lake area – spray paint. But we did get our bushwhacking wish from time to time whenever evidence of the trail disappeared. The trail occasionally skirts the edge of avalanche runout zones, so appropriate caution is required. There are also several short steep sections – both up and down. And of course there’s the descent from Taylor Lake to the trailhead.
We had 20-30cm of ski penetration for most of the route. It took us 7 hours from the Boom Lake trailhead to the Taylor Lake trailhead, including short side trips to O’Brien and Taylor Lakes. Roughly 18km and 670 cumulative elevation gain. Full-length skins are a must. Highly recommended for those with a bit of a masochistic streak!
Went on an interesting back country tour today to Elbow Lake and beyond. From Highway 40 it is a short ski up to Elbow Lake. There have been plenty of people using the trail so trail breaking was not a problem: powder hound AT skiers, sensible snow shoers and snow (why bother) walkers. The powder hounds peeled off at Elbow Lake to ski the slopes to the north, while the others headed beyond Elbow Lake and down the headwaters of the Elbow River.
The narrow bridge across the river near the lake outlet made for an interesting balancing act. From there it is a matter of following the old road for several kilometers through the trees. Then at about the 4 km point (from the highway) and within a couple of hundred metres, the snow cover went from plenty to none! The view down to the Tombstone and Desolation Flats area looked interesting but would be best done with winter boots at this point. Even the snow shoers turned around, but the winter walkers continued on.
It made for a short but enjoyable outing with blue sky and warm temperatures. Here is a link to some photos.
Posing a question here: Would backcountry skiers benefit if backcountry trail reports were split up using the multi club trail classification used bymany Calgary touring clubs?
I would argue that the main reason most of us read the trail reports for track skiing is that we don’t want to waste time heading to a destination where their is poor snow leading to a poor ski day. Track skiers benefit from getting information and are able to ski less known trails when the skiing condition their is good.
The same applies to backcountry skiing, but the information is harder to obtain. By way of example Trail Skiing is the most popular ski classification. It includes such favorites as Robertson Valley, Chester Lake, Paradise Valley, all of which can be done on light touring gear. They are popular because they are scenic and have a consistent high quality snowpack throughout the ski season. More easier trail skiing destinations exist but are not as popular, but why? They are further away from the continental divide where the snowpack is deep….so the conditions are inconsistent. I am willing to bet that if backcountry skiers were able to obtain accurate trail reports for (backcountry)trail skiing destinations around Ribbon Creek and West Bragg Creek that the activity level on these trails would increase rapidly…..What are your thoughts
A lot of people are posting on ‘Backcountry YYC’ on Facebook so there’s lots of conditions info on that site. Also Avalanche Canada has a page dedicated to trip reports called the Mountain Information Network. It’s been active for a couple of seasons but wasn’t getting a whole lot of use until lately. This season I notice quite a few postings. Anyone can view postings as well join and add to the database. Maybe one or both of these sites will fulfill your needs.
Reports on “backcountry trail” ski conditions would definitely stimulate interest, but my observation is that backcountry skiers are in the minority on SkiHere!, and “trail” skiers are an even smaller sub-set. Which reflects what I see in the field, where “touring for turns” is what most backcountry skiers are after these days, myself included. A notable exception is Chuck who has posted up some very fine reports here of wilderness trail skiing beyond the groomed.
As far as Kananaskis Valley and foothills trail skiing, you are right- they can suffer from inconsistent snow conditions. I have done some trails in those areas, mostly many years ago. Evan Thomas Creek up to the pass was a good one, but may have suffered badly from the 2013 floods. In the Elbow area, Powderface Creek up to the pass is one I have done several times(but not recently) and was very enjoyable. On light touring gear you will need solid downhill skills. And right now, before the road closes, I would suspect that the trails up Mount Lipsett and Mist Creek would be viable, as there is a better than usual snowpack in the Highwood area.
Maybe if you report here on some of your trips, other like minded skiers may chime in.
Throughout the 90s I was very active in a touring program and watched as backcountry skiing declined in popularity. My thoughts at that time were that backcountry touring was aging in place as baby boomers got older and not being replenished by a younger generation of skiers. Part of the issue was an entrenched mindset shaped by the trail guides Ski Trails of the Canadian Rockies and its 3 category classification.
It wasn’t until an Avalanche fatality at Burstal pass that the various touring clubs were able to get together to address safety issues. The result was a number of initiatives including an avalanche rating for trails and latter a new multiclub trail classification.
How then to encourage an interest in cross country skiing and more specifically backcountry skiing? The answer is not simple and requires a long term strategy implemented by many touring clubs in the region. The foundation is track skiing all level daytrips with a strong presence at PLPP, Canmore Nordic Center and Lake Louise. This format allows new participants to start and improve basic skills throughout ski season. As each program grows in number it is possible to augment the daytrips with ski & skill clinics.
With backcountry skiing a key tool is to build each program based on the multiclub trail classification. One would encourage a step by step progression up each trail category. With track skiing being the first step and trail skiing being the second step the key is focusing in on growth through social interaction. Many track skiing destinations are also trailheads for easier light touring destinations so clubs all level daytrips could be expanded to include them (Paradise Valley, Moraine Lake, Watridge, Elk Lake…) thus encouraging a transition from track to backcountry. Another recruitment to backcountry skiing are daytrips to backcountry lodges (O Hara, Shadow Lake, Watridge…) most of which are trackset but are not suitable for the all level format, and the warm lodge encourages social networking during lunch.
Does it work… Bob Truman and I had success with the all level trackset format many years ago. On one bus trip to Lake Louise I took a group of 12 into Paradise Valley, most of whom had not been on skier set trails.
Will it work with a younger generation of skiers….probably….but the key is getting them onto trails when conditions are good…and social interaction as part of the ski outing. Build it and they will come.
On the topic of light touring, and its declining popularity, one can hardly forget to mention Gillean Daffern’s 1992 guidebook “Kananaskis Country Ski Trails” which was mostly about light touring. Unfortunately this book is now out of print (and out of date). I think that if the Dafferns ever decide to make a new edition (at this moment they say they have no plans to) that would do a ton for the popularity of light touring around here.
There is a pretty recent edition of Chic Scott’s ski trail guidebook which you say is partly responsible for the decline in popularity but I can’t imagine how. 3 categories makes sense to me.
Ski shops like MEC and Trailsports still sell metal edge light touring skis. Hickory wood touring skis are no longer available it seems and you aren’t even allowed to sell them at the Max Bell ski sale.
Before I critique the 3 category trail classification of the National Parks, perhaps I should clarify what I am getting at for development of the multiclub classification. What I am suggesting is a graduated approach where participants develop technical skills and outdoor skills at one level before progressing to the next level. In the days of the weekend warrior it was quite common to take out a new skier above their ability and that of their equipment. Every touring program in Calgary had a history of epic trips where something went wrong. My interest in trail classifications occurred after an Easter trip into Egypt Lake, with a group of mixed ability, where one member got lost and spent the night under the stars.
The weakness in the 3 category classification is that it undervalued track skiing and lumped them together with easier track trials. From a safety standpoint we were often putting novice skiers onto skier set trails before they were ready for it. The old vets would then point to their metal edged gear and declare words to the effect, if you really enjoy the scenery here in winter…this is the way to go.
Fast forward 20 some odd years and we now have a large pool of track skiers who might enjoy skiing if introduced to it in the manner, but where to start. Well take a look at the equipment they have on, classic skis suitable for track set conditions. What trails would you put them on so that they enjoy their first touring outings. Well its easier skier set trails like Paradise Valley, Boom Lake, Robertson…and not Taylor Lake, French Creek or Rockbound Lake which were part of my introduction to touring. Let them get a few trips under their belt to sort out what to bring in a daypack, what sort of baskets they have and what is viable for skis. There are about 9 of these trails in K country and an equal number in the national park. Once you have them hooked on the whole backcountry experience, most will graduate to more serious terrain.
My two cents worth: I also was introduced to “cross-country” skiing on the challenging hiking trails and loved it! I am one of those aging baby-boomers……
I know I have changed with age, but I feel that the trails have changed a lot, too, especially with all the snowshoers and now winter hikers using them, which makes skiing on them much more challenging and less fun.
Working on getting my son and his girlfriend hooked now….. 😉
But groomed ski trails and backcountry ski trails really have little in common with each other. You can have skied on groomed trails for years and be the top Olympian but nobody than thinks “Oh NOW you can graduate yo Backountry skiing.” They are a different sport. This may not be the case woth touring versus ski mountaneering, but really they are different too. You can enjoy light touring all your life without setting foot on a glacier.
Personally I think Chic Scott’s three category classification is quite sensible, although perhaps it could be expanded a bit. You have to remember that he is one of the most experienced and well known backountry skiers in the Rockies.
When building the multi club trail classification, we had to trail guides at our disposal. Chick Scotts Ski Trails of the Canadian Rockies and Dafferns Kananskis Skit Trails. Each classification had its strengths and each had weaknesses in it. By combining the two we ended up with a six terrain category system which had a lot of depth addressing a number of safety concerns. If used properly it encourages new skiers develop a foundation of technical skills before progressing into skier set terrain. The next category track skiing- light touring starts encouraging backcountry skills such as self sufficiency. and introduces participants to trails with limited gradient requiring some downhill skiing techniques. Above this is another trail category…which I will call Trail skiing Touring…which has an upper boundry of Treeline…where the characteristic is narrow trails with extended downhill runs. I could go on with the other 3 categories but you are probably familiar with them already as well as the ski equipment, and backcountry skills required.
If you are introducing young adults in their 20s to backcountry skiing you probably don’t need to use the graduated approach as they are able to substitute fitness for technique…but catering to other age groups….the graduated approach makes more sense. Put them on trails where they are able to enjoy….and they will keep coming back.
Glorious weather and fine powder skiing in the Highwood Pass vicinity today.
Backcountry ski conditions, and the snowpack, are certainly above average for this time of year. The full report is here-
Skied Chester Lake this afternoon after skiing Ribbon Creek in AM. First time doing track and back country, both great this day. Chester trail is nothing but fantastic, bags of soft dry powder over a consolidated base, simply the best conditions ever and to think it’s November. Of course the Snow Gods could get angry and take it all away so we left a small offering. Special thanks to the two young women(on skinny skis and no skins) who broke trail all the way, ah to be young again! The week-end could be a zoo, so get it while it lasts. So many choices this year, hope my stamina lasts.
I took up alpine touring about three years ago, but it has been a very slow learning curve. I work pretty similar hours to that of a fireman and have been searching for other midweek skiers without a whole lot of luck. Just wondering if you would be willing to take a tag along out.
I have all my avi gear and AST1, 44 years old, in good shape, and have been xc/downhill skiing for almost 30 years.
I would appreciate any experience your willing to pass on.
In your ballpark, Jamie, but usually just available Sun/Mon
Monday’are actually one of my best days to get out.
I usually have Mondays and Fridays available and am up for company.
We ski fairly big stuff when the conditions are right, otherwise just do what conditions allow. Also like to hit The Dive at Sunshine and Ptarmigan Chutes at Louise when there’s powder. We ski the Smith Dorrien, Banff Jasper Hwy etc. Send an email if you want to join us someday. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fabulous conditions at Healy Pass today. Blue sky, sunshine, -4C temp and 10cm of off-trail ski penetration on 60-70cm of snow depth. Fast travel on the packed trail and easy trail breaking & powder skiing off-trail.
The new Parks Canada bridge over Sunshine Creek has still got to be the most idiotic thing I’ve seen on a ski trail. It’s completely un-useable during the winter.
Also, someone needs to send a memo to hikers that winter has arrived. A hiker post-holed up the ski tracks, all the way to Healy Pass. Either get snowshoes, if you can’t ski, or hike at any of those trails that are still mostly snow-free.
When we were descending we met the two guys post-holing up the trail on Saturday. Two younger dudes with their snowboards strapped to their backs.
I guess this is how lessons are learned.
Highwood area- November 15.
It was hard in advance to know what to expect at Highwood Pass, after a big dump of heavy snow accompanied by strong winds and warm temperatures. High avalanche hazard in the alpine was a given, confirmed by several recent slides in steep windloaded gullies nearby. At 9:30 in the morning, the sun had turned exposed snow at roadside elevations to mashed potatoes, but in the less exposed forest, conditions were still dry, if a bit heavy. Snowpack in the area at treeline elevations is around 50-60 cm and decently supportive, with 25 cm ski penetration making for moderate trailbreaking, as long as you’re on fatter boards. Alpine areas were highly variable- from bare scree, to pockets of deep dense windslab, with a bit of windsifted powder here and there. Needless to say we kept to low angle slopes with no overhead hazard! The winds on the higher surrounding mountain ridges were of hurricane force- creating booming sounds at times that sounded like avalanches or explosions.
Four runs in the larch glades featuring some quite decent powder skiing were enjoyed, but by later in the afternoon the sunny periods had made much of the below alpine snow damp, making for less good skiing, but adding to the potential for a solid base under future snowfall. Here’s hoping for a refreshing before the gates come down on December 1!
All in all a pretty fine day of backcountry skiing for mid-November.
Photo 3 should be kept a top secret. You don’t want the world to know how beautiful it is up there!
And we’re seeing Skrastinus Downhillensus from the other side of the lens too!
Steve, could I have your permission to use the photo #3 as my new favourite PC desktop screen background?
Go right ahead Henry. Could send you a higher res version if desired
Thanks Steve. The original is perfect.
There were pretty good conditions at Arethusa Cirque, near Highwood Pass on Sunday. Snow depth was 60cm in the larch forest, but it was more variable above tree line, where strong winds had redistributed the snow. Off-trail skiing was mostly good, but the occasional rock or log is still within range of your ski bases.
Healy Pass Saturday Nov 14.
I just read the previous post about marginal conditions at Healy on Friday the 13th; either we were in 2 different places or there was an awful lot of snow overnight.
About 25cm at the trailhead, tons of powder all the way to the pass. 70cm settled snow at the top with a supportive base. Warm day on Saturday so all this snow should result in a consolidated base.
Healy Creek and Healy Pass. Two different trails.
Same place, just 24 hours later.
Fri nov 13: heally creek
Had an errand in Banff so checked out heally today. Marginal while I was there in the morning. Only a couple inches at the start (9am). About a foot at 6700 feet where I turned around, just before some steeper rockier bits. No base to the snow at all so the rougher section wasn’t worthwhile at all. Had to ski down in my up track as a base to stay off any rock mines. Ended up walking the last bit due to endless clumping underfoot. Maybe by end of this storm cycle heally will be more doable. Seemed to be more fresh snow in Banff townsite that sunshine parking lot. Highway was snow covered and miraculously went from snow to just wet clean road right at the Banff park border.
I think you are actually referring to Healy Pass. Healy Creek is between the base of the Sunshine road and Sundance (and is one access to Brewster Creek which goes to Sundance Lodge).
Nov 11. Chester lake
Flurries all day. Still the same few rocks in the trees above the one way loop mentioned previously by others, but avoidable. Shouldn’t be an issue come the weekend snow. Lots of walkers, snowshoers and off leash dogs on the ski track. More hazardous than the rocks. Stopped at pocatera. Signs of ski use. Hut still closed.
We were also there today, continuing on to the elephant rocks and then up to the bottom of 3 lakes valley. Two of our group skied a short run above the meadow there- the turns looked pretty good, but rocks were hit as there is really not much of a base yet. Travel conditions were good with 45 cm HS, making skiing back down to the lake easy and trouble free. The well packed trail out from Chester was fun, and in much better than average condition for this early in the season. And yes, my observation would be that hikers outnumbered both skiers and snowshoers. I don’t get it???
I put a call into k country today to advise of the conflict issues around non skiers on the ski specific trail and the off leash dogs which makes for added hazards. Two separate dogs jumped into my feet when descending, luckily neither got their feet slashed by the ski edges. So likely some increased compliance attention in future on the dog end ($250 fine per dog if I recall correctly?) and maybe some better signage/information for trail user separation or to at least pay attention for descending skiers. I suspect it needs a “skier only” or “no snow shoers beyond this point” sign as most people don’t follow the “snowshoers turn right” sign.
Burstall Pass Nov 5/ 2015.
First ski tour of the year at Burstall Pass today. Skied from the car to the top without removing my skis, so that’s good. On the descent, I removed my skis a couple of times to avoid crashing into rocks and trees, but generally conditions for touring are great. Snow depth at the trailhead is about 20cm and a solid 30cm above the headwall in the upper valley. The snow is a bit wind-scoured at the top, so not as deep. I managed to find 5 turns or so, but there’s no base to speak of.
Today we took the opportunity of easy access into the backcountry.
Check out this link to see why it is so worthwhile:
Going beyond the normal viewpoint means crossing a significant avalanche path… only proceed if fully prepared!
Snow on the Moraine Lake Road access has diminished, melting out from the base and even exposing pavement in the thin sun exposed locations.
Iconic views await as your reward!
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