Reflections and images from my travels

Kootenay Cruise!

It is January 16, 2015. I have had one day to rest after my Rogers Pass experience and inevitably to run around to accomplish multiple mundane tasks. I have signed up for one of the “First Track Fridays” offered through the University of Calgary Outdoor Recreation Centre. This is a great, economical and safe way to get into the backcountry with an experienced guide and like-minded individuals.

Our group of five met early morning in Canmore, Alberta. The original plan was to ski somewhere along the Smith-Dorrien roadway in Kananaskis Country. However, we were faced with the same problem as I originally had earlier in the week. The snow conditions were not great locally. After some discussion, we decided to drive further west, carpooling in three vehicles, towards Kootenay Provincial Park along Highway 93 South. Hopefully, the conditions would be better there.

We initially decided to skin up to the “Fire Break”. This slope is accessed from the Stanley Glacier parking lot. There were several massive forest fires in this area in 2003 sparked by lightning. As the name implies, a section of trees was removed to assist with managing the forest fire in this area. With good snow conditions, this area does provide a very safe and accessible backcountry ski slope. There are also wonderful views of the Stanley Glacier above and further southwest. The weather conditions were good but the snow base was rather shallow. One had to be very careful with barely covered rocks, logs as well as small trees. We found this out as we skinned up. Our up-track brought us out approximately halfway up on the Fire Break. It was a simple matter to skin up the slope to the crest. Some of the low-lying cloud did clear which provided excellent views of the surrounding mountain ranges including nearby Chickadee Valley, another popular backcountry skiing area. We accomplished several short runs on the Fire Break but our hearts and legs pined for more. Several of the group looked across the roadway at the opposite slopes and asked the guide Doug if it was possible to ski those slopes safely. Thankfully, he was up for it. The avalanche conditions for that day at tree line were rated as moderate.

Skinning up the Fire Break

Skinning up the Fire Break

Looking South from the top of the Fire Break

Looking South from the top of the Fire Break

Doug, our guide, at the top of the Fire Break

Doug, our guide, at the top of the Fire Break

Beautiful view looking towards Chickadee Valley from the top of the Fire Break

Beautiful view looking towards Chickadee Valley from the top of the Fire Break

Steve at the bottom of the Fire Break

Steve at the bottom of the Fire Break

We crossed the highway like a band of ducks holding our equipment and then simply disappeared into the trees skinning up along an avalanche run-out pathway. Doug, our guide, did a great job of finding a route and also explaining why it was safe for us to proceed. Backcountry skiing is all about assessment of your terrain, your party members comfort levels, the local conditions as well as making sound decisions. This up track was definitely more challenging and at times steeper than that of the Fire Break.

DSC03959 copy copy

Our group starting our skin up east-facing slope, Kootenay Valley. Photo courtesy of Anton van der Merwe.

 

DSC03962 copy copy

Part of our group working hard skinning up east-facing slope, Kootenay Valley. Photo courtesy of Anton van der Merwe.

 

DSC03964 copy copy

Steve working hard skinning up east-facing slope, Kootenay Valley. Photo courtesy of Anton van der Merwe.

We ascended approximately 300 m before we decided on a good point to transition and reap the rewards of our efforts by skiing down. The sun came out and we had brilliant views of Stanley Glacier and the entire west-facing Kootenay mountain range. The ski down was fantastic. The snow was perfect. What a feeling! We were all thrilled we had made the decision to come over on this side to explore the slopes. We were only able to get one run in. We exited down immediately adjacent to the highway and it was already mid-afternoon.

View near the top of our climb on the opposite slope from the Fire Break

View near the top of our climb on the opposite slope from the Fire Break

Transition point, opposite slope from the Fire Break

Transition point, opposite slope from the Fire Break

DSC03971 copy copy

We were able to ski out without transitioning back into our skins in order to get back to our vehicles. We had a great group led by a very competent guide, Doug, who was willing to accept our suggestions, break trail and also had numerous really bad guide jokes! An example “How many mountain guides does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer-three. One to unscrew the lightbulb and two others to say good turns….good turns”.

Doug, our guide, at the bottom of the Fire Break

Doug, our guide, at the bottom of the Fire Break

We drove back to Canmore and then everyone departed home. Like any skill, backcountry skiing requires practice, practice and more practice. First Track Fridays is a great way to accomplish this. I will definitely be back for more. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: