The Wapta Traverse is the ultimate Canadian Rockies hut to hut ski tour. The Wapta Icefields spread for many miles north along the continental divide from the Lake Louise area. With vast glaciers, easy peaks and a superlative hut system, the area is perfect for a great ski traverse. As one of our favourite winter playgrounds, the Wapta is pretty much a second home for our guides and no one quite does the Wapta Traverse like Yamnuska!
We offer two versions of the Wapta Traverse: the 4-Day Classic Wapta Traverse and the 6-Day Extended Wapta Traverse. The 4-Day Wapta Traverse hut to hut ski tour will suit those with more limited time and is a better option for intermediate ski tourers. It starts from Bow Lake and finishes at Sherbrooke Lake just west of Lake Louise. The Extended Traverse starts at Peyto Lake near the northernmost end of the icefields and finishes at Sherbrooke Lake. It is more suited for very experienced and physically fit skiers as the approach to the Peyto Hut is challenging and complex.
The 4-day Wapta Traverse begins at the Yamnuska office at 8:00 am on the first day. On the 6-day Extended Wapta Traverse, it’s important to get an early start on the first day. To achieve this we will be meeting the evening before at 7:30 pm, also at the Yamnuska office. The Yamnuska office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore, Alberta. See this map for location.
Day 1: Meet us at our office in Canmore, Alberta at 8:00 am for introductions, trip review and equipment check. Once ready we drive about 1 hour and 15 minutes north to Bow Lake, our starting 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 snout of the Bow Glacier, this typically takes us between 3 and 5 hours. We cross frozen Bow Lake then ski tour 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 the spacious Bow Hut. We travel 6km and climb 1270ft / 610m. If time and energy permit we can head back out to get some powder turns on the headwall of the Bow glacier above the Hut.
Day 2: Today we start the glacier travel to our objective: Balfour Hut, located at 8100ft. near the base of the Balfour Glacier. We get there by climbing the ‘Headwall’ one last time then heading over the 9,500ft. high col between Mt. St. Nicholas and Olive. If it’s a nice day we can leave our skis at the col and climb a beautiful snow ridge to the summit of Mt Olive at 10,200ft. From there we can see tomorrow’s route over the Balfour High Col. A long, easy descent brings us to the Balfour Hut. It will take us upwards of 4 hours depending on whether or not we climb Mt. Olive.
Not including Mt. Olive we travel 8km and climb 1800ft / 550m. Add another 1.5km and 700ft / 215m if we climb Mt. Olive.
Day 3: First light will see us heading out of the Hut and onto the crux of the Wapta Traverse, the crevassed slopes leading to the 10,000 ft. Balfour High Col. This is undoubtedly the most spectacular section of the wapta traverse as we pass beneath Mt. Balfour with its towering seracs and corniced ridges. We need reasonable visibility for this objective as it is a complex section of terrain and has been the scene of many accidents. Once on the high col, we can look across the gently descending slopes of the Waputik Glacier to Mount Daly with the Scott-Duncan Hut below. It’s a phenomenal panorama. To the north the Front Ranges and to the south the granite spires of the Purcells with the main peaks of the Rockies between! This section will take around 6 hours. Weather, visibility and avalanche hazard can make the Balfor High Col unpassable. In this case, we will exit via the route we came in. Your guide will make a decision as to whether or not the Balfour Col is passable. We may attempt the col and turnaround if we are optimistic that weather or avalanche conditions will improve. If visibility is poor or avalanche conditions are unfavourable, we will exit back to the Bow Hut.
Travel 10km, climb 2000ft / 610m.
Day 4: From the Scott Duncan Hut we ski towards the rocky thumb of Mt. Niles where the fun really begins. This long descent sees us swooping down snowy benches, through treed glades and along a canyon. We then finish skiing across Sherbrooke Lake to a trail through the trees that brings us to the Trans Canada Highway at the Great Divide Lodge on the Kicking Horse Pass. We should be back in Canmore by late-afternoon.
Travel 13km, descend 4800ft / 1465m.
Extended Wapta Traverse
Day 1: Meet us at our office in Canmore at 7:30 pm for introductions, trip review, equipment check and to pack gear.
Day 2: Departure is set for 7:30 am for the 1.5-hour drive north to Peyto Lake, our start point. After an avalanche safety session, we commence our wapta traverse by descending through the forest to Peyto Lake. After crossing the Lake we travel up the outwash valley from the Peyto Glacier to the base of the lateral moraine which we climb, carrying skis for a short section, to the edge of the glacier. From here we travel a further 3km up the Glacier to reach the Peyto Hut which is perched on a rocky shoulder overlooking Peyto Glacier. Peyto Hut is completely surrounded by glaciers and peaks and is arguably the most spectacular location of any of the Wapta huts. We travel 9km and climb 2200ft / 670m.
Day 3: We will spend a day practicing crevasse rescue and ski touring from the Peyto Hut. There are some great skiing options for us today including an ascent of Mt. Rhonda (10,000ft. / 3048m) or the Baker Col. Expect to be out for 6 hours.
Day 4: We recommence the traverse and head over the Icefields to Bow Hut (6km & 900ft / 275m) with the option of another ski ascent en-route. Bow Hut (7700 ft./ 2348m) is located on the edge of the spectacular amphitheatre below Mt. St. Nicholas with its hanging ice cliffs. From here the itinerary is identical to that on the Classic Traverse.
Day 5: Today we continue the Traverse to our objective: Balfour Hut, located at 8100ft / 2480m near the snout of the Balfour Glacier. We get there by climbing the ‘Headwall’ one last time then heading over the 9,500ft. / 2900m high col between Mt. St. Nicholas and Olive. If it’s a nice day we can leave skis on the col and climb a beautiful snow ridge to the summit of Mt. Olive at 10,200ft / 3100m From there we can see tomorrows’ route over the Balfour High Col. A long, easy descent brings us to the Balfour Hut. It will take us upwards of 4 hours depending on whether we climb Mt. Olive or not.
Not including Mt. Olive we travel 8km and climb 1800ft / 550m. Add another 1.5km and 700ft / 215m if we climb Mt. Olive.
Day 6: First light will see us heading out of the Balfour Hut and onto the crux of the Wapta Traverse, the crevassed slopes leading to the 10,000ft / 3000m Balfour High Col. This is undoubtedly the most spectacular section of the wapta traverse as we pass beneath Mt. Balfour with its towering seracs and corniced ridges. We need reasonable visibility for this part. Once on the High Col, we can look across the gently descending slopes of the Waputik Glacier to Mount Daly with the Scott-Duncan Hut, today’s objective, below. It’s a phenomenal panorama. To the north the Front Ranges and to the south the granite spires of the Purcells with the main peaks of the Rockies between! This section will take around 6 hours. Weather, visibility and avalanche hazard can make the Balfor High Col unpassable. In this case, we will exit via the route below the Bow Hut to Bow Lake.
Travel 10km, climb 2000ft / 610m.
Day 7: From the Scott Duncan Hut we ski towards the rocky thumb of Mt. Niles where the fun really begins. This long descent sees us swooping down snowy benches, through treed glades and along a canyon. We then finish skiing across Sherbrooke Lake to a trail through the trees that brings us to the Trans Canada Highway at the Great Divide Lodge on the Kicking Horse Pass. We should be back in Canmore by late-afternoon.
Travel 13km, descend 4800ft / 1465m.
For a previous client’s description of the program, take a look at this great trip report from Scott Kendall: Hut to Hut Skiing, Canadian Style
Guides & Group Size
Your guides are certified by the internationally-recognized Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and also licensed by Parks Canada. They are true mountain professionals who hold extensive first aid and professional level avalanche training. There will be a maximum of 7 participants per guide. The group maximum is 10 plus two guides. The minimum group size is 4.
For the Classic Wapta Traverse (4-day) we will meet you at our office in Canmore at 8 am on the first day of the program. For the Extended Wapta Traverse (6-day) we will meet the group at our office at 7:30 pm on the first day. This evening meeting will allow us to make sure that everyone is ready to go for the early start the next day.
Participants are responsible for their own transport to Canmore which is a 1hour (100km) drive west from Calgary.
You will use your personal vehicle to reach program locations. We will organize the vehicle shuttle at the end of the traverse.
Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore. 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.
During the trip, 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.
Bow Hut is heated with a wood stove. Peyto, Balfour and Scott Duncan Huts are not heated but are well insulated and remain relatively warm once the group has moved in for the night. There are sleeping pads in all of the huts as well as eating utensils and cooking gear.
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.
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)
Evening meals and hot drinks will be supplied by Yamnuska. Breakfasts, lunches and trail snacks are NOT included but can be purchased with the full backcountry food package. 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.
Those taking the food package will have lightweight, nutritious and delicious breakfasts, lunches and trail snacks supplied. Meals are prepared by our in-house chef from fresh, nutritious ingredients and then dehydrated to make them suitable for backcountry travel. To minimize weight and the risk of you not properly planning food, we recommend the full meal package.
- Classic Wapta Traverse Food Package $99 plus GST (a surcharge will apply for those with special dietary needs)
- Extended Wapta Traverse Food package $153 plus GST (a surcharge will apply for those with special dietary needs)
The Wapta Icefields can be prone to whiteout in storm conditions. If the weather or avalanche conditions are too severe we may not be able to cross the Balfour High Col. We may be able to wait a day for conditions to clear but there is a chance we may not complete the Wapta Traverse as described and we will have to ski back out via Bow Hut. There is no way of eliminating this risk. Even if this happens the trip is still an excellent ski mountaineering experience whether or not we make it over the Balfour High Col. Success varies widely by season and is solely dependent on weather and avalanche conditions.
Equipment & Clothing
You will need to bring your own clothing, ski touring gear, avalanche gear, backpack and sleeping bag. We have some of these items available to rent and we can arrange them for you with prior notice. Yamnuska supply’s all glacier travel gear (ropes, harnesses, crevasse rescue gear etc).
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!
Alpine Touring skis are essentially downhill skis with a special ski touring binding that 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 of downhill skiing.
Skis, boots, poles, and boards can be rented in Calgary or Canmore prior to the trip.
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 (Alpine Touring Boots with a walk mode)
- Avalanche Transceiver (digital only with a triple antenna) rentals available
- Avalanche Probe rentals available
- Avalanche Shovel (metal blades only designed for companion rescue) rentals available
- Backpack (at least 65L, large enough for a sleeping bag, spare clothes, and your share of group food & equipment) rentals available
- Sunglasses and ski goggles
- Water bottle (at least 1-litre capacity), a thermos type bottle 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. rentals available
- Headlamp with fresh batteries
- Small Blister and Personal First-Aid Kit
- Small repair kit for bindings, skis or splitboard (this may include straps, nuts, bolts, small leatherman)
- Camera (optional)
- Personal toiletries including hand sanitizer (keep to a bare minimum)
- Ear Plugs for dorm sleeping (optional)
- Insulated Booties or Hut Slippers
Additional gear info:
- Skis/splitboard: There are two viable backcountry systems, Alpine Touring 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.
- 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.
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)
- Medium weight fleece sweater
- Fleece Jacket
- Jacket (soft shell or equivalent)
- Waterproof/breathable jacket (Gore-Tex type)
- Pants (Gore-Tex type shell or soft shell type which needs to fit over your ski boot)
- Socks – ski socks (wool or synthetic), several sets
- Wool or fleece hat
- Gloves and/or mitts (2 pairs)
- Brimmed hat for sunny days
- Down or Synthetic Parka
- Face Mask
Skis, Boots, Skins & poles can be rented from:
- Canmore: Gear Up – (403 678-1636)
- Calgary: M.E.C. – 830-10 Ave. S.W. Calgary (Tel: 403 363-0122)
- Lake Louise: Wilson Mountain Sports – (1-866-929-3636)
*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 sleeping bags, avalanche safety gear and backpacks for rent. Rental Gear
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. Our Wapta Traverses are very popular.
Classic Traverse: We require a 35% deposit including taxes. The final payment is due eight weeks before the program start date. If requiring the food package please order this when first booking.
Extended Traverse: We require a 35% deposit upon booking. The final payment is due eight weeks before the program start date. If requiring the food package please order this when first booking.
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 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.
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.
Price includes guiding, hut fees, evening meals & drinks, transport shuttle if necessary, National Park ‘Wilderness Pass’.
Not Included: sales tax, breakfasts, lunches, snacks (packages available for an additional charge) or gratuities. We recommend you purchase the full backcountry food package. Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Is it for you?
The Wapta Traverse is a high mountain ski trip in variable ski conditions ranging from Powder to Wind Slab. Participants need to be at least strong intermediate downhill skiers. Skiing is done with your backpack on and you must be able to ski in control and parallel (or telemark) turn in a variety of conditions. You need to be in good physical condition, able to carry a 40lb pack for several hours a day over several kilometres.
The toughest uphill is on the 1st day, the most difficult descent is on the last day. Participants should be comfortable traversing and controlling their speed in tight terrain.
We recommend the “Classic Wapta Traverse” for those pressed for time or for those newer to ski mountaineering.
The “Extended Traverse” begins with a considerably more physically demanding approach day and is recommended for those with a higher level of aerobic fitness.
The Wapta Traverse should not be your first backcountry ski or ski mountaineering experience. This program is suitable for advanced level split boarders
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).
Any training you can do will greatly enhance your Wapta Traverse experience. The ideal would be to do some ski touring or cross country skiing in your own area with a pack. Don’t try to go too fast but concentrate on even breathing and pacing. The hillier the terrain the better and if you can carry a backpack then better still. Running is also good training. A word of caution: start gradually, don’t push too hard, too fast. It is best to build up your endurance over multiple training sessions.