Welcome to Elk Valley! Totem Pole at Elk Pass

The ski season of 2018/2019 is off to a slow start. To put it into perspective, we probably received just as much snow in late September as we have during the month of November and December to this point. While temperatures have remained seasonal, it’s been quite unusual to see fresh snow.

The Lake Louise area is usually one of the first areas to be track set but the Kananaskis Lakes area is usually close behind. After skiing in the Lake Louise area for 4 consecutive weekends, I was glad to read that the Kananaskis Lakes area was trackset this past week.

Total Distance   12km

Max Elevation   1955m

Elevation Gain   230m   

Total Time   3:37 hrs

On this day, I brought along my friend Takaya who was interested in trying cross country skiing. By pure luck, his feet fit my extra pair of ski boots (which I was planning to sell), and his weight and height were perfect for an extra pair of skis (which my friend was planning to sell). I figured this would be a good opportunity for him to not only try XC skiing but to also test out some potential new gear. My friends Yoko and Ryoko from Calgary rounded out the group.

We decided to ski in the Elk Pass area because it had the only groomed/track set trails in the Kananaskis Lakes area. The Pocaterra hut is usually my favorite area because it offers a warming hut at the trailhead but it was closed due to the lack of snow.

As I passed Nakiska on Highway 40, the dash on my Jeep indicated a temperature of -6C but to my dismay, the temperature kept on dropping as we headed south. By the time we hit the trailhead, it was -11C and it sure felt that way. 

Although it was Takaya’s first time on skis, he was from Aomori prefecture in northern Japan where skiing was part of his high school curriculum. Therefore, he did surprisingly well after shaking off some rust. Yoko, Ryoko and I took the time to periodically yell words of encouragement… before leaving him behind on the uphills and downhills.

As expected on any trail that ends with the word, pass, there was quite a bit of elevation gain. Skiing underneath the power lines on the aptly named Power Line trail wasn’t exactly scenic but at least it allowed us to a take a different trail to and from the pass, which was the destination for the day. The pass is significant in that it also marks the border between British Columbia and Alberta.

After taking some pictures underneath a gate composed of totem poles, we sat down at a picnic table for some girl guide cookies which were washed down with some Fireball in a flask.

The temperature never warmed up during the day and as expected, our lengthy rest led to us feeling quite cold again. So without further delay, we clipped back into our skis to lose that hard earned elevation by skiing down a difficult section of trail to the valley bottom. From there, it was a quick ski back to the car thanks to the cold temperatures which made the tracks very fast.

The day ended with some tasty nachos at Woody’s in Kananaskis Village. On the drive back to Canmore, Takaya informed me that he would like to buy the boots and skis. Awesome! Not only can I finally get rid of my pair of boots but I also have a new partner in town.

The Lake Louise area is perhaps the most popular early season cross country ski destination in the Rockies. The higher elevation leads to early snowfall and the Moraine Lake road in particular is usually one of the first trails to be trackset by Parks Canada. Combined with the lack of tourists and views of the actual lake, it’s easy to see why the trailhead parking lots have more cars than at the Chateau.

Total Distance   10km

Max Elevation   2200m

Elevation Gain   200m

Total Time   3hrs

On this day, I decided to combine the lower and upper tramline for an easy 10km day. My partner Ryoko from Calgary decided to join me as we made it to the trailhead at a leisurely 1pm. Although there was plenty of snow, the lack of any fresh snow and relatively warm temperatures made for a very fast track. Before long, we were at the shore of Lake Louise.

After laughing at the tourists walking within meters of the warning signs for thin ice, we decided to head into the Chateau to warm up. To our pleasant surprise, we found a five dollar bill on the ground and with nobody within sight, we grabbed it for our hot chocolate fund. Well, at least it was for her fund since a hot chocolate cost nearly $5 in the chateau.

After a lengthy rest, it was time to ski back down to the trailhead. The skies were noticeably darker and although we knew we had limited daylight, I knew that the return trip was mostly downhill.

As expected, the ski back was very fast. I rarely moved a muscle as I stood there like a traveler riding the moving sidewalk in an airport. 

Unfortunately, things weren’t as easy for Ryoko as she barely had any glide. Her skis were fine last season and since she was complaining about her recent weight gain, I figured that her skis were probably too short to support her weight. But being the gentleman I am, I blamed it on her ski wax and offered to hot wax her skis for the next outing.

It was nearly dark by the time we arrived at the trailhead and was pitch dark by the time we arrived in Banff for our ramen at Arashi. A nice way to end a short day of skiing.