Ski Touring in Jasper National Park.

Parks Canada photo
Parks Canada photo

Jasper National Park offers a wide range of easy short ski touring, alpine ski touring and ski mountaineering day trips to long multi-day glacial traverses. These areas are often in wild and uncontrolled avalanche and glacier terrain.

The cold dry snowpack, famous for its spectacular light powder, is typically weak and unstable during the early winter (December, January) and backcountry ski travel is often difficult at this time. Cross-country skiing, downhill skiing at the lift-serviced ski area and ski touring in the valley bottoms are all that can be recommended during this part of the season. The snowpack can normally be depended upon to provide a solid enough base to carry off-piste and backcountry skiers by mid-February, but this is also when the larger avalanches of the season occur so careful route-finding is imperative on mountain trails and routes. The alpine touring season improves from February onward and is recommended through April and May on the Icefields and peaks along the Continental Divide.

Venturing into the backcountry of Jasper National Park requires a basic level of avalanche knowledge and self-reliance. The weather can change rapidly in the mountains, and temperatures may drop to as low as -40 degrees Celsius, even in March. Avalanches are a common occurrence. Do not venture onto glaciated terrain unless everyone in your group is properly equipped and familiar with safe glacier travel, crevasse rescue techniques, and whiteout navigation skills. Considerable level of skill and knowledge is required to navigate through ATES type 2 and 3 avalanche terrain.

The following are some considerations that will help you prepare for an enjoyable ski tour:

Pick an objective that is within your ability and have an alternate plan in case conditions changes. For popular trips, check the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale.

Research the trail or trip. Guidebooks can be purchased at local retail stores in the area.

Check the backcountry avalanche bulletin on line.

Check the weather forecast on line.

Let someone at home know your plans for the day and when you are expected back.

Go with a friend.

Take your avalanche safety gear and know how to use it if you are venturing into avalanche terrain.

Be prepared to be self-sufficient if you encounter bad weather or have an accident by packing the right clothing and emergency equipment.

As you drive to the trailhead observe the landscape and what the weather is doing. Ask yourself is the avalanche danger changing. Look for signs of recent avalanche activity and be prepared to change your objectives for the day.

Check the information boards at the trailheads.