I haven’t seen early-season conditions like this on Goat creek for years. That must be why everyone I met today was smiling, happy, and friendly. Before you grab your skis and dash for the trailhead, make sure you read all of this post. I skied from the Goat creek trailhead above Canmore all the way to Banff, so the last part of my trip was on the Spray River west side, and conditions there are not as good.
The snow was deep and wonderful for the 9K of Goat creek. Excellent fast tracks, cold snow, bright blue sky, and the snowshoers and hikers were being mindful and courteous and staying in the middle of the trail. It’s not that difficult for all trail users to get along and have fun.
In early season, there are usually a few exposed rocks, but I didn’t see any until I reached the downhill to the Goat creek bridge at 7k. There, I only spotted two, and they were easily avoidable. In years past, that downhill to the creek has been littered with rocks, waiting to gouge your skis or send you crashing. It’s possible that more will become exposed as skiers snowplow their way down to the bridge.
The 300 metre twisty downhill stretch to the Spray bridge had three exposed rocks, which were easy to dodge if your skis were pointed straight ahead. If you were in a full-bore snowplow, chances are you’d scrape one.
Now for the Spray river trail. The tracks became thinner as I approached Banff. Easy enough to mitigate by stepping into the middle whenever the tracks looked like they might not be friendly to your skis. There were numerous places where I did just that, and I consider it a minor inconvenience, especially at this time of year.
With all the other excellent trails available, I still didn’t think twice about going to Goat creek. It’s rare to have good conditions on this trail, so I jumped at the opportunity and it truly was a fun and very enjoyable ski.
If you’re new to Goat creek, go past the Canmore nordic centre and drive south on the Spray lakes road, about 6k to the trailhead. The first 900 metres(don’t believe the sign which says 1.7K) is not in Banff National Park, so it is never trackset. It usually is packed down well, however, with reasonably good skier-set tracks.
In the first 7k, you’ll lose 180m of elevation. It’s not an easy trail, mostly because of the steep, twisting downhills which often have rocks. Mind you, that’s also what makes it a lot of fun. As well, there’s a ridge of snow in the middle of the trail so it can be a challenge to get a snowplow going. If you’re a novice skier, I’d recommend getting more experience before you tackle it.
The Spray river west side goes for 9.9k from the Banff Springs hotel, and is wide enough to accommodate a skating lane. The Spray river east side is also trackset, and looked pretty good from the junction, but the trail report says it is in poor/fair condition. I’ve included a photo below.
As I was speculating yesterday, Skogan pass, Sunburst and High Level are groomed, including the Skogan loop. The lower part of the trail has a thin base, but I bet it’s great once you’re up a hundred metres. Skogan Pass is also a trail for seasoned intermediate skiers. To illustrate that point, it may take you 90 minutes to climb to Hummingbird Plume, but you can easily descend in 20 minutes.
Update Sun Nov 25: Banff trail report shows Redearth creek is trackset
Goat creek and Spray river photos: