Backcountry Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering
It’s no secret – Canada’s Mountain National Parks are home to some of the planet’s most spectacular slopes and peaks to explore on skis or a splitboard, not to mention lay down a whole lot of fresh tracks.
The Mountain National Parks offer plenty of fresh powder turns. © Parks Canada
Rogers Pass , in Glacier National Park is known around the world as an unrivalled ski touring and ski mountaineering destination. The terrain in Rogers Pass is steep, serious and complex. By late-November many of the higher slopes could offer good skiing, but the snowpack many not yet offer solid bridges over crevasses on the glaciers. By season’s end the average snowpack is three to five metres. Anyone planning a backcountry trip in winter in Glacier National Park must understand they are venturing into uncontrolled avalanche terrain. Of special importance in Glacier National Park are the Restricted Areas. These are areas facing the highway that require a permit to enter. They are only opened for public access in periods when there is absolute certainty that no avalanche control will be required anytime that day. Avalanche Forecasters at Rogers Pass update the status of each area every morning. To obtain a permit, you must visit the Rogers Pass Discovery Center.
In the Canadian Rockies, the cold dry snowpack is typically very weak and unstable during the early winter (December, January) and backcountry ski travel is usually poor at this time. Track skiing, downhill skiing at the lift-serviced ski areas and touring in the valley bottoms are all that can normally be recommended during this part of the season. The snowpack can normally be depended upon to provide a solid enough base to carry off track skiers by mid-February, but this is also when the larger avalanches of the season occur so careful route-finding is imperative on mountain trails and routes. The alpine touring season improves from March onward and is recommended in April and May on the icefields and snow peaks along the Continental Divide.
The Wapta Icefields straddling Banff and Yoho National Parks offer exceptional hut or tent-based glacier ski touring and peak bagging possibilities. The Wapta is wild and uncontrolled avalanche and glacier terrain. Do not venture on glaciated terrain unless everyone in your group is properly equipped and familiar with safe glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques, and whiteout navigation skills.
Know Before You Go
If you haven’t yet, sign up for an Avalanche Skills Training Course to learn how to how to identify avalanche terrain, understand the conditions and factors that cause avalanches, plan and carry out a backcountry trip, carry out a companion rescue and use appropriate travel techniques when travelling in avalanche terrain. Before setting off on your trip, check the weather forecast, the Public Avalanche Forecasts and the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale. Don’t forget to check the Winter Backcountry Checklist too. Don’t leave the trailhead unless everyone in your group is wearing an avalanche transceiver and carrying a shovel and probe, and knows how to use it. Practice often! Visit your nearest Beacon Basin. Be prepared to change your objectives as the conditions change – don’t allow yourself to become too fixated on a single destination just because it’s your only day off. And learn the emergency number for the Mountain National Park you plan to visit.
Like us on the Parks Mountain Safety Facebook page and @ParksMntSafety Twitter feeds for real time updates on road closures due to avalanche control.
For seasonal snow and Ice conditions subscribe to the ACMG - Mountain Conditions Report.
Comprehensive rescue services are provided by Mountain Safety Program Specialists for visitors to the Mountain National Parks. Backcountry skiers and ski mountaineers, however, should plan on being self-reliant and remember that rescue assistance may not always be immediately available, especially during stormy weather. Rescue costs are normally recovered from the park user fees paid by visitors upon entry to the park.