Alf Skrastins has provided a list of trails that are suitable for xc touring skis.
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MONARCH RAMPARTS – May 3
Another night below zero allowed for another spectacular destination:
By the time I was coming out, the snow was getting slow, but who cares, the days are long!
Bravo on another great trip.
That’s the best winter photo of the Ramparts with The Monarch in behind that I have seen. I love how the distant cloud is at the proper angle to look like a snow plume.
A quick check of remote weather stations showed that Mud Lake (Chester/Burstall Parking Lot area) got several hours of below zero temperatures on Thursday rnight. This meant that the snow had frozen overnight and would be supportive enough for skiing for a while. We headed to Chester Lake in order to avoid avalanche terrain and because the well-packed access trail would continue to be more supportive once the snowpack softened up.
It was a spectacular clear day and it warmed up quickly as we headed to the lake and the Elephant Rocks. The sound of frequent avalanches pouring off of the surrounding peaks offered a regular reminder to stay out of any potential avalanche terrain. Our route took us from the Elephant Rocks to the valley between Gusty Peak and Mt. Galatea, which we followed down to the High Rockies Trail. This took us back to the Chester Lake Trail before the snow had softened too much.
This is the last weekend to ski/snowshoe to Chester Lake. If it does not freeze overnight the skiing will be pretty mushy on Saturday. With colder temperatures and rain in the forecast, Sunday does not seem appealing either.
As of May 1, the Chester Parking Lot and Chester Lake Trail will be closed for all of May and June. This seasonal closure protects the trail and prevents damage to the sensitive meadows as the winters snowpack melts away.
Spectacular! Is the High Rockies Trail difficult to locate from that direction?
The section of High Rockies Trail between Rummel and Chester gets very little traffic in the winter, so when there has been fresh snow since the last users, it is difficult to see the trail alignment. It’s easy enough to follow from either end. It would be simpler to start on the High Rockies trail and tour up the creek.
Canmore Nordic Centre – Grooming still happening. Lots of keen skiers out. Skating and classic. Zero skis and red klister worked well. A friend had success with Black Magic?? Olympic,Meadow,Rundle,Meadow and Banff – also looked like Grey Wolf was groomed. Gotta be good to have good grooming in late April! Check the grooming report ~~ 8:30 am or so for the trails that have been groomed.
NORQUAY SKI RESORT – April 26
Short and sweet is how it went today:
Glad I was done before noon… it would have been too soft after that.
Note that the resort has been closed for more than a week, so I am expecting Alf anytime!
Evan-Thomas, April 25
There was a bit of an overnight freeze and the forecast was for cooler temperatures today. With nothing but warm weather in the forecast for the rest of the week, it looked like this might be my last opportunity to tour around the prescribed burn along Evan Thomas Creek. Travel was pretty easy on the portion of the Evan-Thomas Creek trail that had been groomed for XC skiing during the winter. There was a firm enough crust to allow for an exploration of the burned slopes and a few runs on the logged strips. But by about lunch time, it was clear that it had become a much warmer and sunnier day than forecast. As the crust softened and became less supportive, we made our way back to the Evan-Thomas Trail and out to the parking lot. Probably the last day for skiing here!
Burstall – Robertson Valley (short tour!)
The sun got much warmer than the forecast suggested! It was a spectacular day, but rather too warm, and by noon the crust was starting to soften considerably. Lots of snow, as Alf stated. Also evidence of snowmobile tracks up to and across the flats to where the Burstall Pass trail takes off, where it turned around.
Back at the trailhead, I found a black fleecy glove, which I took down to Pocaterra Hut to put in the “lost and found”. Inside Pocaterra Hut I found a dead mouse, poor wee thing 🙁 I did not put it in the lost and found. Didn’t know what to do, actually, so put it outside for “nature” to take care of. Sad.
STANLEY GLACIER – April 24
All my friends seem to have finished skiing for the season, but this is another must do.
Could be considered a waste of a day, as it only took a total of 2 hours… but you can’t be skiing all the time!
This place was obviously busy on the weekend, but no one to be seen today. At least they put in a nice safe track through the trees in this avalanche prone valley.
The conditions were excellent and the views extraordinary:
The ski out was fantastic… about 1 inch of soft snow on a solid base.
Wonderful photos. That is one spectacular valley in a winter setting.
This report came from Chip Scialfa:
This trip was originally planned for last week, but due to high avi risk was postponed. Six Ramblers went on April 23, pretty late for the trip normally, but this has been a colder and snowier winter than normal. The route starts at the Stanley Glacier parking lot but trends north through knee high conifers until getting into forest proper. After some time through the trees, generally on looker’s right of the drainage, the terrain opened up and the real work began. It’s not complicated to make a good uptrack but it is 1300 m up, so not for beginners. The aspect of the up-track is such that it is partially shaded in the morning, going to almost full sun by mid-day. This CAN be good if solar effects have created a crust, allowing the surface snow to warm up, but that also increases avi risk. The route out was generally following the uptrack, staying near the creek. In warmer weather, near the trail head, this can again require creek crossings, sometimes aided with snow bridges.
NOTE: This is avalanche terrain so come prepared and equipped.
NOTE: For more on the Ramblers, link to
Robertson Glacier, April 22
We started from the Burstall trailhead with the intention of exploring the Burstall Pass area and the cold, dry snow and firm base made for fast, easy travel to the flats beyond Upper Burstall Lake. But with clear skies and no wind, it seemed like the perfect day to ski the Robertson Glacier. Fabulous conditions!
Is there still enough snow to ski around the flats and avoid the narrow bit of trail through the trees?
Yes, Diana. The snow coverage on the lakes and the wide flats is the best I’ve ever seen. Deep, smooth and fully supportive.
SKOKI & FOSSIL MOUNTAIN CIRCUIT – April 22
Why would you ski in January and not in April?
Conditions are amazing… cold snow and no more than ankle deep ski penetration.
Not to mention the sights:
Fantastic, as are you!
One can only shake one’s head in wonder and amazement.
Thanks for the encouragement Diana.
So many places to explore, and so little time left!
TOKUMM CREEK – April 20
A solid snow crust made this ski tour very easy today. Not only could you have used track skis, you could actually walk on the surface!
The Northern Hawk Owl vocalizing down the valley was marvellous, as were the Mountain Bluebirds and American Dippers. It was also interesting to come across a Wolverine hair snare with a well scavenged carcass.
This trip is classified as backcountry due to an avalanche path that is hard to bypass, but everything seems to be already down.
Check out the details here:
Sorry, no bears, not even horses, and absolutely no people!
The owl was really giving you the stare down. Very nice sighting.
Plan A for Bob and I on Saturday had been the circuit over Birdwood and Smuts passes, in weather that was forecast as a mix of sun and cloud. Well…what we got was a day of poor vis, pretty much continuous snow at over 2 cm an hour, and a bail to Plan B- good old reliable Burstall Pass. As they usually do, the treeline larch glades delivered- with 4 runs of superb untracked powder skiing in 25 cm of light dry snow over a firm base. The exit gully is as well filled in as I have ever seen it, and travel was fast and easy both on the way in, and out- where waxing made short work of the open flats and the “uphill both ways” logging road which was mercifully free of hiker postholes. Moderate SW winds were moving a lot of snow around and soft slab formation was evident at treeline elevations- we cut loose an inconsequential 10m x10m x 25 cm deep slab that slid on a hard crust at an isolated 45 degree rollover. Below 2000m the new snow was moist and a bit sticky, at the trailhead elevation of 1900m at 4 in the afternoon, it was beginning to resemble mashed potatoes. On the way home via Hwy 40, heavy wet snow was falling all the way north up to Galatea.
This comment was submitted by Chip:
Even though it’s mid-April, our colder, white winter has meant great skiing in the Front Ranges. This route starts roadside, crosses a little meadow before heading into the trees. After an hour, the views emerge and stunning they are, with The Fist and Mount Smuts to the north and Galatea, Gusty and Chester to the east. The ascent up to the high col is a bit of a grunt and it can be quite sun-blasted and wind-affected. We got lucky, even on south aspects the skiing was very good.
Our descent route took us through a tight canyon that holds a pretty waterfall in summer. It’s a bit daunting when it’s been trashed by other skiers but can be side-slipped. After that, it’s an easy ski out.
NOTE: This is avi terrain, so come prepared and equipped.
NOTE: This was a Rocky Mountain Ramblers trip. For more info, go to:
I just posted on the “Ask a question …” stream, so I don’t want to duplicate. But realized after that the question might be better for readers on this stream.
Question, summarized: I’m going in to Skoki tomorrow for one, possibly two, nights. Wondering if the terrain around Skoki would make it worthwhile to go in on AT gear just for a change instead of my skinny skis. Are there reasonably good turns to be had?
I’ve skied in many times on my skinnies, so that’s not an issue. But the touring once I’m there would be a lot different with the AT. Downside is the slower ski in and out. (I’ve always felt a little sympathy for the AT’ers I glide by on the way in and out 😉 ).
Brand new question:
Anything wrong with waking AT skis? Does it screw up the adhesion of the skins after? I’m inclined to try getting from Temple Lodge to base of Boulder Pass without skins, and hope waxing would work. (G3 Synapse 101’s, slight front rocker, G3 Alpinist skins).
Thanks for your thoughts.
And just saw Chip’s and Chuck’s posts right below. Gorgeous! I hope the conditions stay good for another week.
I use wax on my AT skis all the time for flatter trail access. Depending on the wax, it will gum up the skin adhesive, so always best to give it a good scrape before putting the skins on. I carry a 2 inch wide putty knife in my wax kit which makes it easy to get 99% of the wax off with one pass. Works better than the standard plastic scraper. Another option is a rag in a ziplock dampened with orange oil. Some sections of the hills up to temple day lodge, and a couple of spots beyond that, might be difficult for wax unless conditions make for good grip. Back sliding on AT gear is a pain. Kicker skins might be a better option. Ive always done it with full skins. As to AT over light touring, certainly opens up options for exploring around. I prefer the exit much better on AT gear. Tuck and zoom.
(Wondering if the terrain around Skoki would make it worthwhile to go in on AT gear) Definitely yes if you’re staying for two nights. There is plenty of terrain to get turns. I would just go in on skins. If you end up waxing with soft wax (e.g. red) then definitely scrape carefully before putting on skins. But a bit of blue wax shouldn’t transfer to the skin glue.
Yes to waxing AT (or tele) skis where the terrain is appropriate, and Skoki would be a good example of a tour where wax could turn a slog on skins into much more enjoyable skiing. Of course it depends on snow conditions also- I would think twice about glopping up skis with red wax if I needed to put the skins on later. I put a thin layer of VR40 on my 102 waisted skis a few weeks ago to kick and glide out of a flat valley bottom- it is still there and hasn’t transferred over to my skins after several more ski days.
Thank you. All. Much appreciated. I’m off , AT and blue wax to start.
Enjoy your weekend,
I realize this may be too late for Dennis’ trip to Skoki, but my solution to the question is I use a pair of very skinny skins, (50mm) on my AT skis for flat travelling. They work extremely well for this purpose as they leave about 75% of the base exposed, so – good glide and some grip. I then attach my wide skins for ascents. Great for Burstall Pass, Skoki, Elk Cabin, or any trip that involves some flat terrain.
A note on this. I’m submitting via Google Chrome on a Mac running OS10.13.3 (the newest version I know of). It’s only an intermittent problem. I submitted a report at 5:30 this morning and it didn’t go through. I then ran a test at 9 a.m and it did. Same browser; same machine.
Black Prince North Slopes April 5:
This was a first for me, joined by 5 guys from the Rocky Mountain Ramblers. We started 4 km north of the Black Prince parking area, and followed a drainage west to open slopes around the north shoulder of Black Prince. Blue skies, a light breeze and generally great powder of about 10 cm on a stable base. A short approach, we reached the base of several open slopes in one hour. Near treeline it was becoming wind-affected and thin, so we launched from there. We did 3 different slopes, the last a bit narrow, all between 30 and 35 degrees. Our GPS read 7.5 km and 850 m gain. Think I’ll be a couch potato today.
For more info and pics, go to the Ramblers web site,
This is avi terrain so go equipped and prepared.
If you want the gps track up, write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
You did good to get fresh tracks there as it is really popular. The big path is known as the “Dogleg”, or more ominously- the “Sickle”.
How the heck do you remember all these names, Steve?!
CHICKADEE WHYMPER – April 5
Today, we had to return to Chickadeee Valley… this time for TURNS! The slopes off Whymper did not disappoint. Great powder conditions continue:
Tomorrow is another day!
Steve Riggs and I did a tour up Chickadee Valley and some powder skiing at the upper end. We had mid-winter conditions. -10C to -4C temperatures, overcast and snowing for most of the day, and cold, dry powder snow on the ground.
The travel conditions along the valley were as good as I’ve ever seen them. Most of the creek was filled in, the low brush and little trees were covered and many of lumpy-bumpy bits were smoothed out. A bit of blue wax provided enough grip and glide for a fast and easy ski out.
Chip sent these photos from yesterday’s French-Haig-Robertson trip. https://www.flickr.com/photos/151630166@N05/sets/72157692029778462
MOSQUITO WEST – March 31
With today’s sunny forecast (and yesterday’s snow dump), we had to go for some turns:
Don’t tell anyone!
Just a hop skip and a jump to the coloirs from there. (-:
The names are intriguing MaSid ( Funnel of Death, Grand Daddy, and my personal favourite the “Gutentight”)… which couloir do you prefer?
Only familiar with grand daddy. The others sound well named. Also the “X” coloir? If I remember correctly. An interesting feature. Looked like a great day for turns.
Could I trouble you for the gps track for this trip? I can do kml or gpx
I understand that this area is also called WEST NILE… presumably a more dangerous reference to the Mosquito!
I have sent you my gps track via the email address I have on file Chip.
Backcountry skiers may also want to check out this link:
Black Prince South Slopes (reprise)
Yes, even though it’s only been a week since the last visit, with about 10 cm of fresh recorded Saturday, I decided to try the same slopes again. Wow! Arriving at the parking lot at -11, it was a chilly start but soon warmed up nicely. No one else on these slopes until the end of our runs. Calf-deep powder on a very stable base. Snow temperature on the surface was -5. Yes, there was a bit of trail-breaking, but man was it worth it. It was only -2 when we left at 3 p.m. so it likely didn’t get above freezing.
Other skiers who went up on the south facing slopes said it was good in the trees, but sun and wind-affected in more open areas. I think that our choice of north-facing slopes was perfect for the day and, with any luck at all, there will still be more opportunity to ski this area before the snow is gone.
Oh, yeah! This is avi terrain so…be prepared and equipped. Ski safe!
ASSINIBOINE LODGE day trip – March 20
Although I had done this day trip 13 years ago to the lodge from Mount Shark trailhead (56 km return), it was still a demanding effort for some of the trail/snow conditions and aging factor. Maybe also because it was only my 20th day of skiing of the season, having taken care of some injuries in November and December that prevented me from building up a good endurance base for longer days. But I wanted to do this trip again and waiting too long could mean dealing with warmer snow conditions at lower elevations. Arriving at the trailhead, there were cars in the parking. I was pretty sure not to encounter anyone, until I would arrive at the lodge. The Watridge Lake trail was skier/snowshoe tracked, with plenty of fresh snow. Waxing with VR45 proved to be slippery a bit, until I reached the Spray River bridge, where the kick improves quite a bit. At about 11 km in and to my surprise, I encountered about 25 high school students who were skiing out, after having spent nights at the Bryant Creek Shelter and the Naiset Cabins. One of their leaders told me they had walked down from Assiniboine Pass the day earlier, which later on proved to be a challenge for me to climb up on skins. But until the Bryant Creek warden cabin, I had a pretty good well-packed ski trail from this happy bunch (although many of them looked tired). It was snowing quite a bit by the time I reached the warden cabin, with a good 5 cm in the previous day trail covered by the big group. Reached a point along the trail where wax was no longer an option, I put the skins on my light touring skis. About halfway up the pass, I hit a 2-ft wide boot mark on the trails, from the group. Things had frozen the previous night and even with skins, it was getting tougher to move on skis. I ended walking the upper part of the trail until the boot marks let to a reasonable ski trail just before to the pass. Snowing still prevailed in the Assiniboine core area. Arriving at the lodge at 2:15 pm, some guests were coming back from a day tour led by one the guide, nice fellow named Thomas. Unfortunately, only the base of Mount Assiniboine was barely visible in the storm clouds and snow falling. It would have been inviting to get into the lodge for an afternoon tea and fresh baked cookies. But I didn’t want to get too comfortable, as the return leg of the day was waiting for me. Down from the pass, still walking the frozen boot steps trail in the upper part. Removed my skins at the bottom, with sticky snow in the meadows. Rather a pain to move freely until I got to the warden cabin. Then the going got much better until the Spray River bridge. To my surprise, fresh corduroy grooming had just been done. So fresh, that the trail was quite soft, too soft for a quick ski-out by the time I got to the Watridge lake turnoff, as opposed to the well packed down skier track I had in the morning. I could hear the grooming machine working its way down to that lake. Arrived at my car as the sun was setting down, tired and looking forward to a bite to eat. The drive along the Spray Lakes road to Canmore was pretty bumpy with all pots holes forming toward the north end. A long day that certainly tired my body, while building endurance and satisfaction to have done again.
That’s the way to do it… Thanks Normand.
I was planning to do that again this year… but now, it’s been done!
The “Aging Factor” comment is hitting home.
Thanks Chuck. I was thinking yesterday that if I would encounter someone on the trail, it could be you as it was likely a trip on your hit list of great destinations/tours. Anyway, always enjoyed reading your accounts of outings.
ELK LAKE SUMMIT and STONEY CREEK Circuit – March 19
Winter is far from over in Banff… in fact, this is the best part of the season!
The Freeze Thaw cycles have made backcountry travel conditions ideal.
Today was the perfect day for one of my favourites… the 35 km circuit of Cascade Mountain.
Sunny skies with Low Avalanche Rating.
The snow pack was very supportive and allowed for easy travel. The only challenge was steering clear of the Tree Wells… not that scary, just sort of bottomless!
Check the captions for details:
And the best news… now there is a track… Enjoy!
How did you even find the trail in some of those places??
Spectacular photos, as always 🙂
I know the trail well Diana! Besides skiing it annually in winter, we often traveled it on horseback or mountain bike in summer. Unfortunately, Parks Canada is not replacing the bridge over the Cascade River after the 2013 flood took it out. They now classify this area as “Wilderness”. It was always a popular circuit, as it is close to Banff. While there is an ice bridge, winter is the best time to enjoy it now… and now there is track to follow too!
Oops, I should have said… there are lots of blazes on the trees, and the limbs are cut off on the side of the trees facing the trail.
Those old wardens made it very obvious… Easy!
Black Prince (south slopes) St. Pat’s Day
Along with two other skiers, we headed to Kananaskis country for some backcountry fun, with 25 cm of new snow expected from the last storm cycle. Originally, we had planned to ski Gypsum Mines but, on arriving at the Peninsula Day Use area, we found crusty snow in sun and shaded areas and changed our minds. We went, instead, to the Black Prince area, hoping that a little change to higher elevations might improve snow conditions.
That worked! We arrived at the parking lot with -4 C, a bit of blue in the sky and no wind. The up-track to the tarns was great (thanks to early risers).
Most skiers head north from the tarns to get to the south-, and east-facing slopes, but those were sun-crusted and wind-affected, with some wet releases evident. We decided to skirt the south side of the tarns and then head due south to some slopes that are relatively protected from sun (being north-facing) and are too steep above the runs to hold much avi risk.
Nobody else there!
We broke trail, huffing and puffing a bit, to reach our launch pad and then had the first of four great runs in calf-deep, cold pow. We didn’t use up the slopes completely. On the way out, the warmer temps meant some snow sticking to the skis, but that actually meant we didn’t have to skin up again.
Back home by 4:30, tired but happy.
NOTE: This is avi terrain so, be prepared.
That explains the rambler post of “gypsum mines” not matching the photos!
Man, you’re the only one who caught it so far!
The Pig’s Back loop, March 10.
A relatively short backcountry tour that circles the small peak known as the “Pig’s Back”- this increasingly popular loop in the Smith-Dorrien fit the bill for a brilliantly sunny day with warm temperatures. For the most part following an established track, and some new trailbreaking by the group of 4 in front of us-quick travel conditions took us safely up to treeline through some exposure to avalanche terrain, before the sun’s heat had a chance to de-stabilize the snowpack. Once at the pass- the slopes in the alpine that can often offer up some nice turns were not conducive to yo-yo’ing, being wind affected to varying degrees, so we opted for a sit-down lunch on the sunny ridge instead. Continuing onwards down the other side of the pass- we found the skiing at first to be a bit slabby, making for cautious turns until lower down where the winds had less reach, but we did not linger for more skiing there, after considering the looming cornice at the head of the valley. A few rollerballs from the slopes above confirmed that the sun was having an effect on the surface snow, at the least. At treeline we traversed a bit to find some very good powder skiing on a sheltered N aspect line that took us down to the extensive meadows in the middle reaches of Commonwealth Creek, and then a well traveled trail through the forest above the creek closed the loop.
For skiers on metal edged light touring gear with enough experience to handle a couple of sections of moderate “trail skiing”- the middle Commonwealth Creek meadows would make a nice out and back destination from either the highway, or via the logging road leading S from the Mt. Shark road. In fact- we met up with a skier on light gear doing just that. Back at roadside just after 2- the heat had really come on, reinforcing the spring backcountry mantra of “start early-finish early”. A great start to the spring ski-touring season!
Haiduk Lake return from TCH1, March 11
Original intention was to ski all the way to Whistling Pass and back. But the orchestra of avalanches from Mount Ball around noon, with the baking sun effect, had me considered to “shorten” the trip to Haiduk Lake as final destination. Conditions on REC were as mentioned by Jean-François, overall pretty good. Brian and another fellow passed me about 3 km from the parking lot, hauling large loads to the lodge on sleds. My friend Dave skiing to Shadow Lake caught up to me at the SLL junction; we have been skiing to Lake O’Hara lodge 29 years in a row. We had a short chat with Brian as he was coming back from the lodge, which has closed a week ago. Surprising, given the amount of snow in the area, with only 4-5 weeks of operation this winter. It was very nice to meet Jean-François and his friend Gilles at the lake. Mount Ball was simply magnificent with the snow flutes cascading down its massive lakeside face. After a few photos shots, it was time for me to carry on. Skied about 1.5 km on the southeast shoreline of the lake, before going up the drainage of Haiduk Creek. Breaking trail with 20 cm of ski penetration. Finally reached a large meadow where I caught up with a snow-filled in ski track, which helped me to move faster. Meanwhile, I could hear quite a few rumbles of avalanches off Mount Ball and a subsidiary (unnamed) peak just south. The ramp leading to the hanging valley of Haiduk Lake is not easy to find, for anyone going there first in the winter. The climb up the lower valley is quite steep and narrow through the trees. Finally reached the outlet of Haiduk Lake at 2:50 pm (with my planned turn around time of 3 pm), after breaking new trail from where the old one stopped. Whistling Pass was in sight, but given the time of the day and the sun baking on the slopes of Pharaoh Peak, it would have to wait for another day. The return to the lodge was just under 2 hours. Removed the skins at the Shadow Lake bridge and waxed with VR60. Skied out via the Red Earth Creek canyon, with quite a few clumpy snow avalanches on skier’s left side. Skiing down the last 11 km, the ski track was getting glazy in places. A nice and long day in the sun, with 43 km return.
Couldn’t have picked a better day to ski into Bryant Creek shelter and Warden Cabin. This was an outing of “the couch chics” and friends. Saw 2 + 3 people skiing out from Assiniboine but otherwise; nary a soul. Using skins on our skinny and light touring skis was not really necessary, but walking up and back down that steep hill was necessary for half of us. Temp -11 at start and -4 at end. I used a vintage Rode Blue 0 to -6 and it performed all day, even climbing back up to Watridge Lake. Total distance: 27.4 kms. Ascent 456 M. Sun and blue skies were 10/10! As we were leaving @ 4:30 the big grooming machine arrived. Grab the snow while it is SO good!
We’d mar 7: powderface creek/ridge.
Bluebird!! -8 at 10, zero back at elbow falls at 3. Did I say bluebird? Stellar day to sneak one up to a 7000 ft ridge (2000 ft of gain). doubt I would have made it to the col if I was breaking trail, so thanks to GH and company!!! I owe them a beer or a trail. It’s a narrow deepish track for sure. Waxed to the prairie link junction (AT gear) then skins the rest of the way. One snowshoer and dog ahead of me but still relatively smooth. The gulley crossing/turn is much more filled in than earlier in the year, but still a challenge on descent. Shortly after that an ice flow across the trail at the bottom of the turn back onto the sunny south side of the drainage. Descending was at the edge of my current abilities. Ankle didn’t like the turns at speed or sudden braking stops. I “widened” the trail somewhat trying to keep my speed in check, but not really snow plow or light touring territory on the upper section. Soft snow at the sides worked well, but not always wide enough. Needs more ski traffic! A little bottomless off the track given the faceted 2 ft + snowpack. Lower down its more tuck and luge. Steeper south slopes were getting moist and heavy in the afternoon (6500 ft). Hopefully another day tomorrow without icy trails.
Oh, and the snowshoers dog bit my leg as I descended by them after running directly at me when I warned of my approach, despite asking high up to keep a keen ear open for my more rapid descent on the narrow trail. Luckily it was a light tentative bite that didn’t pierce my gortex pants. ?
Glad to see that you got to the top. A beer sometime would be great…
Almost brought some to the couch today. No guarantee any future trail beers won’t be fizzy.
Carole, Jamie and I skied up to Powderface Pass from the winter gate at Elbow Falls yesterday (Saturday). There is a lot of snow there now after the latest storm (Thursday/Friday). We started out at about 1030. By then two people had walked in about 2/3 of the way to pass so the trail was sort of broken. After that we were breaking about 30 cm of fresh snow. One does not usually get a “back country” skiing experience this close to Calgary but with all the snow this season and in the past week the conditions were quite good. This trail is written up as a potential ski tour in the first edition of the Daffern Kananaskis Trail Guide. It is often used by snow shoe travelers, most of whom go to the meadows and then loop back to their vehicles via Prairie Creek. The trip to the pass from the Elbow parking lot is about 15 km with about 600 vertical metres of elevation to gain. The first half is pretty tame with an initial steepish up and down but then easy travel along the creek though forest and meadows. After the junction with the trail linking to Prairie Creek (next valley to the north) the trail steepens considerably for most of the rest of the way to the pass. The hills along this steeper section are similar in difficulty to the steepest parts of the Healy Pass route from the Sunshine parking lot. The trail breaking certainly slowed up our progress. It took nearly 3 hours to get to the pass and a little less than 2 to come back out. All in all it was a decent back country experience without a lengthy drive and no avalanche danger.
A fine trip with the right timing. Almost went there today but opted for a lighter day at WBC. Get above the pass to the summit? Wind blasted up there? Might give it a go in the next few days.
The snow was really good. Most times that I have done the trip it is totally wind blasted at the top so I usually take my skis off and walk from the col to the west outlier. On Saturday it would have been possible to ski right up to the main summit but that likely will not last long.
Upper Spray Valley February 27 – March 2
If you are looking for a different valley:
The trail is now broken from Bryant Creek junction to about 3 1/2 km past Burstall Campsite. Although, past the Warden cabin the track will be drifted in by the wind. However, the route is wind packed and provides easy breaking. The trail from the Bryant junction to the warden cabin is mostly in the forest, so the tracks should hold up for a while. At approximately the 3 km mark from Bryant junction the summer trail takes a sharp right turn (sign). I crossed the river here and picked up the horse trail which is more direct and avoids an avalanche slope. This is a beautiful long valley with little elevation gain and is accessed from the Mt. Shark to Assiniboine trail. On a sunny day, it is hard to beat the scenery and the solitude.
HEALY PASS – Feb 22, 2018
Minus 20 to start, but with a good trail already broken, it did not take long to get to the top. The photos will tell you why:
Swix Green worked great until the terrain steepens past the campground, when I was glad to put on my Climbing Skins.
ps See earlier entry dated Oct 21 for conditions 4 months ago!
The clear, calm skies and abundant recent snow provided great conditions for a tour to Rummel Lake. Yes, it was cold and the snow was a bit slow… but what a nice day to be out touring! https://photos.app.goo.gl/jfGiw8lcO8JKaXSV2
If that is Tony in the maroon tuque, I have his Samuel Goldwyn quotes etched forever in my brain!
I’m amazed at how many skiers were out to brave the frigid start, but I can see that it turned out to be the most beautiful of days.
AMISKWI BOUND – Feb 6
The tracksetter had not arrived yet, so we followed tracks of a huge toboggan and snowshoers.
Check out what we found:
AMAZING!!! I often tell people, if there is a single x-c trail to share with them, it would be Alluvial Fan. Today it looked absolutely incredible thanks to Joe and other volunteers out there. And as for Amiskwi Bound Adventurers, it looks like they did not have time to set up their MSR Cappuchino Maker yet to offer you a java? Am heading to Field to ski Emerald Connector this Friday.
I love your pictures–really nice saturation and exposure for snowy scenes. Are these HDR, or have you tweaked the color balance or something? I’d like to learn the secret, if it is possible with my little Canon SX710.
Thanks for the compliment, Nathaniel!
I think my camera (Nikon Coolpix P600) is very similar to yours.
I never make any adjustments. I only use the automatic P setting (which I think stands for Program).
Maybe it is just picking sunny days!
Good job picking the scenery, too! Keep up the great work.
Mystic Cabin – Feb 1
Lovely soft snow today on a day trip to Mystic. Now there is a good skier set track:
Anybody ready to connect the dots to Flints Park?
Being completely out of touch with modern equipment, I have to ask if your partner in pink ski boots has AT gear and is skiing with the climbing heel riser up? Or is that some sort of telemark gear? Even the front of her boots appear to be riding quite high off of the ski.
Very observant Henry!
She has cable bindings, and for whatever reason both the toe and heel bindings sit very high on her skis.
The thick spacers on her telemark skis allow more leverage on wider backcountry skis which make it easier to do telemark turns. The fatter (wider) the skis the thicker the spacer required.
Thanks Pete… good to know.
Thanks Chuck and Pete. That’s neat to know. I’d love to ask the skier how it feels to be up so high on the ski!
I saw from one photo from Chuck’s Chester Lake trip that even the bottom of her boot is pink/black. Classy!
That’s a different lady at Chester Lake… our granddaughter!
Yes, classy, and tall without high heels.
Chester Lake (Jan 27)
Skied with a friend up to and beyond Chester lake today. There was a large group of split boarders and skiers in the parking lot when we arrived. We started out ahead of them and broke trail through about 15-20 cm of fresh snow up the right hand ascent trail. Arriving at the lake we noticed some settlement in the snowpack (whump!). We continued up to the elephant rocks and towards the three lakes valley and took a right turn to the top of a small ridge. Light snow was falling so not much for views. Had a quick bite then got some nice tele turns in down the ridge. Had more whumping in the meadow nearby, but the snowpack was mostly supportive. After returning to the lake the ski out was fun and fast!
Smith Dorrien backcountry, Jan 19. A very pleasant day of ski touring with some good powder turns as a bonus. With the high hazard in mind- we kept to mellow non-threatening below treeline terrain which is where the best skiing was probably to be found anyway. Snowpack at 1700m was 50-60cm and only lightly supportive, topped with 8 cm new dry snow. At 2100m we found a snowpack of 100cm and 15cm storm snow, with 20 cm ski penetration offering decent support and fun downhill skiing. A few hasty pits clearly showed the complex layering in the snowpack, with the 2 cm thick Jan 6 surface hoar 25 cm down being particularly evident, and reactive. The mid December interface at 40 cm was also easily identified as an easy plane of failure. Below that- a lot of facets and a weak crust or two- typical for K-Country. With the dry new snow and temps of -6 to -2 on Friday , conditions should be great this weekend on the groomed PLPP trails.
Chester Lake area, January 11:
We got off to a late morning start in brilliant sun and windless -18 weather, after driving south on Hwy. 40 in temperatures hovering around the -30 mark. We followed the well beaten ski, and then, snowshoe trails that were covered with about 20 cm of new snow. After a civilized lunch with bare hands in the meadows, we explored a nearby ridge to treeline, finding a heavily facetted snowpack that was mostly supportive enough to give moderate trail breaking.
Completing a loop back down through the forest and popping out onto one of the Sawmill trails not far from the Chester lot- occasional short glades offered a few turns. At treeline the skiing was OK but turns had to be made lightly to avoid breaking through the crust about 30 cm down. Lower down- things were pretty brushy but still navigable. Back at the trailhead, it had warmed up to -8. A couple of pix before the overcast skies moved in after lunch:
Slept in to 730 so we didn’t make it all the way to Deception Pass.
However, conditions were very good for travel. 0c at 1100 and just a bit of wind leaving the snow bombs in the boughs above. The ski out at the resort (our approach) was in in fair shape, clean snow and only a few twigs still poking above the snow. My partner had no problem climbing the grade in her fish scale madshus and I enjoyed very good grip with V45 swix. We passed more than a few parties on skins. We only boot packed the last bit right before Boulder pass.
Very windy at Boulder Pass but we could still see Deception Pass. We turned around at 1330. It took l hour back to the Skoki parking area. I was proud of my partner who skied all of it without metal edges.
The trail is posted every 50m and well packed, but steep, narrow and not for the timid.
Toe of Robertson Glacier – December 28
We intended to ski all the way to the Robertson Col and back, counterclockwise from the Burstall Pass parking lot. In a whiteout, cold and 3- inch breakable wind slab, ambitions and dreams are free. Leaving the parking at 9:15 am @ -18 C, progress was slow in the fresh falling snow on the trail. once out of the trees, we crossed several avalanche debris over a section of nearly 1 km long, some that had swept across the narrow valley and had slided from the right side. I suspect all those debris came down a few weeks ago when it rained and the weather was balmy; debris were covered by about 6 inches of snow at most. We had intended to turn around 1 pm, no matter where we were. We got just about the toe of the glacier. Not much of an accomplishment in term of elevation gain and vista (mostly whiteout all day), but a good 5.5 hours return trip and long enough to test backcountry skiing gears for the 1st time this season. The return on skis was very (too) slow, thanks to the “fine sandy” texture of the fresh snow on the trail. Stay warm.
I didn’t get any bites in gear or ask page last year so trying here: inquiring advise on off track touring (not AT) setup to replaced aged (90’s era 69mmKarhu3/4 edge/NNNBC/Asolo kit with either Asnes Nansen or Fischer E109 w BCX6 boot (both ~80mm) Both have a clipin skin & I’m leaning toward staying with NNNBC but may go with a 75mm depending…(?). Not using for carving but touring, so please don’t try to sway me toward afore AT setup. Strong fit classic skier & int. DH’er -some tele on skinny experience. Other ski recommendations are welcome IF you’ve used.
I have a variety of ski set-ups for various purposes but my favourite xc skis are Rossignol BC 65mm metal-edged touring skis with NNNBC bindings. These are good for track-set, skier-set and off-trail breaking as long as it doesn’t get too deep. The thing about 65mm skis is they fit in a groomed track pretty well where anything wider does not. I have some skinny skins that I occasionally use when conditions require them. My wife has the same set-up as me but she also has a pair of Rossignol BC 90mm waxless skis with NNNBC bindings on them. These are great for destinations like Burstall Pass, Elk Cabin, etc. but not too good for groomed trails. She also has skins to fit in case things get too difficult. Hope this helps. Cheers, Gord.
I use a pair of madshus 52mm light touring skis with 3/4 metal edges and NNNBC auto step in bindings. Great in the track and some light off trail useage (not the deep stuff). The binding plate overhangs this narrow ski and grabs in a track occasionally. Something to keep in mind matching bindings to skis. I find the bindings to be a bit prone to icing up when stopped after some fresh snow excursions. Doesn’t happen often but a pain when it does. Needs a nail to clear out or prop them up facing the sun for a bit. Maybe the none step in version is better that way. Also don’t trust the binding and pin to withstand major abuse torquing about when in situations where failure is not an option. Had a few binding screws pop last year from a little spill. Didn’t come completely off. Helen has a pair of the asnes with the clip in skins. Maybe she can shed some light on their effectiveness and whether the slots get icy or fill with wax.
For my NNNBC setup I put a skate lacing hook in one pants pocket to clean the toe of my boot while still standing before I step into the bindings. Works really well and very light weight and under $3.00. In my other pocket, I have a little bottle of lock deicer in case I need to get out of my bindings in a hurry and can’ wait for them to thaw. If you know what I mean. Check it out at Canadian Tire.
Correction: not 52mm, that’s my skinny skis. Not sure offhand what the exact dimension is but probably 60ish+.
Willie: it’s not my boot that’s the issue. Quick bang with a pole clears that out. It’s snow getting into the channel for the pin on the binding and freezing up when sitting around for a bit. No problems exiting. See you at the pass sometime soon.
Thanks for the reply Gord F, MaSid and Willie. All informative and welcome advise. I already have overflowing quiver of (mostly older) track skis incl. the pseudo-touring ones aforementioned, so definitely looking for a truer BC touring setup in the off track dimension range. Kinda leaning also now to a 75mm with detachable cable binding over NNNBC or (the very expensive) tech binding/boot setup for durability, cost and (or so I’ve heard) ski control. Have had ice jam issues too b4. Good tips. Thanks again all!
I love my ASNES Cecilie BC skis: 76-56-66 and use an NNN BC manual binding. I’ve had a knee replacement and am 70 years old so when I fall, I need the manual release. Big selection of Asnes at Norseman; I have had great help from both Gord and Dave. The half skins clip into the underside easily, but I usually just wax up, since I am a “powderpuff ” BC skier. eg. O’Hara Fire Rd I rarely have used the skin. Have also just waxed into Skoki. I don’t do much real touring and fear the downhills so might be tempted to put a skin for descending vs ascending. Very cool little tool from CAD Tire Martin! Never seen it before. Usually use my car key. I also have an older pr of Rossignol BC skis but favour my Asnes and the latter do fit into most track that has been skied in a bit. Off to Redearth tomorrow with the Asnes and goat Creek on Wednesday but praying for snow. One bit of advice-don’t let anyone sell you too long a ski. We shrink with age!
It depends on what you have in mind for “BC touring”. I have used the NNN-BC system extensively as it can serve very well for more rugged ungroomed xc-ish trail touring, when paired with a metal edged “backcountry” ski in the 50-60 mm waist width range. However- the NNN-BC system is inadequate in my opinion for more demanding terrain, even when mated to wider skis, as the boot-binding interface simply isn’t rigid enough for proper control when the going gets steep, deep or really rough. My light tele setup with old two buckle low cut plastic boots offers FAR more control (and fun when the opportunity for turns arises!) than even the heaviest of the NNN-BC boots can deliver. Having said that, if I was getting into longer distance”backcountry touring” right now as opposed to going out and climbing up for turns- I would consider building up a lightweight AT setup. Pricey? Yes, but amazingly lightweight and efficient.
Again- it all depends on where you want to ski.
A friend of mine used to use her nnn-bc ski setup with skins for touring the wapta with a multi day hut pack. Not sure how she did it really. Always following in our track for one. But surprised she never broke a binding. Definitely wasn’t cranking teli turns on the down hills, more survival than anything. I wouldn’t do it, other than maybe a spring rapid traverse (seen people do that too). So maybe 75/cable with the low plastic boots, or the tech set up. More expensive (tech). but can still go light and have plenty more control even with the lightest plastic boot. More like a racing randonee setup, with the option of locking the heel.
Now that I think about it, I have 4 sets of ski gear in a graduated spectrum from narrow to wide.
1- Rossignol BC 65’s with NNNBC (Rossi NNNBC Boots)
2- Atomic Rx’s 84mm waist, G3 Tele Bindings (Scarpa T4 Boots)
3- Elan Ripsticks, 96 Waist, Dynafit Bindings (Scarpa AT Boots)
4- Rossignol Super 7, 114 waist Dynafit Bindings (AT Boots)
Needless to say I mostly ski backcountry and sometimes at the ski hill. I do enjoy Cross Country skiing but haven’t yet had the desire to get faster/lighter skis for track skiing. Maybe that’s in my future.
I don’t ski in the backcountry very often…but I ended up taking my Fischer Europa E99 skis with partial metal edges and NNNBC boots up to the Wapta hut and sumitted Mt. Gordon on them (thank you Henry!). I couldn’t do crazy turns but it was a lovely ski. I’ve also rented shorter, more shaped skis with fishscales (super light!) and 75 mm bindings…they were a hoot!
Many thanks again Helen, Steve, Cindy, MaSid, Gord & Willie …for taking the time to tell of your tried & tested BC gear experiences. I’ve certainly learned much & value your perspectives on this forum. Now as the Hg climbs again can I ask a question about …. socks? 😉
Paradise Valley Dec. 8th
I went up with the kids on Friday. Hiking trail well packed and fast! A few hazards still, so don’t go too fast.
We had hoped to get closer to the Giant Steps, but at the third bridge the only option seemed to be the steep trail up to Lake Annette, for which we were unprepared. Not the only ones – many skiers had removed skis and walked there. We turned around, a little disappointed. I have not been beyond the third bridge since the 1980s (like a gadzillion other places!).
So I have a question – Chuck, Pete, or……?? Is there an easy way to ski up there now? Or does one ski up the creek after it freezes a bit more? Lots of open water there now, and all the tracks went up the steep hill, except one set we followed which only went a few metres.
Any route to the Giant Steps crosses significant avalanche terrain, Diana, so I would not recommend it.
The easiest route would be to continue along the creek past the third bridge (you will note that I was the one who went a few hundred metres to take my last picture of the upper Paradise Valley), and climb the left bank to avoid the avalanche run out zone.
Thank you for the advice!
I guess we got similar last photos 🙂
Hi Diana. I skied along the creek beyond the third bridge until I got to the big avalanche runout. I turned back and tried to find the decommissioned trail where it crosses the creek shortly before the avalanche runout. I was unable to find it but continued through the bush (south side of the creek) above and beyond the runout. The trees were mostly open but there was a lot of deadfall so it was hard going. I decided after a while it wasn’t worth it so skied back and up to lake Annette. If you’re good at route finding and really determined that route might go. It’s probably doable from the Lake Annette trail but might be rocky and wind blown. Like Chuck says there’s plenty of avalanche terrain back there so anyone going to the giant steps nowadays should have proper avy equipment and training.
Black Prince – Dec. 8
After Steve Riggs’ report on Burstall, I was curious to ski in the area but, on seeing weather predictions for an inversion, we decided to try the slopes west of the tarns at Black Prince Cirque. In a word, it was stunning. Starting at 9:30 in the parking lot it was -16. The hoar frost was astounding, with huge feathers coming off the facets. By the time we launched for the first run, it was -3 C and no one had skied the slopes in a few days it seemed. There was about 5 cm of fresh snow on top of a very stable crust; really quite forgiving. No wind to speak of and, because the slope is in shade all day, it wasn’t subject to the solar effect of south-facing slopes higher up. Yeah, we didn’t leave any good runs. Returning to the parking lot at 3:30, it was -12 C.
For pics see
Burstall Pass, December 5.
An amazing day out with crisp clear weather and excellent ski conditions- pretty much as good as it gets! The logging road is a well packed double track with one lane being a rougher snowshoe path, the other a reasonably smooth skier track, but of course a few walkers and shoers felt the need to use the the ski track also! Not a biggie, but it would be nice to see a little more consideration of others become standard practice. On blue wax, travel was quick and easy to the headwall, with good coverage on the narrow singletrack section before the Robertson flats. Once up the firm headwall trail on skins- it was nice to feel the sun after a -13 start to the day. For the most part- we followed a well beaten track up to the pass, with numerous “corrections” to a bit of inefficient meandering. Winds were mostly light up high, with moderate gusts moving a little snow around, but not enough to really affect the snow quality which served up very good powder skiing right from the top- wind sifted in the alpine, dry and light below in the larch glades, which were totally untracked. Superb! The November raincrust is stout, and buried by about 30 cm of more recent snow, in the 100 cm treeline snowpack that is unusually good for this time of the season in K-Country. Hopefully the current spell of clear weather, which looks to be here for a while, will not transform the solid snowpack into the more usual early winter sea of facets. Speaking of facets- sparkly surface hoar was evident throughout- another potential problem to add to the mix. After 3 top to bottom runs the sun was sinking fast and we called it a day- exiting via the gully route which while not ideal yet, was fairly easy to navigate with some careful tiptoeing across a log or creek crossing or two, and a bit of willow bashing. Definitely more entertaining than sideslipping down the trail 🙂 On the homestretch- we opted to retrace our route rather than follow the willow flats, as the sun was setting fast and we did not feel like breaking trail or possibly detouring around open water as is sometimes the case in early season.
On what has been a great start to the ski year- this was the best day yet.
Darned you Mr. SmugMug Steve.
Thanks for sharing your awesome pics and account of a world of which some of us can only dream.
Great report. Keep the backcountry reports comin’ and I’ll try to do the same (snow permitting). I couldn’t help snooping at your other pics. You’ve got a good eye.
Great photos, Steve. Thanks for posting them.
A little embarrassed to admit that I did the mini-tour yesterday, but I can add a little information: the low, easy route from the end of the logging road is quite viable, if a bit windblown – easy travel, no open water 🙂
MOSQUITO CREEK – Nov 30
If you are looking for snow, you will never go wrong here. No rain crust either, because it never rained! I just took light touring skis, but if you are going further than I, you will need full alpine touring gear.
Check out the photo captions for the full experience:
I’m ready to go, Chuck! Great shot of the Three-toed woodpecker.
Creek travel looks well filled in at the iffy spot. Don’t think Ive ever seen that yellow capped version of woodpecker before. Nice. No ice on the initial little hills?
No chance of ice… nothing has melted up here.
The only “iffy spot” that you might be referring to is appropriatly avoided by a slight skier set climb to the left of where the trail gets close to Pipestone Creek. No problems either way.
And with Chip correctly identifing the three-toed woodpecker, it may be worth noting how his yellow cap seemed to match the yellow lichen on the tree.
Hope to see you guys up there!
Highwood Pass Redux
Well, as threatened in yesterday’s post, there was enough enthusiasm about the trip to Highwood Pass that we decided to repeat the effort. Although the trip was announced very late Wednesday, by Thrs morning there were 10 eager beavers ready to search for more pow.
We found it. Starting again at the Highwood Pass parking lot, we headed in the same direction as yesterday but stop on some east-facing slopes after about 2 km. The crust from Sunday was as stable as yesterday, the temperature and wind were even more pleasant. We managed 4 runs of about 150 m each and were back in town, tired and aching, but very happy, by 4 p.m.
And tomorrow, the gates are locked and they throw away the key until summer. That’s good news for the animals but not for backcountry skiers.
Oh, BTW our final treat was a look at a White-tailed ptarmigan being photographed by a group of birders at the parking lot.
Highwood Pass Paradise…
A group of Ramblers headed to Highwood Pass today to take advantage of new snow that fell since the Sunday rain. We started at the parking lot in fairly strong winds and -5. Things improved wind-wise as soon as we entered the trees following the trail toward Mt. Tyrwhitt. After 30 min we peeled off and headed toward Little Highwood Pass, where we found phenomenal powder of about 10-20 cm over a very stable crust from Sunday’s rain. We were all smiles for four fantastic runs (30-40 deg slopes) and felt especially safe because we chanced upon a group of Kananaskis Country staff doing snowpack analysis and avalanche training. We had so much fun, we’re headed back to the area tomorrow before the winter gates are closed.
Photos, without comment are at
Sounds fab 🙂
South of Highwood Pass, November 28.
Very good coverage on a well traveled skier trail with easy trailbreaking beyond the track, ski penetration of 15 cm. In treeline larch glades, pole probing showed that the top 30 cm of the supportive 80 cm snowpack contains two ice crusts- one 2 cm thick down about 15 cm, and a stouter crust down about 25. At the edge of treeline and in the alpine- wind affected snow found pretty much everywhere, ranging from bulletproof through to breakable crust, with lots of dense windslab thrown in for good measure. Yummy!
Fortunately- very good skiing was found in sheltered terrain a bit lower down, in “creamy” dry powder that made for fast smooth turns 🙂
Heading for home at 3- the skies had become murky, with light snow beginning to fall, which persisted all the way north to Ribbon Creek.
Your description sounds a lot like Arethusa Cirque. We were up there on Tuesday as well and found everything above treeline to be wind-hammered. We skied short lines in the glades to lookers left as you emerge from the trees on the way in. The snow quality was amazing but runs very brief. We got a lot of practice putting on and taking off skins. HS was 75 cm. and both crusts evident but not reactive.
Highwood – Elbow Lake — extremely windy day
I am astonished that so many people found good snow today! Bodes well for the future 🙂
Highwood Pass had lots of fresh snow, but only a tiny bit of the parking lot had been plowed, and it seemed fully occupied by snowshoers, so I went back down to the Elbow Lake trail. There, just a skiff of new snow over a very thick, bumpy layer of ice from yesterday’s rain event, made the initial steep hill “interesting”. Higher up, more snow enhanced enjoyment, but in some places the high winds scoured it right down.
I circled the lake, encountering interesting snowdrifts on the north side, and marginal coverage on the south side. I also ventured a km or so down the Big Elbow trail, finding lovely creamy snow over a supportive base once into the treed section. That was a bit of heaven!
Doing my extreme snowplow on the final descent, I encountered two hardy backpackers on their way up, probably the only other people on the trail before 3 pm today.
Saturday afternoon at Chester Lake:
Good touring up past Chester and the Elephant Rocks into 3 Lakes Valley. Solid coverage right from the parking lot on the trail, and easy trailbreaking off-trail. Much better than usual for November! Conditions for turning in some favourite glades were only so-so, with the rain crust that underlay about 15 cm of more recent snow proving to be a bit grabby and variable. The 70 cm treeline snowpack was “interesting”: above that 5 cm rain crust that is now down 15- about 10 cm of denser new snow that is separated from the 5 cm of dry surface snow that had fallen since Friday- by yet another very thin crust. Underneath the supportive 5 cm rain crust- the deeper snowpack was largely moist and loose, with not a lot of strength. Below the alpine- the weather was very pleasant at just below zero with light breezes. However- up high, strong winds were raking the surrounding ridge lines.
The ski out on the trail which resembles a narrow bobsled track in spots, was fun on AT gear but somewhat bumpy in places- I would not wholeheartedly recommend it for light touring gear right now, other than for those with plenty of experience on such.
A look at the winds expected Saturday and Sunday at Highwood Pass, combined with the weather station report of 20 cm of new snow Thursday (Thanks, Bob and Pat for that information) prompted me to go to Arethusa Cirque today. We arrived at 10 a.m. with howling winds at the Pass parking area. Driving down to the trailhead parking spot, we saw only 2 cars. Out of the first climbed two people on snowshoes. Within 2 minutes, they packed up and left. And so it was only 4 people the entire day which, in a word, was fantastic.
The air temperature was -2 at the start of the day, with 98% cloud cover. The uptrack was filled in but firm and my half mohair skins worked well climbing all day long. The wind was blowing between 40 and 50 km/hour I’d guess and snow nearing the bench was quite crusty so we stayed looker’s right of the bench and found beautiful snow on glade slopes.
We ended about 3:15 after 4 wonderful runs. Air temperature was -1.
I’d say that I feel sorry about trashing the slope for the weekenders, but I’d be lying.
Healy Pass, Nov 21
Exactly a month after Chuck’s Healy Pass report, it seemed like a good idea to see how the winter is progressing up there. The wind storms in the past month had knocked a few trees onto the Healy Pass trail, but those were the only hazards along the trail… (well, except for the stupid, skinny Parks Canada bridges, which are completely unsafe for winter use). There was good snow coverage right from the Sunshine parking lot, all the way up to the pass. Snow depth in the meadows below the pass was just over 100cm! Nice powder skiing conditions on the open glades near the pass.
There is HIGH avalanche hazard for the next couple of days, so play it safe and avoid any avalanche terrain for a while!
Sun nov 19: Smith dorrien spray Rd
No skiing (nasty cold), just a trailhead driving tour. Snowing lightly at north end this morning. Road up the hill in good shape, mostly gravel with a few icy patches on upper hill. Temps below zero above the hill. Goat creek trailhead looked quite thin. Mostly frozen gravel and compact snow on the road south of there. Spray lake mostly open water, windy with white caps. Moderate to heavy snowfall from buller to sawmill. Starting to accumulate on road. About an inch of fresh at shark parking lot at 11, -4 degrees. Smutts creek meadows still mostly meadows. Cars parked at rummel and tent ridge trailheads. Lots of cars at Chester. Full winter driving from shark to Chester. Skiers parked at commonwealth. Sawmill has 12-14 inches on top of picnic tables. Meadow crossing to Murray creek area probably just doable weaving around the willows. Creek crossings probably not? Couldn’t see Murray morraines. Snowing lightly most of afternoon at k lakes and north to k village.
The couch site (and wind-wall, bathroom, etc) got thoroughly ski-packed that sun evening, just before 20cm of warm snow. A lone snowchewer track made it fairly easy to get there on the left side fork. This meltdown, on the plus side, will make a strong supportive mid-pack and easier early season slack-country meadow travels. Yay?
Fantastic. Thanks for the beta. Probably going in there this weekend to get the couch process rolling, so thanks for the jump start.
Had a wonderful quiet ski all to myself up Paradise valley today. Started at Moraine lake parking. The snow was a bit thin near the junction with Fairview Trail but after that snow depth improved greatly. No one had been up the trail since before the last big snowfall so I broke trail all day. Followed fresh wolverine tracks for a few km to the second bridge. At the third bridge I followed the creek instead of the trail towards the Giant steps but stopped when I hit the large avalanche runouts. I turned back and skied up to lake Annette. Tough trail breaking in the drifts before the lake (waist deep!). Continued on the trail towards Sentinel pass until I turned back on the boulder field under Mount Temple. Snowing and extremely windy at that spot (good views though). Had to walk a few narrow sections on the way out. At the start of the Paradise valley trail (instead of skiing back to Moraine lake road) I turned left and followed the hiking trail to the Lake Louise (difficult to ski as it’s very narrow). From there I skied tramline (hit a few rocks) in the dark back to Bow river trail and then over to the hostel. A long day but it was well worth it!
Amazing. It sounds like you’re taking over for Chuck while he’s recuperating. -Bob
Maybe temporarily until he’s back on his skis again! Knowing Chuck he’ll be back out skiing in no time.
Wow… that is a huge trip for one day! If I was back to myself, I’d be stealing your tracks for one of the directions (towards the Giant Steps OR beyond Lake Annette) but not both.
Have a great weekend everyone.
It was a long day but nice to have the whole valley to myself. It’s unfortunate though that the old trail near the third bridge was closed. I used to ski that way to the giant steps which was more direct. Now you can only get there in the winter if you ski up the creek through the runouts. Any idea why they closed the trail on the north side of the valley?
I suspect that they closed the trail on the north side of Paradise Creek past the third bridge due to the avalanche danger and maintenance costs. As you know, even if the trail was open, you are faced with the same avalanche runouts. In winter, I think it would always be best to follow the creek where you can at least see things and have the choice of staying high on the south side. In summer, the trail via Lake Annette is spectacular.
I thought it had something to do with disturbing bears in the area but your explanation makes more sense. Constantly clearing the trail of avalanche debris every summer would be time consuming and costly. The Lake Annette route to the giant steps doesn’t look feasible in the winter. To wind blown and it probably crosses significant avalanche terrain.
Arethusa Cirque – November 18th
Steve Riggs’ post yesterday must have been spread far and wide. When we got the trailhead for Arethusa Cirque, just south of Highwood Pass, we encountered 4 other cars. By the time we left, the number had doubled. Although some of the slopes were pretty trashed from yesterday’s skiers, we found some very forgiving snow southeast of the bench below Little Arethusa.
A word of caution. There was a skier-triggered avalanche in the area today. One burial that ended well. Still, with the wind-loading and snow expected, it’s time to be very careful.
The Highwood area got a nice shot of new snow overnight on Wednesday, with at least 15 cm of new bringing the snowpack up to over 50 cm, in the treeline zone that we skied on Thursday afternoon. The open larch glades were skiing very nicely! Exiting via the trail was still a bit scratchy in a few spots lower down in the forest, where the trees are denser. In the alpine- coverage was much more variable as usual, with some barely covered rocks here and there. Winds in the alpine were quite gusty at times, coming from all over the map, with some soft slab formation noted.
MORAINE LAKE – Nov 14
Cooler temperatures and fresh snow made it worthwhile to go down to the lake, making this a backcountry trip.
Check out this link for details:
Sheep River — Indian Oils trailhead to Dyson meadows
We had never been beyond Sandy McNabb in winter before, and with the new bridge and fresh snow it seemed like a good time to do it. Virgin powder would have been lovely, but alas, several hikers/ snowshoers/ equestrians had beaten us to it, and “lumpified” the trail. It was still pretty nice, lots of cold snow, especially in the long dark tunnel at the start, which might have been a fun descent………..?
Probably 30 cm powder on this shady section, and also some rocks. Uh-oh. I was lucky not to hit any on the way down, but Bart was not, and did come to grief on a rock, wearing his best new skis too 🙁
It may be a while before he (a) forgives me, and (b) goes skiing with me again.
Wow, thanks for this, Diana! Have only hiked this area and never skied it. If my beloved recovers from his bronchitis before the gate closes we shall definitely give it a go!
Back to Burstall Pass Sunday Nov 5. Not a lot of new snow up at Burstall, maybe 8-10 cm on top of the old base. The HS is still around 50-55cm. Pretty wind-scoured up top. Lots of snowshoers and even a few post-holing hikers making their way up. Looks like the recent snowfall was largely upslope and the divide didn’t see the accumulations that hit the eastern slopes. Cold day, -17º at 9:00am warming to -12º by 2:00pm, had to keep moving so I didn’t shoot any photos.
Skied up to Burstall Pass today. Snowpack is pretty thin but hard and crusty so it’s very supportive. Only 2-4 inches on the trail out of the parking lot but all the rocks are buried so the going was good with skins, but would be terrible with wax. This will be a fantastic base for future snowfalls. I had to remove my skis and hike through the tight trees just before the meadow and again for the bottom 2/3 of the first headwall. A pit in the meadow at the top of the first headwall showed the depth was 57cm with a hard temperature crust on top, (sorry the photo is so blurry). There’s another hard crust at 20cm as well. I managed a few first-of-the-season turns off the top which was quite pleasant. I was surprised that Burstall isn’t getting the snowfall that’s hitting further north.
Thanks for the up to date conditions info Gord.
MORAINE LAKE – Oct 23
The great thing about skiing at this time of year, is that the driving is easy and the snow is cold, but…You have to be early!
It was minus 2 when I started at 10 am, but the sunny whether soon took its toll.
By the time I met Skier Bob enthusiasts, I was concerned that they may have felt misled… but they seemed enthusiastic!
Nordic ski coaches, Tyson and Courtenay are looking forward to a groomed skating lane.
I hope Vladimir, from Kananaskis Photography posts his expected sunset photo from the Rock Pile this evening.
Simone & Todd were all smiles, maybe because they knew I would take the responsibility of reporting this time!
When I asked another recognizing face if he was blaming me for anything, he said “I blame you for everything, CHUCK”! Oops… I may no longer have my volunteer job at the upcoming Mountain Film Festival.
And the photos please (with captions):
Does this mean that ‘truck setting’ can be added to the skiing maintenance manual?
Actually yes Henry… the ‘truck setting’ proved very useful!
It allows for options. Hikers are obviously happy to walk along a truck tire track, and do not feel the need to walk on any skier set track that may be put in. And even for the skiers, a packed track might be easier than breaking trail, especially when looking for that perfect glide.
All in all, if parks is not going to track set until mid November, I have no problem with a ‘truck tire setting’ so long as they go and come back on the same track.
OMG, what a sighting, and what wintery conditions.
If this amazing owl photo is a sign of things to come for this winter, I’m holding on to my seat.
Missed you by a week Chuck! I was up there last weekend on my way into (and out of) Egypt lakes. Not on skis mind you. Amazing what a few days of snow does to the conditions up there!
HEALY PASS – October 21
It’s winter at higher elevations… but the real treat today was the Northern Hawk Owl!
Chuck. Beautiful owl photo. Were you able to ski from the Sunshine parking lot or was there some hiking involved?
I wouldn’t put on skis until above the campground!
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