Alpine Ski Mountaineering is one of the most incredible ways to enjoy the mountains in winter. With a variety of basic skills, it is possible to summit more peaks than on a similar mountaineering trip in the summer.
This week-long comprehensive ski mountaineering program is designed to give you all the skills you’ll need to ski in glaciated mountainous terrain and while no mountaineering experience is necessary, by the end of the course you will have the skills and confidence to head out on your own to tackle some big-mountain ski objectives and traverses on your own.
Throughout this hut-based program, you will find the right balance of instruction and adventure as we explore the numerous snow-covered peaks and ski the slopes of the Wapta Icefields.
Note: From Day 2 the course agenda and the amount of time spent on each subject will depend upon conditions in the program area, the weather, group and individual abilities and learning speeds.
Day 1: We meet at the Yamnuska Office in Canmore, Alberta at 8:00 am for introductions, a review of course goals and itinerary and equipment check. Then we drive an hour and a half north to Bow Lake, our start point. After an avalanche safety session, we commence the climb to Bow Hut, which is located at 7700 ft. on a shoulder adjacent to the base of the Bow Glacier; this will take us between 3 and 5 hours. We cross frozen Bow Lake then ski up the canyon which leads to the amphitheatre below Mounts Olive and St. Nicholas. After a final steep section, we reach the welcome warmth of this spacious cabin. En route, we get a real taste of route finding in avalanche terrain. We ski 6 km and climb 2000 ft.
Day 2 – 5: Bow Hut is our base for the week. Its proximity to the glacier and to several peaks makes it easy for us to get out on to suitable instruction terrain every day. It’s a perfect area for ski mountaineering instruction. We may do a tour to one of the other huts in the region where we can spend a night or two. Peaks often climbed on the course include Mt. Olive (10,200 ft.), Mt. Gordon (10,000 ft.) and Mt. Rhonda (10,000 ft.). Our focus is on giving you skills required for ski mountaineering and all associated components…and to climb some peaks!
Day 6: Final day. We ski back down to Bow Lake and return to Canmore in the late afternoon.
There is considerable flexibility built into the delivery of this course, no course is exactly the same. Snow and weather conditions will dictate the order of presentation to some degree. Key topics will be constantly revisited during the program.
- Avalanche awareness emphasizing hazard recognition, route finding and emergency procedures.
- Winter medical issues and emergency response.
- Trip planning.
- Equipment for ski mountaineering.
- Glacier travel and crevasse rescue.
- Snow Shelters.
- Mountain weather.
- Navigation and route planning.
- Decision-making processes.
- Ski techniques for powder and wind slabs.
- Track setting.
- Ski tours! There are lots of great day climbs and tours in addition to possible overnight trips between huts. You just happen to be learning these skills in a terrific ski mountaineering area. You will find yourself in the lead, solving route finding problems and using new skills to face the challenges of successful tours and the rewards of great ski descents!
Meeting Time and Place
The course begins at the Yamnuska office at 8:00 am on the first day. The Yamnuska office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore, Alberta. See this map for location.
The course is based out of Bow Hut on the Wapta Icefields just north of Lake Louise (90km from Canmore). This area of vast Icefields and glaciated peaks is perfect for instruction with a really good hut system.
Guides and Group Size
Your instructors are certified by the internationally recognized Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and licensed by Parks Canada. There will be a maximum of 6 participants per instructor, a minimum of 4 and maximum of 12 on the course.
Participants are responsible for their own transport to Canmore which is a 1hour (100km) drive west from Calgary.
Banff Airporter is the best way to get between Calgary Airport and Canmore/Banff. When you book with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures you will receive a 15% discount on Banff Airporter Scheduled Services.
To reach Bow Lake participants can use personal vehicles or we will arrange a minibus at no extra cost to you.
You should plan to arrive in Canmore the day before the course (see “accommodation” below”)
Accommodation and Meals
During the course, we stay in alpine huts operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. Sleeping areas are communal and facilities basic. We cook on propane stoves and melt snow to get water for drinking, cooking and washing.
All meals, snacks and drinks are supplied from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last. Meals are prepared by our in-house chef from fresh, nutritious ingredients and then dehydrated to make them suitable for backcountry travel. For guests with dietary restrictions, we are able to modify the program food pack to meet your individual needs. As food pricing and preparation for these diets is more costly, we have implemented the following surcharges. For vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, nut-free or any similar type of single restriction menu requests there will be a $16/day surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 restrictions a $25/day surcharge will apply. For any 3 restrictions, a $30/day surcharge will apply. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged. For more complex diets our kitchen staff will assess the restrictions to inform you if the diet can be accommodated and what surcharge would apply.
Accommodation in Canmore before and after the program is not included. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly.
Yamnuska guests receive exclusive rates with Clique Hotels & resorts upon booking an adventure with either Yamnuska Mountain Adventures or Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska. (Please note that some rates are non-refundable)
Equipment and Clothing
You will need to bring your own clothing, skis, poles, climbing skins, avalanche equipment, backpack and sleeping bag. We have many of these items available to rent and if not can pre-arrange them for you. We supply group safety items (ropes, harnesses, crevasse rescue gear etc).
You will be able to leave excess gear in Canmore whilst on the course.
The equipment and clothing you bring will have a big impact on the quality of your experience. Please be sure to bring all the items listed. If unsure about anything please don’t hesitate to call and ask us!
There are two ski systems you can use: System 1: Alpine Touring skis are essentially downhill skis with a special touring binding which allows the heel to lift when going uphill or across the flats and then locks down to become a regular downhill safety binding. We recommend this system to anyone with a background in downhill skiing. System 2: Telemark skis. These should only be used for this program if you are at least an advanced-intermediate telemark skier with some backcountry experience. This system is more difficult and less forgiving than the other.
Which should you use? If you are a downhill skier then you should use Alpine Touring gear. Only if you are already an advanced Telemark skier should you bring Telemark gear.
Snowboards can be used on this program however, due to the number of flat areas you are better off on skis. If ‘boarding’ you need to be an advanced backcountry boarder and you need to be on a splitboard.
Skis, boots, poles, and boards can be rented in Calgary and Canmore prior to the trip.
You need to bring:
- Skis / Splitboard We recommend a short (160 – 185cm) wide ski designed for powder. Please see note under rental information if you are renting ski equipment.
- Climbing skins ‘Stick-on type’
- Ski Poles
- Ski Boots
- Avalanche Transceiver – digital transceiver with a triple antenna*
- Collapsible Avalanche Probe*
- Avalanche Shovel (lightweight collapsible metal shovel designed for companion rescue)*
- Backpack (at least 75L, large enough for a sleeping bag, spare clothes, and your share of group food & equipment)*
- Compass, we recommend Silva ‘Ranger’ model.
- Sunglasses and ski goggles
- Water bottle (at least 1-litre capacity) a Thermos for Hot Drinks is optional
- Sunblock and lip cream.
- Pocket knife
- Sleeping Bag must be warm as some huts are unheated. We recommend at least a ‘3-season’ bag. Expect hut temperatures to below freezing overnight. Make sure you bring a stuff sac that will reduce your bag to its minimum size (i.e. one with compression straps) so you don’t use up all the room in your pack.*
- Headlamp with fresh batteries
- Small Blister and Personal First-Aid Kit (‘moleskin’, plasters and Tylenol is enough)
- Personal toiletries including hand sanitizer (keep to a bare minimum)
- Ear Plugs for dorm sleeping (optional)
- Insulated Booties or Hut Slippers
- Small repair kit for bindings, skis or splitboard (this may include straps, nuts, bolts, small leatherman)
*Rentals Available for these Items
Additional gear info:
- Skis/splitboard: There are three viable backcountry systems, Alpine Touring, Telemark, and Splitboard.
- Alpine Touring: Essentially downhill skis with a special touring binding which allows the heel to lift when going uphill and then locks down to become an alpine binding for the downhill.
- Telemark: Free-heel telemark bindings should only be used for this program if you are at least an intermediate/advanced telemark skier with backcountry experience.
- Splitboard: Snowboarders sometimes use a splitboard in the backcountry. This system is enjoyable on the descent, but frustrating on the flats. The transitions between uphill and downhill can also be very time-consuming. If using this system, please ensure that you are proficient at switching your bindings.
- Boots: Backcountry boots are different from regular alpine ski boots. In the backcountry, boots need to have an uphill mode that allows a free range of motion in the upper part of the boot. You should not use your regular ski boots for touring and walking uphill.
- Climbing skins: The glue on the base of the skin should be in good condition and the skins need to be properly fitted. Try the skins on your skis/splitboard to make sure they are the right length and width before you arrive.
- Ski poles: Backcountry poles need powder baskets on the tips.
- Avalanche beacon: A three antennae transceiver is required. Yamnuska uses the Backcountry Access Tracker 2 for all of our winter programs.
- Probe: A minimum of 240 cm in length.
- Shovel: A metal blade shovel is required.
Yamnuska supplies but feel free to bring anyway:
- Sit Harness with Adjustable Leg Loops
- Crevasse rescue gear
We suggest layers of light, easily carried clothing that allows for fast and easy adjustment to best suit fast changing temperature conditions. Cotton clothing is not appropriate as it causes rapid heat loss when wet. Feel free to call us if you have any questions about what to bring.
- Long underwear top and bottoms (lightweight synthetic or wool)
- Warm pants (pref. insulated or fleece)
- Warm shirt (synthetic or wool)
- Medium weight fleece sweater.
- Fleece Jacket
- Light insulated jacket or vest
- Waterproof jacket with hood (Gore-Tex or nylon)
- Waterproof pants (Gore-Tex or nylon, with side zippers)
- Socks – ski socks (wool or synthetic), several sets
- Wool or fleece hat that covers your ears.
- Waterproof ski mountaineering gloves or mitts.
- Neck tube
Skis, Boots, Skins & poles can be rented from:
- Canmore: Gear Up – (403 678-1636)
- Calgary: Mountain Equipment Coop. – 830-10 Ave. S.W. Calgary (Tel: 403 363-0122)
- Lake Louise: Wilson Mountain Sports – (1-866-929-3636)
Yamnuska has avalanche equipment, sleeping bags, and backpacks for rent. Rental Gear
*Please note that your ‘DIN’ or ‘Release Value’ settings on your ski bindings are critical to your safety while skiing. Our expectation is that everyone arrives on programs with their ski binding’s release value correctly set. We have noted that some ski rental shops will not set release values on touring bindings. We advise you to rent from a shop that will set release values on your ski touring bindings unless you are proficient and comfortable setting your own DIN/release value. Failure to have Release Values correctly set could result in a serious injury.
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. We require a 35% deposit at the time of booking. The final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the program.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the program. Please view our sample waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the national and provincial parks, however, costs such as air or ground transportation, long term care and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries and other unplanned events. For these eventualities, the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s trip.
$1895 CDN includes accommodation, National Park Fees, ‘out-trip’ meals, instruction and use of specialized equipment and group gear. GST is extra.
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Is it for you?
You need to be at least a strong intermediate downhill skier (on either Telemark or ‘alpine’ gear) able to maintain control in all conditions. You should be making parallel turns on hardpack. You also need to be familiar/comfortable with touring equipment. It is not necessary to be an expert as part of the course will focus on tips for maintaining control and tackling more difficult slopes. You must be comfortable taking a few spills and be able to pick yourself up and ‘carry on’. You will need to be in good physical condition. No prior ski mountaineering experience needed but ideally, you have alpine touring experience.
Skiers and Splitboarders should be competent with their transitions (switching from ski tour mode to downhill mode). Splitboarders should be comfortable skiing downhill in split mode.
Splitboarders should have their downhill kick turns dialled, as this skill will be used frequently to traverse downhill and across slopes at mellow angles.
We strongly urge skiers and Splitboarders to bring spare parts for their setups. Most of our guides are familiar with splitboarding sets ups, but each system is different, and our expectation is that guests will have basic knowledge on common Splitboard concerns (i.e. replacing toe straps on Splitboard bindings).
The minimum age for participation is 18 years unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian and approved by Yamnuska.