Distance: 22.5 km
Elevation gain: 1060 m View map Download GPS track
The Skoki area of Banff National Park has several excellent snowshoe trips, but as it can only be accessed by passing through the Lake Louise ski resort Sandra and I have avoided it. Admittedly our only experience with downhill skiers has been the drunkfest along the highway each winter weekend and the clouds of pot smoke in the Sunshine parking lot on a trip last year
, but neither bit of data suggested a 4 km trip through a ski area would be even remotely pleasant. Today, however, the allure of the spectacular Skoki environment, perfect conditions for snowshoeing, and forecast excellent weather overruled our concerns and we set out for a trip up Heather Ridge.
We parked in the Fish Creek (Skoki) parking lot and started snowshoeing up the ski out at sunrise. A couple ski patrol snowmobiles passed us, but we were early enough no one was yet coming down. Travel got a bit interesting at the top of the ski out as the trail into Skoki crossed several ski runs, but we were again early enough that it wasn’t yet too crowded and we were able to get across without any issues.
Now on the trail to Boulder Pass, we settled into a slow and steady pace, careful to conserve energy on what was going to be the longest snowshoe trip we’ve ever done. Unfortunately, while the sun was shining over Lake Louise, every peak in the Skoki area was covered in low cloud. Coupled with some annoying gear issues, this nearly completely sapped my motivation and it was a struggle to reach the pass.
We had a quick lunch in the cool and damp wind blowing over the pass, then dropped down to frozen Ptarmigan Lake. Low cloud remained on every peak surrounding the lake except, happily, Heather Ridge and our backup plan of Packer’s Pass Peak. Packer’s Pass Peak even had blue sky above it and we briefly considered heading for it instead, but decided to stick to our original plan.
We stuck to the packed trail to Skoki Lodge for as long as logically possible, then turned and headed for the basin holding Redoubt Lake to the east of Heather Ridge. The snow was perfect for breaking trail and very similar to the conditions we’d faced on the Monarch Ramparts earlier in the week. It’s been very refreshing to actually have nice snowshoeing conditions rather than the typical facetted sugar snow!
We started up Heather Ridge at the base of a boulder field that extended all the way to the ridge crest. It was a bit of a maze finding our way through the enormous boulders, but this made the ascent much more interesting than simply slogging straight up. More importantly, we were able to avoid any area that might be prone to avalanche; despite the low risk today there was evidence all around of earlier small slides. Miraculously, the clouds over Skoki completely evaporated as we ascended, revealing the spectacular scenery we’d been craving all day! The sunlight also lit up the boulders and made the photography quite fun too.
We reached the false summit of Heather Ridge a leisurely 1 h 20 min after leaving the packed trail to Skoki Lodge, then descended a short distance to a col en route to the summit a few hundred meters further south. The descent to the col was quite steep and tedious, but would’ve been dead simple had we taken the time to remove our snowshoes or find a better route.
A quick and easy ascent, taking care to avoid cornices, then brought us to the true summit. Minutes later a cloud rolled in and enveloped us, but in keeping with the luck we’d had with the weather today, it soon rolled out and we were again greeted with absolutely stunning views. We’ve visited this area in the summer
, and now winter and each time we’ve been amazed by the scenery.
We had another lunch on the summit in the surprisingly warm January weather, then slowly retraced our route back down. We were both quite exhausted and in no hurry, and it wasn’t until 4:45 pm that we reached the Lake Louise resort. The slopes were deserted by this time and we had a pleasant walk down the ski out to our truck, arriving long after the sun had set. We didn’t see a single skier either, so evidently a weekday adventure into Skoki in winter and a post-closing descent is the way to do it.