Alberta Skiing Weekend

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With above average snowfall coupled with temperatures colder than the norm- it has felt like a long winter here in Alberta. For us skiers, this is of course good news, and we have been taking advantage. Lately however, I have been pining for the warm desert sun that we savoured last October, but in it's absence- I'll settle for closing out the ski season with another six weeks or so of the stellar conditions that we enjoyed this past weekend.
My wife Jo was busy with other things on Saturday, March 10, so I hooked up with my usual ski buddy Bob for a quick backcountry loop in Kananaskis, about an hour and a half drive west of Calgary. No trailhead here-just pick a spot along the Smith-Dorrien Hwy:
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Another party crossing the roadside meadows, on their way to one of several popular zones:
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A quick approach through logging cuts and around a forested shoulder landed us on Commonwealth Lake, and a view ahead of our destination- the pass between Commonwealth Peak and the Pig's Back on the right, which we will loop around, hence the name of this tour- the "Pig's Back Circuit":
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Cool morning temperatures allowed safe passage though a couple of areas of avalanche exposure near treeline, before the sun could destabilize things much. We caught up here with the group of 4 ahead of us who were doing the bulk of the trail breaking:
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A look back towards the Spray Lakes valley, and our starting point in the white meadows at centre:
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Nearing the pass below Commonwealth Peak. Time to slow down, play the age card and let the much younger folks in front do the work!:
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Bob on the ridge just above the pass. Our route will see us dropping into the adjacent valley in the background, and exiting quickly to minimize exposure to that huge cornice looming above:
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Despite the smooth looking surface, ski conditions in the alpine were quite wind affected and the usual spots near the pass that can offer up good turns at times were not very appealing. Instead of a few short laps- we enjoyed a long sit down lunch on the warm windless ridge of the Pig's Back:
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Another group popping out behind us over the crest of the pass:
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Tricky to ski windslab made for a careful descent of the steeper upper slopes below our lunch spot into the valley, but eventually as the slopes mellowed and the reach of the winds lessened- we found some decent enough skiing:
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A quick look back before continuing on to a safer area, out of reach of that huge cornice. It's collapse can occasionally initiate avalanches that sometimes sweep this entire drainage, and beyond to the valley below. Not a place to linger, and a few rollerballs coming off steeper terrain reinforced the fact that the warm sun is already heating the snowpack:
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We dropped out of the hanging valley via the sheltered north aspect slopes of a narrow slidepath, finding very good dry powder turns, but no good pix as Bob skied it first while I waited and watched for my turn in the safety of the adjacent thick forest. Once on the flat valley floor, we turned east and closed the loop:
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A look back as we entered the winding forest trail that took us home. Mt Smuts and The Fist tower above.
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Spring ski touring season is on in the Canadian Rockies!
For Sunday- we opted for a day of groomed xc skiing, again in Kananaskis, on the trails at Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. Thankfully, Jo my wife was able to join Bob and I, and get to enjoy the stunning mountain weather and great ski conditions on the Elk Pass trail:
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Someone forgot her pack at home, but fortunately not her skis, boots, gloves etc!:
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Elk Pass and Blueberry Hill were our destinations, but why hurry on such a glorious day?:
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The trail winds through forest and meadows, gaining 500m of vertical over 8 km before dead-ending at the Blueberry Hill viewpoint:
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The ubiquitous whiskeyjacks kept us company as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the top, with views of the Kananaskis Lakes beyond:
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The descent off Blueberry is one of the best, with typically great snow giving fast fun skiing:
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Back at the junction and too early to head back down to the trailhead- what to do on such a fine afternoon? While Bob opted for a longer ski loop on the groomed network, Jo and I choose a short off-trail excursion to the British Columbia border, on the continental divide at West Elk Pass:
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The route took us through vast meadows with fabulous views:
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Were not in Alberta anymore!:
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The so called "snow couch" that has been a fixture at West Elk Pass for several years drew us in, and called for another break to savour the amazing weather and views:
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The couch is another hot spot for the mooching birds. This one was especially bold:
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Reluctantly leaving this mountain paradise, as Bob was driving and we didn't want to keep him waiting too long, we hit the groomed trail for the mostly downhill homeward schuss.
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At about 20 km overall- not a big day on the xc skis, but one of the best of the season!
 
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Perry

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#2
Beautiful! Days with weather like that are golden! Thanks for sharing.
 

MikeM

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#3
Some pretty awesome places to ski. I'd need to take a trip up to Alberta!
 

Vegan.Hiker

I'd hike that
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#7
Beautiful scenery! Looks like an amazing time.
 

Miya

Because I am able.
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#10
Snow just makes everything look magical! Thanks for the share. I really love the snow couch and the photos you captured of the birds. So cute!
 

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#11
I grew up in Florida and don't ski, but seeing things like this makes me wish I grew up around snow instead of the beach :) thanks for the report
 

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