Highest Elevation (m): 2720
Trip Date: February 26 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 1250
Round Trip Time (hr): 6:15
Total Trip Distance (km): 21
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3 – you fall, you sprain or break something
Difficulty Notes: Winter ascent includes serious avalanche risks and some glacier travel. Learn how to manage these risks before attempting this trip.
Technical Rating: MN6; RE3
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I forget when I first heard of the chick-a-boom ski traverse but I do remember that I have been intrigued by it for a while now. The odd sounding name is a reference to its starting point in the Chickadee Valley and its traverse route back through the Boom Lake valley. There are two possible exits to the traverse, one leaves via Boom Lake and the other goes back over the Boom Col and into the approach valley. The advantage to the latter is that you end up at the same parking lot you left from – no need for a car shuttle. The disadvantage is more time in avalanche terrain and more total vertical meters. The descent back into the Chickadee Valley is on south facing slopes which can pose safety concerns in warm sunny conditions like we had. I should point out that although the route traverses an obvious glacier with visible holes, we choose not to bring glacier gear, figuring that there’d be tracks showing us the safest line. This was a bit of a gamble but it paid off saving us a lot of weight in our packs. Of the dozen or so skiers we saw, only one group wore glacier gear and I don’t think they skied the north slopes roped (that would be challenging). YMMV and I can never wholeheartedly recommend skiing a glacier with obvious crevasses, unroped. As I’ve discussed in other trip reports you should do whatever you think you can live with at the end of the day and not worry about what others around you may or may not be doing. Going the safer route is very rarely a bad idea in the mountains but you should realize that unless you are physically attached to your teammates with a rope, having the gear along won’t do much if you fall into a sizeable hole.
When Wietse and I skied and scrambled Boom Mountain way back in 2013 I remember looking west towards Chickadee Peak and wondering just where the heck the ski route went! Than in 2015 I skied Chickadee Peak with Wietse and Ferenc and once again wondered the exact same thing. When the long-term weather forecast looked like it was going to be fairly stable for the last weekend of February 2022, Wietse, Sara and I decided it was time to finally tackle this objective and find out for ourselves just where and how it went. An excellent trip report at backcountry-beta.com helped plan the route. Sara skied Mount Whymper the day previous giving us excellent first-hand beta on the conditions in Chickadee Valley. She also indicated that she saw another party on the chick-a-boom traverse which would give us tracks to follow. After parking in a surprisingly busy Vermilion Pass parking lot we crossed Hwy 93 and proceeded skiing up the icy ski highway leading into the Chickadee Valley. It was obvious that there were a good number of folks ahead of us already which was not a surprise given how popular this little slice of ski heaven has become over the past few years. There were tracks heading off in many directions as we worked our way up the valley towards Boom Mountain to the right and Mount Whymper to the left. The main track kept going up-valley past the track that Sara verified as the correct one to Mount Whymper’s steep north access route. The slopes looked pretty darn steep as we passed by them and noticed a dozen small figures ascending the sharp switchbacks that Sara and her friend had put up the day previous. Wietse and I both added this tour to our list of future ski destinations as we turned our attention to the western end of the valley with one last steep ascent through trees to old moraines.
The back of the Chickadee Valley is a pristine place – especially with a brilliant white coat of winter snow. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this section but it exceeded my ideas of what it would be like. Old moraines dipped and rolled their way off dying glaciers high above, clinging desperately to impossibly steep rock walls. The skin track expertly wound its way steeply through the maze, targeting steep slopes threading their way into a long SE valley leading to the Chimney Col.
As we ascended steep switchbacks the terrain around us grew more and more wild and steep. Tracks descending from above hinted at some nice options for yo-yo skiing this section in low visibility or simply as an option instead of doing the whole traverse. I was surprised to see a hanging glacier on slopes to our left, on the line of steep walls joining Whymper to Chimney. Cornices overhung much of this wall as well, likely one of the more present hazards on the whole traverse. A group of four skiers kept pace with us as we followed them up steep slopes and started the traverse to the SE upper valley between Chimney and Chickadee Peak.
The morning clouds started clearing off just as we traversed into the upper SE valley leading towards a still distant Chimney Col. The next hour or so was totally unexpected – by me anyway. I didn’t fully register how big and long this valley was on the maps while planning the trip but it’s a pretty sublime place to ski through! It felt strange to be enjoying such a lovely day while in other parts of the world people were putting up with the crap of a next door bully invading their sovereign country. 🙁 I surmised more than once that if only people spent more time enjoying beauty like this they would be less likely to harm the planet and each other.
When we first entered the SE valley to the Chimney Col I thought it was maybe a 30 minute ski. An hour later as we finally ascended a second headwall just under the col I stood corrected! While there is some exposure to overhead hazard in this valley, for the most part it’s protected and has plenty of space to avoid slides from steep west walls. Put it this way – the approach valley for Chickadee Peak felt much more exposed to objective hazards than this one. As we finally crested the col we were met by a colorful array of fellow humans, all preparing for the exciting run down the north glacier. Views back over the SE valley showed three more tiny humans approaching from a distance. It was surprising to see that we were almost at the same height as Whymper’s distant summit!
A group of four, including Heather who I enjoyed a tour of the Dolomite Circuit with in 2020, left the col shortly after we arrived, ensuring that we’d have tracks showing us the route down the north glacier. Phew. 😉 Another group of four were donning glacier gear and enjoying a well-deserved break at the very scenic tipping point between ascent to the SE and obvious descent to the north. We didn’t linger long, Wietse was setting another pretty good pace and we were more than ready to see what the descent would be like.
The descent of the north glacier and down rolling moraines along the west end of Boom valley was slightly easier than I was expecting. A deep snowpack certainly helped, but a crusty layer made the skiing less than ideal. I was expecting more issues with crevasses but the biggest holes seemed to be tucked to the sides of the glacier and the smaller ones were filled with snow. We knew from planning that we had to first trend in a NW direction straight from the col before turning sharply right and back to the SE to the top of a steep slope exiting the ice.
The first section was low angle until we got back into shadows cast by steep outliers of Chickadee Peak. There’s no doubt that this was a steep slope but being a north facing aspect inspired confidence in our conditions that it was still safe. Unfortunately it was full of ski tracks and still slightly crusty so once again the skiing wasn’t very smooth. I was surprised to see tracks descending further north of this line on slightly less steep but more glaciated terrain. I only spotted 1 or 2 holes and they were mostly full of snow.
After exiting the bottom of the north glacier run we found ourselves in a magical winter wonderland under Mount Quadra, Bident and Chickadee Peak. Moraines rolled their way towards a still-unseen Boom Lake while we tried to avoid as many ups as possible – leaving the skins off our ski bases.
Thankfully some of the ski party in front of us had skied the traverse route from the Chimney col to Boom col before and picked a very nice line along a series of moraines and high alpine benches running the south side of Boom Valley and under impressive north cliffs of Chickadee Peak and its outliers.
Soon we were at the last skiable slope in the Boom Valley with views over Boom Lake. Mount Bell was now featuring prominently to the north. Now that I’ve skied this route I’m wondering the best line to hit Boom Lake if exiting that way? Caution is required if skiing down the center of the valley as there are many cliffs on that route.
This slope was in the sun and despite a thin crust it skied well and we continued without skins through some trees before finally catching up to the group in front of us donning skins for the ascent back to Boom col. We skinned up before leading off up the track snaking its way back uphill.
The ski ascent back to Boom col followed a pretty good line. The group behind us picked a slightly more efficient traverse in one spot but there are avalanche slopes here and definitely exposure to huge cornices coming off Chickadee Peak and its outliers high above the route. Put it this way – there’s a reason there’s no trees in some of the gullies you’ll ski across! 😉
We didn’t linger long at the Boom col simply due to the fact that the sun was cooking our south facing descent slopes. Although the backcountry-beta group avoided avalanche gullies by descending tightly treed slopes, we decided to traverse SE into the same slide path that Wietse and I descended back in 2013. Despite hitting some trees along the traverse into the gully there was nothing too dramatic and soon we found ourselves looking down a steep slide path with only 2 or 3 other ski tracks ruining the white canvas. It was go time!
Despite appearances the slide path had some icy debris hiding under the new snow but it skied pretty well. Towards the bottom of the run we encountered tight Christmas trees which were tough to negotiate with any sort of elegance. We made it to the main Chickadee Valley track and continued quickly down the fast trail. Our round trip time of 6 hours, 15 minutes was mostly due to the fast conditions, excellent trail and lack of routefinding thanks to parties in front of us. It was also thanks to Wietse forgetting his main camera. 😉 The chick-a-boom ski traverse is a classic for a reason. The views and positions along the entire route are stunning on a clear day like we enjoyed. We all said we’d definitely repeat it some day. My advice is leave early for this tour if you want to be at the front of the pack or leave slightly later if you want to follow. Just beware of the south facing exit from Boom col and manage risks appropriately.