Powderface Ridge

Summit Elevation (m): 2210
Elevation Gain (m): 820
Trip Date: Mar 15 2014
Round Trip Time (hr): 4.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 19
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your ego
Difficulty Notes: Few difficulties – minimal avalanche hazard if you traverse over the intervening ‘bump’ before the summit.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

After talking to Steven and Wietse about their recent trips up Powderface Ridge (Steven ‘shoed and Wietse skied) I decided that with avalanche danger too high again, I had to so something – even if it was just another easy objective. I’ve been getting some smack talk lately from friends on my “lowly objectives” this winter. I know it’s all in good nature, but trust me – I’d rather be off bagging some more serious stuff. I made a pact with my wife a few years ago when she started catching on to the fact that a lot of people were dying each year doing exactly what I do – backcountry skiing. The pact was simple. I would not intentionally go into the backcountry if avalanche ratings were ‘considerable’ or higher for that area. Period. No exceptions, unless I’m out for a few days and the danger spikes while I’m out there. Ironically this year I even bought an avalanche air pack to make things even safer, but the ratings have been too high almost every weekend.

Powderface Ridge Route Map

I’m not an idiot. I know that avalanche ratings are only part of the ALP TRUTH mantra, but in my mind people (including myself) are dumb. We tend to think we’re making good decisions but then we make stupid, illogical ones anyway – all the time! I’ve found that it’s best to set standards right away and make decisions based on those pre-conditions rather than try to convince myself why I should break them “this one time”. It’s that “one time” that kills. I’m far from perfect but this is what keeps me low during thunderstorms and off snow slopes in unsafe conditions. It makes for some mighty boring weekends but I’m still alive, blogging about them – so there’s that I suppose.

A hard, icy surface to ski on the road.
Skiing up the icy track to the pass.
At the pass, the false summit at left.

Back to the mighty Powderface Ridge. I needed Wietse to convince me that this was worth skiing. He did a good job and by 09:00 I was walking past people at the winter gate near Elbow Falls with my skis slung on my shoulder. They were giving me weird looks and a few of them shouted over that I wasn’t going to find enough snow. I bravely ignored them and put the ski’s on right by the gate – in the dirt-covered snow in the ditch. Conditions were very, very fast. Basically I could hardly feel the skins since the packed trail was so icy! I nervously hoped that it would start melting while I was higher up. After the first hour or so the trail steepened. I was the first one up on this day, which was nice. The birds were chirping and the pine scent was wonderful in the warm air. I managed to hit the pass in 2 hours – about an hour quicker than I was expecting. I decided to take Wietse’s advice and try to skin about the bump to my left in the trees to the col between the bump and the summit of Powderface Ridge. This kind of sucked. The trees were thick and the snow was crap. I managed it, but after looking back at the bump from the col I decided on the way back I’d just go up and over it.

Around the false summit looking to the summit.
Looking west towards peaks like Nihahi, Glasgow and others.
Looking north towards Yamnuska. Prairie at right distance.

I skied almost to the summit of Powderface, which surprised me a bit. The views were great from the top and the wind was reasonable, allowing me the time to enjoy my solitude. I did see one person summit the ‘bump’ but they never continued to Powderface Ridge. I went over the bump on return, carrying my skies up the last little bit. This was the only section steep enough to slide but it was locked up pretty tight. This was actually not good, because I was moving too quickly and the trail would still be icy! Sure enough! My ride back down the trail was very fast – I scared the daylights out of a few hiking groups as they could hear the scraping of my skis only moments before I passed them at mach 1. My round trip time of 4.5 hours was only possible because of the perfectly fast, bobsled trail conditions. Not for the faint of heart – but definitely worth doing on skis.

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