5 Notable Ski Traverses Worth Trying in Canada

June 24, 2016 Liam Harrap

I’ve never been good at conventional sports. I don’t have an arm for throwing or a foot for kicking. Baseball becomes floppy-arm-ball, and soccer ball-kicked-in-the-face-game. While most kids are probably encouraged to be team players, my father always advised against. “Just go the other way,” he’d say, or “Make your own path. Don’t be a follower”. Team sports have always confused me, and I’ve usually just run around bewildered and pretending to be useful. It turned out that I was quite exceptional at something different – suffering. Give me sweating, gut-wrenching, back breaking, bush thrashing, groveling up steep slopes to claim some insignificant peak any old day. It’s never been easy, but for some twisted reason I enjoy it. For me, there’s few things better than an ol’ski traverse. A ski traverse is going from Point A to Point B on skis. Some are long, some are short. It could take a day, or it could take years. It just depends on how long you’re willing to go. Here’s five notable ski traverses worth trying in British Columbia/Alberta:

| Photo - Liam Harrap
Skiing among the mountains. A truly golden moment | Photo – Liam Harrap

A Classic Ski Traverse Pose | Photo - Rafal Kazmierczak
A classic ski traverse pose and advice | Photo – Rafal Kazmierczak

1) The Wapta Ski Traverse

The Wapta is the classic traverse. It is world famous and located in the heart of the Rockies, by the iconic Lake Louise. There are four Alpine Club of Canada huts along the way, making the trip a tad more civilized if you wish. The Wapta Icefield is spread for miles along the Great Divide (water on the west side goes to the Pacific, and water on the east to the Arctic), which is the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The traverse is just under 50 km, and while it can be done in a day by the fit and mighty, most people take 3/4/5 days. There’s many peaks that can be climbed/skied along the way, allowing for some epic views and great skiing. For anyone in the Rockies into backcountry skiing and mountaineering, this trip is a must. 

Looking Towards The Peaks By Lake Louise From The Wapta Traverse | Photo - Liam Harrap
Looking towards the peaks by Lake Louise from the Wapta Traverse | Photo – Liam Harrap
The Peyto Hut On The North End Of The Traverse | Photo - Liam Harrap
The Peyto Hut on the north end of the traverse | Photo – Liam Harrap
| Photo - Liam Harrap
The view from the Scott Duncan Hut| Photo – Liam Harrap
Since Almost The Entire Traverse Is Above Treeline, There Can Be A Huge Amount Of Snow. Some Years You Can Still Ski The Traverse In June | Photo - Liam Harrap
Since almost the entire traverse is above the treeline, there can be a huge amount of snow. Some years you can still ski the traverse in June | Photo – Liam Harrap

2) The Garibaldi Neve Traverse

This is a West Coast classic – a spectacular traverse near Vancouver in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Like the Wapta, it’s also just under 50 km. However, unlike the Wapta, this area gets a coastal snow pack, usually receiving snow falls of epic proportions, sometimes 3-4 times the amount in the Rockies. While the route is popular, if you try it mid-week, you may have the mountains to yourself. You pass multiple peaks, allowing plenty of opportunities for summits, such as Mount Garibaldi – the largest  in the area and in view from the town of Squamish. Growing up in Alberta, I always marveled at views that include mountain, ice, and ocean. If the conditions are favorable, this is a beginner friendly traverse as navigation difficulty is moderate, crevasses are usually well-covered and there’re multiple opportunities for staying in huts.

| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
Traversing high on the Garibaldi Route | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
Camping In Splendor On The Neve | Photo - Sara Kuitunen
Camping in splendor on the Neve with Mount Garibaldi in the background| Photo – Sara Kuitunen
Crossing Garibaldi Lake | Phil
Crossing Garibaldi Lake | Phil Tomlinson
The Trail Head At Either End Is At A Low Elevation, Which Can Make The Skiing Interesting...| Photo -
The trailhead at either end is at a low elevation, which can make the skiing interesting…| Photo – Phil Tomlinson

3) The Spearhead Traverse

Most people associate Whistler/Blackcomb with resort skiing and for good reason. It’s rated as one of the world’s best ski resorts and hosted much of the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, it’s also a starting point for another popular West Coast ski traverse classic – The Spearhead. The spearhead is a high alpine route also located in Garibaldi Provincial Park. While it’s shorter than the other traverses on this list (under 40 km), it’s just as scenic, with large alpine areas, glaciers, and big ski lines. Although it can be skied in a day, most people complete it in 2-3. Why rush? It’s a vacation after all. An interesting side note is that the Alpine Club of Canada is planning on building huts along the route, making it one of the only hut-hut traverses in the Vancouver area.

Camping High Along The Spearhead | Photo - Phil Tomlinson
Camping high along the Spearhead | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
A sea of mountains and ice. A skier’s paradise | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
The day to day view on the Spearhead | Photo – Phil Tomlinson

4) The Bonnington Range Traverse

Located in British Columbia’s southern interior, near Nelson. This traverse is a worth-while adventure, circumnavigating the Bonnington Range in the Southern Selkirk Mountains. The B.C Ministry of Forests has built and currently maintains four cabins along the route. The 65 km traverse from cabin to cabin goes through fantastic ski terrain, with alpine lines and glades from valley to valley. Although the terrain is milder than the other four traverses, snow falls are huge and fluffy powder is a staple. Terrain difficulty is moderate, as there’s no glaciers and the huts are cosy and well stocked with fire wood. This is the perfect trip for bringing the box of wine and steak dinners. Might as well make the holiday seem like a holiday, not a starvation-death-march.

Smiles And Good Times On The Bonnington | Photo - Mika Sihvo
Smiles and good times on the Bonnington | Photo – Mika Sihvo
This Is Big Snow Country | Photo - Jennifer Greenwood
This is big snow country | Photo – Jennifer Greenwood
Enjoying The Huts Along The Way | Photo - Mika Sihvo
Enjoying the huts along the way | Photo – Mika Sihvo

5) The Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse

Rallying the Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Traverse is no easy feat, it’s the ultimate prize for many skiers. First skied in 1958, the route has changed little. It stretches 140 kilometers and is the longest and hardest on this list. It zigs and zags along the spine of the Purcell Mountains and the granite spires of the Bugaboos. It has many difficulties as the weather can be fickle, you travel through challenging avalanche terrain, ropes are needed for steep descents and crevasses, route finding can be bothersome, and it’s common for groups not to finish due to the challenges. Most parties place food caches beforehand, with the help of a helicopter, taking around 10 days to ski the trip from end to end. If you have some experience with other traverses and a hankering for adventure, this is the trip for you.

| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
Granite towers along the Bugs to Rogers Route | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
This is big country | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
| Photo - Tomlinson
Every now and again, you have to stop to enjoy the view | Photo – Phil Tomlinson
| Photo - Phil Tomlinson
10 days of this potentially? I think I can do that | Photo – Phil Tomlinson

While there’re countless other traverses to be had, these five are worth trying and are perfect objectives for exploring the surrounding area with a guide and/or skilled friends.