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Ski Touring: It Ain’t Over ’Til The Rockies Sing

Posted by Matt Coté on

It’s mid-April and the lifts just stopped spinning. You look up at the blanket of white stuck from tip to toe to the mountain you love so, wearing moguls like spring goosebumps under a perfect sun and two and a half metres of snow, “How could this be over?” you ask yourself. Someone passing by whispers that it doesn’t have to be, winking coyly at the touring skis in their car.

For niche groups of devout skiers and mountaineers in Golden, April isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. Stamped in the fold of three mountain ranges, the town built in part by Swiss guides some 120 years ago isn’t just accidentally parked where it is. Between the Selkirk, Purcell and Rocky Mountains, Golden has one of the longest ski-touring seasons in North America. Come April, with the snowpack at its deepest and the days at their longest, it’s Rockies time—the crowd-free locale for those who want to get up high in the stablest conditions, or cross a glacier at its most filled in.

While people largely associate Yoho and Banff National Parks with the Alberta town of Banff, Golden is just as close and makes a perfect base for spring day trips and more. The Nexus Point of Lake O’Hara and The Icefields Parkway—two of the juiciest locales—is only 45 minutes away (the same distance as Rogers Pass).

One of the most classic hits is the Wapta Icefield, paralleling the Great Divide—from Peyto Lake to Great Divide Lodge, with an exit via Sherbrooke Lake. It’s a 45-kilometre route that flanks the Alberta-BC border, dipping between Yoho and Banff National Parks throughout (which require a National Parks Pass and overnight Wilderness Pass). Serviced by five huts listed by the Alpine Club of Canada, the glacial playground is often dubbed Canada’s Haute Route because you can sleep inside in civilized digs and forego the extra weight of camping gear.

The peaks you can bag along the multi-day trip of your choosing range from novice to expert: Mount Rhonda, Havel, Vulture, Saint Nicholas and Baker—getting you as high as 3,000 vertical metres. With the addition of the Louise and Richard Guy Hut at the foot of Mount DesPoilus, advanced ski mountaineers can now also make a side trip to tick off this BC beauty.

The sea of ice you’ll cross can feel like anything from the world’s biggest tanning bed to the inside of a Ping-Pong ball. Not sure you have the skills required to cross an icefield in a whiteout? Check in with a local guide that can keep you out of crevasses, and in the pow.

Cold snow on north slopes can last well into May in the Rockies, but sometimes the best fun is in corn. It’s different every year, so follow the forecast or consult a guide to plan your trip.

Don’t want to stay overnight? The bounty of peaks surrounding Lake Louise and Lake O’Hara will more than satiate. From a cruisy larch-filled meander over Surprise Pass, to a the lengthy bulbous top-out on Popes Peak, or the compelling complexities of Mount Cathedral, the Canadian Rockies will have you wondering why bother with Chamonix. Want to get really rad, still? Try hitting one of the notorious “11,000ers”—mountains 3,353 metres or taller. One of Canada’s most-gazed-upon peaks, Mount Victoria, is right here but is not for the inexperienced. Over on Mount Temple (another 11,000er), you can link turns between the 600-metre layer-caked walls of the Aemmer Couloir.

Remember to play safe, and that only suckers are hanging up their boards right now.

For more ideas close to Golden, check out Chic Scott’s book Summits & Icefields Alpine Ski Tours in the Canadian Rockies



Matt Coté

Matt Coté is associate editor at Forecast Ski Magazine and a freelance adventure journalist at large.