Welcome to December

It sounds like it was another busy day at couch headquarters in the Elk Pass meadows. Thanks to Leslie H for the great photo of MaSid enjoying his handiwork. 

Leslie added these remarks in her email “He was holding court and working at maintaining the wind break wall and preparing all of it to hold up as much as possible during the upcoming Chinook. Besides debris from recent winds, the trails were in nice condition. Did Elk Pass—Blueberry hill—the couch—continued to hydroline —Elk Pass—hydroline—Patterson.”

Ken Hewitt mentioned the self-pay box at Elk Pass parking lot is operational now with pay envelopes and brochures. You can also buy your Kananaskis parking pass online

Helen Read on Bow River loop

I wish we had more snow, but the conditions and the limited venues are probably more representative of the situation at this time of year. We got a little spoiled over the past few years. 

Fairview

We’ve had detailed Trip Reports from all the trails I skied at Lake Louise today. We’ve also received a good report from one which I didn’t ski, Pipestone. Take note of the final photo on Chuck’s pictures. You can open the gates and walk through, much easier than climbing the stairs and trying to open the door with your skis and poles in hand. 

I enjoyed running into many “blog people” today including Keith on Fairview, Ray and Mary Perrott on Tramline, and Helen Read on the Bow River Loop. 

Bow River Loop

Before skiing the Fairview Loop I stopped at the Bow River loop to check conditions and take photos. Helen was skiing there and returned my snow thermometer to me. I forgot it on Elk Pass a while back. Speaking of which, the snow temperature at the Fairview trailhead at 12:30 pm was -8°C. Air temperature also -8. Nice blue wax day. 

The Bow River Loop gets walked on a lot, but the hikers are doing a good job of staying out of the tracks. 

All the trails have occasional tree debris. On a cold day, using blue wax, the pine needles don’t stick in the wax as bad. I had one pine needle after skiing. 

Kicking Horse trail in Yoho

Kicking Horse trail in Yoho. Photo by Chip

Chip sent the above photo of the Kicking Horse trail to go along with his Trip Report. We also have a report from Kristina who said “the skiing beyond Natural Bridge down the Kicking Horse logging road was a dream.”

Kicking Horse trail crosses the Otterhead river at 6.5K

Like a lot of other trails, Kicking Horse starts out with a big hill. Unlike most trails, however, the hill is down, not up.

The trail is double trackset for the initial 1.8K. It then narrows to single track. Thereafter, the elevation gain and loss is negligible. There is a picnic table and viewpoint at 3.8K.

The tracksetting goes for about 6.8K. The Tally-Ho trail from Field Visitor Centre to the Natural Bridge has also been trackset and is about 3K one-way. There is a parking lot at the Natural Bridge. 

Bow River Loop (file photo)

The Bow River Loop and the Campground Loop in Lake Louise were trackset today. Both trails are dog-friendly and have beautiful views on a clear day. 

More tips for new skiers

On Normand’s suggestion, Ive added another tab to the Resources menu “What’s in your pack.” It’s a blog post which I wrote a few years ago about my encounter with a skier who was developing blisters and needed some tape. There are many comments with suggestions on what you should carry in your backpack.  

While you’re at it, check the other tabs under the Resources menu. 

It’s Dec 1 tomorrow which means “So long, Back Door.” It was great while it lasted. 

Monday morning update

Elk Pass meadow route to Blueberry Hill trail. Photo by Alf Skrastins

There’s not much in the way of new grooming to talk about. From David Percy’s trip report, we know the Parks Canada groomers were working on the Pipestone trails yesterday. 

Couch headquarters. Photo by Alf Skrastins

“West Elk Pass meadows: fantastic!!! Tons of fresh fluffy snow. Easy traveling.” – Tanya

It sounds like the Elk Pass meadows and Couch HQ were a busy place yesterday in PLPP. Tanya’s report made it sound wonderful.

MaSid’s couch building has opened up a whole new skiing experience in that area if you want to get off the trackset trails. It will give you a taste of backcountry skiing without much risk. 

The Weather Network is predicting greater than average snowfall for southern Alberta this winter…

“Given the forecast for above normal precipitation and colder than normal temperatures, it should come as no surprise that we also expect above normal snow totals across southern British Columbia, southern Alberta, and into southwestern Saskatchewan.”

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a few weeks…

Patterson. Photo by Alf Skrastins

“Before this pattern sets up, though, the national pattern will actually be rather contrary to our winter forecast for a few weeks. Above seasonal temperatures will dominate through the first half of December across Western Canada, with record warmth for parts of the Prairies and into the territories.”

East Village in Calgary was hoping to have a trackset trail by Dec 4, but it will have to wait for snow…

East Village Nordic Loop – a groomed 1km free cross-country ski track, in partnership with Fort Calgary and Foothills Nordic Ski Club. Grab Life by the Poles and enjoy cross-country skiing (and snowshoeing) in the city!”

Read more Winning at winter in East Village

The interest in cross-country skiing this season has been overwhelming, and we’ve barely got started. Readership of this blog is up 94%…

 

Double Super Secret Highwood Secret Stash

Secret location. Photo by Aqua Toque

As I explained to Ken Wiens, the focus of this blog is trackset trails, but some of the non-trackset backcountry photos are spectacular. Does anyone know where this is? Can anyone uncover Aqua Toque’s secret stash? Hint “conditions were awesome at ####### #### Lake!”

I suspect you won’t be able to access it after Dec 1. 

Freddie at West Bragg Creek in 2018

Dec 1 is a big day

Dec 1 is an important date. It’s Freddie’s birthday, it’s the day when the Back Door closes, and most importantly, it is usually the day when registration opens for the Lake Louise to Banff Loppet.

So far, the first two races on the Loppets list have been cancelled. It remains to be seen how many more casualties there will be. 

Covid casualties

 

Back Door: only two more days

Thank you to everyone who has submitted trip reports. We welcome new contributors to the Trip Reports page, so leave us a first-hand account of your day on the ski trail. 

Sunday and Monday will be the final two days for accessing the upper trails in PLPP through the Back Door. The barricade goes across Highway #40 on Dec 1, so make sure your vehicle is not stuck in the Back Door Parking lot for the next six months. 

Chateau tracksetter Jeff

Chateau Tracksetter Jeff has been putting in long days with the shovel, snowmobile and tracksetter and seems to be bringing a new trail on line daily. Today it was the Shoreline trail. Take note, that’s not the trail on the lake. Yesterday he trackset Fairview but made it clear that it’s still rough. Jeff is very prompt with his updates which I post on the Groomer’s Reports. 

The Chateau Lake Louise is responsible for grooming the “upper” trails at Lake Louise which includes Fairview, Upper Tramline, Lakeshore, Lake Louise, Peyto, and Upper Telemark. 

Kananaskis Grooming Updates

Mountainview trail at West Bragg Creek. Photo by Steve Riggs

Now that we no longer have the Live Grooming Reports, the Alberta Parks website is the one to check for Kananaskis grooming updates. It’s on the main menu under Trail Reports>Kananaskis>PLPP(or Ribbon Creek, or Mt Shark). I have a feeling the tracksetters now have access to this page because the reports are already there in the early morning. 

There is no snow in the forecast for the SkierBob domain. The trails we have available for skiing are pretty typical for this time of year and will be all we have for the near future. 

We were teased with a week of great skiing at West  Bragg Creek in late October but as you can see in Steve’s photo, those days are over. Steve recommends biking at WBC. 

Saturday morning update

Gear Swap Page

I’ve noticed that a few readers have been posting on the old Gear Swap page. I don’t know how this page got into circulation, but it is no longer on the main menu, and I’ve deleted it. Please post your comments on the new Gear Swap page. This one is on the main menu.
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Elk Pass (file photo)

The following trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park were trackset last evening:

  • Elk Pass
  • Blueberry Hill
  • Patterson

Upper Lake Connector was groomed.

If Elk Pass parking lot is full, park at the Upper Lake.  Got your Kananaskis parking pass?

Yesterday’s powerful winds distributed a lot of tree debris on the trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Last night’s grooming will be the cleanest trails on which to ski, however I see that Mud Lake received about 4 cm of snow, so maybe the PLPP trails received some of that. 

The PLPP Discovery Centre is now open daily 10 am – 3 pm

Lake Louise

Nov 28 at 9:12 a.m: Update from Chateau Tracksetter Jeff:

“We had very little wind transport yesterday during the day, but overnight things have certainly changed. I would expect blown in tracks and debris would be here too. I’m just getting started for the day and will send an update when I’m through.

On a side note, the Lake has lost ice thickness in the last two days, even noticeable since yesterday walking to the boathouse along the shore this morning, there are now open spots of water.”

Update Nov 28 at 10:58 a.m: The trail report indicates the Great Divide, Moraine Lake road, and Upper Tramline were trackset this morning

Fairview (file photo)

The big news from LL is that Fairview is now trackset. That means you’ll have an alternative to Tramline for accessing Moraine Lake road. Tracksetter Jeff remarked, “Fair condition, with the normal early season hazards like twigs, rocks, stumps and roots in random, unforgiving places. Use caution and maybe not your race skis!” 
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A few of yesterday’s trip reports mentioned seeing dogs on the trails in PLPP. Dogs aren’t allowed on the trails, but I had friendly chats with both groups and discovered they entered through the Back Door where there are no signs regarding dogs. The group with the dog named Ozzy sent me this email last night…

 

First tracks on Tyrwhitt

Tyrwhitt

Grooming Update: Blueberry Hill, Elk Pass, and Patterson were trackset on the evening of Nov 27. The Upper Lake Connector was groomed. If Elk Pass parking lot is full, park at the Upper Lake.  Got your parking pass?

Nov 27, 2020: I’m amazed at how delightful the skiing was today considering the wind, warm weather, and tree debris in the tracks. Last night’s grooming on Tyrwhitt has really smoothed out the bumps. The tracksetting starts 400 metres from the Pocaterra junction. 

Tyrwhitt

Tyrwhitt is 4.8K(not the 4.5 on the map), and it was beautiful through the meadows and towards the picnic table. The rest of the trail where it is forested had lots of tree debris. The “needlemania” photos in the gallery may just scare you off from going there. 

20 metres to go to reach Elk Pass junction

There was a ferocious wind blowing on the drive out. It seemed to subside when I entered Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, and by the time I reached the Back Door, it was just a gentle breeze. The temperature was +1°C at 10:30 a.m. and VR50(0/-4) worked well for me all day. With the sun at a low angle, it doesn’t affect the snow much, even on a warm day like today. 

Vehicles were squeezed into the Back door parking lot like sardines. I was the 13th car, and thought I had the final spot, but another one arrived soon after and found a slot.

Tyrwhitt

Most of the vehicles belonged to a large group of friendly snowshoers who started just ahead of me. When I encountered them on Upper Pocaterra, they were not damaging the trail or tracks, and we had a short but pleasant conversation. 

Upper Pocaterra, as Jane said in her detailed Trip Report, had the cleanest tracks of all. Take note, it’s only Upper Pocaterra which is trackset. From Packers to the hut it is only groomed.

Snowshoers on Upper Pocaterra

If you want to ski where there’s no tree debris, Hydroline would be a good choice, but the wind does other things on that trail like drift snow into the tracks. 

When I reached the Tyrwhitt / Elk Pass / Hydroline junction, skiers were arriving from Elk Pass with tree debris in their wax. Susan had a nice layer of pine needles stuck to the bottom of her ski, which prompted me to look at mine, and to my surprise, they were clean. Not sure how I managed that. 

I expect Elk Pass and Blueberry Hill will be trackset tonight. 

In the parking lot, three of 14 vehicles were displaying Kananaskis parking passes, but it’s not a parking lot on the official list. If the lot is full when you arrive, don’t park on the road or you’ll get a ticket. The road to the Back Door closes Dec 1.

Lake Louise

The big news from LL is that Fairview is now trackset. That means you’ll have an alternative to Tramline for accessing Moraine Lake road. Tracksetter Jeff remarked, “Fair condition, with the normal early season hazards like twigs, rocks, stumps and roots in random, unforgiving places. Use caution and maybe not your race skis!”

Thursday morning update

In the above photo from Mike W, the PLPP trail crew is moving snow onto the Blueberry Hill trail.

Nov 26, 2020: Thanks to Mike W for the detailed trip report from his epic day of skiing in PLPP. When Ian and Darlene noted that the Back Door was closed, that was the first indication that we would see some grooming. The truck and trailer which hauls the snowcat requires the entire parking lot. In Mike’s photos, it was nice to see the fresh snow on the lower trails covering up yesterday’s tree debris.

Alberta Parks trail report for PLPP:

It sounds like the entire length of Pocaterra was groomed(10.5K), as well as the grid in front of the hut. Tracksetting only occurred on Upper Pocaterra(4.4K), from Packers junction to Tyrwhitt junction. 

For anyone who is getting impatient and wants to see more grooming in PLPP, the second snowcat operator will be returning on Dec 1. Consider this: none of the grooming personell knew if they would have a job this winter until the announcement on Oct 30. Other plans may have been made as far as their jobs go. 

Lake Louise

After receiving 5-10 cm of new snow, the following trails were groomed and trackset on Nov 25:

  • Moraine Lake road
  • Great Divide
  • Tramline

Under Maps on the main menu, I’ve updated the link for Lake Louise and Banff. The maps can be downloaded as a PDF.  The new Spray River map is excellent with its instructions for multi-users. The Spray River and Goat Creek trails have not been groomed yet this winter. 

Mt Shark

Watridge Lake road and the Blue Loop have been groomed with the snowcat. Some of the other trails have been roller-packed. 

Banff

Castle Junction to Castle Lookout has been snowmobile packed. “Thin snow cover over uneven surface. More snow is needed to cover rocks, roots and creeks.”

Yoho

Kicking Horse and Tally Ho: “Trail refreshed today by Joe ! Ski from the INFO Centre –over the Tally Ho(with the creek hazard now covered)–to the Natural Bridge and ALL the way down the Kicking Horse Fire Road to Otterhead river crossing. 10 kms. one way!”

If you enjoy skiing in Yoho, consider buying a membership in the KHSC for $50. 

Confederation Golf Course

Grooming has started at Confed but conditions are marginal. Check the photos. 

Question about covid rules and carpooling

I was sent this question by a reader. If we can’t allow anyone into our homes, I would imagine the same goes for our vehicles.

With the new restrictions can we still carpool? Was there any mention of travel? Asking as 3 of us from Calgary we’re planning moraine lake this weekend. Taking 3 cars for a total of 12 hours of driving (big environmental impact) and with limited parking seems crazy….

Update: There is a section on carpooling…

The rules state that if you live alone, you can designate two people as part of your cohort.

The best trail for beginner skiers

Great Divide

There’s not much ready for beginner skiers yet, but if you’re willing to drive to Lake Louise, the best trail by far is the Great Divide(aka “Old 1A”). 

Also at Lake Louise, the first 2.6K of Moraine Lake road is a possibility. It needs to be accessed from the Upper Tramline trailhead. Tramline to the MLR trailhead is 1.6K of very gentle downhill. 

In Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, some of the trails leading out from Elkwood Amphitheatre are reasonably good for beginners such as Wheeler and Lodgepole. Both of those trails have been roller packed but they will not be trackset until there’s more snow. 

The trails which have been trackset in the south end of PLPP are very difficult with sustained steep climbs which turn into extremely fast downhills on your return. This scary video shows a skier descending Elk Pass The fastest 1 K in Kananaskis. 

Bow River Loop

Another trail at Lake Louise which is worth considering is the Bow River Loop. It has recently been trackset and offers some amazing scenery on a clear day. The issue for beginners is that it’s only single track and very narrow. You have to be ready to get out of the tracks when meeting other skiers.

I’ve found the most enjoyable part of the Bow River Loop is the south end starting from the campground bridge. It avoids road crossings, is about 4.5K and is dog-friendly. Read more about the Bow River Loop. 

The photo below shows skiers gliding downhill to the BC border(the “divide”), at 6.6K. Depending on conditions and your ability, you may need to snowplow. If the hill is too intimidating, you can simply turn around at the top and head back. 13K is a lot for a beginner skier anyway. 

Downhill to the Great Divide