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Banff / Lake Louise XC trails?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hey, there.  I just booked a trip to Banff for March 2016; totally psyched.  I'll be skiing mostly alpine, but I'd like to get out on my backcountry nordic gear, too.  Any recommendations for not-terribly-gnarly trails in the area?  


Also, is there an XC trail guidebook for Banff?  I can't seem to find one, beyond the pamphlet the Park Service puts out.  Thanks!

post #2 of 16

Go up to Lake Louise and ski across the lake.  The views are amazing, and the skiing is really easy. 


This was taken from near the parking lot the last week of March this year.  The lake was rock solid.


Also, search online.  There are lots of places you can go.

post #3 of 16

The Parks Canada brochure is really good.  Shows you what you need to know.  There is a guidebook (by Chic Scott) but its main focus is on ski touring off trail.   Check this website for lots of good information:


Lake Louise has lots of great trails and the folks in the visitors centre can help you out. Highly recommended.  Rentals at Wilsons Sports in Lake Louise.


There is also some nice skiing near Field BC just over the border.  You can do easy laps of the beautiful Emerald Lake and/or make a big day of it by skiing the routes from Field up to Emerald Lake and all around.


The Canmore Nordic Centre offers a ton of XC skiing (former Olympic and current World Cup site), and there are some great trails a bit farther a field in Kananaskis Country.  


If you like point-to-point skiing, Goat Creek trail from above Canmore down(ish) to Banff is also popular.  I like to ski that trail then go for brunch and/or hot springs.



post #4 of 16

Excellent advice above. What's a bit unclear in your request is what you mean by "backcountry nordic gear." The Canmore Nordic Centre is ideal for ultra-light nordic racing equipment, whereas light touring gear is more suitable for a great many of the ski trails in the park; these are periodically track set in a rough and ready manner but aren't really ideal for super light equipment. The Park website and info centres provide trail condition reports as well as avalanche hazard ratings which are worth consulting before heading out.


Of Chic Scott's various guidebooks the best guidebook for nordic touring in the backcountry is "Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies: Nordic Ski Trails." You can easily obtain a copy in Banff or Lake Louise (or thru Amazon, for that matter).


Of the many routes described in the guidebook the Skoki area is well worth a visit, as are many other routes along the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper. Banff N.P. is a fabulous area for nordic touring.

post #5 of 16

Doh!  I should have read that backcountry nordic bit.  Yup, Chic Scott's guidebook is the one you want.  What's your avalanche risk tolerance?  There are a variety of tours, some with no appreciable risk, and some that require crossing some avalanche terrain or runout zones.


Skoki lodge (and back again) is a popular but long day trip.  You can also go as far as Ptarmigan Lake (pretty) then turn around if the whole trip is too long.  Ross Lake in Lake Louise is also nice, or the long slog up the road bed to Lake O'Hara.  Paradise Valley is nice but there are slide paths that reach down to the trail (avoid during extreme hazard).  There are also some fun trails to ski tour on behind Mt.Norquay which is just above Banff.  Alternatively you can pretty much break trail up any old valley you want.  Lots to ski off the beaten path.


It really all depends on how much distance and vertical you want to chew off in one day.  And as Tecumseh said, what kind of backcountry nordic gear you have.

post #6 of 16

Maybe we can get a local line on how to get National Parks passes in the winter?  You're supposed to have one when you park at any of the park's lots.  I was there late last March and I was trying to be a good visitor and get a parks pass, but I couldn't find any way to buy one on a weekday. The station at the entrance to the park was not open.  Nobody I asked at Lake Louise could tell me how to do it.  The visitor center wasn't open on weekdays.  Finally we just went ahead without a pass, but I would have felt a lot better if I had been able to pay and contribute to the park's upkeep.

post #7 of 16

Interesting.  I didn't realize the Lake Louise visitor centre has reduced hours in the winter.  I know the visitor centre in Field (Yoho National Park) is seasonally closed.  Here's a list of operating hours for this season:


Also, it looks like you can buy passes online with Banff Lake Louise Tourism (I presume they are selling them on behalf of Parks Canada since there's too much red tape for the government to set up an e-commerce site).


I've got an annual pass so I rarely go to the visitor centres.

post #8 of 16

We were there during the hours the Visitor Centre is open, but nobody could give us a pass.  Now I'm recalling that they have an "automatic" way to do it, but it's no good if you don't happen to have a printer in your pocket.  You can buy the pass, they'll email it to you, and you can print it out.  Not much help when you're on your way to your day's activity.  You can't just drive up to LL from Banff, go to the lake and park in the visitor lot on a whim.   Get the pass ahead of time.

post #9 of 16

Seriously strange.  Their key mandate these days is 'Visitor Experience'.  Making passes hard to buy in the winter seems to run counter to that concept....

post #10 of 16
Originally Posted by CanmoreBruce View Post

Seriously strange.  Their key mandate these days is 'Visitor Experience'.  Making passes hard to buy in the winter seems to run counter to that concept....

Yes, I thought so too.  Admittedly, there were few people around, but we bumped into some other folks who were trying to do the same thing.  I have a feeling that there is some way to do it, but it's not posted anywhere that we could find, wasn't available online, and nobody we asked knew anything.  Weird.

post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thanks, y'all.  I'm waiting for the new edition of Chic Scott's Ski Trails in the Canadian Rockies, which is supposed to be out on Feb. 6, 2016 (odd timing -- you'd think they'd want it ready at the beginning of ski season?).  Meanwhile, these seem like great suggestions.  I'm looking forward to it.


@Tecumseh, by "backcountry nordic gear," I mean I've got relatively narrow high-camber skis with metal edges (Alpina Discovery -- 68mm), nnn-bc bindings, and soft boots.  With that setup, I'm good on fire roads or not-too-narrow-or-steep hiking trails, and I can take wide descents with room for huge turns.  Nothing too technical, though.  "Rough-and-ready trackset" sounds pretty good.  Suggestions?

post #12 of 16

Hi @bigkagi - I second @CanmoreBruce - especially Chic Scott's book and skier bob's website.  Skier Bob is the best and has great updates on conditions. You may want to also consider Chickadee Valley and Boom Lake which are fantastic light nordic tours between Banff and Lake Louise in Kootenay BP. I believe Chic describes them both in his book. 

Rough and ready trackset: I also recommend doing all of the trails around Lake Louise, they're great. If you're there on a weekend and the ski trails in LL are really busy, you might want to check out Yoho, just 10 minutes from LL. I really love Yoho National Park - the Lake O'Hara Fire Road is usually (but not always) trackset, but perfect for light nordic touring. It's 12 km each way to the lake - the views are beautiful and its a great way to spend a day. You can even grab a lunch at the Lake O'Hara Lodge (I think it's offered from 12.30-2 or something like that). Skier Bob has a description of the fire road too. And Emerald Lake area trails in Yoho are great to explore as well. 


It's strange - I've actually never drive past the park gates when they've been closed, there's almost always been one open. In any case, I definitely recommend you get a parks pass - the Parks staff is really cracking down (and rightfully so) this year. I've been through 6 checkpoints alone this year. 

post #13 of 16

Current conditions favour skiing towards Lake Louise or the Continental Divide.  The further east you go towards the front ranges, the more melt freeze effect you'll encounter.  Stay high and closer to the divide and the snow should be much nicer.  

post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 

Awesome!  Thanks, guys.  Can't wait!

post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 



I had a great time in Banff and can't wait to go back.  We did two days of downhill at Sunshine, two at Lake Louise, and two days of XC.


 On the first day, we went to Lake Louise and did the Fairview Loop (7.5km round-trip) listed on the Parks Canada Lake Louise WInter Trails brochure.  It was snowing a little bit, with temperatures hovering right around 0 degrees C; not bad to have a groomed trail, though we didn't get any views while skiing.


On the second day, we skied up to Boom Lake (listed in Chic Scott's book; somebody did a nice description of it here).  The trailhead is only 6km off the Transcanada Highway, about 1/2 hour from Banff, but we were amazed at the solitude -- we didn't see a single person out, on a Thursday in pretty nice conditions.  It's a really nice trail -- enough up and down to be mildly interesting, but flat enough to be doable in most conditions, even by beginners. 5km each way.  The lake itself is pretty, but when we got there the wind was pretty intense (it actually knocked me over, at one point), so we got back in the trees pretty quickly. 


Anyway, good times!

post #16 of 16

Sounds like you had fun!  There's always something to ski - dh/xc/touring - around here from November -June (longer if you're keen).  Boom Lake is one of our usual early season trips, sometimes even in October if the snow comes early.  But it is more fun mid winter when you can venture out on the frozen lake. Assuming the winds cooperate!

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