Skill Development and Safety
Ski touring can range from easy short trips to long multi-day glacial traverses. You are responsible for your own safety so be prepared for the unexpected. If you are new to the activity or want to go to an area with no avalanche danger, try one of the many track set trails, including: the Whistler Campground loop, the closed section of Highway 93A between the Meeting Of The Waters and Athabasca Falls (including Moab Lake), and Maligne Lake. You can find out when these areas were last track set on our trail report or by calling the Parks Information Centre at 780 852-6176.
Venturing further into the backcountry requires a greater degree of ability, knowledge and self-reliance. The weather can change rapidly in the mountains and temperatures may drop to as low as -40 degrees Celsius, even in March. Avalanches are a common occurrence. Considerable skill and knowledge is required to navigate through avalanche terrain. Avalanche educational courses are offered through the Canadian Avalanche Association or through a certified mountain guide .
No avalanche control takes place in the backcountry other than for the purposes of highway corridor avalanche control. Understanding avalanche phenomena will help you make more informed decisions. Daily backcountry avalanche bulletins
are prepared by the Park Warden Service between December and April. These forecasts can be viewed online and are posted at the Jasper Information Centre. A recorded version of the forecast is updated every evening and can be heard by dialling 780-852-6176.
The avalanche danger can change rapidly with changing weather. Be observant of changing conditions and early warning signs during your ski trip. Be willing to turn around if conditions are not safe. Before heading out be sure to check the local weather forecast at 780-852-3185 or check on-line with Environment Canada .
If you think avalanches might occur on your selected trip, go to an area where there is minimal avalanche danger (see the section below: Ski Areas With Minimal Avalanche Danger). If you would like to speak with an avalanche forecaster call 780-852-5383 or 780-852-6155.
Danger© Parks Canada
The Icefields Parkway and the road to Maligne Lake travel through many avalanche paths, which are posted with signs marking their start and end points. Do not stop or park between these signs as you are at danger from avalanches here.
Avalanche control activities take place along these sectiof higns ohway and the road may be closed during these times for several days at a time. Un-detonated explosives may be encountered in these areas. Do not move or touch any objects that you suspect are explosives and report them immediately to the Warden Service by calling 780-852-6155. For more information on closures call the Jasper Warden Office dispatch centre 780-852-6155 or the Sunwapta Warden Station 780-852-5385.
Dial 911 to report an emergency. Cell phone coverage is limited within the park with some coverage existing close to the town site. For satellite phones connection call 1-877-852-3100. Pay phones are located along the Icefields Parkway at; Saskatchewan River Crossing Warden Station, the Icefields Centre lower parking lot, Beauty Creek Hostel, Sunwapta Warden Station, Bubbling Springs pullout, Athabasca Falls Hostel and the Athabasca Pass lookout.
Let the dispatcher know that you are in Jasper National Park (or the north end of Banff National Park) and then give your precise location and the accident location. Phones to the south of the Icefields are routed to a 911 dispatch out of Rocky Mountain House. The dispatcher will not be as familiar with the area as the Jasper and Banff Park dispatchers. The speed of the rescue response will depend on you knowing where you are.
If you are calling for assistance using a satellite phone the number to call to reach the Jasper emergency dispatch will be 877-852-3100.
The following are some considerations that will help you prepare for an enjoyable ski tour:
- Pick an objective that is within your ability and have an alternate plan in case conditions changes, for popular trips check the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale .
- Research the trail or trip and find out what condition it is in. This can be done by contacting the Warden Service at 780-852-5385 or 780-852-6155 or the Parks Information Office at 780-852-6176. Guidebooks can be purchased at local retail stores in the area.
- Check the backcountry avalanche bulletin on line or call 780 852-6176 to listen to the forecast.
- Check the weather forecast on line or on the phone 780-852-3185.
- Speak to a Parks Canada avalanche forecaster by calling call 780-852 5383 or 780-852-6155
- Take out a safety registration at the Parks Information Centre in Banff, Field, Lake Louise or Jasper, or let someone at home know your plans for the day and when you are expected back.
- Go with a friend.
- Take your avalanche safety gear and know how to use it if you are venturing into avalanche terrain.
- Be prepared to be self-sufficient if you encounter bad weather or have an accident by packing the right clothing and emergency equipment.
- As you drive to the trailhead observe the landscape and what the weather is doing. Ask yourself is the avalanche danger changing. Look for signs of recent avalanche activity and be prepared to change your objectives for the day.
- Check the information boards at the trailheads.
- Set a turn around time and stick to it.
Snow cover varies greatly with elevation. On the ice caps in the park skiing is possible year round. At lower elevations in the valley bottoms skiing is best between early December and late March. During the early part of the winter Parker Ridge is closed until there is 50cm of snow cover. This is to protect the fragile soil and vegetation from damage by skiers and boarders. Call the Parks Information Centre 780 852-6176, or Sunwapta Warden Station 780 852 5383 to find out if it is open.
Popular Ski Areas With Avalanche Danger
Avalanche Danger© Parks Canada
Numerous avalanche paths cross common travel routes in the following areas and several deaths as a result of avalanches have occurred. If you are unsure of your ability to navigate through avalanche terrain safely go to an area where no avalanche danger exists (see the section below Ski Areas With No Avalanche Danger)
.Parker Ridge and Hilda Creek (Challenging Avalanche Terrain)
Park at either the Hilda Creek parking area or the Parker Ridge trailhead, several kilometres to the south of the Icefields Centre, along Icefields Parkway. An outhouse is located at the Parker Ridge parking area. The closest pay phone is at the Icefields Centre lower parking area. The Centre is closed during the winter months. Lots of good backcountry day skiing can be found in the area. There is a snow study plot and weather site close by. Please do not enter the enclosure. Weather data from Parker Ridge is recorded in the Jasper National Park daily Backcountry Avalanche Bulletin
. The best skiing can be had after recent snowfall and before the winds effect the snow cover.
Due to the fragile soil and vegetation in the area closures may be in effect during the early winter and spring. Call the wardens at Sunwapta Warden Station get the most recent information 780 852 5383. There is some good skiing to be found in this area. Highway avalanche control activities take place in this area and the road may be closed during these times for several days at a time. Un-detonated explosives may be encountered in this area. Do not move or touch any objects that you suspect are explosives. Report them immediately to the Warden Service by calling 780 852 6155. For more information on closures call the Jasper Warden Office dispatch centre 780 852-6155 or the Sunwapta Warden Station 780 852 5385. Whistler Creek
. (Challenging Avalanche Terrain)
Whistler Creek© Parks Canada
Drive to Marmot Ski Hill parking lot number #4. A skier compacted trail leads into the timber on the opposite side of the road. Follow the creek up for several kilometers. Be cautions of skiers coming in the opposite direction. The timber thins into an alpine meadow offering good backcountry touring. Weather data from Marmot Basin Ski Hill is recorded in the Jasper National Park daily Backcountry Avalanche Bulletin
. No dogs are allowed in this areaThe Bald Hills (Simple to Challenging Avalanche Terrain)
Drive to Maligne Lake and park in the parking area before the Warden Station drive entrance. The trailhead starts across the road. Follow the trail for several kilometres to a bench plateau at the site of an old fire lookout. Provided you manage to stay on the correct trail to this point you will not be in any avalanche danger. It is possible to wander off the main trail into avalanche terrain. Once at the lookout there is some excellent backcountry ski touring to be had. Returning visitors should note that track setting is no longer occurring in the Maligne area, as a requirement of the Caribou Recovery Action Plan
and no dogs are allowed in this area.
Ski Areas With Limited Avalanche Danger
Whistler Campground Track Set Area (Simple Avalanche Terrain)
Whistler campground is located a few kilometres to the south of Jasper town site on the Icefields Parkway. During the winter months it is closed for camping. When there is sufficient snowfall the circular loop road in the campground is track set. Call the information centre up to date conditions (780 852-6176).
Meeting Of The Waters and Moab Lake (Simple Avalanche Terrain)
The section of highway 93A between The Meeting Of The Waters and Athabasca Falls is closed to vehicle traffic during the winter months. The trail system can be accessed from either end. When there is sufficient snow cover the area is track set. Phones and outhouses are located at the parking area at Athabasca Falls. At The Meeting Of The Waters end the closest phones and outhouses are at Otto's Cache day use area. The trail system is entirely within the valley bottom and is not threatened by avalanches. Call the information centre up to date conditions (780 852-6176).
Maligne Lake (Simple Avalanche Terrain)
Drive to Maligne Lake and park in the parking area just before the entrance to the Warden Station. Be cautions when on any frozen lake during the fall, winter and spring as ice condition vary and you may fall through the ice into cold deep water. Returning visitors should note that track setting is no longer occurring in the Maligne area, as a requirement of the Caribou Recovery Action Plan .
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