Ski the Wapta Traverse
The Wapta Traverse, often called “the Haute Route of North America”, is a classic ski traverse linking an alpine hut system along the crest of the Canadian Rockies. The traverse crosses the Wapta Icefields, along the border of BC and Alberta, in Banff and Yoho National Parks.
On this trip we spend 6 days on the traverse, moving between huts from north to south, exploring the impressive skiing terrain in the vicinity of each hut. The huts are set up with comfortable mattresses and kitchen supplies – aside from day touring equipment we only need to carry sleeping bags and food.
Distances between huts on the Wapta are generally not more than half a day, and we use each hut as a base for exploration. For much of our time ski touring on the Wapta Traverse we carry light day packs, whether skiing long north facing powder runs or summiting one of beautiful peaks along the traverse.
WHY GO WITH PACIFIC ALPINE GUIDES
- Pro Guides: This trip is lead by an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide
- Small Group Size: 5 participants max.
- Excellent Meals: High quality, nourishing dinners and breakfasts incorporating fresh ingredients
- Emphasis on Skiing Time: Including powder runs and summit ski descents carrying light packs
- 6 day Itinerary: Offers weather flexibility and ample time to enjoy the traverse
RECENT TRIP REPORTS
- Wapta 2015 Photos: Seven Summits
- Photos from our April Wapta Traverse
- Winter on the Wapta Traverse
- Wapta Traverse: Five Summits in Six Days
DAY 1 – TRAILHEAD TO THE PEYTO HUT
We meet at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre next to the Samson Mall in Lake Louise, AB for group introductions, orientation, gear check, and group gear/food distribution. After checking in with Parks Canada we’ll shuttle one of our vehicles to West Louise Lodge, about ½ hour west along the Trans-Canada Hwy. Then we’ll drive north to the start of the traverse.
It takes most of this first day to get to the Peyto Hut. Our tour begins by dropping down to Peyto Lake from the Icefields Parkway. We cross the lake and ascend moraines below the Peyto Glacier. Above the moraines we put on our harnesses and ski up the center of the glacier, eventually reaching a hut perched on a rocky outcrop. The view from the Peyto Hut is impressive, looking across an expanse of uniform glacier at big skiing terrain on the other side.
Overnight at the Peyto Hut. (D)
DAY 2 – PEYTO HUT TO THE BOW HUT
We spend the first half of the day on a ski tour of the area (light packs), exploring the adjacent terrain, and potentially skiing from the summit of Rhondda North Peak.
In the afternoon we return to the hut and take a break, before packing up our gear and traversing up and over the crest of the Wapta Icefields. We rip our skins and glide down to the impressive Bow Hut, the biggest of the Wapta huts.
Overnight at the Bow Hut. (B, D)
DAY 3 – BOW HUT TO THE BALFOUR HUT
Today we traverse to the Balfour Hut, ascending along the base of Mt St Nicholas, one of the most iconic peaks along the Wapta Icefields. This is an excellent en route option for a ski mountaineering ascent, weather and snow conditions allowing.
From our high point, the route descends the Vulture Glacier to our hut, which is situated beneath the mighty Mt Balfour. If time allows in the afternoon we’ll explore some of the terrain on the lower flanks of Balfour. We’ll stay here at the Balfour Hut for two nights.
Overnight at the Balfour Hut. (B, D)
DAY 4 – LAYOVER DAY
We spend the day ski touring in the vicinity of the Balfour Hut. Potential options include Mt. Balfour, long powder descents on the Diableret Glacier, and Vulture Col.
Overnight at the Balfour Hut. (B, D)
DAY 5 – BALFOUR HUT TO THE SCOTT DUNCAN HUT
We pack up and retrace our skin track up to Balfour High Col. From here we’re able to rip our skins and glide down the Waputik Icefield to the Scott Duncan Hut. This is considered the most involved stretch of the traverse because of the more complex glaciated terrain through this section, and we’ll likely use the rope. However we’ll have previewed most of this terrain the day before.
If time, energy, and conditions allow, an excellent objective in this area is Mt Daly – literally right behind the hut. The north face of Mt Daly is one of the more impressive descents on the entire traverse, a long and sustained face holding cold powder snow well into the spring.
Back at the hut we enjoy our last evening on the Wapta Traverse with a big dinner, and plan our exit route for the following day.
Overnight at the Scott Duncan Hut. (B, D)
DAY 6 – SCOTT DUNCAN HUT TO THE WEST LOUISE LODGE
Our ski out to the road takes us on the Schiesser/Lomas exit route – descending 3400’ over a distance of 12 km. From the hut we descend slopes below Mt Niles to Sherbrook Lake. We put our skins on to cross the lake and for the short ascent on the other side. Eventually we end up on the summer trail which descends around the shoulder of Paget Peak to the parking lot at West Louise Lodge. (B)
Need rental gear? Items with the RENT link are available through us.
☐ SKIS with TOURING BINDINGS: AT, TELE or SPLITBOARD: Your setup needs to be suitable for uphill touring and downhill skiing/riding.
☐ BOOTS: AT, tele or snowboard boots.
☐ POLES: Adjustable poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse).
☐ CLIMBING SKINS: Fit to skis (ex: Black Diamond Mohair Mix).
☐ SKI CRAMPONS: Specific to your setup.
PACK & SLEEPING BAG
☐ PACK: 50-70 liters with some method of ski attachment.
☐ SLEEPING BAG: Down or synthetic, rated to 20° F (+/- 10° depending how warm you sleep).
☐ COMPRESSION SACK: Sized appropriately for your bag.
AVALANCHE SAFETY GEAR
☐ TRANSCEIVER:: Modern digital transceiver, preferably less than five years old. A 3-antennae model is highly recommended. RENT
☐ SHOVEL: Lightweight avalanche shovel. A metal blade and extendable handle are recommended. RENT
☐ PROBE: Dedicated probe, ski pole probes are not sufficient. RENT
☐ ICE AXE: Lightweight 50-60cm mountaineering axe. RENT
☐ HARNESS: Lightweight alpine harness with adjustable leg loops. For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. RENT
☐ (2) LOCKING CARABINERS: Pear shaped recommended.
☐ (3) NON-LOCKING CARABINERS: Wire gate recommended.
☐ CORDALETTE: 5-6m (15-20’) of 6-7mm nylon cord.
There are many possible layering combinations for your upper body. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ BASELAYER TOP: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric.
☐ LIGHTWEIGHT INSULATING LAYER: Light fleece or synthetic layer.
☐ SOFTSHELL or SHELL JACKET with HOOD: For wind, snow, rain, cold, etc.
☐ PUFFY JACKET: Synthetic or down with a hood.
☐ BASELAYER BOTTOMS: Medium weight.
☐ SKI PANTS: Softshell is preferable for touring.
☐ SOCKS: Wool or synthetic, they should work well with your ski boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not heavy socks. Your ski boot liners provide plenty of insulation.
☐ SUNGLASSES: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection.
☐ GOGGLES: Preferably with low light lenses (amber or rose) and UV protection.
☐ WARM HAT
☐ SUN HAT: Baseball cap, visor, etc – Weather dependent.
☐ FACE PROTECTION: Buff® recommended.
☐ HELMET (OPTIONAL)
☐ LIGHT GLOVES: For touring.
☐ SKI GLOVES
☐ LIP BALM
☐ WATER BOTTLE(S) or HYDRATION SYSTEM: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ CAMERA: Don’t forget extra batteries.
☐ EXTRA BATTERIES: For your transceiver, camera, etc.
☐ HEADLAMP RENT
☐ (1-2) SKI STRAPS
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ PERSONAL TOILETRY KIT: Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and/or baby wipes, gender specific items, small bottle of hand sanitizer.
☐ PERSONAL FIRST AID KIT: Band-Aids, blister repair, anti-diarrheal (Immodium), antacid, ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as any personal prescription medications (be sure to discuss these with us).
☐ TOILET PAPER
☐ SEE DETAILS.
☐ REPAIR KIT: We suggest carrying a small repair kit with items specific to your ski or splitboard equipment. Extra binding parts (including mounting screws), an extra tip loop for your skins, an extra pole basket, etc. Other great MacGyver items are bailing wire, zip ties, and duct tape.
☐ WAX: For skis and to prevent snow from glomming onto your skins.
FOR THE HUTS (OPTIONAL)
☐ HUT SHOES: Down booties or Sanuks work well.
The Wapta Traverse is open to individuals in excellent physical condition, with “advanced” downhill skiing or riding ability, and previous ski touring experience. Participants should feel comfortable on black diamond terrain in ski areas, skiing in a variety of off-piste (ungroomed) snow conditions.
Participants should be able to ascend and descend 4,000′ vertical feet in a day of backcountry touring while carrying a 15-20 lb day pack, or 3,000′ vertical feet in a day carrying a 35-40lb overnight pack.
- Guiding and instruction with an AMGA Certified Ski Mountaineering Guide
- Breakfasts and dinners on the traverse
- 4:1 ratio (5:1 max)
- Hut fees
- Parks Canada overnight fees
- Group equipment: ropes, safety gear
- Transportation and lodging before and after the trip
- Lunch food and personal equipment
- Parks Canada entrance/parking fees
In the mountains “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. Bring enough food for 4 or 6 days in the mountains (depending on the trip). Be sure to emphasize variety and don’t just bring energy bars and gels. Real food provides just as much energy and generally tastes better.
WHERE TO MEET
Lake Louise Visitor Centre next to the Samson Mall in Lake Louise, AB.
Fly in to Calgary International Airport. It’s about a 2.5 hr drive to Lake Louise. Renting a car is the easiest option, however there’s also an airport shuttle that runs multiple times per day.
Drive times from the US can be slowed at the border.
From Calgary, AB: 2.5 hrs
From Vancouver, BC: 10.5 hrs
From Coeur D’Alene, ID: 7 hrs
From Missoula, MT: 8.5 hrs
From Seattle: 11.5 hrs
Greyhound Bus Lines connects east to west and stops in Lake Louise.
PRE & POST TRIP ACCOMMODATIONS
We generally recommend staying in Lake Louise or Banff. Coming from the west, the town of Golden has many hotels and is about 1 hr 15 min away from where we’ll meet in Lake Louise. There’s a nice hostel in Lake Louise that tends to book up far in advance: HI-Lake Louise Alpine Center
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your program. Note that many plans require you purchase insurance within 21 days of your initial deposit.
- Summits & Icefields Map: Wapta Icefields & Bow Summit by Mark Klassen, TJ Neault & Chic Scott
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