When it comes to big-mountain backcountry objectives, it doesn’t get much better than the Canadian Rockies and in particular– Banff National Park.
With a crazy amount of access points and some seriously lengthy ski tours locals consider ‘classics,’ Banff should be on every backcountry skier and rider’s short list. Here are just 5 reasons why…
Scenery, Solace, and Terrain:
Anyone with an Instagram account should be familiar with the stunning beauty that is Banff National Park. The Canadian Rockies jut directly out of the ground, juxtaposing deep blue glacial lakes against towering peaks that scrape the cobalt sky.
Many of these peaks retain snow year round and hold dream lines for at least 2 of the 4 seasons. While most of Banff National Park’s visitors come during the summer months, backcountry skiers and snowboarders can expect extreme solace (*the likes of which no longer exists in places like Grand Teton National Park and the Eastern Sierra). Just pick the right aspect and get after it!
Ease of Access:
Beautiful terrain, good snow, ease of access– pick two. For most backcountry skies, that’s life. Unless you ski in Banff National Park.
While we all dream of days scouting and skiing lines out of a helicopter, most of us will be lucky enough to do that once. Banff National Park on the other-hand is just a short 90 minute drive away from Calgary International Airport.
Once there, the Bow Valley and Icefield Parkways include over 400 KM of high altitude continental divide access. Surrounded by more than 100 glaciers, lines are endless and easily scoped from the road.
If that access is a little too close to civilization for you, check out the Bow Hut near the Wapta Ice Field, which offers great terrain away from the crowds.
Consistent Snow Conditions:
Banff National Park averages 20-30 feet of snow every year! With the continental divide running north/south through the park, the combination of altitude and temperature consistently creates cold, dry snow conditions.
While that may mean a bit of a later start to the backcountry season than our friends on the west coast, the volume means the season can easily last until April, May, June, and sometime– July. Extra light on those longer days accompanied by slightly warmer temps can make for dream conditions after the snowpack has gone through a few freeze/melt cycles.
Find the avy forecast for Banff here: Avalanche Canada [Banff/Yoho]
And for the skiers who want to get after it early? Avalanche.ca has in-depth reporting and remote weather stations to provide up-to-date conditions, weather and wind information so skiers can make informed decisions before committing to a line.
Aprés Tailgate On Icefields Parkway:
“The greatest things in life are earned”
The phrase plastered on the inside of every high school gym also applies to tailgate aprés sessions that are mandatory following a big tour in the Banff backcountry. And whether it’s Molson or Pilsner, the beer always tastes better after a day of human-powered skiing. Just make sure to have the tailgate pointed towards the mountains as you peruse future objectives along the parkway.
We’ve all been there. A dinner and a few drinks quickly turns into a big night out at the bar celebrating the prior takedown of powder conditions in the nearby backcountry. After one or two, the good whiskey looks better than the well, or the hoppy flavor of a local craft beer leers at you from the tap while you’re drinking Kokanee.
You wake up in the morning filled with a bit of shame and regret, and stare at the phone all bleary eyed. Your heart is pounding and palms are sweaty when you open the banking app of your choice, only to find you’ve basically hit the lottery!
This is the joy of the Canadian exchange rate (*as it sits right now.) The US dollar is strong against the Canadian dollar. So go ahead. Order that extra round after a big day in the backcountry. It’s on the good ‘ol U.S. of A.