Backcountry 2019-2020

Alf Skrastins has provided a list of trails that are suitable for xc touring skis.

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  1. Fri Jan 17: heally pass/monarch ramparts
    Inversion was not really present at the sunshine lot, with -24 at 8am. Didn’t have to go too far or high to warm up, despite the lack of sun in the valley. About 3 inches of fresh on the trail to start. Moderate winds popping out at treeline into the open meadows, plus I had a snowshoer tailing me, so ditched The heally trail to lose the tail and headed over to the ramparts to enjoy my own track both up and down. Travel in open areas at treeline was mid boot (AT). Boot top in more protected trees. No whoompfing, cracking, or drummy snow on the ascent up to ridge top on lower angled terrain. No pit, hand or ski cutting tests. Sastrugi/bare rock skiing and blowing up to the high point on the ridge, so back I went. No cornice hucking today. The descent was great in the new snow. Would have been a 9 on the James Bond speed descent scale if not for the snowshoe divots slapping the skis about on the speedier sections, and the odd large tree bomb hunk. The travel along the meadow section in the lee of the ramparts was sunny warm paradise. Other than the snowshoer, only one other person seen and evidence of a party heading up towards Simpson pass.

    • “…I had a snowshoer tailing me…”

      They are typically harmless — disconcerting, yet harmless.

      On the other hand, ice climbers should be avoided at all times.
      (backcountry tip)

      • Was planning to ski another zone and anticipated he may have blindly followed me into terrain he wasn’t prepared for. Seemed lost without a track to follow.

  2. Despite finding a lot of old tracks in spots, that were only partially erased by about 20 cm of recent snow, we managed to find some very good untracked skiing on a blustery day in the Smith-Dorrien. Although the snowpack in the zone was under 1m, and underlain by a facetted base, the mid-pack was very supportive, especially for Kananaskis in January. A week of arctic weather may unfortunately change that 🙁
    https://steveriggs.smugmug.com/SkiPix19-20/i-RS2rdsr/A

  3. Rossland Range-Kootenay Pass Dec. 28, 2019-Jan. 2, 2020
    Photo
    Photo 2
    Photo 3
    Photo 4
    Photo 5

    A smaller group than usual headed out of Cowtown on the 27th and were blessed with decent road conditions all the way to Rossland, where we immediately stopped in at Powderhound Sports for up-to-date information on backcountry conditions in the Rossland Range. The advice was “go to Kootenay Pass”. We ignored this and, despite some pretty heinous conditions in the lower-elevation sections of trail, had 3 days of very nice snow and beautiful weather with the Kootenay Sea below us and blue skies above.

    Day 1 took us up Mount Kirkup via the Old Glory Trail. Day 2 below Cut Block Peak and Day 3 approaching near Mount Lepsoe via the Seven Summits Trail. Each day yielded some good turns, mostly in glade skiing and always under 30 deg. A pit dug on

    Day 2 was bomber, but this would change over the next few days.
    After 3 nights at Rossland, we moved over to the Sal-Crest Motel in order to ski Kootenay Pass. The first day was cold, humid and low vis. We skied the south side, climbing up to Lightning Strike Ridge for 2 runs before going the cabin and then skinning up one more time to ski the southwest aspects of Baldy Rocks before returning to Salmo for the New Year’s Eve celebration, a cheerful mix of food, stories and singing, with music from David (B), Ray and Chip. As per Ramblers’ custom, we called it a night around 9:30, a bit later than some years but certainly not a performance that would let us qualify for the Party Animal Squad.

    New Year’s Day, Chip was laid up with a cold but the rest of the crew returned to the Baldy Rocks/Crags ridge and found warmer, wetter snow. As well, a test pit produced at “easy” failure on an isolated compression test, corroborating the increased avi risk that kept us cautiously skiing treed, lower elevation lines.

    January 2nd was, in the view of many, the very best combination of weather, sun and snow. We returned to the ridge separating Baldy Rocks and the Crags and skied fast, forgiving powder for 4 runs, each more rewarding than the last. As predicted, the skies began to cloud over around 1:30, just about the time some of us were feeling the need to rest. It was a perfect day and a wonderful week. I think it’s the first time in all these years that we skied the backcountry every day. The crew has earned some sofa time.

    NOTE: This report is virtually identical to that posted on the Ramblers’ site. If you’d like more information on the club, go to https://www.ramblers.ab.ca/

  4. Steve, did you lose something last century at Black Prince? (see photo 1)

    Extensive and widespread skier-compaction was encountered today on the Cone — Tree Triangle. However, about 10cms of new snow accumulated during the day and it was still coming done when we left.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/W8sQiK5bSiWB6Dft6

    • On the subject of age/time, is that two generations of aqua toque family (aqua pants)? All those hours at COP with the young ones finally seem to be paying back country dividends. Well done (-:

    • Not mine Tim, but you are correct- it does appear to be an artifact from a previous era, left behind by the almost extinct Tele tribe. Speaking of relics- maybe it belongs to my brother- I think that he is still rockin’ those bindings.

  5. ROCKBOUND LAKE – Jan 5

    Magnificent snow conditions in the alpine!
    Details available in the captions here:
    https://1drv.ms/u/s!Avuc6aIvjGUAjjDtz3seNnY136lf?e=cRIFoJ
    Glad we waited for today’s perfect weather at around minus 5 and no wind.

    • Great pictures, Chuck! How was the ski down from Rockbound Lake on light touring skis? Possible to do nice turns? Not icy and out of control?
      You’ve covered alot of distance already this winter! Amazing!

      • Ulrike… did I forget to include a picture of my own skis?
        AT (Tuas to be exact) and I challenge anyone to get more turns than me!
        Truly… the snow conditions are magnificent…Try it and report back.
        Well worth the challenge,
        Chuck

        • Looks like Jeanette is on light gear!
          I did it on light touring xc skis way back in the eons of time, but the few times since have all been on proper backcountry gear. Easier, and more fun for sure.

          • Yes Steve, I was on Light Touring skis. I enjoyed the tour. Chuck wanted turns, and he got them coming down from Rockbound Lake. I enjoyed the Tower Lake area, and the descent with my metal edges was all I needed. I am light!

  6. ELK SUMMIT – Jan 2

    A consistent supportive snowpack is providing excellent travel conditions in the Banff area at the moment.
    Details are available in the captions here:
    https://1drv.ms/u/s!Avuc6aIvjGUAjg3Y55XQtIYC-eID?e=ajvkZ5
    Great time to explore new horizons.

  7. Any suggestions for a more technical xc or backcountry xc ski in Yoho or somewhere within an hour of Golden?

    • Boulder/deception pass in behind Louise ski hill, accessed using the ski out from fish creek parking lot. Metal edged light touring skis are best for the skilled descender, otherwise full back country gear. Trail often broken as many guests going in and out of skoki lodge. Options to stop at temple day lodge on return for a hot or cold beverage. Best done on a sunny day given the higher open terrain. Half way hut available to get out of the wind at lunch (an unheated heritage log structure). Going to deception and back is a long day, probably close to 30k? Avalanche risk if diverting from the main trail. The ski out ascent is quite boring for the first hour until you get through the ski resort.

    • Paradise Valley. Very scenic, generally well travelled trail at least until near the Giant Steps, which can add a bit more untracked “backcountry” challenge to what is generally an intermediate tour on xc skis. Further up, the trail crosses the bottom of some impressive avalanche slopes- use your own judgement. Don’t expect to bask in the sun much this time of year, thanks to the massive bulk of Mt. Temple. Delightful options exist to follow the creek rather than the trail in a few spots, when the snowpack is supportive enough.

  8. Good-very good untracked powder skiing was found today, mining for turns in the southerly Smith-Dorrien. 20-25 cm ski penetration made for easy trailbreaking, with a (rain?) crust carrying skis very well in the 40 cm of recent dry settled powder, above 40-50 cm of facets forming a so-called “base” to the snowpack. Boot penetration was to ground! In the sheltered, northerly aspect zone from 2100 down to 1900m where we did our ski runs, no whumphing, cracking or slab formation was noted, nevertheless we kept to moderate well supported slopes.

  9. Dec. 26, West Bragg Area

    Another tour in West Bragg. This time on a cut block to the west of Mountain View West. Normally this cut block doesn’t have enough snow to cover the tree stumps, but this season has been a welcome exception to the rule. Similar conditions to yesterdays with a 5-10 cm of settled snow on a supportive crust layer that overlies facets to the ground. Skied east aspects that were super fast thanks to super slippery surface hoar. Fun getting some new vantage points of the area.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ww5ZuNyUn6CMihex5

  10. Thu dec 26: wolverine valley
    -24 at the hostel this morning, so had to aim for some sunny easy skiing. Ski out from temple day lodge is in fine shape up and down. Got lucky with a track up into wolverine. Travel off trail was fine with a carrying crust down about a foot and a slightly more solid mid pack than 25 k east. Only mid boot trail breaking at treeeline. Lots of Avi debris and crown lines evident once in the valley coming off the south facing slopes, all of them stepping down to deep weeknesses and/or ground with debris almost getting to historical run outs. Some crown lines probably close to a meter deep. Steep slopes and gullies that had not slid looked spooky wind affected and primed to go so we stuck to some gentle sub-25 degree slopes in the sun.

  11. Spring skiing on Christmas Day! Beautiful conditions on South aspect of Boundary cut block in West Bragg. About 8 cm of settled snow on a very supportive sun crust provided some nice skiing with superb alpine views to the west . Low temps over the last two nights provided some spectacular surface hoar that was a delight to ski on. Kona the mountain goat was enjoying the snow as much as i was.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/vH4NCGPgPYub6K226

  12. Tue dec 24: tower lake tour
    Luckily a track was laid in yesterday, so no knee and thigh deep trail breaking, unless you stepped off the track. Parking lot was nicely plowed. A thin base lower down with settled storm snow, but carried well enough on the down. Thicker base showed up around 6500 ft, but still bottomless pole plants. Deep drifts in open areas on the north aspect around the shoulder at 7000 ft toward the lake.

  13. ELK LAKES CABIN…..in in the 18th and out on Dec 20th. Snowed about a foot night of 19th. Had to break trail coming out. Thanks to some fellows on AT skiis, we were able to do a nice day trip to end of Upper Elk Lake….should be lots of snow after the recent storm.

  14. Commonwealth Dec 15

    From the K-country bulletin: “At lower elevations the snowpack is mainly not supportive to skier traffic (weak facets). Poor coverage means there are lots of buried, or almost buried, hazards such as rocks and trees.”

    I’m here to tell you that that is correct. We found all this in the valley and some open water here and there.

    However, on this particular day we felt no harm would befall us venturing up the runout below a large mountain face. Decent turns ensued.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/xqEw1JZbteeWKT7B7

  15. MONARCH RAMPARTS via HEALY PASS – Dec 13

    Perfect conditions for some sweet turns in the high country, even on Friday the 13th!
    Details available in the captions here:
    https://1drv.ms/u/s!Avuc6aIvjGUAjBrqAie25DH8dnTJ?e=Fi9DTa
    Great to access an area closed in summer.

  16. Stanley Glacier December 13

    Who said Friday the 13th is a day for bad luck?! Although there is still a shallow base, the 15 cm of new powder helped our trip quite a bit today. It was -6 C when we arrived at 10 a.m., and the car registered -2 when we left at 3 p.m. There was no wind to speak of and a mix of blue and white above. We skied above “Lunch Rock” to the big icefall and also put in a track to the second large icefall looker’s left. Near the top, there might have been 20 cm of powder on top of weak, crusty, but unconsolidated crud all the way to ground. No signs of recent slides, no whumpfing or cracking at any point. Very little wind effect here, too. I would say that the skiing was pretty good for the lack of snow.

  17. Boom Lake Trail – lots of snow on trail and the trees. Trail has been ski/ boot/ snowshoe packed to lake. Overall decent for skiing in and out. No deadfall or open water to deal with either. Excellent early season conditions. Plus no wind for most of the trail!

    • My family and three others went in there on Sunday. Eight kids ages 8-14 broke trail the whole way while lazy parents followed behind – I will pass on your compliments 😉

  18. Black Prince Hourglass Take 2

    After the nice day last Thursday, Ed R. decided to post this as a Ramblers’ trip. Six people braved the cold (-20 at the start) and were rewarded for our efforts. We found knee-deep powder below the pinch-point of the Hourglass, about 1/3 of which had not been skied. We did 4 laps in the best snow I’ve ever had in Alberta, rivalling the best B.C. champagne powder. We used up all the available real estate before leaving. Still a few rocks hiding below the surface. Size 1 dry releases coming off the rocks above but not propagating.

  19. Chester Lake-Elephant Rocks.
    We had a very enjoyable short backcountry tour to Chester Lake and beyond this afternoon. With maybe 5 having fallen overnight, the storm snow total looked to be around 15 cm, with light snow continuing as we headed up in calm air, and pleasant temperatures not far below zero. I’ve come to accept that Chester is a snowshoer and postholer hotspot, so it was a surprise to find an intact ski track all the way up- the snowshoers and hikers in front of us actually had used the designated snowshoe trail! Not so much for the return from Chester on down though- hikers had already trampled the ski track by mid-afternoon. Despite the often pitted trail surface, the descent was easy going and fun in the soft snow, with great coverage, although a couple of stumps were (barely) visible on the margin at one point. At treeline in the larches, the snowpack sits at roughly 70 cm-mostly pretty unconsolidated-with a light crust about 25 down giving only tentative support, and often wallowing, while travelling off the beaten track. With that, and the lack of vis up higher, we made no serious attempt to go looking for turns. Nonetheless- a fine afternoon with friends:
    https://steveriggs.smugmug.com/ElephantRocks-December6-2019/

  20. Black Prince Hourglass Dec. 5

    Pretty splendid skiing west of Black Prince tarns today. We started at -14 C, happy to see the fresh snow (5-10 cm) at the trailhead. The base is still fairly shallow even near the pinch-point of the hourglass, but there was a good 10-15 cm of powder on a supportive but faceted base. It’s only about 40-50 cm to the ground and so natural hazards are still an issue. Blue skies and only light winds made for a very pleasant day of yo-yo turns.

  21. Lots of great touring to be done in West Bragg and after the latest snow falls there were a few turns to be had as well. The north aspect of my secret stash had wonderful light powder but lacked any meaningful base. A little wind slab on the east aspect but mostly decent if not for all the trees down from the recent storm. No crowds tho and a very happy dog! https://photos.app.goo.gl/9mUu8rs8rb2sDRry6

  22. Sat nov 30: moose packers (WBC)
    Thought I’d try to get up onto moose mountain ridge via mountain road and moose packers with all this upslope snow, instead of a drive to highwood pass. 1-2 feet of snow along the old mountain road past the grooming with a thin base, but made for fine travel up and down. Once at the gas pump house just before moose packer junction, things thinned out. Only about 6-8 inches on the narrow treed trail of moose packers, so back I went. Still a good short solo “tour” for some trail breaking and solitude when a dump of fresh snow.

    • I saw your tracks and wondered where they might lead one to – perhaps a two-day traverse to Dawson on the Tom Snow trail??? Who would do that???
      You must have had an early start – we didn’t see you coming back.

      • That’d be a hard trip in marginal conditions. Was on the skis at 9 in -22 and a cold breeze, wondering what the hell I was doing. About 2 hrs at a slow pace to the moose packers turn off, so back pretty quick.

  23. Arethusa Cirque Again.
    It was a very cold day around Highwood Pass today, (Nov 27) -18º when we left the road and -20º when we returned. About 10cm fresh snow in the valley and 25 – 30 cm higher up. Very good skiing in protected areas with some wind slab on exposed aspects. Only a few more days before this area is closed for the winter.

  24. Arethusa Cirque, November 23

    Diane, Damian and I skied just below the east side of Highwood Pass today under very good conditions. Starting temperature was zero and it really didn’t change through the day. The winds, blustery at times, were generally quite tolerable, in most locations well under the 20 km/h predicted by SpotWx for the area.

    Although on climbing to the “bench” the wind affect was more noticeable, we were able to find untracked,
    gladed runs on west and northwest aspects. As Steve Riggs reported a few days ago, there is a small amount of new snow of variable, thin crust, sitting on a supportive but shallow base.

    There were no signs of instability, no sloughs on any aspect.

    The ski out is thin, with a few natural hazards, including two “limbo” trees.

  25. Healy Pass
    Things looked pretty sketchy as we started todays tour to Healy Pass. There was only about 13 cm of snow at the start of the trail, near the Sunshine Parking Lot. But, once past that useless bridge over Sunshine Creek, the snow depth steadily increased. At the Healy Pass meadows, the snow depth was 65cm, with a nice boot-top layer of powder on top of a supportive base.https://photos.app.goo.gl/k6oTVD3q3AjZ88yo7

  26. It was a tough choice this morning- WBC or Highwood Pass? With the weather station showing 18 cm of new snow, a forecast of mild sun, and less than 2 weeks until the gate closes- Highwood was it. Trailbreaking was easy and the skiing very good, in light fluff over a (mostly) very supportive crust 20 cm down, in a 50 cm snowpack. The forested access trail could use more coverage and the removal of two “limbo logs”, but there were no issues negotiating our exit. There were probably 12 others skiing in the area, but other than at the trailhead, the only people we saw were at a distance. We crossed no tracks other than our own on 5 runs, as everyone seemed to be keeping to their own chosen zone. It was a glorious day to be in the alpine:
    https://steveriggs.smugmug.com/Highwood-November20-2019/

  27. Stanley Glacier, November 19

    Ray, Damian and I ventured up the trail toward Stanley Glacier today. Thank goodness for some fresh powder. It would have been nasty otherwise. In most places, there is only about 20 cm on the ground, with more exposed rock than I’ve ever seen this time of year. We managed to get in a few turns above “lunch rock”, but also ended up with a few gouges taken out of the skis. Still it was a great day out!

    Temp. -2 on arrival and -2 on leaving. Some 10 cm of variable snow on top of a rain crust that may be problematic through the winter.

  28. OBSERVATION PEAK – Nov 16

    Stealing away from the crowds for some turns.
    Details available in the captions here:
    https://1drv.ms/u/s!Avuc6aIvjGUAimemP27Zv9x0J5dg?e=a0AKKR
    Good conditions for this early in the season… powder up top, some sun crust at treeline.

  29. Four pensioners skied Arethusa Cirque today, taking advantage of the almost 30 cm of fresh snow that had fallen since Saturday. The SW facing slopes were much improved, with variable amounts of new snow over a supportive base. At treeline, there were some wind-affected areas but after the first few turns, we were in pretty forgiving snow. The trail out is still thin and there are certainly natural hazards but it was much improved over last Saturday, when the rain and winds had demanded true Front Ranges survival skiing.

    Todays temperature was -5 at 10 a.m. and didn’t change much over the day. There was light snow falling until at least 1 p.m.

    • We skied up there today, Nov 13. We arrived to see 6 or 7 cars parked along the road so we expected line-ups, but other than seeing a few people at a great distance and a group of 3 skiing from Arethusa Ridge, we had Arethusa Bowl all to ourselves. The base is much improved from last week and the skiing was quite passable, not epic powder but still very good for November.

  30. We skied the Sheep trail to Dyson Falls and a little past that. Variable snow cover-excellent in some places, awful in others. Had to walk down a few hills but not all. Got a few gouges in my good light tourng skis (should have used rock skis) but still a nice day out and such nice weather.

  31. Little Elbow: too little snow, too much gravel!

    There was no sign of the 10 cm which fell at Bragg Creek, here it was maybe 2 cm, over a very sketchy base.
    We followed hikers, bikers and other skiers. Most hikers turned off at or before Nihahi Ridge. I think the fat bikers had the best equipment for today! We had to walk down most hills, which ruins the fun.
    The skiers ahead of us must have magic rock skis or something, as they apparently skied down all the hills right over the rocks! My skis don’t do that.
    We turned around at Nihahi Creek, as the crossing looked like deep slush.
    The chinook winds came down, blew all the snow off the trees, and really warmed things up.

  32. We skied Arethusa Cirque November 9th in…well, less than ideal conditions. The rain on Nov. 8 did not help and tempestuous winds had hammered the area, but particularly the exposed, west-facing aspects. There is only a 30 cm base and it is very sugary to ground.

    After two runs, afraid for life and limb, we decided to call it a day. Still, it was great to get out.

  33. We skied Arethusa Cirque today (November 7) and found a remarkably good base and were able to make some decent turns with minimal contact with rocks. Great bluesky cloudless day.

    • We were up there the previous day, Nov 6. We skied the northernmost bowl below Arethusa from the ridge. I figure 20cm fresh storm snow from the last cycle. I dug a pit high up and measured 116cm but still managed to nail a few rocks.

  34. Skied Little Elbow to Mount Romulus. I started just beyond Forgetmenot pond. There was already a ski trail through the campground and I followed it. Past the Nihahi Ridge turnoff I broke trail. It was pretty easy going. Past the bridge at the outcrop the trail starts to ascend steadily, and I hit rocks on some of the hills here – definitely rock-ski conditions. Lower down the skiing was okay. -7C in the parking lot in the morning, and +2 to +5C on return. By the afternoon the trees were dripping and some sections were sun-affected. Other bits stayed cold. A very scenic tour.

  35. We found some reasonable ski conditions at Ptarmigan Cirque on Thursday Oct 31. At treeline the snow was 46cm with a supportive base of 22cm. Lots of rock and wind-hammered snow but skiing was OK in protected areas.

    /Users/gordonferguson/Desktop/drive.google.com:.webloc

    • The next storm cycle should improve things quite a bit in the Highwood Pass area. I’m anxious to go. Thanks for the report.

  36. Highwood Pass – Oct 1

    With a CBC radio report of amazing skiing up here on 40 cms of fresh snow, this was the place to enjoy the larches with a few turns!
    As Alf says, I’ll let the pictures say it all (no captions necessary):
    https://1drv.ms/u/s!Avuc6aIvjGUAiCkIuXoD57opJgOs?e=8pUshg

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