The weather can be a large contributing factor to how a trip goes, but to ensure good times through and through again it’s going to take a lot more than that. People always talk about good vibes and that’s what I’m referring to. The ideal winter ski trip weather includes big dumps of snow during the nights and bluebird days through fresh pow with a super stable snowpack, but when we don’t get this we must rely on other measures to ensure a good time is had by all.
I will admit I would never say no to the above circumstances, that also isn’t what makes a trip a sure thing. Just like any job, night out, or ski trip; it’s the people! Good vibes, high stoke levels, and lots of laughs are the essence of a trip to remember!
As I write this article one trip in particular comes to mind, and that is the 7 day Icefall Traverse that took place in the Canadian Rockies back in April of 2015. As you may or may not remember, 2015 was accompanied by a poor snow pack caused by high temperatures and minimal snowfall across most of Canada and the US.
Pierre (Lead Guide), Andrew (Assistant Guide), Claire (Medical Doc from Manitoba), Martin and Morris (Brothers from England), Al (CEO from Calgary), Dan (Childhood friend and Engineer from Saskatoon), Chris (Elevator operator from Saskatoon), and ME (Studied Engineering and practicing as a ski bum).
We were delayed flying in and the weather had no signs of letting up. Winds were high and snow was coming out of both ends. Once we got clearance, we flew up in the white out and got settled in the hut. We then proceeded to get some skiing in and hiked up a nearby slope called Division Mountain. The winds were out of this world, and I can still remember the task of putting my split together as one of the most extreme and nerve racking assembles I have done to date. Our guides cooked up some delicious butter chicken for dinner and marked the beginning of some gourmet hut meals to come!
We attempted to ascend Mons Peak, but were forced to back down. The new snow had created complications in the snow pack and we were experiencing cracking and whoompfing as we ascended. We then attempted to hike division once again and our guide, Pierre led us to some ice caves as a nice break from the wind. We arrived back to the hut around 2pm, and instead of sulking in the hut we built an igloo outside in a nearby snowdrift. This night involved some serious group bonding, which is inevitable with a trip of this length. To our benefit, the bonding process was sped up on this trip due to the unfortunate weather and extended time in the hut.
So far things were not exactly going our way, but spirits were still high and Pierre decided to lead us to Lyell Hut as the weather was a lot clearer and significantly warmer this particular morning. It was quite a long journey that included some amazing glacier skiing and the epic views of the “Edge of the world”. The weather started out nice, but as the day continued, winds increased and snowfall returned. After 8hrs of climbing and skiing through varying conditions, we arrived at Lyell Hut around 5pm and retired early in preparation for the next mornings venture.
One of the main objectives of this traverse is to summit the Lyell peaks near the Lyell hut. There are 5 peaks over 11,000 ft and 4 of them can be summited with basic ski-touring equipment. When we set out for the day there was moderate cloud cover and we had high hopes it would clear. This wasn’t the case, as we ascended Lyell 5 (Christian Peak) the weather turned on us again and we were unable to see much of anything. Before we knew it, Pierre looked around and told us we were at the top. It was definitely a weird feeling being at the summit of Christian and having no idea where we were. We skied back down early to the hut again and hoped for the weather to clear, but it didn’t. More bonding time was had with the group as we continued to share stories.
So far we were 4 days in and nothing had gone to plan yet. Day 5 is where it all turns around right? On one hand the sun showed its face and revealed all the mountains around us, and on the other hand old man winter was back with a vengeance. It was easily -25°C and the wind was blowing so hard you had to yell to talk to the person next to you. It was so cold most us were wearing everything we brought on the trip for the skin up. I mean we had on our balaclavas, helmets, goggles, and we were still struggling to stay warm. Gloves were exchanged to ensure hands didn’t freeze solid. With visibility on our side and a much stabler snowpack, we attempted 3 of the Lyell peaks and successfully completed peaks 1 and 2. The weather then began to turn once again and we headed back down to the hut with some very high stoke levels!
This day began with quite a long ski down slope of the hut. Thanks to high winds and sun the day previous, there was a significant crust on top that created difficulty for some of our skiers. A couple wipe-outs were had, but we all made it to the next objective of Crampon Col. We had to climb over this pass as it was the lowest point along the ridge we needed to cross. All was good until our descent to the other side where I somehow knocked Claire’s ski down with me. She was then forced to boot pack down the slope shouting, “Damn snowboarders!” It was all in good fun and we got past this very quickly with plenty of laughs. The rest of the day was filled with long runs of amazing fluffy white stuff all over our faces! This is what the brochure said!
It had been an intense week and as it drew to a close, warm temperatures reached the Icefall lodge and it started to feel like spring skiing. While we waited for the helicopter to fly in we built a snowman, built a jump off the outhouse, and did some tobogganing around the lodge. An amazing way to end an epic week of ski-touring in the Rockies with an amazing crew!
The groups age spectrum was from 23 to 65 and we had boarders and skiers both male and female, but none of that mattered. We were always looking out for each other and exchanged more insider jokes then one could ever ask for.
Keep an open mind and limit your expectations to only what you know for sure, which is usually very little. Happy camping or traversing or whatever it is that you do!