Author Archives: parkland

Cascade Fire Road 2020

Cold, cold, cold…

cold, cold, cold!

Ice climbers and skiers alike hung around the kitchen table at the Canmore Alpine Club clubhouse longer on Saturday morning than planned as we waited out the finale of our -30 week. Plan B involved heading in to Canmore for a walk along the river before lunch. Then we headed out to Lake Minnewanka in the afternoon for a shortened ski up the Cascade fire road. Our leaders (thank you!) were Dion and Linda. John, Amanda, Diane and I made up the rest of the group on Jan. 18th. Nice to get out!

The group split up after: a couple of us soaked in the Hot Springs while others headed back to Alpine Club House and heated up Amanda’s yummy dip for us. We had decided on a menu full of Mexican foods (heat!) to take us out of the -30 realities. Las cervezas, enchiladas, verduras y pasteles eran excelentes. Spent another relaxed evening around the fireplace.

Warmer temperatures welcomed us Sunday morning when we headed to West Bragg Creek Provincial Park. We found a diversity of trails to accommodate fat bikes, skiers, and snowshoers. And a diverse group of skiers…folks like us on classic skis, skate skiers, 10-year olds happily making their way on own. Many dogs too! Some had owners who could control them around other skiers and others have owners yet to learn how to do that! After a couple of hours skiing each day and we arrived back in Red Deer around 4:30. NIce to get away.

Submitted by Nancy Bain

Elk Lakes Hut 2018


Frequent communication and conjecture were the order of proceedings in the lead up to our departure for the Elk Lakes ski tour.  After communication via about 4000 text messages re: transport logistics we (Lisa Marr-Laing, Nancy Bain, Linda Dicken, Amanda Brosius and yours truly, Jane McCallum) were on our way to Kananaskis, with Kelly and Richard to follow later. I was excited as this was my first back-country ski trip in Canada; but disappointed that Peter was unable to come as he was ill.

Conjecture about snow conditions continued during the trip – should we bother with skis, skins, what wax, what type of skis?  Indeed, would there be any snow – should we take hiking boots, and if so, would we need ice crampons?  We consulted Skier Bob and made the call that skiing was the go (but take your hiking boots just in case).

The “take your hiking boots in case” approach is something we are very familiar with in Australia where the snow can be marginal to non-existent.  All the discussion about skins, wax, type of skis was a bit beyond me, as down under, an old pair of fish-scaled skis serves me and Peter well.

Capably chauffeured by Linda, we arrived at Ribbon Creek Hostel on Friday night after a detour to the University of Calgary to collect all, (well almost all), our rental gear.

Everyone was on skis, (well almost everyone), by 9:45am at the Elk Lake car park Saturday morning and we were off.

As snow, unfortunately, had not eventuated overnight, the discussion about snow conditions continued.  I was in heaven, on skis, with snow all around and thinking the conditions were pretty darn good.  Given that my ‘terms of reference’ re: snow quality are from a place where, in the snow ice, rocks, bare ground, and tree roots are the norm, I kept my mouth shut and listened.  The consensus was that the snow was ‘surprisingly good for the time of year’.  Light snow on Saturday night and until mid-morning on Sunday night made it even better for the return trip.

Saturday’s ski to Elk Lakes Hut was 12km with a few rest stops, one at the Blueberry Hill Trail picnic table to refuel, check the pulks and put on/pull off skins.

Lunch at Blueberry Hill turnoff 

We took a leisurely 3 hours 53 minutes to get to Elk Hut, ascending 343 metres.  Richard led the way, often leaving his pack at the top of an ascent and skiing back down to check on us. 

Nancy and Linda with pulks.

Everyone was incredibly impressed with Nancy and Linda’s ability to ski with great control both up and on some tricky descents with their pulks behaving well behind them.  More impressive was Lisa’s ability to keep up with us without skis.

“Skis are overrated…”

Our speedy and incident-free descent, (even though we encountered what Kelly called a ‘dipsy doodle), from Elk Pass to the hut followed the road as the snow conditions on the trail were a bit dodgy.

Our dinner at Elk Hut was sumptuous as well as copious – we all seriously over catered.  Appetizers, fabulous turkey with stuffing, gravy, potatoes, cranberry sauce, a great salad and yummo desert ensured we had sufficient fuel for perhaps the next year’s skiing.

Elk Lakes Hut is super comfortable with a wood burning stove, a large loft sleeping platform that doubled as a sauna (the fire sure warms up the place), two comfortable eating areas and a reasonably well-equipped kitchen with propane stoves, an oven plus propane lanterns.

The crew at the cabin before the return journey.

Light snow made Sunday’s ski even more enjoyable.  We had ample energy, fuelled by unbelievable breakfast pancakes courtesy of Kelly and Richard.  Cookies from Kelly plus Tim Tam biscuits, (famous Australian cookies, guaranteed to help you cope with Aussie accents and humour), at Elk Pass ensured that everyone’s energy levels were appropriate for the descent.  Four Tim Tams could be deemed excessive, but we all agreed tour leaders burn up lots of energy, especially when they are in hiking boots trying to keep up with skiers…

Sunday lunch at Elk Pass.

Almost tropical plummage!

Back at the car park with huge smiles on our faces after 3 hours and 48 minutes of skiing we set off for a very snowy trip back to Red Deer – thanks Linda for the great driving .

Bouquets to all for a terrific introduction to back-country skiing in Canada.  Looking forward to the next gig.

The author

Chikcadee/Boom Lake Tour 2017

Venturing into the playground along the Continental Divide – Chickadee Boom January 2017

Another cold weekend in the Canadian Rockies, but this did not deter a hardy band of skiers from Parkland Cross Country Ski Club on the first weekend of the New Year. The skiers met up at the Lake Louise Alpine Centre on the Friday night and enjoyed a bit of socializing before retiring. There were eight of us that evening, but two needed to bow out of the back-country tours arranged.

Chickadee Valley was on the agenda Saturday morning. After a good breakfast in the kitchen of the Lake Louise Alpine Centre (LLAC), we fired up the vehicles in the rear parking lot while the CP Rail diesel locomotives idled on the siding beside the mainline. It was -23° Celsius. Another beautiful blue-sky day in the Rockies!

We backtracked along the Trans Canada Highway to the turnoff for Radium and headed south, climbing out of the Bow Valley. Chickadee is the first valley across the Great Divide.

Gearing up


We were led by Ivan D. and assisted by Dion B., with Amanda B., Margo and George C., and Bill F. rounding out the complement. The trail was firm, having been packed down by various users including snowshoers. Eventually Ivan deviated from the hard pack to the left hand side of the valley, leading us on a trail-breaking exercise through the trees. Dion took a turn breaking trail and finding a path, and when it was Bill’s turn he remembered how much work breaking trail through deep soft snow really is. Ivan enriched the sharing of his knowledge of many years of back-country skiing by telling us how guides think and what they do for their clients. A guide will lead his or her clients directly across a frozen creek by sidestepping down the bank (and in so doing preparing an easier surface for climbing back up on the return journey). A guide will bring down snow on the opposite bank if need be with his or her ski poles so the clients have an easier time climbing up. Being a guide is hard work! We eventually found our way out of the trees and joined a main trail along the creek bottom. As the valley opened up with views of the surrounding peaks, we continued upstream until we reached the lunch spot. I think we overshot by about 10 m according to Ivan’s GPS.

A quick stop in the cold!

Lunch was quick, and eaten standing up, as we were still in the shadow of the mountains. One of the party expressed a desire to look for a sunny spot, but this didn’t happen. Bill amused the group by pulling out his trusty thermometer, which registered – 23.5° Celsius air temperature and – 23  ° C snow temperature. Unfortunately, it was too cold for Bill’s iPhone to capture the image for the trip report. Not soon enough for some folks, Ivan donned his signature poncho and led us back down the valley to catch up to those skiers who had already begun the ski out.

Ivan offered a couple of coaching tips to Bill, who has only had to pay for one skiing lesson in his life. When skiing out through the trees, remove your hands from the straps of your ski poles to prevent dislocating a shoulder. You might drop a pole once or twice and have to retrieve it, but this is preferable. Bill took Ivan’s advice after catching a basket a couple of times. The second tip has already proved its weight in blueberry tea. Ivan told Bill he was leaning too far forward which affected his balance. His descriptive analogy was to pretend “your ass is over the toilet” or as Bill considered this, “your royal bum is over the throne”. This resonated and Bill is still utilizing the technique even on skinny skis from Great Chief Park to Heritage Ranch. On the last part of the ski out, Ivan led Bill through more soft snow through the trees, which was way more fun than clattering down the hard pack.

Back at the hostel, Bill tucked into the rest of his lunch and poured out some tea from his thermos. Ivan asked, “Would you like some real tea?” And so marked Bill’s introduction to Ivan’s blueberry tea!  Bill had a pretty good idea what Ivan was like based on phone calls discussing options for mountain tours, so he was gratified his assumptions proved correct. After the tea party, we “tea-toured” over to Bill Peyto’s Restaurant for our Saturday night feast.

Sunday morning dawned even colder at minus 27 Celsius. At least one of the vehicles registered – 29° C in a cold pocket on the way back to the Continental Divide. This time we parked at the Boom Lake trai lhead on the Alberta side.

Sunday morning bluebird skies!

It was cold gearing up in the parking lot, but those finished first found a sunny spot by the Parks Canada sign. A group photo was taken and then Bill’s iPhone went into hibernation for the rest of the winter. On the ski in on the hard pack, Ivan entertained us by teaching us more guide logic. You might think a guide is just being chatty, but every time a guide meets someone coming out of the back country they inquire about conditions. An outgoing snowboarder told us that the slopes at the head of Boom Lake had already avalanched. Avalanche conditions were moderate as Bill recalls, but with persistent slabs and deep buried slabs being the main considerations along with terrain features to be cognizant of.  Along the way in, Ivan stopped and asked how many avalanche slopes had we already crossed. Turns out we had crossed one already while in the trees. This led to a lively discussion about runout slopes, tree scarring, etcetera. We reached the end of the hiking trail and skied onto Boom Lake which was just gorgeous. Of course no photos could be taken. Ivan shared the 10% angle rule of thumb for judging the extent of the runout zone.

After lunch in the trees to get out of the light breeze on the lake, the skiers headed out. Bill kept his skins on for the duration to maximize control on the ski out, which included crossing some icy patches on the trail where springs were continuing to flow. Ivan amused himself and stayed warm by skiing both ways several times so he could keep an eye on Bill. Bill felt safe knowing the guy with the first aid kit had his backside. Upon reaching the sunshine along Highway 93,

Ivan “Gandalf” Dixon

Bill noted “Gandalf” cut quite a figure with helmet, goggles, white beard, and flowing purple poncho. In fact, Parks Canada driving by took a second look at him to make sure it wasn’t Gandalf.

If you are lucky enough to go skiing with Ivan, expect to learn lots about safe touring in the backcountry and how to improve your skiing if you are up for it. If you’re really lucky, you might even enjoy some of his infamous “blueberry tea”!

Bill F.

Nigel Pass and Hilda Creek 2016

Nigel Pass and Hilda Peak December 2016

A cold Arctic air mass had blown into the province with temperatures about twenty degrees below seasonal, but that didn’t deter an intrepid groups of skiers from Parkland. There were second thoughts, of course, but there was snow in the mountains and not much on the prairies… The group of five met up at the hostel at Rampart Creek on Friday evening.

Dave A. had come up the day before and took the opportunity to break trail along the old horse trail part way up Nigel Pass.  It was cold, he reported!  He skied for three hours without a break and by the time he returned to the trail head he was done. Dave had skied the hiking trail before, but not the horse trail, and as Tour Leader felt a certain responsibility to scout out the route. We certainly appreciated his trail-breaking efforts!

Dave, John and Linda D., Barb C., and Bill F. left the hostel shortly after nine on Saturday morning. We all piled into the big Suburban and headed up the Icefields Parkway. The temperature was minus 22 Celsius. The weather forecast from Parks Canada had mentioned an upper level inversion with warmer temperatures, but there was no sign of this on our drive!

Bill was trying out a new pair of tele skis (new to him) that he had bought from Todd. He also had brought his new hiking poles with the powder baskets. But because of the cold weather and a certain laziness, he had not tried out the combination in town before the tour. So he was working harder than he should have had to as the poles seemed too short! Bill had woken up with a sore throat which he was hoping to attribute to the super-heated air in his upper bunk and ice-cold floor of the cabin. I think Bill was the first to skin up after expending much of his energy side-stepping and herringboning up the steeper pitches of the trail.

Past the Warden’s cabin and hitching posts we climbed, warmed up by our exertions. Dave and Barb led the way, with Linda as the assistant TL acting as sweep. What a pleasant surprise it was to round a corner and find Dave and Barb enjoying the warmth, sunshine and a snack in a little sun pocket! Bill pulled out his thermometer and it read minus 5! In the snow it read minus 2. Just a beautiful little spot with a long south facing approach, backdropped by large conifers and no wind.

Dave had skied a long way the day before, but eventually we ran out of track and started to break trail again. The snow was dry and deep, with skis settling a foot or so. It was easy enough to follow the old horse trail through openings in the trees.  Eventually we reached the upper headwaters of the creek and had a good view to the pass ahead. It had become a beautiful blue sky day, with a light breeze. Mindful of the shortness of the December day, we decided to stop short of the pass and return back to the trailhead. All told, we were out about six hours on the skis and had skied about 12 km return. Bill thought skiing at 7000 feet was still hard work, even with just a light day pack. We returned to the hostel about 4:30 p.m.

The Saturday evening feast included various cheeses (Brie, Goat with wild blueberries, Goat with fig, and Blue) accompanied by artisan crackers and a bottle of ten year old Spanish wine. This was followed by a home-made soup, Caesar salad, and lasagna. Dessert was Tiramisu.  Our TL retired to the sauna after dinner, while Bill took to his bunk.

The second night was even hotter in the top bunk, while the floor remained freezing cold. Bill’s boots were frozen in place the morning after. He definitely had a cold now but didn’t know it, and all night long he said to himself, “I’m not skiing tomorrow. Maybe I can just hang out at the hostel?”














After a good breakfast to start the day, all packed up and headed up the Parkway to Hilda Creek. We skinned up at the road side and Bill kept his skins on for the duration. As we climbed up past the hostel, the guests came out to cheer us on. One astute observer remarked on the “tele reunion” and asked “Are those Chili bindings?” Back at the Ramparts, Ken the hostel guy had noticed the toes of Bill’s boots sticking out from his overboots and asked “Three pins! How are they working for you?”

It was cold with light flurries, but as we climbed up above the hostel we warmed up. Snow was quite deep at times and it was a pleasure to be up high. Dave did ask Bill if he was feeling all right, and Bill said something about old age. We traversed the slope and noted some old lumpy bumpy snow from a previous slide. Avalanche conditions were moderate in the alpine and had been forecast to drop to low, but this did not occur. We skied down the glade where the Hilda YoYo skiers play and onto the moraine. John demonstrated that if you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough. It wasn’t just John, of course, who was trying hard enough. The ski out along the creek was pleasurable and we were out about noon.








Back to the Ramparts to retrieve the two remaining vehicles and Dave had a surprise waiting for him. The back window of his minivan was smashed and there was glass everywhere! But nothing was stolen and so we blamed the snow plow we had met earlier. It must have thrown up a stone or a chunk of ice at the minivan which was parked in the nearest spot. We said our goodbyes and Dave headed down the road with the heat on full blast, no doubt. Barb followed and then John and Linda and Bill. We never saw Dave again and figured he must have been going as fast as he could on his way back to Stony Plain.

It was a great weekend, enjoyed by all. Thanks to Dave and Linda for their leadership! Great snow, better weather than expected, and of course fine food, wine and beer, and comradery!





Paradise Valley Tour, March 12-13

Paradise Valley Tour

Submitted by Dianne Rasmussen

On March 12-13, 2016 four intrepid women (Judy, Dianne, Assistant Linda and Leader Marilyn) set off in search of Paradise—Valley that is. Warm weather had us doubting if we could find snow but we forged ahead never-the-less. We arrived at Castle Mountain hostel in good time and were greeted by an incredible ruckus made by 16 women aged (like a fine wine and rather full of it by then) in their 40’s to 60’s. They apparently were former girl guides who get together annually at Castle Mountain to revive their camp days of singing around the campfire. And sing and dance they did with abandon. Made me wish I’d been a girl guide too all those years ago. They obviously had also earned their cooking badges given the feasts they took turns preparing for all. Beware, they have already booked the hostel the same weekend next year.

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