The Columbia Icefields is home to 225 square kilometers of glacier ice that is over 350m thick in places. The area hosts 11 of the 54 highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies and is arguably the best location in the Canadian Rockies for ski mountaineering. Mt Columbia, the highest peak in Alberta, will be the main objective of this ski expedition. The seemingly limitless views of the Rocky and Selkirk Mountains will form the backdrop for this trip.
This trip is an excellent choice for adventurers looking to learn the skills involved in successfully planning and completing ski expeditions. Ski mountaineers on this trip should have previous winter camping and glacier travel experience on skis. A high level of physical fitness is required for this expedition.
This expedition is designed to prepare participants to organize and successfully plan multi-day ski expeditions in a hands on environment. Snow and weather conditions will dictate the order of presentation to some degree. Key topics will be constantly revisited during the program to meet the needs of participants and conditions. This will be a hands on participant lead trip with guidance from a certified guide. Our objective will also be a summit attempt of Mt. Columbia.
- Food preparation
- Equipment preparation for ski expeditions
- Mountain weather
- Navigation & route planning
- Mountain hazard awareness emphasizing hazard recognition and management, route finding & emergency procedures
- Glacier travel
- Track setting
- Completing a planned expedition! You will find yourself in the lead, solving route finding problems and using new skills to navigate and live in glaciated terrain.
- Mountaineering skills to gain rewarding summits!
Day 1: Our first day will cover the pre trip planning skills required for successful ski mountaineering expeditions. This will be held in the Yamnuska office in Canmore starting at 8am. We will be looking at our objective in detail: food planning, equipment needs, tenting and cooking groups, navigation and time plans and doing hazard evaluations for the following day. We will cover emergency procedures and then pack for the trip.
Day 2: The expedition starts! We will drive the 3 hours to the Columbia Icefields where we will gain the icefield from either the Athabasca or Saskatchewan glaciers. The approach will depend on conditions. This will be one of the more challenging days of the trip with up to 13 km and 450 meters gained from the Saskatchewan glacier or 8 km and 800 meters gained via the Athabasca glacier. We will be using navigation, glacier travel, winter camping and cooking skills on this day.
Day 3: We will use this day to travel to and establish a base camp in the Trench. The Trench is a deep draw in the Columbia Icefields situated between the towering Mt Bryce, Mt Columbia and the North and South Twins. This impressive campsite will put us in position to summit Mt Columbia the following day.
Day 4: Summit day! With an alpine start we will approach the East Face of Mt Columbia. The face will involve steep snow climbing of up to 40 degrees with the use of an ice axe and potentially crampons. Reaching the summit and the highest point in Alberta we will be rewarded with stunning views stretching through the Rockies, Selkirk’s and Purcell’s.
Day 5: We will move our camp from the Trench to the top of the Athabasca Glacier. Snowdome, Andromeda and Unnamed Peak are potential climbs in the area if conditions are favorable.
Day 6: With an early start we will descend beneath the icefall of Snowdome and continue to the toe of the Athabasca glacier. We will return to Canmore for the course close.
Instructors & Group Size
Your guides are certified by the internationally recognized Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and also licensed by Parks Canada. There will be a maximum of 4 participants per guide. There will be a maximum of 8 guests, minimum 4.
We will meet the group at 8:00 AM on the first day here at our office in Canmore (Map). Please come prepared with all of your personal gear and clothing, but leave enough room in your pack for additional group gear and food as well.
Participants are responsible for their own transport to Canmore which is a 1 hour (100km) drive west from Calgary.
We rely on guest’s personal vehicles to reach program locations.
Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore.
Accommodation and Meals
During the trip we will be camping in 2-3 person, 4-season tents and cooking on camp stoves; basic dishes will be required.
All meals, snacks and drinks are supplied from lunch on the second 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 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.
Weather and Conditions Note
This is a challenging program in complex terrain and as with any trip into the mountains, neither weather or avalanche conditions can be guaranteed. Poor visibility or avalanche conditions may require a change to the itinerary. Regardless expect the trip to be a great adventure in a beautiful area.
Equipment and Clothing
You will need to bring your own clothing, skis, poles, climbing skins, avalanche gear, backpack, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. We have many of these items available to rent and can pre-arrange them for you. We supply group items (ropes, harnesses, crevasse rescue gear, tents, stoves, etc).
You will be able to leave excess gear in Canmore while on the trip.
The equipment and clothing you bring will have a big impact on the quality of your experience. Please be sure to bring all items listed. If unsure about anything please don’t hesitate to call and ask us!
Participants must be on Alpine Touring Skis. 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. Skis, boots and poles can be rented in Calgary and Canmore prior to the trip.
If you are a very experienced splitboarder you can bring this type of equipment. We recommend a splitboard with a hard boot system.
You need to bring:
- Skis. 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
- Climbing harness (light weight if possible) loaners available
- Crampons – loaners available (please advise us in advance if you need to borrow these from us)
- Ice Axe loaners available
- Locking biners (2), non-locking biners (2) loaners available
- Prussick cord (1) loaners available
- 120cm sewn sling (1) loaners available
- Avalanche Transceiver – digital transciever with a triple antennae – rentals available (please advise us in advance if you need to rent this from us)
- Collapsible Avalanche Probe rentals available
- Avalanche Shovel (lightweight snow shovel designed for companion rescue) rentals available
- Backpack (at least 65L, large enough for sleeping bag, spare clothes, and your share of group food & equipment) rentals available
- Sunglasses and ski goggles
- Water bottle (at least 1 liter capacity), a Thermos for Hot Drinks is optional
- Bowl, Large Mug and Cutlery – Un-breakable plastic or light metal set works best. No glass or ceramics.
- Sun block and lip cream
- Pocket knife
- Sleeping Bag, must be warm as we will be winter camping. We recommend a bag with a -20C rating or lower that is down filled. 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.
- Sleeping pad, full length and inflatable
- Headlamp with fresh batteries
- Small Blister and a small personal First-Aid Kit
- Personal Toilet Items (keep to a bare minimum)
- Ear Plugs (optional but recommended)
- Insulated Booties
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 240 cm in length.
- Shovel: A metal blade shovel is required.
Glacier gear: The key with the glacier travel kit is minimizing weight and bulk
- Harness – Ski Randonee harness is strongly suggested to cut back on both weight and bulk.
- 2 Light weight Locking Carabineers
- 1 Light weight Pear Shape Locking Munter Carabiner
- 2 Light weight Non-Locking Carabineers
- 2 x 6mm x 5 m Cordelette/Accessory Cord – minimum breaking strength 10KN
- 1 x 120cm Sewn Sling (double length sling)
- 1 x 19cm Ice Screw
- Aluminum Ice Axe – The shorter and lighter the better.
We suggest layers of light, easily carried clothing that allow 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 (light weight synthetic or wool)
- Extra warm shirt (synthetic or wool)
- Medium weight fleece sweater
- Soft shell or fleece jacket
- Soft shell pants
- Insulated jacket (down preferred)
- Insulated pants (fleece or other synthetic)
- Waterproof jacket with hood (Gore-Tex or equivalent)
- Waterproof pants (Gore-Tex or equivalent, with side zippers)
- Socks – ski socks (wool or synthetic) – 2 to 3 pairs
- Wool or fleece hat
- Waterproof ski mountaineering gloves or mitts
- Light weight ski gloves
- Neck tube or balaclava
- Sun hat
Skis, Boots, Boards, Skins & Poles can be rented from:
- Calgary: Mountain Equipment Co-op. – 830-10 Ave. S.W. Calgary (Tel: 403 269-2420)
- Canmore: Gear Up – 1302 Bow Valley Trail (403 678-1636)
*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.
Yamnuska has avalanche equipment, sleeping mats and backpacks for rent.
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. We require a 35% deposit on booking.
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident while here. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue so long as you have a valid National Park Entry Pass which you can obtain on entry to Banff National Park.
We ask that you familiarize yourself with our detailed booking instructions and conditions.
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 travelers 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.
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.
$1750 CDN includes certified guide, meals, group camping equipment, park entry and wilderness passes. You will need to bring adequate clothing and equipment for a backcountry ski traverse (see the gear tab for details on what is provided). GST is extra.
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Is it for you?
This is a challenging trip for ski mountaineers who have minimal winter camping experience and are in good to excellent hiking shape. Expect expedition weight packs of up to 55 pounds, sleds may be used on this program. There will be multiple days of travelling over 10 km with elevation gains of up to 800 meters. Guests should have intermediate to advanced down hill ski skills and feel comfortable on non-groomed blue runs in any condition at the ski hill. Although there is minimal down hill skiing on this trip guests should be able to safely descend moderately angled slopes with a pack on. Travel on this trip is limited to guests on alpine touring equipment.
Understanding the prerequisites should help with your training throughout the winter. Winter ski tours and walks with a 45-50lb pack is recommended as the best training, however other activities such as cross country skiing and hiking can also be good training. Please read the itinerary and difficulty sections and be both physically and mentally prepared for the trip. If you are uncertain about your experience level, please call us.