Kananaskis Fire Lookout

After spending three tough days of work in Calgary this week, I was itchin’ to get out on the trail. I had my sights set on Whiskey Jack and the Kananaskis Fire Lookout.

The view from the Kananaskis Fire Lookout. Dec 3, 2010

It was late in the day; the bus full of seniors was already leaving PLPP as I was entering. You know, I think I qualify to get on that bus!

It’s been eight long months since I’ve had the opportunity to climb Whiskey Jack, and it didn’t disappoint. I never made it up to the Fire Lookout once last winter, so despite the late hour, I was determined to get this one in.

Whiskey Jack trail. Dec 3, 2010

Whiskey Jack is fine if you’re climbing, but depending on your skiing ability, it might be a harrowing adventure if you’re descending.

Thin patch on Whiskey Jack. Dec 3, 2010

There were a few thin patches, a few twigs sticking out here and there, and one embedded rock exactly where you will hit it. It’s on the extremely steep section where most downhillers will be snowplowing over it. I warned ya.

Although the trail report says “modified tracksetting,” the tracks were good and were present for 95% of their usual location.

At the top, along Pocaterra, you’ll see this unusual sight on the trail:

Unusual tracks on Pocaterra. Dec 3, 2010

I have a feeling these tracks were made by a vehicle that was meant to be there. One ski track is still in perfect condition and was not driven in. I’m not sure where it started, but they ended at the junction of Tyrwhitt/Lookout/Pocaterra. It looks like the vehicle attempted to go down Whiskey Jack, but the tracks only went in about 40 metres.

From the top of Whiskey Jack, I turned south and in .5K I arrived at the junction of Tyrwhitt and Lookout. Tyrwhitt has been packed and has some skier tracks and fresh snow, but it looked a bit rough.

Approaching Kananaskis Fire Lookout from the north. Dec 3, 2010

The trail up to the Lookout was 99% good, but there were a few spots where the snow was very thin. On the way down, a seasoned intermediate skier should be able to navigate through those spots with some care and caution, but you may not be able to go full tilt all the way down. Although I descended on the south side today, to give you an example of the steepness of this trail, what took me 25 minutes to climb, I have descended in 3-4 minutes in good conditions.

Scenery from the Kananaskis Fire Lookout. Dec 3, 2010

It’s simply spectacular at the top with stunning scenery in all directions.

This weather station at the Lookout appears to be buried in snow. Dec 3, 2010

I signed my name in the diary(one other person had been here today) and headed down the south side. I prefer going in the other direction; ie, going up from Hydroline on the south side and descending the north. I find the descent a little more manageable.

Good-bye.....descending on the south side. Dec 3, 2010

It’s been a few years since I’ve descended the south side, and I was reminded just how incredibly steep it is. Almost unimaginable if you’ve never seen it. Being alone, late in the day, in -10 temperatures, with bad knees and a weak mind, descending the south side of the Fire Lookout might be considered high-risk behavior. Oh, I forgot, there’s probably a hungry cougar behing every second tree waiting for an injured skier to show up.

There are a few hazards on the way down, mostly twigs sticking out but easy enough to avoid. The snow was a bit better than on the north side, no thin spots that would stop you dead in your tracks.

Hydroline was in nice shape with a good single track. There was a couple cm of fresh snow over the grooming. I took the long way back by going up Hydroline and down Patterson to Elk pass. Patterson had a good track and some fresh snow, and ditto Elk Pass.

I was a little concerned about the conditions on Fox Creek and Moraine, so imagine my delight when I saw that Fox Creek had just been groomed! It’s been too many months since I’ve had the pleasure of skiing along this beautiful trail as it  meanders through the pines. It’s a bit bumpy but no hazards to speak of(except all those nearby trees which could easily reach out and grab you).

Fox Creek. Dec 3, 2010

Moraine was also groomed(not trackset), and I saw one rock. Made it back to my vehicle just as darkness fell.

What are conditions like on the golf courses?

Hi Bob,

I was wondering if you’ve heard anything about any skiing in the city.  I called COP about a week ago and they said the nordic trails wouldn’t be ready until mid-December.  I would love to be able to ski for an hour or two on busy weekends or in the evenings in the city.  Any reports on Shaganappi golf course or Confederation park?

Thanks again for a great blog!


How about dogs?

Random question (not sure where to ask!)…  Is there much that is dog-friendly in Kananaskis/Banff/Louise?  We don’t need track-setting (skijoring makes for an easy ski), but something in the 10+km range would be nice.  (All our Jasper & more northern haunts are still pretty bare!)

Thanks for any help & I love the blog!


I can give a few suggestions:

I believe they allow dogs on the Yoho Valley Road(just outside of Field) which would be reasonably close for you. Check the Yoho trail report for conditions: http://www.pc.gc.ca/apps/tcond/cond_e.asp?oPark=100438


The Pipestone Trails at Lake Louise also allows dogs.


Mount Shark in Kananaskis Country allows dogs.


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  1. I skied Confederation Park GC a week ago – it was in fine shape on skier-set tracks. Definitely worth going for a ski there.

  2. Stephen Vermeulen

    COP’s cross country loop is in fine condition, I skied it on Saturday morning, it was the usual double track set and worked better with the swix instant universal klister than the cold wax.

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