I know that the sports of downhill skiing and backcountry skiing are still alive because thrill seekers will always be seeking out fresh powder for turns. I've also seen plenty of evidence that classic xc skiing on groomed and track-set trails continues to be popular though perhaps with an older generation. What appears to be fading in popularity is the kind of skiing I most like which is light ski touring. Light ski touring is similar to xc skiing except that the trails aren't groomed or track-set. Most people use modified skis equipped with metal edges that are slightly wider than the classic xc ski. These skis can be fitted with climbing skins for steeper hills and are perfectly suitable for many hiking trails in the Rockies. Many people also use AT skis or telemark skis for more moderate ski tours or if they want to do turns. My definition of ski touring however, does not involve turns or venturing into avalanche terrain. Popular ski tours in the Rockies are the Boom Lake trail in Banff, the Goat Creek Traverse from Canmore to Banff, and the Chester Lake trail in Kananaskis.
|Skiing the Boom Lake Trail with our son in a pulk|
|On our way in to Chester Lake with our son in a Chariot|
|Scenery along the Elk Pass Trail|
One other advantage of skiing is that you can easily make the journey into several back-country cabins that would be a boring slog on snowshoes. The Alpine Club of Canada's Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara is the best example here. It is 11km to the hut on a wide snow packed road that although a bit of an uphill trudge on skis, is tolerable because you know you are going to have an amazing run back down to the car. It's never so steep that you have to have any technical backcountry skills but it's just steep enough to allow for a lot of double polling and easy gliding. On snowshoes, the same trail would take the same amount of time to go down and you'd essentially be hiking up and down an 11km road. Not fun in my opinion. If I'm going to go snowshoeing, I'm going to look for a beautiful hiking trail covered in powder rather than walking on a hard packed road.
|The Elizabeth Parker Hut at Lake O'Hara|
|Snowshoeing at Elbow Lake with our son in a carrier|
Below are my own personal guidelines when making the decision to ski or snowshoe.
Any groomed and track-set trail should be left to the skiers that the trail is intended for.
It is actually dangerous for skiers coming down should they catch an edge on a snowshoe track. There is also a good potential for collisions if a large group of snowshoers should be coming up a trail and not be able to get out of the way fast enough to avoid a downhill skier.
Popular trails to ski and avoid on snowshoes:
- The Elk Pass Ski Trail, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis
- Blueberry Hill, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis
- The Kananaskis Lookout Trail, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis
- Any of the Ribbon Creek ski trails or trails around Kananskis Village
- Any of the West Bragg Creek ski trails
- The official ski trails around Lake Louise such as the Moraine Lake Road and the Great Divide Trail
|Friends skiing with their son on an official ski trail in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park|
|Skiing with our kids on the Great Divide ski trail, at Lake Louise|
Hard packed trails do not need snowshoes. We use ice cleats or yak trax if we are concerned about slipping. Snowshoes are designed for powder.
Popular trails to hike:
- Most of the trails around the townsite of Banff including the Sundance Canyon Trail
- Most official snowshoe trails (These trails are great for beginner snowshoers and families with small children. However, they are usually well packed down rendering snowshoes unnecessary. Leave your snowshoes in the car if there is no fresh powder or strap them to your backpack and set out on foot)
- The trails around Ribbon Creek and Kananaskis Village. (If you want to visit Troll Falls, you should be able to just walk. I've never seen enough fresh snow on the these trails that you'd need snowshoes. They only add extra weight to your feet. If you want to burn more calories, go ahead with the snowshoes. Otherwise, leave them in the car.)
|Lake Agnes, Lake Louise in spring and the trail was so hard you could have worn running shoes.|
|Hiking to Troll Falls when our son was a baby. No shoeshoes necessary.|
Toddlers and babies will stay much warmer in a Chariot or Ski Pulk so unless it's a warm spring day, we choose to ski rather than snowshoe with our son in a child carrier.
Our trip to Elbow Lake last November was our first and last snowshoe trip with our son this winter. We found it impossible to keep him warm enough in a child carrier. His dangling feet and hands got cold, we couldn't wrap him in blankets, and there was no protection against the wind. We've gone skiing though when it was as cold as -25C with wind chill and our son has always been toasty warm in either his Chariot or Pulk.
|Toasty warm in his pulk|
Watch for my next blog post: Choosing to snowshoe
My next story will specifically target family-friendly trails that are safe, short to moderate in length, scenic, and fun. I'll introduce you to my favorite trails that are perfect for snowshoeing and focus on the times it's better to snowshoe than to ski.