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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.

Melting snow in the mountains near Banff
Man above beautiful lake near Banff
Mountain view near Banff Alberta Canada
Rock climbing near Banff Alberta
Rock climbing near Banff Alberta
Beautiful Lake near Banff Alberta

  • Cascade Mountain is a great scramble. Drive up to Mt Norquay ski hill and hike to the last ski lift. Find the trail which goes to the river, go over the bridge and hike up to the natural amphitheatre. From here go to the end of the wood to your right and start climbing on the ridge. Follow the ridge and go around the 3rd summit and the false summit to the real summit from which you will have a fantastic view into the valley and lake Minnewanka.
  • Mt Cory is a steep beautiful scramble where some route finding is involved as you will have to take the correct “rib” on this mountain, easy on the way up but difficult to find on your way down. Selecting the wrong one may be fatal. As I got lost 3 times the first time I climbed up I built a couple of cairns at strategic places. The trailhead is on the 1A in a small parking area to the right side of the road coming from the Fireside area.
  • Mt Edith trailhead is at the Fireside parking, from here walk South for a couple of hundred metres until you hit the trail to the Cory and Edith Pass to your left. Mt Edith are 3 summits which offer great scrambles in chimneys and one tunnel.
  • Mt Rundle trailhead is at the golf course after crossing the Spray river. Once in the woods look for a trail to your left going straight up. The second summit is the highest one and as the slope gets steeper look for a drainage to your right which can be followed to the top.
  • Eiffel Peak is an easy scramble from Larch Valley. While hiking in Larch Valley look for the easiest way to go up the ridge on your left. At the most logical place there is a trail crossing a small stream before ascending the ridge. The trail is straightforward and easy to follow. There has been a fist canine ascent a couple of years ago but the view from the top is worthwhile the visit.
  • Mt St Piran From Lake Agnes Teahouse go towards the Little Beehive, just before the last ascent is a trail going North. Follow this trail.
  • Mt Chester is one of the most exciting scrambles in Kananaskis. The views from the top are just stunning. At Chester lake look back for the big avalanche corridor between the summit and a small hump. On top of this pass follow the ridge by avoiding steeper terrain by circumventing to your right.
  • Nigel Peak From Sherbrook lake the trail leads to the meadows and up a small hill North of this bowl. Follow the ridge looking for the pinnacle West of the mountain, from there it is just an easy walk to the summit. Exciting views on the Wapta and Waputik icefield.
  • Helena Ridge is an easy scramble on the inside of Castle Mountain. As the second highest peak it offers great views and easy way finding.
  • Cirque Peak is a great easy scramble with a fantastic view on Bow Lake and the Wapta Icefield. There is a popular parking lot before arriving to Bow Lake, follow the trail into extensive meadows. Walk from Helen Lake to the ridge and from there it is just an easy hike stepping on the face going straight up Cirque Peak. The last 15 metres are a scramble.
  • Observation Peak trailhead is just opposite Peyto lake parking lot, walk the small street until it turns and there will be a logical trail going into the forest, this trail follows the drainage for a while before leading to a rock band with a little bit of exposure. The rest of the trail is logical and the real summit is just behind the sub-summit.
  • Mt Carnarvon is one of the best scrambles in the Park. Walk to Hamilton lake an climb up the logical ridge to your left after crossing the drainage. From here the most exciting scramble is following the ridge line until around 100 metres from the summit cairns indicate a traverse to the left and straight up the mountain again.
  • Pilot Mountain is a nice exciting scramble. Follow the trail to Shadow lake until you reach a bridge after roughly 50 minutes. Follow the drainage to the rock band and traverse to the right on this ridge. Look for a big part of the mountain which separated from the main rock, the scramble is in between and once you run out of handholds look left for a small passage. Don’t forget this area as it is essential for your way back. The trail goes east and after traversing a potentially frozen snowfield (ice axe) and a couple of cliff bands summit.
  • Storm Mountain would be an exciting scramble if it were not for the long howl over burned logs and stumps. Park your car at the fireweeds parking lot an walk east for 700 metres, find a way through the adjacent forest until you can follow a drainage. The left side of the drainage is the better choice until you enter a valley and have to find your way through a big bolder field. Approach the summit from the left side.
  • Mt Whymper is a nice scramble starting at a big avalanche corridor North-East of the fireweeds parking lot. The scramble is straight forward and exciting.
  • Mt Norquay is a great scramble with an easy approach from Mt Norquay parking lot. Walk to the highest point and to the drainage. Locate the blue ribbon just underneath the top of the waterfall for later on. Head left and start scrambling. Continue on the ridge to the first summit and to the second summit. Circumvent to the right in case of dangerous spots. A fall from the way to the third summit might be fatal and should only be attempted in very good snow free conditions.
  • Grassi Mountain Park at the goat creek big parking lot to your right after the smaller lakes, cross the street and follow the reservoir for a while until a trail leads into the woods following a drainage. After going around the corner look for a cairn and a steep trail to your left. The rest of the trail is straightforward and easy.
  • Ha Ling Peak Park at the goat creek big parking lot to your right after the smaller lakes, cross the street and start going up this easy peak.
  • Squaw’s Tit Park at Harvie Heights and look for the drainage to the left of the mountain. Follow the ridge. The last bit is an exposed scramble the easiest approach is from the East.
  • Mt Temple, starting from Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass Mt Temple is an easy but long one. The crux is well marked and if there is snow and you have one or two ice axes and crampons you can go through the chimney or alternatively climb up the 4 metres of exciting rock with good hand and footholds. The rest of the trail is easy and as long as you stay close to the ridge where there is less scree really enjoyable.
  • Mt Niblock starts at the popular Lake Agnes Tea House. Walk around the house and go deep into the valley to climbers right. Climbing up along the waterfalls is really nice and the shoulder between Mt Whyte and Mt Niblock is easy reachable. The beautiful ridge to the real summit is very enjoyable. If the Weather is fine you can also access Mt Whyte from this saddle depending on your experience.
  • Mt Wilcox is a great summit just above the Information Centre on the Columbia Icefields with beautiful views on Mt Andromeda and the big glacier. We started at the nearby campground and reached Wilcox pass in no time at all.