Ski Tour Report – Top Hat Traverse, Hidden Bowl, Fairview Mountain

On the frozen Hamilton Lake. From L – R: Michael Harvey, Steve Koehn, Brad Kryger, Jeff Sutherland (front), Robin Postnikoff, Tim Taylor (Girth Hitch Guiding), Pierre Hungr (Galena Mountain Guides), Pete Wardell (front), Michael Wharmby, Elijah Stauth. Photo credit: Elijah Stauth / Little Wolf Picture Co.

Alpine ski touring was the adventure of choice for the first Adventure Club trip of 2022. For three days February 24th-27th, the club stomped and slid around Hidden Bowl / Bow Summit, the Top Hat Traverse, and Fairview Mountain.

A primer on Adventure Club before I get into the juicy details and epic footage of the ski days. The four ingredients of Adventure Club are:

  1. Friends: a small group of friends who adventure together.
  2. Commitment: a multi-year commitment to a number of guided adventures per year, plus a commitment to develop the fitness chops and skills required for the upcoming objectives.
  3. Adventure: self-propelled outdoor objectives in the group’s Adventure Zone (somewhere outside the Comfort Zone but before the Panic Zone is where the magic happens).
  4. Intention: each trip has an intention set around a transformational theme. Club members take turns setting the intention for the trip, facilitating the conversation around that theme, and creating space for guided conversation, briefing, and debriefing. You gotta feel the feelings.

The intention/theme of this trip was selected and skillfully facilitated by Eli Stauth: “Courage.” The chosen adventure was three days of alpine ski touring guided by honorary club members Pierre Hungr of Galena Mountain Guides, and Tim Taylor of Girth Hitch Guiding. All the pieces came together for an event that will be circled and underlined in all of our life maps.

Fun laps through widely spaced trees in the zone between Hidden Ridge and Bow Summit. Photo credit: Elijah Stauth / Little Wolf Picture Co.

Warm-up day: Hidden Bowl / Bow Summit. Located directly off the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park, a few hundred meters north of Num-ti-jah Lodge, we located an untracked area in between the popular Hidden Bowl and Bow Summit zones. The widely-spaced trees and low-angle slopes were perfect for getting our powder ski legs warmed up. After brushing up on our avalanche safety we had time for 3 laps and just over 700m of elevation (Strava link).

Crossing the treeline on Top Hat Traverse. Photo credit: Elijah Stauth / Little Wolf Picture Co.

The Main Event: Top Hat Traverse. Starting at Emerald Lake Lodge just outside of Field, B.C, in Yoho National Park, this traverse wraps around the backside of Emerald Mountain to end back at Emerald Lake. There is 1-2km of flat skiing on Emerald Lake to return to the parking lot, but aside from that, it was a skin-up then ski-down route over 16 km with 1,200m of elevation (Strava link).

The route begins with steady climbing on switchbacks through dense forest. As you approach the tree line the views open up and you see peaks for days if the conditions permit. We stopped at a small alpine lake (Hamilton Lake) for lunch prior to the final push to the top of the saddle just shy of the “Top Hat” summit. A t-shirt and shorts would have been the most appropriate attire for this last march to the top in full sun with no breeze. At this moment we prairie boys appreciated all the kilometres spent rucking with weighted packs to prepare for this trip.

Dropping down the other side we were treated to a few kilometres of blue-black descent and plenty of fresh snow to surf. The last couple clicks to Emerald Lake were on a fun skinny path precipitously perched along the edge of a cold, sparkling creek. The trail was a continuous descent and no skins were required to maintain momentum … unless your name was Pete or Eli and you made the mistake of split boarding this route 😂.

After we dragged our heavy skis across Emerald Lake back to the legendary Emerald Lake Lodge, I may have shed a masculine tear or two while I sipped my recovery coffee, ignored my blisters, and surveyed the idyllic winter scene I had just emerged from.

Recovery day: Fairview Mountain. A short but sweet ski day prior to the long drive home to Edmonton. We started at the Lake Louise parking lot and did a couple laps on the backside of Fairview Mountain – just about 9km with 900m of elevation (Strava link).

As heavy snow started to roll in, the highlight of the day for me was the final descent to the parking lot: a tightly-packed tree run with plenty of carnage and yard sale-ing amongst our motley crew.

The drive home was spent basking in the glory of another successful adventure, swapping exaggerated tales of spills and thrills, and bemoaning the wear and tear we inflicted upon our middle-aged weekend-warrior bodies. The end result was an operating system upgrade & reboot for each of us that will make us more useful to our families, friends, neighbours, and communities. Can’t wait till the next one.

“I didn’t bring the coffee, I thought you were bringing the coffee?!?” Photo credit: Elijah Stauth / Little Wolf Picture Co.

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