The Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and Alberta draw tens of thousands of alpine skiers each year. However, because of the region's popularity, the thrill of the ski is somewhat diminished in the numerous crowded resorts.
This has many veteran skiers taking to the backcountry, finding new tracks that most skiers will never get to experience. Here are five exciting backcountry options in the Canadian Rockies.
Banff National Park, AB
Located about 110 km from Calgary, Banff National Park is home to around 6,000-sq-km of mountainous terrain including numerous spots for backcountry skiers. Bow Summit is easily the most popular backcountry area in Banff, and for good reason. With easy access off Highway 93, Bow Summit offers skiers a variety of exciting slopes; however Bow Summit is just the beginning of Banff National Park's backcountry.
Mount Jimmy Simpson and Crowfoot Mountain provide skiers with excellent vistas of the surrounding glaciers to complement the ski terrain. Both have a decent level of complexity with a lot of good turns and only a few switchbacks. Skiers should be weary of the southeast slope of Mount Jimmy Simpson on warmer or sunny days as it can be particularly prone to avalanches.
Wapta Traverse, AB
Just outside of Lake Louise lies the Wapta Traverse, another popular area for backcountry skiers in the Canadian Rockies. Wapta is a multi-day trip — from Highway 93 to Highway 1 — where skiers overnight at a series of ACC huts. These huts include the Peyto Hut, Bow Hut (pictured), Balfour Hut and the Scott Duncan Hut. Throughout the Wapta Traverse, skiers travel over frozen lakes, through dense forested areas and across avalanche paths, so caution should be used accordingly, especially on the area between the Scott Duncan Hut and Highway 1 where there are several steep slopes, areas of icefall and crevasses. Ski-tourists can expect to be rewarded for their trek with fantastic slopes with exciting and scenic turns.
Leave the town’s ski resort for all the casual skiers and head to the nearby backcountry and slackcountry. Those who ski Fernie’s backcountry can enjoy a long season with huge amounts of snowfall. Once ditching the ski area boundary signs, backcountry skiers are treated to a number of sweet slopes — such as Mongolia Ridge and Mammoth’s Head. Mongolia Ridge offers amazing tree skiing; Mammoth’s Head takes you into the alpine and rewards with big lines and great views.
Kananaskis Country, AB
Kananaskis Country's proximity to Calgary makes its backcountry a popular place for those looking to get out of the city. However, most of the casual outdoors-folks who visit Kananaskis are there to snowshoe or cross-country ski — but the area offers fantastic alpine skiing as well.
The Burstall South and Burstall North Passes are the shortest of the backcountry routes, so thus they are where the most people flock. The Black Prince, however, is usually seen as a summer trail; not too many people head there during the wintertime — what the casual visitors don't know is that it provides some of the best glade skiing around. The Purple Knob is another great backcountry area that not many make the effort to get to, as it is a bit off the beaten path. This circuit provides interesting terrain with some fantastic descents, suitable for advanced skiers.
Golden has capitalized on its prime location near the Rocky and the Columbia Mountains with tours, resorts and all manner of backcountry lodges. To avoid the crowds, head to nearby Glacier National Park to the summit of Roger's Pass. This area is filled with awesome alpine bowls, glades and ice fields. However, any of the other five national parks that surround Golden make for good backcountry skiing too. And don’t dismiss Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s slackcountry areas, which offer some difficult and interesting terrain as well.