On December 24th, Jason Wilcox and I decided that it was time to give Alpine Ski Touring a try. What better place than the famous Burstall Pass deep in the heart of Kananaskis country and about the only place with enough snow left after days of extremely warm weather?
We got to the parking lot around 8:30 to a very blustery winter day, with snow falling quite heavily and the wind whipping it around pretty good. After trying to get my Corolla stuck for a few minutes (!) we parked and started getting ready. Jason had just picked up his new Scarpas the day before and I was renting gear from MEC. We headed off on the trail full of high hopes for deep snow.
It didn't take us long to find it either! The skis actually moved much better than I thought they would. It was tougher than skiing on regular xcountry equipment but the basics were the same and even without skins the skis didn't slide back too badly because of the 1-2 inches of fresh snow. Eventually we made it to the steep treed section and skinned up.
We couldn't believe how much easier the skins made going uphill! It was wonderful to just walk up the hill on skis without worrying at all about sliding backwards. We gave the occasional nervous glance to our right, into Burstall creek where we would be coming down though... (it didn't look that inviting)
As we struggled higher the whiteout got worse and we became more concerned that we couldn't evaluate the terrain above us or even whether we were on route or not. We decided to stop about 100 vertical meters below the pass to have lunch, wait for the weather to clear and dig a test avi pit just for fun. Digging the pit revealed some interesting things. There was about 2-3 inches of fresh snow on top of a freeze/thaw layer. That layer was on top of about 2 feet of consolidated snow which rested on a sugary layer and slid extremely easily. Obviously conditions were ripe for slides so we headed down.
About 30 minutes later the skins were back on and we were heading back up the hill! Why? Well it was fun to make Jason swear at me! ;-) Actually a group of 3 more experienced skiers passed us on their way up and they knew exactly where to go up to avoid the steep slopes and the weather looked like it was clearing. We followed the group to the pass and by the time we got there it was another whiteout!
The skiing back down was fabulous! We had powder (heavy) anywhere from ankle to knee deep and you can see from the pictures that we weren't afraid of falling in it! Once we got in the creek things got really interesting but we all made it back alive. Than it was time for the long plod back to the parking lot. Jason and I both had really sore feet - I have weird blisters on my ankles and I think our boots were too tight when we were in uphill and flat skiing mode. It was a good learning experience and I think we're both hooked on it!
|Jason taking a break as we get up the first major height gain through the trees. As you can see - we had fabulously clear weather!|
|Oh yeah baby. We have snow - and lots of it!|
|Jason skis up to the pass as the weather clears...|
|...Oooops. Good thing we turned around and went back up for the view! The weather really socked in for most of the day so we didn't get any good views from the pass.|
|Who needs views when you have pow? Jason heads down from Burstall Pass.|
|Like I said - no lack of snow here!|
|It's a bugger when the snow is so deep you can't even get your skis back on, eh Jason?|
|The group ahead of us skis down Burstall Creek while Jason and I wait our turns.|
|The view from the boards!|
|This is about 2 minutes after the previous picture. Go hard or go home! The landing was soft...|