First Ski Walk of 2014 in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

No expectations. That’s the rule. If I don’t have any expectations then they are always exceeded. The skiing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains has not been great so far this year. All the snow has fallen on Edmonton and Calgary and bypassed the peaks to the west. I got word from Banff that there are a few turns to be had so I pack up and go. I’m keeping an open mind knowing a few turns are better than none.

Wednesday morning B, D and I head out. We are going west of Lake Louise to Narao, a mountain near Lake O’Hara.

The trail starts on the O’Hara Lake road. It is easy climbing. There has been a tiller on it making tracks for XC skiing, so no trail breaking is required. At km 2 we duck into the woods and follow an uptrack set a few days previous. Again, it is not steep and is easy to follow. Since the travel is easy B wants to go to the treeline. He has not been there this year and wants to survey the ski conditions. We push on and with a few rest stops we reach our destination about 1 pm.

Narao

Narao

Lunch. Pack down a small area, plunk our butts in the snow and bring on the feast. Well, sort of, with no Sherpas we carry what we eat and lunch is usually modest but effective. A sandwich, some chocolate, a hot drink or water and if I really feel crazy I will carry a Coke. I think I burn quite a few calories walking up hill for 3 hours, I have never bothered to do any calculations, so I can pretty much eat what I want and not feel guilty.

The first three turns are shaky, it is steep, I am unsure of the snow consistency, and the trees are tight. 20 turns later I know what the snow has to offer, the trees thin and the skiing is wonderful. There are glades (opening in the trees) 10 to 15 turns long and it is easy to zip between a couple of trees and find the next glade. The snow is boot top and has a very secure base so I’m not breaking thru. The skiing is great. 3 hrs up and ½ hour down but what a glorious ½ hour. It is damn near impossible to get skiing this good at a resort but I consistently get this type of skiing in the backcountry. B is tired and we dispense with a second trek but it is a good day. We get back to town early compared to one of our usual outings.

Thursday is a new day but it starts out the same. 2 Egg McMuffins at McD’s, a short trip from Canmore to Banff and hook with B for one more day. D is heading out again but this time we are accompanied by his wife Do. We are headed for a place not on the regular backcountry circuit. I am sworn to secrecy so I will refer to it as Mountain X.

Cathedral

Waiting for a train to pass

Again the start of the uptrack is easy travel. A couple of snowshoers have packed a trail ahead of us and their track makes for an easy walk. When we depart their footsteps the snow is not deep and the base is very supportive so even breaking our own trail is relatively easy. (I should talk, D broke the entire morning, not that I do not offer but he wants to and he knows the way.) The track does get steep a couple of times but these pitches are short and we are up them quite quickly. Our trek to our high point does not take as long as it did yesterday. We reach an altitude where the snow is wind affected so we halt our upward trek.

Our View

Our View

All the way up I am noticing nice wide glades that I should be able to connect one after the other. Skins off, poles shortened, pant sides zipped, boots changed from walk to ski and bindings rotated to heel lock down position.  Turn the skis down and again it becomes acutely apparent why we walk up hill for hours on end to ski. The snow is great. Four or five turns, slide between a couple of trees and few more turns right thru a small break and there is space long enough for 15 turns. I could ski non stop most of the way down but in the backcountry we have to stop every once in a while and group up. There is always the possibility of one of us piling up and getting hurt or ending up head down in a tree well and it is best if we only have a small climb back to rescue.

Today we ski to where the trees get thicker, stop, skin up and climb again for a second try. Wa hoo! I don’t know what it is that skiing stimulates but it sure is a cheap way to get high. The second ascent is only the last third of our original track in so it does not take long. The skiing is just as good the second time down.

J on the downrun

B on the downrun

I left Edmonton thinking I would ski but did not think it would be great. No expectations. Boy, were my expectations exceeded. I will most certainly be a return customer.

Homebound

View from the highway heading home

Next stop, Mistaya Lodge.

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