Candadian Rockies

Spring skiing

Tags: Posted on June 12, 2013

Colin Haley climbing the West face of Mt. Lefroy, with views into the Lake O'hara basin and beyond


Often in May, I focus a lot of my playtime on skiing some of the bigger alpine lines the Rockies has to offer.  The inspiration I find in this range seems to be unlimited, and having my psyched friends Colin Haley and Ptor Spricenieks around increased the stoke even more.  

Conditions this year were tricky though.  A drought with summer-like temps at the beginning of May, followed by mixed weather with very little precip or good overnight freezes was the grim reality we had to work with.  This combo made it tricky to get as much done as we hoped, but we still managed.  I've generally been patient, and skied a lot of steep lines in powdery conditions.  But the reality is, that often when snow sticks to icy north faces, the sun quickly changes the surface of it to something else.   With snowpack and surface conditions going through constant change, the temperatures need to be carefully monitored. Timing needs to be calculated for both safety, success, and for maximum pleasure.  Getting the goods in prime conditions requires some luck perhaps, but definitely a lot of forethought.  The snow finally came near the end of the month, and on the 26th of May, we got lucky and skied Mt. Temple from it's summit it amazing conditions.  

So here are some photos, from various roadside adventures May adventures.  Hopefully the captions tell enough of the story. 

Also worth checking out are two links to G3's blog, from some crucial late April shredding.  They are the stories and photos from very memorable days I had on Mt. Burgess and Mt. Stanley.  I believe the NW couloir on Mt. Burgess was probably a first descent, and hopefully a video from that day will be linked here soon. The day on Stanley was super memorable for the fantastic conditions and ultra-classics I finally got around to"ticking".

On the West summit of Lefroy.  The main summit, about two meters higher is about 50 meters behind us, and garded by some ripe cornices we weren't interested in climbing accross.  

Colin shredding  chunky corn  on the West Face of Mt. Lefroy, with the classic East face of Victoria in the background

JW, climbing the East face of Mt. Victoria, but un-inspiring snow conditions and warm temps had us turning around about 500 meters below the summit.  Photo:Colin Haley

A couple hours later, we had recovered a stashed pack of rock climbing gear and were enjoying perfect climbing conditions at the Back of the Lake.  Two feet of snow on the ground and shirts-off conditions all day, even while belaying!  We managed 6 pitches of rock and over 4000' of skiing.  Multi-sport at it's finest! Colin, warming up on Wicked Gravity

Next up was the Silverhorn, the peak to the right of Athabasca, and the ski line is the sun shadow line right of center.  Unfortunately a wind slab turned us around about half way up, but better safe than sorry.  At least it still yielded some good turns. 

Ptor brewing coffee at a campground in the wee hours before the attempt

Colin and Ptor touring up the glacier

Kicking Steps

Ptor shredding

Ptor in his element.  Always fun to ski around so much blue ice, especially in sweet powder!

Colin getting a bit of a face shot.  Not bad, considering there had been virtually no new snow in a couple of weeks.

JW catching up, after finally puttng the camera away.  Great turns all the way to the parking.  A super fun day.  

Ptor crossing the barely frozen Constellation Lakes.  Unfortunately the day didn't produce anything worth writing about as far as ski lines go, but it was cool to check out a new valley.

The columbia icefields seemed like the best option considering the short weather forecasts and Colin and Ptor were psyched for Mt. Andromeda's Skyladde, the sunlit ramp right of center.  It's one of the most classic steep lines in the Rockies, and was fun to revisit it, as it had been 14 or 15 years since I had first skied it.   

Another early start

Climbing through the first ice step

Nearing the summit ridge and getting good views of the Columbia Icefields.   A sweet crotch grab / hang loose by a stoked Colin! 

Fine positions on the summit ridge

JW on the summit scoping the warm-up corn run into the south bowl.

Ptor on run #1, Andromeda's south bowl.  We then toured back to the summit and dropped into the Skyladder.

Ptor in the Skyladder

JW in the upper part of the Skyladder

JW exiting the skyladder, photo Colin Haley

A view of Mt. Temple from the 3.5 couloir, (photo taken several years ago).  Our next objective was it's SW face which is the shaded one, that drops left off the summit.  And with 50+ cms of new snow, it was a memorable run!

With good snow coverage, we were able to skin all the way to the summit!

Almost there.  The weather was just good enough, although a whiteout on the summit made getting finding the entrance to the line a little bit interesting

Oh Yeah!  Finally getting a burst of sunlight and the views confirming we were in the right spot

Ptor, in the upper part of a long run. down Temples SW face.

I was stoked to be skiing on my Empires for this run, especially as the snow got heavier near the bottom

Colin, cruising down Temple

Ptor sending the snow flying on Temple


Baffin ski trip and post winter ramblings

Tags: Posted on April 07, 2012

It's been a while since I've posted here mainly because life has been crazy busy, with work, family, skiing and climbing, a slideshow for the Calgary Mountain Club, writing an article for Gripped Magazine which just came out, training hard, and organizing an expedition to Baffin Island.  Currently, I'm actually bivouacking in the Ottawa airport, halfway through four flights to Baffin, where a little ski adventure will start in about 24 hours from now(more about that shortly).   So, I thought I'd take a few minutes to quickly recap the last three months.  Living in Calgary this winter has been a little different than what I'm used to after 20 years based in B.C. ski towns.  There's a lot of traffic, concrete, wealth and opulence, and no real mountains anywhere within about 100 kms.  Although I feel distant  from my tribe of mountain freaks, and somewhat ski deprived (I can't blow mornings off work anymore to shred the fresh powder), there still have been lots of quality outings, and many miles on the highway getting to and from the mountains.  I have to admit I've felt a little bit caged to say the least, but this trip should help sooth the soul, as getting back to nature typically does.  That said, the city isn't all that bad and I'm taking advantage of new opportunities to train, heal old injuries, and experience some new opportunities.  It's been a good place to organize a big trip from too...

January and February were particularly good for deep powder skiing around Kicking Horse and Rogers Pass, and I logged a reasonable amount of days where face shots were plentiful on just about every turn.  It's been an exceptional snow year!  As usual, I also gave in to the pull of the Stanley Headwall on several occasions for ice climbing adventures, and also as usual, the headwall remains incredibly inspiring, even after dozens of days there!  March on the other hand has been challenging.  Lots of extreme avalanche danger combined with bad weather on my days off have kept any big plans from getting off the ground.  I've still managed a few good sessions of ice and mixed climbing, and have dedicated a lot of time to rehabbing old injuries, training in the climbing gym, and cross training in the weight gym.  I think all of this is paying off as I'm starting to feel pretty in shape, as the balance is slowly starting to come back, and I'm psyches to continue the program for a good while.  I can hardly wait to test out its effectiveness while testing my limits in the arctic!  

Here's a few pics from the last little while:

Troy Jungen ripping some sweet powder at Rogers pass.  January and early February was a blur of flying snow!



Ian Welstead on the first pitch of Extreme Comfort, at the Stanley Headwall.  A really fun four pitch M7, WI 6!

Simon Parson climbing Exterminator, a new mixed route left of the infamous Terminator

Doing some photo work with Andrew Querner, photo: Rafal Andronowski

Andrew and his gear getting covered in ice!  

JW on Last Call, a mixed route behind Pilsner Pillar  photo: Rafal Andronowski

Another one from Last Call

My daughter Zoe at about 15 months, eating an apple, out for a winter walk in prairies


Chris brazeau near the sumit of Mt. Asgard, Baffin Island on our 2009 trip.  The couloirs, peaks and snow faces seen in the background provided the inspiration for the trip I'm currently on.  Every summit we stood on had revealed incredible ski potential.

More about the Baffin trip:
In 2009 I spent a month climbing in Auyuittuq National Park.  One of the things that really blew my partner Chris Brazeau and I away were the abundance of steep ski lines, and the potential for interesting glacier circuits to connect them all.  Looking back at the photos with topographical maps in hand, it soon became clear that this trip needed to be bumped to the top of the list.  Finally it's actually happening!  

My partners this time are Conor Hurley and Claire Seiber of Revelstoke.  The plan is to have the Inuit outfitters that we've hired, tow us 70 kms by snowmobile to Summit Lake, where we'll commence the journey by skiing a loop around Mt. Asgard, and then back south towards Pangnirtung via a circuitous network of glaciers.  The goals are to ski some of the most inspiring couloirs and peaks that we see (we have quite a few in mind already); explore some rarely seen sections of the park, to document the journey through video and photography; to survive without succumbing to injury, frostbite, or getting eaten by polar bears.    

Some of the challenges we expect to deal with include crevassed glaciers; whiteout navigation; difficult snow conditions which include everything from avalanche prone slopes to potentially icy conditions; intense wind / wind chill; arctic temperatures; melting all of our water / cooking in cold conditions; towing heavy sleds with all of our food and gear; possibilities of encountering a polar bears; preserving and recharging our camera batteries; having enough energy left over to ski tour about 100 km and hopefully have enough energy and drive ski somewhere between 6-8 epic runs!

There are so many variables and unknowns on this one, that there is no doubt, Claire, Conor and I are about to experience one of the adventures of our lifetime!

As we'll be entirely self sufficient and winter camping above the Arctic Circle, it's a very gear intensive trip.  We have lots of warm gear, extra camera batteries, dehydrated food, and hopefully everything we need to survive.  I'll write a much more detailed gear list, food and gear review, a trip report with photos, soon after I'm back, or maybe even on the way back.  

A huge thank you to all of the trips sponsors who have helped make this all possible:  Arcteryx, Scarpa, Vega, G3, MEC, and Stoke Roasted Coffee!