Friday, January 19, 2018

Family Backcountry Ski Touring in Banff (Boom Lake Trail)

Boom Lake has always been my very favourite ski tour in the Canadian Rockies, and I had one big goal for this winter, to bring the boy! While I knew it would be a long day, that it would be challenging, and that the pace would feel glacial at times, I was determined to make the trip happen - and it did!!

Boom Lake, Backcountry Banff National Park 

Some Snowshoe Trails Need to be Enjoyed on Skis

As much as I love snowshoeing, I refuse to hike the Boom Lake Trail. This popular snowshoe trail ends at a gorgeous backcountry lake, and is very much worth the journey. Honestly though, it's just way too much fun on a pair of light touring skis to make me ever want to walk up (and back down) the trail.

We were met by dozens of snowshoers in the parking lot (even more on the trail,) and they all seemed to be having fun. Screaming our way down the trail at the end of the day though, I knew we were having the most fun!

Trailhead and Basic Trail Info

The Boom Lake Trail is located at Vermillion Pass off Highway 93 on the border with Banff and Kootenay National Parks.

The trail is 10 km in distance round trip, and there is a climb of 180 metres to reach the lake.

The trail is a well maintained summer hiking trail, and is a popular snowshoe destination in winter.

While the trail is generally wide enough for a good snow plow on the way down the steep hills, it is still a hiking trail (not the groomed ski trail you'd find at a Nordic Centre) and beginners will find the first section to be tricky on descent. (Though my 8 year old did just fine.)

We appreciated that the snowshoers had packed the trail down nicely for us, and we enjoyed fabulous snow that wasn't icy (thank goodness!)

For more information on this trail, consider purchasing a copy of Chic Scott's new Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies guide book. (affiliate link)

The official sign post for the Boom Lake Trailhead

Avalanche Safety

I'm sure the average winter hiker (and skier) enjoys this trail with little avalanche training, but be aware that the full outing to the lake is technically considered to be in class 2 terrain. In especially bad conditions, avalanche slopes could potentially reach the trail or the lake. And there is one large slide path that we definitely crossed through while skiing to the lake (though we could have dropped down to the lake early and skipped skiing through this section.)

If you want to ski the Boom Lake Trail, I recommend the following:

  • Travel with at least one person in your party who has avalanche training, and can steer you away from any potentially hazardous slopes.

  • Always check with a Visitor Information Centre before heading out, or check online for the latest avalanche report. When we went to Boom Lake in early January, the avalanche hazard was low for below and at treeline.

  • I don't advise skiing across the lake with kids. (We skied on the lake for all of 5 minutes before turning around.) There are several big slide paths that do come all the way down to the lake.

And if you plan to do a lot of ski touring, I would suggest taking an avalanche skills training course, and investing in the proper safety gear for your outings.

Backcountry Ski Touring across Boom Lake

The Skis that We Used for Boom Lake

My husband and I both used light touring skis which are slightly wider Nordic skis with metal edges for going down steep hills. I love my light touring skis and use them everywhere. They are skinny enough to fit in the tracks at a Nordic Centre, and they give me the confidence to make it down any hill, knowing that I could stop on a dime if I had to.

I also have NNN BC bindings which are beefier cross country ski bindings, and are designed to pair with extra sturdy boots (for more support while out in the backcountry.) My husband just has normal cross country bindings and boots, but he's always been the better skier.

As for little Noah, he just has normal skinny cross country skis with regular bindings and boots. No metal edges or touring boots for this kid! He's hard core.

Ski Touring on normal cross country skis

Our Experience Skiing into Boom Lake

We knew we needed every advantage on our side possible for this trip, so we waited for a nice warm day, packed in a ton of extra layers and clothing, stuffed our pockets full of candy, and brought a tow rope (just in case.)

We fully expected to be towing Noah up the steep trail, or at the very least thought we'd have to help him up the first set of switchbacks, but he surprised and amazed us - and made it all the way to the lake with no assistance whatsoever.

Skiing up the Boom Lake Trail

The trail was actually quite enjoyable for probably the first 3 km, until Noah started to get tired. Then the pace slowed down, and the final couple of kilometres were a bit of a slog. Noah was also less than impressed that you have to drop down to the lake for the last kilometre because he knew he'd have to climb back up again after. (and that's where the rope had to come out.)

We enjoyed a short lunch at the lake, skied a very short distance across the lake for all of 5 minutes, and then started climbing back up to the main trail (with tow rope fully in use at this point.)

The climb back up to the main trail was the hardest part of the day for us, and it didn't help that a group of hikers teased my son for "cheating" with the tow rope! Little did they know how sensitive he is, and how hard he'd worked to reach this point in the day (without using the rope the whole way in.) He started crying and it definitely took some work to calm him down.

This kid was a trooper on the way in

The Ski Down from Boom Lake 

Once we reached the main trail, we had to endure approximately a kilometre of rolling terrain before the descent got very interesting (and super fun!)

There was a lot of screaming (good screaming,) a few small falls, and a lot of laughing on the descent. I'd been worried that maybe Noah wasn't ready to ski down a narrow, wild backcountry luge track on skinny skis, but he totally killed it, and did amazing!

Below is another fun video from our descent. Apologies if it's wobbly or shaky but I was filming it with my phone in hand while skiing behind Noah (not the easiest thing to do!)

Where to Stay in the Area

The Boom Lake Trailhead is located 6 km SW of Castle Junction in Banff National Park. This is very convenient for families staying at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel. The hostel is technically a "wilderness" property, but it has indoor plumbing, showers, heat and electricity. For a wilderness hostel, it is definitely comfortable.

The hostel has a large fully stocked kitchen and a beautiful fireside room to enjoy while playing games as a family.

There are no private rooms at the hostel so you'll have to share space in the dorm rooms, split by gender. Children must be over the age of 6 to sleep in the shared dorm rooms.

For more information, visit the Hostelling International website or check out the story I wrote: Winter at the HI Castle Mountain Hostel with Kids

Ski destinations don't get much more beautiful than this!

Other Recommended Reading 

Parting shot of my boys finishing the Boom Lake Trail


  1. I've been looking for a light touring set up than can also be used on groomed, track-set trails. would you mind sharing exactly what your set up is?

    1. Hi Marcie,
      For this trail we just used cross country skis. I have light touring ones that have metal edges and are slightly wider, but they are still cross country skis. And then they have NNN BC bindings instead of the normal NNN bindings, which makes them burlier and more sturdy. My boots are also a bit beefier than normal cross country skis. But yes, just cross country skis. If you go to any outdoor store that sells skis, you can just tell them that you want metal edges and they will direct you to that kind of ski. - this is what I have.


    2. Great! Thanks! And your husband just uses regular cross country ski boots and bindings (NNN)? Which specific boots and bindings do you have?

    3. Yes, my husband also has Madshus skis with metal edges, but he just has normal NNN bindings on his and so uses normal cross country ski boots. Nothing special.
      For me, I have the NNN BC bindings and the boots that are compatible.

  2. Just went back and re-read the post. Your poor son! He is such a trooper and such an awesome adventurer! Those people should have been praising him for getting so far rather than telling him he was cheating. :( Tell him I wish we could go on an adventure with him and could help my kids be better (less whiny ;) ) when we go out!

    1. Thanks so much Marcie. I appreciate your kind words.

  3. Thanks so much Marcie. I appreciate your kind words.

  4. HI Tanya, is the Boom Like ski/snowshoeing trail ok for Chariot? Thank you very much

    1. We've done it with one before and it was challenging. The turns at the bottom are very sharp. We actually flipped our chariot. I personally wouldn't recommend it. A ski pulk would be better.