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BANFF NATIONAL PARK

These select day trips along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park are at the epicentre of Rockies ski tours. The Icefields Parkway (or the Promenade des Glaciers en français) is also known as Highway 93, and covers 230 km linking Lake Louise and the town of Jasper to the north. The spectacular route runs parallel to the Continental, or “Great”, Divide, and crosses both Banff and Jasper National Parks. Be aware that in winter, chains or all-season radials are required by law and that, depending on snowfall and avalanche control work, some sections of the parkway may be closed for as long as three days.

The Parkway crosses two passes: Sunwapta Pass at 2035 metres and Bow Summit at 2069 metres. The parkway falls within the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks world heritage site which was recognized by UNESCO in 1984 for its mind-blowing natural beauty and geological value. The parkways offers up some great “highway lines” that you can scope out while driving by. Best time to ski the couloirs is April through June.

This area is visited by millions of tourists every year for the scenery alone as Banff is one of the most visited national parks in the world! Sky scraping jagged peaks amidst endless glaciers and glacial lakes make for breathtaking views. 

The high concentration of easy access tours along this corridor is a big draw in itself but the added bonus of being able to summit a peak before skiing open alpine slopes, followed by gladed trees down to valley bottom is quite a treat. 

Higher snow volumes can often be found here due to the close proximity to the Continental Divide that separates the ocean drainages (as well as Alberta from BC in this region). Parking directly on the shoulder of Hwy 93 to access tours is not advised as the snow blast from fast moving ploughs can damage vehicles and break windows.

We want to hear about your adventures in the Rockies so don’t forget to post a trip report in the backcountryskiingcanada.com forums. If you have a new route in the area you want to share, mouse-on over here. N-Joy.

All of the routes below are in a shortened format except for Mount Hector which is provided by Mark Klassen of Corax Alpine Guides, the full versions of all the other routes can be found in our Lake Louise Sunshine Banff Ski Touring Guide which you can pick up for a bargain over here. Be very well prepared and be sure to check out the Parks Canada Avalanche Forecast web site for conditions in Banff National Park. Have a look at the routes below, buy the guide and play safe!

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

 (This map is not meant to be used as a navigational aid but rather a visual indication of the route description.)


 ROUTES:
1. Observation Peak
2. Bow Summit
3. Cirque Fore-Peak
4. Mt. Jimmy Jr.
5. Mt. Jimmy Simpson
6. Crowfoot Mountain
7. Crowfoot Glades
8. West Nile
9. Mount Hector





For a full listing of backcountry huts, cabins and lodges check out the Rocky Mountain cabins/huts/lodges page over here. If you are looking for maps and guides to the area then check out the following Backcountry Skiing Canada publication in our Backcountry Skiing Canada Store:

Lake Louise Sunshine Banff Ski Touring Guide Lake Louise Sunshine Banff Ski Touring GuideGuide: $16.95

 

 


Backcountry skiing is an inherently dangerous activity that requires experience and knowledge to travel safely. Any of the routes on this site may be dangerous depending on conditions. You are responsible for your own safety in the backcounty—the team behind backcountryskiingcanada.com disclaim any responsibility for any injury resulting from people travelling on routes described on this site.  To read our Terms of Use and get all the details, read HERE. 


OBSERVATION PEAK
Beneath the south col of Observation Peak lies an attractive, broad, low angle rib which descends to the SW on the looker's left of a large bowl that drains down to the highway. Nice turns on open slopes can be found here with a transition to gladed trees below. 

Backcountry Skiing Banff National ParkROUTE: #1
ACCESS: Bow Summit Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 3 - 4 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 430m/1,411’

ATES RATING: Challenging (2)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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BOW SUMMIT
Perhaps THE most popular backcountry skiing area in the park and for good reason. You’ll find fast easy access to a variety of fun planar slopes with great views in a reasonably sheltered location, just a stone’s throw from the road. To access the parking area, turn west into the Bow Summit view point off of Highway 93 about 40 km north from the TransCanada Highway.

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #2 
ACCESS: Bow Summit Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 1- 3 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 170 - 330m/           557 - 1,083’

ATES RATING: Challenging (2)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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CIRQUE FORE-PEAK
Cirque Peak has a lower fore-peak to the west, the WSW slopes of which can offer great open skiing with acres of room for lots of tracks. The fore-peak can be skied from the summit although snow conditions may be variable with the windward exposure. The better snow is found at lower elevations near treeline. 

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #3
ACCESS: Num-Ti-Jah Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 3 - 5 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 500 - 800m/         1,620 - 2,625'

ATES RATING: Challenging (2)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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MT. JIMMY JR.
This pyramidal shaped sub peak of Jimmy Simpson is seen easily from the highway and drops impressively in one fell swoop straight down open alpine slopes and a slide path directly to valley bottom. Great for split boarders. The serious nature of this massive avalanche terrain requires the good snow stability generally reserved for spring melt-freeze conditions. 

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #4
ACCESS: Num-Ti-Jah Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 4 - 6 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 800m/2,625'
ATES RATING: Complex (3)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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MT. JIMMY SIMPSON
This classic peak ascent offers superb views of the glaciated surrounding summits. The avalanche crux is a steep SE facing slope so leave this tour for a good stability day and start early if sun or warm temps are in the forecast. 

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #5
ACCESS: Num-Ti-Jah Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9 &                 Blaeberry 82 N/10
TIME: 7 - 8 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,000m/3,281'
ATES RATING: Complex (3)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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CROWFOOT MOUNTAIN
This Another excellent peak ascent with great views and great terrain. If you have time on the descent for a yoyo, good turns can be had off the ridge down the glacier to the SW.

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #6
ACCESS: Num-Ti-Jah Parking Lot
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 8 - 10 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,100m/3,609'
ATES RATING: Complex (3)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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CROWFOOT GLADES
Wawa Like Bow Summit, this is another popular place for turns not far from the road on sheltered slopes. The glades you scouted from the highway or the more open slopes further skier’s left make for a great afternoon of pleasant turns. Other options also exist further uphill in the benches above.

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #7
ACCESS: Crowfoot GLacier Overlook
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 2 - 4 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 300m/984'
ATES RATING: Challenging (2)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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WEST NILE
The NE facing slope of Bow Peak above the Mosquito Creek Campground provides another great yoyo skiing location with sheltered slopes reasonably close to the road.

Backcountry Skiing Banff National Park

ROUTE: #8
ACCESS: Mosquito Creek Parking
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 2 - 4 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 300m/984'
ATES RATING: Challenging (2)

 

 

 

 

Full route description—including details on access, ascents and descents—in the Guide

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MT. HECTOR
A long and demanding climb up one of the high peaks of the Rockies.  A combination of low avalanche hazard and good ski quality can be difficult to find on this peak, but when you hit it right it is one of the classic ski descents of Canada. This tour is best done later in the season (late March or April) when melt-freeze crusts facilitate travel on the lower section. Good powder can be found on the north-facing glacier even late in the season. Good visibility is also essential for a good run down as there are many crevasses that need to be avoided on the descent.

From the road ascend through the forest on the right bank of the creek. Soon an open bowl is reached, climb up this until you come to the rock band above. Find your way through this, taking your skis off and walking up snow-covered ledges starting to the left of the waterfalls before crossing over to the right side partway up. Start early so you pass through this section before it gets warm and loose snow avalanches or rockfall start coming off the large cliffs above.

Once past the cliffband make your way through the moraines, trending up the basin on the right. Once on the glacier the fewest crevasses are found on the higher ground to the right of the major depression in the middle of the glacier. Use a rope, there are many crevasses here and the wind can create a shallow snowpack and weak bridges over the slots!

Travel towards the west ridge of Hector on the moderately angled glacier. Once near the ridge the glacier steepens in a series of rolls. If avalanche conditions are uncertain or time is running short a good run down can be had from this point. Otherwise, continue up the glacier carefully navigating around the steepest sections. Luckily there are fewer crevasses here but you still need to be on the lookout for them. The steepest slope is found just before a col at 3325 m. Crampons and an ice axe are sometimes required here if the wind has scoured the snow off the ice. From the col, scramble up the rocks on the right to gain the summit. There are a couple of short, steep steps with exposure – 4th class.

Descend the way you came. Be very careful of crevasses on the ski down. In the lower cliffs try to move fast if warm temperatures are still a concern. 

ROUTE: #9
ACCESS: From Lake Louise drive 2.5 km west on Highway 1 and turn right onto Highway 93 North (the Icefields Parkway). An additional 20.5 km will bring you to a small pullout on the left (west) side of the road, just after you have crossed a small stream (Hector Creek).
MAP: Hector Lake 82 N/9
TIME: 9 - 11 hours
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,534m/5,032’
ATES RATING: Complex (3)


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