Mountaineering & Backcountry Skiing

Back country skiing in Banff Alberta
Skiing the powder in Banff
Skiing the powder in Banff
Skiing the powder in Banff

Cold weather and lots of snow makes ski touring and ski-mountaineering an unforgettable experience. In comparisons to other destinations there is less humidity and water in the snow making it light and fluffy. Ice does not form until very late in the season end of May making it an absolute pleasure looking for deep powder snow descents. Early in the season the snow pack shows lots of “facets” below wind slaps adding their share of avalanche danger. Skiing beginning of season is tricky as these facets will hardly support your skis and you will sink deep into the snow pack risking to hit rocks or other obstacles. Beginning of season, you will have to choose your ski trip carefully.

Your best bet for great descents in awesome snow will be January to June.

  • Burstall Pass offers a great destination with a beautiful panorama and exciting jojo skiing. The approach is slightly longer 8km and on the trail back there is a 4 km flat bit before reaching the final ski run to the car. Burstall Pass is great for skiers where the beauty of the trail is important as well as jojo skiing on some great slopes.
  • Black Prince is a very popular jojo ski destination with lots of exciting tree skiing on a short approach. This is a slope where avalanche risk is really low and safe skiing even on high avalanche risk days is possible as most of the skiing is done at or below tree line off avalanche paths.
  • Tent ridge is an exciting short approach ski slope with a nice ski down.
  • Birdwood-Smuts traverse is a longer traverse offering more beauty than downhill skiing.
  • Chickadee valley is a short approach from the car. Avalanche risk is high as you will be skiing west facing avalanche slide paths on Boom Mountain. Park your car at the Fireweed parking lot and cross the street. There are two amazing slide paths and a big bowl at the end of the valley. The second slide path is steeper offering an exciting ski down. We skied it on a “moderate” avi day and it was one of the best skiing experiences.
  • Healy Pass is my favourite destination for a long ski out 10 km with a great panoramic view. The slopes are lower and there are two exciting and fast bits on this 1 metre wide trail back to the car where you will have to take every precaution not to crash into any trees. Avalanche risk is low and this one can be done even early or late in the season.
  • Taylor lake is a medium long approach with an exciting fast and painless descent to the car. The lake is nice and there is the option to ski into Moraine lake area making it a bit day out.
  • Mt Hector is an exciting mountain with a glacier and great skiing. Because of avalanche risk and one avalanche path on the South side of Mt Andromache which is unavoidable Mt Hector should be attempted early in the morning. Avalanche risk should be moderate to considerable maximum. Just a few minutes from the car is the crux with high avalanche danger where you should decide to return if necessary. To access the ridge just underneath the glacier there is a possibility to ski up a potential avalanche slope or avoid it by walking up a neighbouring windblown moraine. This slope later on will be one big highlight. After this slope is a 300 metre wide avalanche path from Little Hector with cornices. The glacier is really easy with low crevasse risk. Some people might need the security of a rope and crampons or ice axe to go to the very top. Skiing is fabulous and the views are stupendous.
  • Dolomite Circuit goes around the Dolomite Peaks with an exciting little hill to jojo. There is a parking lot to the right of the street. The views on these peaks are great and the valley is beautiful. Follow the creek on the right creek bed and when the hill is getting steeper cross and head to this wall to the front. The other side of this mountain is more of a mixed up and down terrain until you head to the woods. Try to ski as much to the right as possible as once on the street unless there are two cars you will have to walk at least 3 km back to the parking lot.
  • Observation Sub-Peak is a nice perfect area for jojoing you can do the summit but don’t need to go all the way up. Park your car at the Bow Summit parking lot, cross the street and ski through the big meadows to your right.
  • Bow summit is a really popular jojo hill where avalanches can be easily avoided. It is one of the bigger hills with at least 6 exciting downhill areas. The ski slopes are short but exciting specially on the left side. Stay below tree line until you reach the humps to the South on this hill as the right side is avalanche prone. If the conditions are right you can without any worries check out the right side as well but keep in mind that it might be quite cross loaded.
  • The Wapta Icefield’s Peyto hut area is a really big playground for ski mountaineerers. First you cross Peyto lake, keep right and walk up the big moraine by diverging slowly to the South. There is some ski hurling involved. Another possibility which is not recommended is going through the canyon in the South. Finally the glacier will be in front of you . On its South side is the hut, in the North West is Mt Baker a great skiable mountain. Climbing up Mt Baker from the car parking is feasible but a very long day. South of Baker are the two Rhondas (S and N), to climb Rhonda N, go over the pass and approach from the Western slopes. Rhonda S can easily approached from the South.
  • The Wapta Icefield’s Bow hut area has the easiest approach from Bow lake, keep slightly North to go around a bit of moraine, climb up through the forest and enter the canyon. Now follow the drainage to the big bowl in front of you. Avalanche risk exists in the canyon from both walls and later on after exciting there is a big avalanche slope to cross. Once in the bowl, you will be exposed to cornice falls and avalanches from Mt St Nick and Mt Olive. As the hut is so central Mt Rhonda S, Mt St Nick, Mt Olive and Mt Gordon can easily be climbed.