Story and photos by Gryphon Black-Wallis
Elevation: 450 m
Distance: 7 km, return
‘Fsh’ ‘fsh’: the sound of skis on skins on snow. The rest of the world is silenced by the dampening effect of the snow all around. The odd break in the clouds provides sunlight to illuminate a quiet trail through the trees as the intrepid set out for a day of cold weather fun.
Black Prince is on a short wilderness activity area located off the Smith Dorrien Trail south of Canmore in Kananaskis Country. Usually a hiking trail in the warmer months, Black Prince offers stellar views year round and is frequently chosen as a ski tour for its accessibility and relative ease compared to other larger objectives.
Although that isn’t to say that hazards do not exist around these parts, but the majority of mean avalanche terrain is avoidable with care and awareness. Ascending on rolling terrain to a lake – the usual hiking route – skiers veer right to find or create a skin track to ascend several hundred metres to a rise where, on a good day, lovely snow and lively tree skiing will greet you on the way down. However, it is important to consider safety and always check the snow and avalanche conditions before committing.
Alberta has a flourishing ski culture – be it on ski hills, Nordic tracks, or in the backcountry. For those unfamiliar, backcountry skiing or ski/alpine touring is the practiced use of specialized equipment to access otherwise inaccessible slopes to shred on the descent. Ski touring is where the phrase ‘earn your turns’ was born – as that is exactly what you have to do. While the up can sometimes feel like a slog, the down is a powder thumping, glee inducing, glorious experience and arriving back at the car exhausted is one of a few very fulfilling kind of days we might get to experience.
To do this, one needs gear. A kit involves your standard fare of boots, skis, poles and bindings with the ability to detach the heel and move as you would on cross country skis, all while employing a skin that sticks to the bottom of the ski providing traction for forward propulsion. As well, you will require a selection of safety related items such as a shovel, beacon, and probe for avalanche rescue scenarios.
Once kitted, the ride awaits. Black Prince starts through the trees and over a creek. The grade rises as you ascend the descent gully where most lines from the top converge. Zigzagging up higher slopes, the trees thin and the white mountainous world opens up as you peak over the rise and arrive at the upper slopes.
Assess snow, remove skins, lock in boots, and drop in, the freedom of soft turns and floaty snow at your feet. Exhilarating, adrenaline inducing, and an overall sense of pride in the simple accomplishment of every piece of the day’s journey.