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Untracked Line: Rogers Pass, BC

If you hate 5,000-foot descents down heavily glaciated peaks as much as we do, you should probably ignore this.
posted: 07/25/2009
Rogers Pass action.jpg

Because it sits squarely in one of the most rugged areas of Glacier National Park, there isn't much of a scene around Rogers Pass.Location: On the Trans-Canada Highway, 50 miles west of Golden, B.C., and 43 miles east of Revelstoke Pass
Elevation: 4,340 feet
Vertical drop: Up to 2,500 feet
Minimum Time Needed: 3 hours
Method: Out-and-back

THE SCENE: Because it sits squarely in one of the most rugged areas of Glacier National Park, there isn't much of a scene around Rogers Pass. Mostly, it's just scenery. Here, on the eastern-B.C. stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway, there are crumbling barns, milky rivers, frozen alpine lakes-and an abundance of chutes dripping from knife-edge peaks down through dozens of avalanche-shed tunnels. And hardly any humans. There are no tailgaters. No OB war stories being told in Brobonics. There's just the highway, the Best Western (see opposite page), and a few skiers from Revelstoke and Golden. So why make the drive to ski in a lonely danger zone? Several thousand acres of above-timberline steeps and guaranteed fresh tracks-all day.

THE SNOW: Rogers Pass is home to the world's largest mobile avalanche control center, which issues daily reports on the stability of the 140 local slide paths. Yes, 140. Credit that to high-angle, above-timberline slopes and an annual snowfall of 56 feet. "You're skiing in avalanche terrain all the time," says Eric Dafoe, public safety coordinator for the Canadian park service. One example: In 2003, an avalanche killed seven Alberta teenagers on a school trip. Let that be a warning. And use your head.

THE DRIVE: Head west out of Golden. Fifty miles and five avalanche tunnels later, you'll pass the summit of Mount McDonald and come upon the unassuming, '70s-era Best Western Glacier Park Lodge and the Park's Interpretation Centre, the prime source for park and avy information (you'll need to buy a US$4 per-day park pass).

THE GOODS: Rogers' primary ski area is directly behind the hotel, along the Connaught Drainage, which leads to Balu Pass. Out-and-back shots range three to seven hours. Walk around the south side of the hotel, climb the snowbank to the north, and skin up the old road along the creek. (Many of the chutes are often closed due to artillery fire, so you'll need to check with the park, which will issue you a free permit to open zones. Don't go into closed zones without permission: Not only is it illegal, but you could unknowingly be in the sights of a 105-millimeter howitzer.) Two hours up, try the low-angle glades of Grizzly Shoulder or Ursus Trees, which offer 1,500 feet of vertical. Or skin up another hour to 40-degree, 2,500 vert Grizzly Bowl. Thirty-five-degree Hospital Bowl and Balu Pass are all within a long day-trip's reach as well. If you exhaust all the terrain nearest to the hotel (which is unlikely), the terrain above the Illecillewaet River (a mile west of the pass), offers a whole new batch of tour options.

Best Western Glacier Park Lodge, British Columbia

You've sped through avy tunnels, skinned thousands of vertical feet, and skied yourself stupid all day-and now you're deep in the B.C. interior after dark. Do yourself a favor and get a room at the Best Western Glacier Park Lodge (from US$60; 250-837-2126; bestwestern.com). Chew the fat with Canadian truckers-the nicest kind-at the bar. Swim a few laps in the heated outdoor pool. Soothe your tired legs in the dry sauna. Bolt down a salmon steak, dive into a stir-fry, or, if you're lucky, pillage the buffet for every last morsel of carved roast beef, honey-glazed ham, and thick turkey slices. (Buy a three-meal plan and the staff will hook you up with custom bag lunches for your ski adventures; just fill out a request sheet.) If you're still standing after dinner, walk next door to the Park Centre and catch Snow Wars, a remarkable flick about avalanches and the history of Rogers Pass. Next day, squeeze in a quick a.m. run. Then another. You might just wind up staying one more night.

Check Avalanche reports and backcountry camping options at pc.gc.ca or by calling 800-667-1105. Plan a hut trip (there are five in the area) at alpineclubofcanada.ca. Hire a guide through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (403-678-2815; acmgguides.com). Sleep at the Revelstoke Lodge (from US$44; 888-559-1979; revelstokelodge.com) or the Sportsman's Lodge in Golden (from $US76; 888-989-5566; sportsmanlodge.ca). Bring Ski Touring in Rogers Pass, by J.P. Kors and John Kelly ($13, canrockbooks.com).

 

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