Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How to Become a Ski Family (without breaking the bank!) - updated 2023

I think we can all agree that downhill skiing is one of the most expensive sports a family can choose as a winter activity. By the time you've purchased gear for another season and perhaps invested in seasons passes for a local hill, you're easily spending upwards of $2000.00 (and that's if you were on the ball and bought passes at early season rates!)

Chasing kids down the ski slopes is a great winter activity (if you can afford it)

While I probably won't share any earth shattering secrets in this story, I would at least like to attempt to get you started in the right direction with the following topics:

  • Gearing up and getting started

  • Choosing a local resort and getting seasons passes

  • Discount passes, ski cards, and lift pass savings

  • Day trip cost busters

  • Tips for planning an affordable ski weekend

  • Tips for stress free ski days

This story has been updated for the 2023 - 24 Ski season 

Gearing Up and Getting Started

This is the topic that's on everybody's mind right now:

"Where can I get skis and boots for my growing children (without buying brand new equipment every year - because who can afford to do that for recreational skiing?)"

Visit the Ski Swaps early Season for skis, boards, and boots

Visit Second Hand Stores for ski gear and outerwear 

Save money on ski gear by swapping with other families

Learn how to use Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace effectively 

Set up alerts with Kijiji 

When you search for something (youth downhill skis for example) you can set up an alert so that you receive emails with all new items posted. You have to be signed in to your Kijiji Account, but then, after you've searched for something, you will see "notify me when new ads are posted" on the left side of the page. This is your key to daily emails for all new items posted.

I receive emails each day, one per alert I've set up. 

Note, you may have to use a desktop computer to set up alerts if it doesn't work from your phone.

Why do they keep growing?
Follow search items with Facebook Marketplace 

When you search for something in the Facebook Marketplace, you can choose to receive notifications when new items are posted. You'll see the "notify me" icon at the top of the page. Click that. 

And speaking of Facebook, there are a TON of buy/sell groups that you can join if you're looking for second hand outdoor gear. 

In the Calgary area, check out the following groups:

Other Ways to Save Money on Ski Gear 

  • Buy Roces adjustable ski boots (they'll last your children multiple seasons!)

  • Buy adjustable ski poles and never have to worry about the kids growing!

  • Buy gear from stores that let you trade up each season (The Ski Cellar in Calgary has a great Junior Trade in Program)

  • Rent skis for the season from Nakiska with their Wings Program. (and if the kids grow during the season, just move up to the next size)

Becoming a ski family starts with good (but affordable) gear

Choosing a Local Resort and Getting Seasons Passes

So now you've got the gear, the next step is to get lift passes for your hill of choice. 

Below are a couple of stories I've already written on the subject: 

Midweek skiing at Nakiska Ski Area

For my family, we always choose to get seasons passes for Nakiska Ski Area, our closest mountain hill. This allows me to get out with my son on PD days, over school holidays, and maybe even on a half day of school some Friday. 

A few considerations to look at when buying a seasons pass:

  • Is the resort close enough to visit on PD days or school holidays?

  • What's the parking situation like? (Would you have to show up at 8am on a weekend just to find a parking spot?)

  • How busy is the resort on weekends? (unfortunately Nakiska does not have this one in their favour, but we ski a lot mid-week and on days off school.)

  • What will the drive be like for a weekend trip? (Can you visit as a day trip or do you need to add accommodations on?)

Beyond Nakiska we generally visit other hills as special weekend getaways or when there are promotions offered for them.

Mid-week ski dates with friends are super fun when you ski local!

Discount Passes, Value Passes, and Lift Pass Savings 

I don't know about you, but I almost need to create a spreadsheet just to keep track of everything happening at our local ski hills, special discount days, promotions, where to buy the cheapest lift tickets, and when I can ski for the best price. 

Below is my best attempt to sum it all up for you:

DISCLAIMER: I have tried to verify everything below but you should visit an individual resort's website for the most up to date information along with current pricing for the upcoming ski season.

Look for discounted lift tickets

The cheapest option is to buy a seasons pass (when they go on sale in the fall.) If you didn't buy any passes though, you'll want to find discounted lift tickets for the few times you head out to a ski hill. 

  • Costco sells lift ticket bundles for most of the major resorts in the Canadian Rockies.

  • The ADmazing Savings Coupon book has coupons for 2 for 1 lift tickets for some resorts along with 50% off savings at other resorts.

  • AMA members save up to $20 off direct-to-lift tickets, ski rentals, and lessons, when purchased in advance at an AMA centre.

Savings and discounts make this mom happy! 

Purchase lift tickets in advance

You will save at least 20% by buying lift tickets online for mot ski resorts.

Bundle lift tickets with vacation rentals or hotel rooms

Many vacation rentals include lift tickets. You can purchase discounted lift tickets when you book a vacation package through Resorts of the Canadian Rockies or at at Panorama Mountain Resort.

Several hotels in Banff also offer lift tickets included with your hotel room.

Save money on half day lift tickets 

Half day tickets are available at many ski resorts if you want to ski for an afternoon. Half day skiing usually starts at 12:30pm.

School in the morning, skiing in the afternoon 

Save money when you ski with your toddlers and preschoolers

  • Kids 5 and under ski for free at most hills if accompanied by a paying adult on the hill. At several hills, you can get a Preschool Pass for $20 to $25 which allows for quick direct-to-lift access for your little ones. Otherwise you'll have to go to customer service each time you visit to pick up your free pass. - note that the Tiny Tiger pass is $50 at Sunshine.

  • Some mountain resorts offer free foot passes for parents just helping kids in the beginner areas serviced by magic carpets. Note that WinSport is not allowing parents on foot to help children learn to ski anymore.

    At Nakiska, adults can ski with their children for free in the beginner area as long as you get a special pass from the ticket office.

  • At Fernie Alpine Resort, adults can ski on the beginner platter lift, the Mighty Moose, for ~ $25.00. Kids 17 and under are free. This lift is an excellent progression from the magic carpet and most beginners would do well spending their day learning to ski here before heading up the chair lift.
Start them young and save big on Tiger Passes 

Score big with a Grade 2 Ski Pass 

Grade 2 students get special discounted seasons passes at many ski hills.

  • RCR Grade 2 Pass (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse) - $20 for unlimited
    skiing all season long

We skied a lot when my son was in grade 2!

Score even bigger with a Grade 4/5 Snow Pass 

Students in grades 4 and 5 can ski or snowboard at each participating area 2 times for only $29.99.

Resorts near Calgary include Sunshine Village, Lake Louise, Mount Norquay, WinSport's Canada Olympic Park, Marmot Basin in Jasper, Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis, Castle Mountain Resort, and everywhere in BC. There are over 150 different resorts featured so wherever you travel, you'll definitely find a hill!

Note that you only get 2 visits per resort total between the two years so spread the skiing out and don't use all your days in the first year. There are also blackout dates over holidays at some resorts so read the fine print carefully at the website below.

Read more about the Grade 4/5 Snow Pass here (where you can purchase them as well.)

We ordered a Grade 4/5 Snow Pass and enjoyed several free ski days with it

Buy a special discount ski card or value pass

Below are some of the options here:

  • Mountain Collective Pass - Pay $849 USD (kids 12 and under are only $270.00 USD) and receive two days skiing at each of the resorts across Western Canada (Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, Marmot Basin in Jasper, Panorama Mountain Resort, Sun Peaks Resort, and Revelstoke Mountain Resort.) That's 12 days total + receive two ski days at each of the other resorts in the United States if you want to do some traveling.

    You'll also receive 50% off all additional days at Collective Resorts. (So you can choose to spend more days at Louise and Sunshine.)

  • RCR Rockies Card - Pay ~ $120 + GST and receive three free ski days at any RCR Resort (Nakiska, Fernie, Kimberley, or Kicking Horse.) - cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free and then you get discounts every other day. We often ask for these discount cards as Christmas presents and then it pretty much guarantees us at least one free day of skiing. And you'll save even more during spring skiing season (until the resorts close) with a $40 discount per day.

  • Sunshine Super Card - Pay ~ $100.00 and receive three free ski days at either Sunshine Village Resort, Marmot Basin Resort in Jasper or Revelstoke Mountain Resort. -  cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free at any of the big resorts above with discounts on your other ski days. You also get a bonus day at either WinSport in Calgary, or at Rabbit Hill or Snow Valley in Edmonton.

  • Louise Plus Card - Pay ~ $130.00 + GST and receive three free ski days at either the Lake Louise Resort or at one of the following resorts: Castle Mountain Resort, Panorama Mountain Resort, or RED Mountain Resort. -  cards will be out in November with this year's pricing.

    Your first, fourth, and seventh day are free at any of the resorts above with discounts on your other ski days.

  • Mount Norquay 98 Family Pass - For $999.00 the whole family can ski at Mount Norquay all winter long. All mid-week skiing/boarding is covered (Monday to Friday), and many select weekend days, - Note this is the early bird price so buy your pass early before the price goes up.

  • Panorama Snow + Card - The Panorama SNOW+ CARD includes 3 or 5 days of skiing or riding at Panorama Mountain Resort for one low price! Plus, receive 15% off additional weekend tickets all season long (30% off mid week tickets.) 

    There are a variety of different options for these discount cards so visit the Panorama website to choose the card that would work best for you. Cards range from ~ $280.00 (3 days of skiing with no blackout days) to ~ $400.00 (5 days of skiing with no blackout days.) Youth and children's cards are also cheaper.

    And note that unlike the RCR or the Sunshine cards, you don't have to pay between your free ski days. This is a total of 3 or 5 ski days (which you can use all together over one long weekend or ski vacation, or split up over the winter.)

    For best pricing make sure you purchase your Snow + Card during the resort's flash sale in October when you'll also see this year's current pricing.

  • Marmot Escape Card - For those who live in Edmonton (or who just really like skiing in Jasper) this is a great pass! Pay $99 and get lift tickets for 50% off all season long at Jasper's Marmot Basin Ski Resort. No blackout dates.

    Note that unlike the other cards above, there are no free days. Also, save up to 50% off lift tickets at partner ski areas around the Edmonton area and up to 30% off on accommodation in Jasper.

  • Castle Mountain Wonders of Winter (WOW) Card for Southern Alberta - Pay ~ $100.00 and receive 50% off all lift tickets for Castle Mountain Resort outside Pincher Creek.

    There are no "free" days but you get discounted skiing every single day and there are no blackout dates.

    You'll also get tons of other benefits including 10% off cat skiing, 15% off lessons, and 20% off mid week stays at the Castle Ski Lodge.

    On sale while supplies last or December 24 (whichever comes first)

    Kids 6+ can also purchase WOW cards and receive half price skiing all winter.

    This card can be upgraded for free to direct to lift, guarantees you access to the hill (even on busy days) without pre-purchasing lift tickets, and is a no brainer if you plan to ski Castle for 2 or more days this winter.

    -  Check the resort website in October to view current pricing.

Oh the places you'll go when you purchase ski discount cards! 

Look for special offers, events, and free skiing days

Here are just a handful of events I'd watch out for:

  • Subscribe to the Sunshine Village newsletter and you'll never miss any of their special offers. They have been known to hold a one-day Halloween special on Sunshine Super cards, and in previous years, Sunshine Village gave an extra 20% off their Sunshine Super Card and on lift passes on Cyber Monday.

  • Also for Sunshine Village, They've had a "Fat Tuesday" sale in February where you could get 30% off a spring ski pass. Watch carefully starting in February.

  • WinSport's Canada Olympic Park in Calgary has had a special incentive called Servus Ski Wednesdays, sponsored by Servus Credit Union. Skiers and snowboarders can purchase a lift ticket between 3 pm and 9 pm for just $12. Visit the WinSport website for dates and more information for the upcoming season.

  • Watch for other special dates and mark them on your calendar! (Example, moms ski for free on Mother's Day at Sunshine Village with purchase of a child lift ticket or dress like Santa to ski for free on Christmas at many hills)

  • Ski for FREE on your birthday at Marmot Basin Ski Resort in Jasper. You'll also receive 15% off for family and friends joining you. 

Spring skiing at Mount Norquay

Take up spring skiing as a family and save BIG!

Buy a spring ski pass for either Sunshine Village or Lake Louise.

The spring pass at Sunshine Village starts around $800.00 for a family pass valid from mid March through mid May.

The spring pass at Lake Louise starts around $1000.00 for a family pass valid from early March through early May.

Spring skiing at Lake Louise

How to Make Day Trips More Affordable (cost busters)

Tip One: Bring your own lunch, snacks, and drinks

Most day lodges have microwaves and hot water taps for instant noodles. You can also bring your own cups and hot chocolate, apple cider or coffee mix to save money on buying drinks at the hill. Many families pack a thermos with their favourite hot beverage to the hill as well and I recommend bringing your own water bottles rather than paying for water at the resort.  

Alternately, in spring when it's warm enough to eat outside, bring a jet boil stove and some ramen soup packages. Have lunch at your vehicle and escape the madness of the day lodge. Bring some lawn chairs as well and try to park beside friends. (This works great at Marmot Basin in Jasper where there are multiple ski in/ski out parking lots along the side of the hill.) 

And my final suggestion here is to pack a hot lunch for the kids in a thermos (like you would for school.) My son loves a thermos filled with Kraft Dinner at the ski hill. 

Tip Two: Stash snacks in everybody's pockets 

Pack granola bars in your coat pockets so you don't have to buy expensive snacks at the day lodge between runs. Save your money for those "emergency" times when one of your children is having a bad day and you might need to buy a hot chocolate or some other special treat.

I also like to save my money for a special treat at the end of a ski day (though I've started buying those at the grocery store in advance as well because I was getting tired of spending $4 for one cupcake at our local hill when I can buy an entire tray of mini cupcakes for the same price at the grocery store.)

Tip Three: Rent skis off the ski hill 

You'll save up to $15 per person if you rent a ski package in Calgary before hitting the slopes. You'll also save time when you reach the hill because you won't have to wait in the long rental line. Most rental companies in Calgary also offer discounts for multi-day rentals and many places will allow you to pick up your skis the night before at no extra cost (Sports Rent for example does this and is located on 16th Ave for easy drop off on your way home from the mountains.)

Coffee is the one thing I do believe in splurging on at the ski hill 

Planning an Affordable Ski Weekend 

I love going away for a weekend and staying right on the hill in a ski in/ski out condo.  I find it to be much more relaxing when I can pretty much ski out the door of my condo in the morning and I enjoy having a place to retreat to mid-day to avoid the crowded day lodges.

While a ski vacation is never "cheap," you can make it more affordable with these following tips:

  • For a close-to-Calgary ski getaway consider staying a the HI Kananaskis Hostel,  located just a few minutes away from the Nakiska Ski Area. It has separate dorm rooms for women and men and also has a few private rooms for families.

    Read more here at Affordable Family Ski Weekends in the Canadian Rockies.

  • Plan a ski weekend to Lake Louise and stay at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre, a very comfortable hostel with many private rooms for families or small groups.

    Read more here at Affordable Ski Weekends at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre 

  • Rent a two or three bedroom condo or house on a ski hill and share with friends. The Fernie Lodging Company  or the Kimberley Lodging Company websites are good guides if searching for a larger property to share.

    You'll also find a wide variety of options at Panorama Mountain Resort - and all bookings at Panorama Mountain Village include access to the Springs Hot Pools.

  • Book a trip to Castle Mountain Resort where lift tickets are cheaper and you can stay in their hotel on site with affordable private rooms.

  • Look for vacation packages and specials which usually include lift tickets along with your condo or hotel room.

  • Book hotel rooms with Air Miles, look for Groupon deals (or similar deals from other websites,) or find discounted lodging from the school coupon book you probably have at least one of.
Panorama Springs Hot Pools at Panorama Mountain Resort

You can read about some of our recent ski vacations below: 

Magical Kimberley Alpine Resort and their ski in/ski out condo village

Stress Free Ski Days 

A fellow mom had the following words to say about downhill skiing as a family:

"You spend Monday-Friday waking up early, prepping lunches and meal planning so that by the weekend...there is zero motivation to prep another lunch-to-go and pack up kids early in the frigid morning." 

Sound familiar?

I encourage you to check out this previous guide I wrote: Tips and Tricks for Downhill Skiing with Kids 

Topics covered in the story include:

  • Tips for a stress  free morning

  • Organization tips

  • Tips for skiing with kids of different ages

  • Handling the crowded day lodge

  • Tips for keeping track of everybody on the hill

  • Special tips for keeping the kids happy 

First in line for the lifts! It IS possible!

Inspiration from Local Families (just like you!)

I wanted to share the following quotes from a couple of ski moms because I think they are encouraging.

"We are a family of 4 living on one single income. Both my husband and myself grew up skiing and we met on a chairlift so skiing is part of us. When the kids were little we always bought used equipment. We found we could outfit a kid with all the gear for as little as $100. We save up every month during the year to afford a family pass at Nakiska. We pack our own food and snacks because really $8 for a hotdog is just crazy. For us it's about having a passion and passing that down to our boys. Yes skiing is definitely an investment in both time and money but for us it's worth it to spend great times with our kids doing something we all find active and fun." - Kelsie 

"Yes skiing can be expensive for a family of four if you pay the day ticket price. Planning way in advance can cut costs though. Our kids are now 6 & 8 and there is only one salary in our household, so planning is essential. It is also part of a lifestyle decision. Hockey can cost up to $1000/per season per kid so it has to be a family lifestyle decision." - Susan 

Skiing is a great family activity that's worth investing in

The Next Step -  Lessons, Progress, and Learning to actually SKI

I'll add a couple links that I'd recommend reading once you reach the step where you've got the gear, you've got the ski passes, and now you're wondering "how do we teach the kids to actually ski?"

I've definitely seen a lot of progress in my son's ski abilities (as well as in my own) by following the tips I share in the two articles.

How to Make Learning to Ski Fun (downhill skiing with kids) 

Take your Skiing to the next Level in 5 Simple Steps 

Parting shot

Disclaimer: I have tried my best to provide accurate information for each resort but details can always change so please visit the resort websites for the best up to date information on pricing, discounts, and special events. 

Also expect to pay GST on most prices mentioned in this story. 

This story was not sponsored but we have worked with most of the resorts mentioned. We have received free skiing and accommodations at many of the resorts as well in exchange for publicity and writing. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Mount Baldy Double Summit Traverse from Baldy Pass

There are a few ways to reach the main summit of Mount Baldy in the Kananaskis Valley. Logic would say that you should take the shortest, most direct route from the trailhead to the summit. We however parked at a trailhead 2 km away so that we could visit both the main summit and the south summit of Mount Baldy, and enjoy a beautiful ridge walk connecting the two peaks.

Enjoying the views from the main summit of Mount Baldy looking down over Barrier Lake

Introduction to the Mount Baldy Traverse

Mount Baldy is the big peak you see across from Barrier Lake as you drive into Kananaskis down Highway 40. The photo below was taken from the Prairie View hiking trail above Barrier Lake looking across to Mount Baldy.

Mount Baldy as seen from the ridge above Barrier Lake

While you can definitely hike straight up to the main summit in roughly 4 km return, we wanted a bigger adventure. We started at the Baldy Pass Trailhead, 2 km further down the road. This allowed us to summit not only the main peak of Mount Baldy, but to also reach the south peak via a 3 km long ridge walk.

While I call this the "Baldy Traverse," many people have their own definition of the traverse which does "not" start from Baldy Pass. The more "popular traverse" these days involves hiking up the Mount Baldy trail and descending a different route from South Baldy (starting and ending at the same trailhead.) The vast majority of hikers do not access the south peak from Baldy Pass (wanting to avoid the long ridge walk.)

We love off the beaten path adventures though, and I'm a big fan of ridge walks.

Looking ahead at the beginning of our ridge walk towards the South Peak of Mount Baldy from Baldy Pass

Stats for the Baldy Traverse

Height gain: 875 metres gain to the summit of the main peak of Mount Baldy

We first gained 487 metres height hiking up to Baldy Pass. From here we gained another 344 metres to the summit of South Baldy. From there it was another 50 metres or so to the main summit (more if you take into account that we had to drop down off South Baldy and climb back up to the main peak.)

Distance: Approximately 9 km total

We hiked 4 km to reach Baldy Pass. From here we hiked another 2 km to reach the summit of South Baldy. There was 1 final kilometre to the main summit of Mount Baldy, and then we estimate we hiked another 2 km on descent back to the highway. (My husband then had to walk an additional 2 km back to the car at the Baldy Pass Trailhead.)

Total Trip Time: It took us 7.5 hours to complete the traverse hiking with a 9 year old boy.

Looking back towards Baldy Pass (the low point between our ridge and Midnight Peak in the background)

Step One: Hiking to Baldy Pass 

We parked in the official parking lot for the Baldy Pass Trailhead and then enjoyed an easy 4 km hike on a good trail to reach Baldy Pass. 

Hiking up the Baldy Pass Trail

The trail climbed 487 metres of height but never really felt steep. It took us just over an hour to reach the pass at a good pace.

Read about the Baldy Pass Trail on the Alberta Parks website here. 

And honestly, as a destination, Baldy Pass is not terribly exciting. You definitely want to hike a short ways along the ridge at the very least to get some views.

The "exciting" Baldy Pass 

Baldy Pass to South Baldy Peak Ridge Traverse

Once we left Baldy Pass, we were leaving the hiking trail behind. We also knew we'd say goodbye to the rest of the hikers on our trail. We met one other small group along the ridge, but they turned around after maybe a half hour (too scared to scramble up the first cliff band section.)

The traverse to the South Peak of Mount Baldy is a 2 km long hike with a few "hands on" scrambly bits. Route finding skills would be beneficial here or I'd recommend bringing an actual guide book.

The guide book we used for this section was the  Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1, by Gillean Daffern Amazon affiliate link 

Hiking up the ridge from Baldy Pass (faint trail through the scree visible in front of my boys)

I won't go into a detailed description on how to reach the summit of South Baldy (please invest in the guide book above) but here is a brief overview of what to expect:

1. you'll head north (to your right if standing at the pass facing the trail you hiked up) and will be able to follow a rough, but easily identified, trail up the ridge in front of you. The trail stays right at the first rocky step.

Go right at this point on the visible trail

you will reach the crux on your ridge walk within the first 30 minutes where you'll have to scramble up a short gully in order to stay on the ridge (aiming diagonally left.) This is where the group in front of us got scared and turned around. This is where we pulled out a rope to protect our son. In reality though, it was super easy scrambling and we really did not need a rope. By the time I'd gone ahead though to test it out, and reached the top with ease, my husband already had the rope out and just decided to use it.

Scrambling up the crux en route to the South Peak

The only challenging section as you hike the ridge to South Baldy

3.  Continue to follow the rough trail along the ridge until you reach a great viewpoint referred to as the "South end of Baldy" in the guidebook referenced above. You will have hiked 0.9 km from the pass at this point.

Final scrambling to reach the south end of Baldy viewpoint  (before hiking further to the actual south summit)
Way in the distance is the actual peak of South Baldy (with the main peak poking out from behind)

4. This is the point where you must contemplate continuing Vs. turning around. You've reached an awesome viewpoint by now, it feels like you've reached a small summit, and the real South Peak of Baldy is still another 1.2 km away (and it honestly looks like it's going to take hours to get there!)

In the photo below you can see the south summit ahead of us (not close) and beyond that, the main summit of Mount Baldy poking out from behind. (And remember, we were aiming for both of these summits!)

Ridge walking towards the South Summit of Mount Baldy 

We decided to keep going, following a trail that constantly climbed up and over endless false summits and smaller bumps (that each looked like the real summit.) Noah lost it more than once when he realized that the next bump was "not" the summit and that we had many more to go. - and I'll be honest that we nearly turned around more than once because that south summit just never seemed to get any closer!!

Rest break as we contemplated whether we could continue or not towards South Baldy in the distance

And again, I could provide greater detail in terms of where to go left off the ridge, where to stay high, where to drop right... - but we never had any problems following the unofficial trail and I still recommend bringing the guide book with you if you're new to route finding.

Rock, more rock, and even more rock as we approached South Baldy 

5. We finally got to the last scree slope that would lead us up to the South Summit of Mount Baldy. It took over 2 hours to reach the summit from the time we left Baldy Pass - which is our slowest pace ever for a 2 km hike!! (That's like 1 km per hour!)

Endless scree towards the end of our ridge traverse
Final climb to the south summit
We got to the summit and then we had a BIG decision to make. So far it had taken us approximately 4 hours since we first pulled into the parking lot (including time to pack up, rest breaks, and a very short lunch break at the pass.) 

A very determined hiker looks lover the ridge he just hiked

We really didn't want to go back along the ridge (it was a very rough and rocky hike and we'd be looking at another 3 hours before we'd reach the parking lot again) but none of us really wanted to take the escape route either (dropping down scree slopes below the south peak to reach the highway.)

In the end, Noah made the decision and chose to keep going. He summoned every last bit of energy inside of him, and told us that he still wanted to complete the traverse so that we could reach the main peak of Mount Baldy.

Now we just had the exposed technical climbing section ahead of us!

South Summit of Baldy

South Baldy to Main Baldy Technical Scramble 

So far, our hike had been a cake walk compared to what we still had ahead of us. Gillean Daffern's hiking guide book says: "For hikers, going for the main summit is easily resisted when you know it's a difficult scramble from this side." - and she is 100% true on that.

Alan Kane's scrambling guide book lists the section below Mount Baldy as difficult as well with the following definition of "difficult"
"Much use of handholds required, sections may be steep, loose and exposed... fall distance may be significant enough to be FATAL." - Alan Kane, Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 
And this is where we were taking our 9 year old son.

The main summit of Mount Baldy behind us (our route, straight UP the right hand side)

The photo above shows the ascent route straight up the right side of the cliff bands to the top of Mount Baldy. And note, this is "not" the normal route that hikers use to reach the top of Mount Baldy. There's a decent trail that goes to the summit on the other side, avoiding this entire exposed section. Most hikers will go up and down the same trail to reach the summit rather than approaching Mount Baldy from the south. ("most hikers" we are not though.)

On rope and making his way up the exposed cliffs below Mount Baldy

I can NOT recommend this section with children unless your family has significant rock climbing experience, you bring a rope and the other necessary climbing equipment to ascend the cliffs safely, and you know how to guide your children up a route that is not bolted or a traditional sport climb. 

This section for us fell under the category of mountaineering, and my husband protected both my son and I as we climbed up. A fall could definitely have proven fatal and I would not have been comfortable without a rope for even my own safety. (We actually did this scramble before having a child and I had to use a rope then too.)

Technical climbing below the summit of Mount Baldy

What we experienced on this section of our hike:

Exposed scrambling below the Mount Baldy Summit
  • Extreme route finding. It took my husband a while to figure out the best way to get up through the cliff bands below the main summit. It was not "obvious," there was no chain like you'd find on Yamnuska, there were no markers, no painted blue squares as are appearing on many routes across the Rockies, and the trail was not very well defined. - and we've even done this scramble before!

  • Very loose scrambling on the first pitch. I would never have done this section without a rope for my own personal safety let alone my son's safety. This was not a place you wanted to fall, and the terrain was very sketchy.

  • Blocky scrambling on the second pitch. This part didn't scare me (as much) and I would have been fine without a rope (for myself anyway.) Falling was not an option though, and one careless step could have proven fatal.

According to my notes, it took us TWO HOURS to complete this section from South Baldy to the main summit of Mount Baldy. Two hours to climb up 50 metres!!!

Just a "little bit" of exposure here below the summit

Reaching the Main Summit of Mount Baldy

The scrambles guide book says it should take 3-5 hours round trip to hike to the summit of Mount Baldy.

Well, it took us 6 hours just to get UP. Needless to say, if you have dinner plans, start early or don't do the crazy traverse we did!

Looking back on the ridge towards South Baldy 

From the top of the cliff bands it was a short 10 minute walk to the main summit where we took a very short break before starting our hike back down. We were already looking at a healthy dinner of power bars at this point (knowing we'd never be home in time for actual dinner,) and needed to make a rather speedy descent.

Summit shot on top of Mount Baldy (6 hours in)

Descending from Mount Baldy on the Main Trail (the route most people take up and down) 

We had roughly 2 km of distance left at this point and it took us another 1.5 hours for our total time of 7.5 hours.

All smiles on the final ridge walk off the summit

The descent can be broken down into the following sections:

1. A short ridge walk off the summit. Here is where you get the best views of the day. 

You'll get these views on your way down 

2. A steep loose scree bash down to a plateau. There was nothing fun about this part at all, but we got down to a flat plateau and were able to relax for a minute at the rock couch.

Relaxing at the plateau below the summit 

3. Decision Time! Worst scree descent ever or another pitch of exposed climbing. You'll reach a point where you can either tackle a short exposed section of climbing (where we would have needed to pull the rope out again,) or you can just bash your way down scree slopes. 

We chose the ugly nasty scree descent (loose as heck) because we didn't have time to do another section of roped climbing. 

Lots and lots of scree on descent!

4. Back to tree line. I was never so happy to see trees and a trail!!! Unfortunately, the trail is still incredibly steep and does have the occasional loose section (so careful attention must be paid to the trail the entire way down.) The angle finally lets up when you reach the highway and not really any sooner.

5. Highway jogging back to the car. My son and I waited at the trailhead while my husband ran back for the car. He actually left us as soon as we reached tree line so that he could run down faster, and go get the vehicle. 

And then we finished off our hike with a power dinner of champions at McDonalds. Nothing like McDonalds poutine and chicken nuggets to refuel, lol.

Final shot from the summit ridge

Recommended Reading 

The best guide book for the scrambling route up Mount Baldy is this one by Alan Kane: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Recommended Reading: First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies 

Resting along the ridge traverse between Baldy Pass and the peaks of south and north Baldy

Disclaimer: Please don't take my son's age as a "reference age" for this trip. My son has been climbing mountains since he was 4 years old and is now able to do hikes that many adults would be terrified to do.

We also went into this trip with significant mountaineering and rock climbing experience and my husband is a competent leader in these areas.