Winter Safety & Trip Planning

Ski Touring in Waterton Lakes National Park
Winter safety and trip planning © Parks Canada

Study the trail description and park map; choose an objective suitable for the least experienced member in your party.

With changing snow and weather conditions, avalanche hazard may exist on much of the terrain in Waterton including most of the backcounty trails. See Avalanches below for more information.

If the terrain you plan on visiting involves avalanche hazard you will need additional training and equipment.

All backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety, and should be well informed about the type of terrain they will encounter. Be aware that there are specific travel restrictions that apply to custodial groups (those which include minors without their legal guardians) between Nov 15 and April 30. Consult the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) and Avalanche Terrain Ratings for Waterton Lakes National Park to help determine if your planned objective is suitable for you.

Check the current weather forecast, road reportcurrent trail conditions, and avalanche bulletin.

Gather emergency contact information:

  • Waterton Lakes National Park Emergencies – 403-859-2636 
  • A pay phone is located on the 200 block of Mount View Road in the community. Turn left at the 3-way stop sign; continue past first right turn; look to the right for motel and phone booth

Travel with a friend or group.

Tell someone where you are going and your expected return time.

Consider using the Hazardous Activity Self Registration located at the warden office.

Be prepared for changes in weather and for emergencies.

What To Bring

Here is list of items that you should consider bringing on any winter outing in Waterton:

  • Extra clothes, including extra hat and gloves. (Use the layering system. Peel off or add layers as needed to stay dry and warm.)
  • Water bottle or thermos
  • High-energy food, carry extra
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • First-aid kit
  • General repair kit for skis, snowshoes or crampons; pocket knife
  • Lightweight emergency blanket, candle, and lighter or waterproof matches
  • Head lamp or flashlight with good batteries
  • Navigation tools/route information, eg. map, compass, GPS, guidebook
  • Means of calling for help, eg. cell phone, personal locator device, VHF radio or satellite phone (note: cell phones do not work in many backcountry areas of the park)

Avalanches

Almost any moderately steep slope, under the right conditions, may release its snow load as an avalanche. Even small avalanches can be deadly.

Much of the mountain area within Waterton Lakes National Park is avalanche terrain. In addition, most of the backcountry trails in Waterton traverse avalanche terrain.

All backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety, and should be well informed about the type of terrain they will encounter. Be aware that there are specific travel restrictions that apply to custodial groups (those which include minors without their legal guardians) between Nov 15 and April 30. Consult the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) and Avalanche Terrain Ratings for Waterton Lakes National Park to help determine if your planned objective is suitable for you.

If the terrain you plan on visiting involves some avalanche hazard you will need:

  • Training to recognizing avalanche terrain and understand the avalanche hazard Learn To Know Snow
  • Avalanche Rescue Equipment: Avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel combined with the appropriate training concerning their use for companion rescue.

Visitor safety technicians produce a regular Avalanche Bulletin for Waterton Lakes National Park from December 1 to April 15. Updated avalanche bulletins are posted on Tuesday and Friday throughout the winter season. Visitors should be aware that periods of avalanche hazard may still exist in Waterton Lakes National Park outside of the regular winter season.

For more detailed mountain conditions information contact us. On weekends you can reach the Waterton visitor safety technicians during business hours by calling our dispatch centre in Banff at 403-762-1473 and asking to be redirected.

Relevant Links:

Avalanche Terrain Ratings - Waterton Lakes National Park

Simple Class 1 (definition)
  • Akamina Pass
  • Akamina Pass to Forum Lake (Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Parks - BC Parks)
  • Bear's Hump
  • Bison Paddock trail from Red Rock Parkway 
  • Cameron Lake Ski Trail to Lake
  • Crandell Lake
  • Crandell Loop trail along Red Rock Road
  • Dipper
  • Horseshoe Basin trail - Bison Paddock to Trail Creek
  • Linnet Lake trail
  • Park Line trail
  • Red Rock Parkway (when closed in winter)
  • Red Rock Canyon to Goat Lake junction
  • Snowshoe Cabin to Castle Divide and Lost Lake
  • Wishbone trail to Vimy junction
Challenging Class 2 (definition)
  • Akamina Pass to Wall Lake (Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park - BC Parks
  • Bertha Lake trail
  • Blakiston Valley trail to South Kootenay Pass junction
  • Boundary trail
  • Cameron Lakeshore trail
  • Crandell Loop trail along Cameron Lake Road
  • Forum Ridge
  • Goat Lake junction to Snowshoe Cabin
  • Horseshoe Basin trail from Trail Creek to Oil Basin
  • Lakeshore trail
  • Snowshoe Cabin to Twin Lakes and Sage Pass
  • South Kootenay Pass trail
  • South Kootenay Pass junction to Lone Lake
  • Summit Knob to Cameron Lake
  • Summit Lake trail from Cameron Lake
  • Twin Lakes to South Kootenay Pass junction
  • Vimy Peak trail
  • Wishbone trail from Vimy junction to Crypt Landing
Complex Class 3 (definition)
  • Alderson Carthew trail
  • Bertha Lake Loop trail
  • Crypt Lake trail
  • Goat Lake trail, including Avion Ridge to Castle Divide
  • Lineham trail
  • Rowe trail
  • Rowe Basin to Lone Lake

Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES)

DescriptionClassTerrain Criteria
Simple 1 Exposure to low angle or primarily forested terrain. Some forest openings may involve the run-out zones of infrequent avalanches. Many options to reduce or eliminate exposure. No glacier travel.
Challenging 2 Exposure to well defined avalanche paths, starting zones or terrain traps; options exist to reduce or eliminate exposure with careful route finding. Glacier travel is straightforward but crevasse hazards may exist.
Complex 3 Exposure to multiple overlapping avalanche paths or large expanses of steep, open terrain; multiple avalanche starting zones and terrain traps below; minimal options to reduce exposure. Complicated glacier travel with extensive crevasse bands or icefalls.

How much experience do I need for these trips?

Simple - Class 1

Terrain requires common sense, proper equipment, first aid skills, and the discipline to respect avalanche warnings. Simple terrain is usually low avalanche risk, ideal for novices gaining backcountry experience. These trips may not be entirely free from avalanche hazards, and on days when the Backcountry Avalanche Advisory is rated ‘Poor’, you may want to re-think any backcountry travel that has exposure to avalanches – stick to groomed x-country trials or within the boundaries of a ski resort.

Challenging - Class 2

Terrain requires skills to recognize and avoid avalanche prone terrain – big slopes exist on these trips. You must also know how to understand the Public Avalanche Bulletin, perform avalanche self rescue, basic first aid, and be confident in your route finding skills. You should take an Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 course (AST 1) prior to travelling in this type of terrain. If you are unsure of your own, or your group’s ability to navigate through avalanche terrain – consider hiring a professional ACMG certified guide.

Complex - Class 3

Terrain demands a strong group with years of critical decision making experience in avalanche terrain. There can be no safe options on these trips, forcing exposure to big slopes. A recommended minimum is that you or someone in your group should have taken an Avalanche Skills Training Level 2 course (AST 2) and have several years of back country experience. Be prepared! Check the Public Avalanche Bulletin regularly, and ensure that everyone in your group is up for the task and aware of the risk. This is serious country – not a place to consider unless you are confident in the skills of your group. If you are uncertain – consider hiring a professional, ACMG certified guide.