Canadian Rockies mega report
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes an ideal ski partner. The list will be different for everyone but for me it’s something like this, in no particular order…
1. Similar stoke for big objectives & risk tolerance
2. Similar fitness level
3. Plenty of free time/flexible schedule
4. Tells good jokes
5. Shares both the monetary and physical (trailbreaking) costs of the trip
6. Does research, shows up prepared and with good ideas.
The jury was still out on #4 (can an American and a German ever really have the same sense of humor??) but Silvia checked all the other boxes, so I was psyched when she decided to join me for a road trip to the land of big mountains, small approaches and Tim Hortons – the Canadian Rockies. Silvia was hoping for a strong female touring partner but got stuck with me instead.
We put together a very ambitious list of objectives and somehow managed to tick off all of them, with one notable exception. The weather wasn’t great but it was good enough, and the ski quality and access were phenomenal, not to mention the scenery. Here’s what we got up to...
Day 1: Thar Peak, North Couloir (Coquihalla Summit). Nice warmup, quick approach, surprisingly good snow, no one out there. Great way to break up the drive as it’s less than 4 hours from Seattle.
Day 2: Grizzly Mtn, SE Couloir (Rogers Pass). After waiting around all morning for a weather window that never arrived, we set out around noon and climbed and skied from the summit in a snowstorm. Of course the sky finally cleared once we'd made it back down to the lower mountain. This is a great line but the combination of low visibility and touchy avalanche conditions kept us on our toes. Despite the solar aspect it skied well all the way back to the car – this would become a theme for the rest of our trip.
Day 3, Narao Peak, Left & Right Couloirs (Yoho NP). We joined up with another group to climb and ski the steep, sustained Left Couloir in this awesome cirque. It was so much fun that Silvia and I decided to keep the party going on the Right Couloir, also known as the “Birth Canal” due to a rock tunnel mid-route that you normally climb and ski through. There is so much snow this year that the tunnel is completely filled in - instead of going through the birth canal we went over it, which required a short section of downclimbing.
Day 4, rest/storm. On the drive to Lake Louise we saw what must be one of the season’s first grizzlies scratching around by the train tracks. It looked like the grizzly had climbed up a snow slope and slid back down, just for fun. We sympathize.
Day 5: Boom Mtn, Kindergarten Couloir (Banff NP). Easy day, nice to be able to skin to the top for once, great skiing, and somehow had the mountain all to ourselves.
Day 6: Mt Whymper, North Bowl + West Ridge to summit (Kootenay NP). We used the only bluebird day of the entire trip to get on a lofty summit with some awesome views of the Rockies. Heading up the Chickadee valley as the morning sun hit the cliffs was stunning. We got thrashed by wind on the upper mountain but it died down just as we reached the summit. The North Bowl was so good that we went back up and skied it again. We had considered skiing the X Couloir for our 2nd lap but a cornice collapse caused the whole couloir to avalanche just as we were getting ready to head over there. Serendipity?
Day 7: Stanley Peak, North Face (Kootenay NP). For me this was the highlight of the trip as far as skiing goes. It reminded me of all my favorite big mountain lines in Washington – Edmunds Headwall, NFNWR, etc - except you can get to Stanley all year and ski it in perfect winter conditions!
Day 8: rest/storm.
Day 9: Mt Temple, Aemmer Couloir (Banff NP). Our friend Doug joined us for this one, which he called a “designer couloir”. It definitely lived up to the reputation. The weather was gloomy most of the day but we got a short window of good visibility to climb and ski, so it felt like it was meant to be. The Aemmer skied like a dream.
Day 10: Bow Peak, Grand Daddy Couloir (Banff NP). Probably the least memorable day. Another aesthetic couloir but not really deserving of the Grand name - it was fairly short and pretty thoroughly skied out. Could be better with fresh tracks but it’s very popular - imagine how crazy the Slot would be if you could see it while driving by on I-90.
Day 11: Columbia Icefield/Athabasca Glacier (Jasper NP). We made an attempt on Mt Columbia which was cut short when Silvia punched through a snowbridge on the Athabasca Glacier and got a unique perspective on the inside of a large crevasse. Fortunately we were roped up and prepared for this, and managed to get her out with minimal injuries but some valuable lessons learned. Silvia remained calm throughout this whole episode and the teamwork between the two of us was what made the rescue successful. We may decide to share details about this in the future in some other format. In the meantime, for me the biggest takeaway is to always be true to myself and remember that I'm a skier, not a mountaineer. Bring on the gnar but don't let me set foot on another Icefield anytime soon.
Day 12: Swiss Peak, North Face (Rogers Pass). This ended up being our biggest day, as it was the only tour to include a Cascades-style bushwhacking exit. Ascending the South Couloir of Swiss Peak to the col just below the summit and dropping in to massive exposure on the upper North Face was very memorable. We sideslipped most of the way down the firm upper face to a choke, where we breathed a sigh of relief. Canada had a few more powder turns waiting for us on the lower face, where we opened it up for some very enjoyable skiing down to the bergschrund which required a small hop. From there we crossed glaciers, refrozen avy debris and muddy canyons, ducked under railroad bridges, and finally some moose tracks led us through the forest and out to the road. This is an amazing line that I’d love to repeat someday in better condition.
Day 13: drive home.
Co-MVP for this trip goes to Silvia, for taking an Alberta-sized whipper and bouncing back the very next day to crush one of the biggest lines at Rogers Pass, and to Charlie the dog for waiting patiently in the van each day while we were out doing our thing in the mountains. Oh, and it turns out Silvia is pretty funny after all!
If there’s any place in the world that’s better for ski mountaineering than the Canadian Rockies I can’t wait to see it.
Photos by Tim Gibson and Silvia Domcke
7. Prefers sleeping in an aged Econoline in a driveway over Doug's deluxe guest bedroom 12 feet away.
Like I said already, I'm just going to copy your trip, but in a more civilized timeframe - say two or three seasons. Nice work!
@Doug, I'm not sure if #7 is a requirement but it definitely shows dedication. Thanks for all your hospitality, it was awesome hanging out and skiing with you!
Very cool, hope to spend some seasons up in CA exploring the range! thanks for the fodder
I made a video edit with footage from this trip, it's available at https://youtu.be/qgC9zlmeYTU
Canadian Rockies April 2022
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