Category Archives: Trip Reports

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

Great Divide Trail

Great Divide
Snow, snow and more snow was the theme of our trip to Lake Louise. The forecast was for cold in Central Alberta but warmer in the mountains and maybe a bit of sunshine on Sunday. Ha! Mother Nature, as she so frequently does, decided to change things up a bit. Friday was a bit snowy but everyone of our group of eight arrived safe and sound at the Lake Louise Hostel.

Waking up Saturday morning to a winter wonderland of beautiful powder snow and lots of it. It was colder than we had anticipated; about -16 degrees (plus a wind chill) but that did not bother our group of dedicated skiers. We were all very excited to hit the trail and we arrived at the trailhead at about 10:00 am.

The Great Divide Trail is about 7.5 km one-way. It is double track set with a skating lane. A dogsled operation runs on its own track for the first 2 km. This trail follows the old 1A Highway and it is fairly flat with some gently rolling stretches. It ends at the Great Divide exhibit and picnic area on the Banff – Yoho National Park boundary.

While the track had been groomed the previous day we did have to do a fair bit of trail breaking through all of the fresh snow. We had hoped our later start might have allowed for a few other skiers before us but we were the first to get out. Everyone took turns at this and that made the work a lot easier.

There were very few skiers on the trail on Saturday but we did meet up with a few.  And we saw the dog sleds going as well. That looks like a bit of fun too.

The trip to the Great Divide signpost marker took about two hours. We did stop briefly for a snack and warm drinks. Thanks to our trip leader Linda and co-leader Lisa for checking on everyone and ensuring we were all doing OK with the weather and trail conditions.


At the halfway mark, we had lunch and a brief rest before turning back.

The return trip was easier in that the trail was a bit better packed and the glide was much improved. At about thirteen km we met a group of skiers coming out of one of the side trails. After chatting with them we decided to take a little detour to explore the trail through the woods. That was a ton of fun. A few really nice hills to glide down, still pretty wide so lots of room to manoeuvre if needed. The shelter from the trees provided a nice break from the wind. After this delightful detour we got back on the main trail and finished up at exactly 16 km from start to finish in four hours.
To refresh ourselves and replenish our energy reserves we decided a top at Laggan’s for a warm drink and a snack was a great idea. Delicious!

Back at the hostel, a number of folks decided the sauna was a definite must, a few others thought just a rest in the lounge area would suffice. The sauna at the hostel is great. It really helped warm up and loosen muscles.

A tradition on the ski trips is to share a meal together. A wonderful array of appetizers before supper served in the lounge and then supper. What a feast! Lasagne, spanokopita, salad, tabouli, a beautiful variety of dessert treats and excellent wines made for a wonderful meal. After the meal we “retired” to the lounge area, got a beautiful fire going and thoroughly enjoyed the company and conversation. Not too much later the good food and the activity of the day caught up to most of us and off to bed.

Sunday morning was clear but COLD -20 plus a wind chill. The group, ever optimistic, decided to get to the Cascade Trail and hope the weather was warmer. Unfortunately, it remained at -20, so the decision was to drive to Canmore in search of warmer temperatures and possibly ski at the Nordic Centre. After a coffee break at Beamers, the decision was to go for a walk and then head back to Red Deer. And that is what we did. A nice walk along the river allowed us to chat a bit more and get to know how trip partners even more. Lovely!

Thanks to Linda D. and Lisa M-L for leading us. Thanks to Nancy B., John D., Tatiana T. and Jochen T. and Neil K. for the super fun weekend. And thanks to Tatiana for providing many of the great pictures.

Stanley Glacier Trip 2017

Stanley Glacier Fire Guard and Shark Lake adventures, December 6 & 7, 2017

Fire Guard and Shark Lake adventuresThe first Parkland tour of the season (and mid-week at that) saw three retired members of the club in search of snow in the mountains. Linda and I arrived at Ivan’s in Canmore to find almost no snow. Dave had had to bow out so now there were three.

We took the Hwy 93 turnoff for the Banff-Windermere Parkway. Just over the Continental Divide into B.C. was our starting point, the trailhead for Stanley Glacier. Our goal was to ski up the Fire Guard bulldozed in this past summer to protect Sunshine Village from the Verdant Creek Fire burning in Kootenay National Park. As we drove over Vermilion Pass, we did a drive-by inspection of our intended route.

Vermilion PassThere was a little snow in the parking lot, but not a heck of a lot. We skinned up and proceeded up the hiking trail to cross the Vermilion River on the footbridge. After gaining some elevation, we left the trail to begin our bushwhack north above the river.
What goes up must come down and after some intimate encounters with bushes and young pines we found ourselves adjacent to the river once again. At least we were on the side we
wanted to be to ski up the fire guard. Linda remarked that not all skiers in the club would be enjoying themselves, but Bill thought it was great fun until he attempted to cross a side channel and his ski slipped out from underneath him. He thought that skins would take him anywhere and that they did, right into the Vermilion River! That knee hurt (a new pain) and Bill still needs to look up ACL.

Vermilion RiverWe reached the bottom of the Fire Guard and much to our surprise found that others had crossed the Vermilion River on an ice bridge previously! We had already passed a similar crossing accessed from Hwy 93. Ah, but they wouldn’t have had the challenge of bushwhacking… As we were in the very upper reaches of the Vermilion, the river was not wide and was shallow, although it certainly had gathered more flow by the footbridge at the Stanley Glacier trailhead where we had started from.

Temperatures were mild, hovering just below zero Celsius, with a light breeze from the south-west. The humidity was high, which led to interesting hoar frost higher up and valley fog below. Up, up, up we went. The Fire Guard was wide, with quite a few boulders showing. Snow depth was only about a foot. Snowboarders had been here before, but we were alone this day. There were several steep pitches, and the steepest incline was measured at 35 degrees.

We neared the top of the Fire Guard below the headwall of Storm Mountain and Ivan skied into the pines for a lunch break. The hoar frost was thick and coming off the trees in the light breeze. Ivan pronounced it as rime, not hoar frost, and we had a discussion about surface hoar forming on the snow pack. “What did Felix say about humidity and surface hoar?”

Ivan proceeded to demonstrate that he has the ability to eat his lunch without using his paws!

After our respite, we climbed out of our hollow in the trees to begin the descent. Bill kept his skins on his tele skis, but Ivan and Linda went skinless. The fog in the river valley was beginning to burn off, and we were treated to better views of the surrounding peaks as time went on.

Bill being skinned up, led most of the descent, traversing across the Fire Guard as necessary. Ivan and Linda managed a few turns, as did Bill as his confidence level improved. On the steeper pitches, we took off our skis and walked down along the sides.

Upon reaching the bottom of the valley, we crossed over the ice bridge and climbed the short distance up to the highway. We then skied downstream between the highway and the river. Where it pinched out, Bill decided to climb the guardrail and walk back along the shoulder to the parking lot. Ivan and Linda elected to ski through the snirt (snow and dirt) and then back down along the Vermilion where they were ecstatic to observe several Willow Ptarmigan!

Linda led Bill back along the river to point out one particularly handsome Ptarmigan perched in a shrub who consented to being photographed by all of us. There were Ptarmigan tracks everywhere along that reach of the Vermilion.

Truly a highlight for all of us!

The feast that night was awesome as usual. Ivan’s son Andrew joined us at the table. Linda provided the appetizers of cheeses, sausage, and veggies while the cabbage rolls from Viva-Deli baked in the oven. Ivan had ample liquid painkiller to share, Stella Artois for potassium replenishment and a fine Scotch. Ivan and Andrew had also prepared a yummy soup to replenish our liquids. There was more to eat, including a variety of Christmas cookies baked by Linda and a sampling of cheesecakes provided by Ivan. Nobody left the table hungry!

We decided to plan for going up the Smith-Dorrien from Canmore on the second day, to search for skiable snow. The following morning Bill elected to spend the day in town because of a rough night, in part because of his knees. He had felt the other knee on the uptrack, but hadn’t noticed the new injury until he had begun walking along the highway. Must have been having too much fun on the Fire Guard to notice! He had also not listened to Linda’s professional advice of “ice for the first 24 hours”. In the middle of the night he had had to make his way by headlamp to Ivan’s fridge in search of ice. Linda reminded him that morning that as a trained Tour Leader and nurse she carried a ziplock bag that she could have filled with snow in the parking lot. Bill wished he was a better listener!

So they dropped Bill off at the best tea shop in Canmore (Communitea). Bill can vouch for the dark roast coffee and the lemon cream icing that topped the carrot cake muffin still warm out of the oven that he enjoyed before wandering around Canmore with his smartphone taking photos and hanging out at Elevation Place watching the climbers on the climbing walls and enjoying the library.

Ivan and Linda found snow at Shark Lake. The access involved some clambering over fallen trees and so Bill was glad he took the day off. After lunch at the Rose and Crown, Bill was just getting into Bill Clinton’s autobiography “My Life” when he noticed Linda and Ivan pulling into the parking lot to pick him up.

Ivan is a good host and we found snow, so it was a great start to the ski season for Parkland. As we stripped the sheets off the beds in the guest rooms, Ivan remarked that he had 30 hours before the next bunch of house guests arrived to go skiing!

Bill F.

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.