Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Line of the week: Introduction

Going to get the ball rolling on a little online guidebook of some steeper ski lines in the Canadian Rockies. Stuff that isn't in Selected Alpine, 11,000ers, Ski Trails, or Summits and Icefields.

So you've got a season or two or touring under your belt. Maybe you've skied Surprise Pass or Hero Knob and are wondering where do you go from here? The Rockies are a young, steep and imposing mountain range, but the crumbly rock has revealed many weaknesses that are able to hold snow. The cold, fickle Rockies snowpack takes time to stabilize. Great, aesthetic ski lines await, they just require patience to tame them properly.

Highway 40 (Highwood)
Smith-Dorrien (Highway 742)
Trans-Canada Highway
Highway 93S
Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N)

Safety and Etiquette:
It goes without saying that serious lines should be saved for times of good stability. In general a clear, calm day is best, but be weary of the effect that the sun and temperature can have on the line. Start early to avoid a strong midday sun shining on unstable snow or cornices that funnels into your line. Cornices drop like bombs onto the start zones at the top of lines. Deep persistent slabs might not be able to form on steeper features, but can exist on fans, aprons, and at the top of the line if the slope angle slackens.

Sluffing: New snow, wind, sun exposure, and temperature (whether high temperatures or cold weather faceting) all increase the risk of a sluff washing you off the line.

Never climb underneath another group. Go find another line. You are at risk of the group above you sending sluffs, dropped gear, or falling on you. You are also forcing the group above to wait at the top for you to top out. They don't want to be stuck up there. They might want to ski another line after, they might want to get off the line before the weather changes, they might need to get home by a certain time. Just don't. Careful when you are climbing a line that can be accessed from the top via another route. A group topping out this way might send sluff or a cornice down.

Aside from having the experience to judge if the snow is safe to ski, it is important to have the fitness, technique, and knowledge of your gear to move as fast as possible on these lines to minimize your exposure to objective hazards such as sluffing, cornice, or rock falls. Dial in those skin to bootpack and bootpack to ski transitions so that you aren't waiting around in the bowling alley for too long. As these lines are in the alpine, the fitness to climb 1000m+ with some bootpack is a pre-requisite. Work your way up.

Have confidence in your skills to ski the line. It's not hard to climb up something that you might not have the guts to ski down. You should feel comfortable skiing ANYTHING at the ski hill before stepping onto one of these lines.

Carry the right gear. Ice axe and crampons if there's a chance of hard snow. Helmet provides some protection against stuff above you.

GPS: I carry a simple GPS to track my day, but these lines are typically "if you can see it, you can ski it" sort of deal.

Disclaimer: I am not a guide and I am not liable for the accuracy of the information I have provided. Ski and climb these lines at your own risk. If in doubt, hire a guide!


  1. This is a great series and very informative Peter, thanks for posting all of these great lines! Map feature is super handy as well. Cheers!
    Dustin McLachlan

  2. Thanks. I hope people will find this useful and get inspired to get after some of these safely.