Early Season Skiing on Rae Glacier
Woke up this morning (October 26th) and turning on my phone I was happy to discover a message from Nathalie saying that the trip was on and a group of four of use were going to look for fresh ski turns at Highwood Pass.
After meeting up over coffee we decided to go up the Rae Glacier which is found on the upper flanks of Mt. Rae in Kananaskis Country – an hour and a half drive from Calgary. This trip is only an option until end of November as Highwood Pass portion of Highway 40 is closed for the winter just after turn-off to Kananaskis Lakes.
Still remembering my first day of skiing last season was October 28th and coincidentally it was on Rae Glacier as well. This is a pretty good place to go at the very beginning of the season as it tends to get decent early season snow.
We started skiing right from our cars at the Elbow Lake parking lot (57 km’s from the Trans-Canada Highway Turnoff) at an elevation of about 1900 meter and quickly gained elevation on pretty thin but skiable snow.
At first we followed a double track for about 1.2km which turned into a single track as we worked our way on the right side (east shore) of Elbow Lake. About two thirds of the way along the lake we followed a trail to the right which after a short while followed the right side of a creek (which flows from the glacier). Ascending gradually then more steeply we eventually reached the rocky portion of the creek as it works it’s way towards the toe of the glacier.
At this point we decided to take our skis for a hike saving those precious skins and bases from unavoidable damage. This is part of the deal when trying to ski Rae Glacier in late October / early November. Soon enough as we ascended into the cirque we were able to put our skis back on and skin up from there all the way up to just below the rock bands which come down from Mt. Rae coll.
As we were ascending the steeper slopes of the glacier I dug a quick pit to see what the snow pack was like. This was about half way up the glacier and at this point there was only about 40 cm’s of snow pack (much of it powder snow) with about 5 cm’s of fairly consolidated snow under that, another few cm’s of sugary snow then the ice of the glacier.
At our stopping point below the rock bands (at about 2800 meters) Chris’s snow probe showed 110 cm’s Not bad for October 26th!
Remembering last year’s conditions I was not expecting great skiing but this time it was different. We were rewarded with an awesome run in 30-40 cm’s of dry powder snow. Having gone down about 250 meters (800 ft) of elevation we skinned up again and climbed back up for another go.
This time we skied all the way to the bottom of the glacier (about 500 vertical meters) and managed to avoid most of the rocks at the lower section.
Energized from the awesome ski run we walked across the rock gardens rather quickly and soon enough were back on better snow and at the lake. Another 20 minutes of skiing put us back at the parking lot.
The entire trip took 4.5 hours with 900 + (3000 ft) elevation gain and skiing counting our extra run at the top.
All in all it was a fantastic early season ski day up on the Ray Glacier. If the weather and snow conditions hold, I definitely recommend checking it out.
Watch the short video of Nathalie on her run down Rae Glacier
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Author: Mike Blarowski