It is early winter in the Rockies and Columbias. The days are short, there is some (but not a lot) of snow, ice climbing is scratchy and only the true believers feel rock climbing may still be possible.
It was cold for the last week of October (-19 in Banff last Monday). Coming up expect some snow to start on Sunday before it becomes more of a mix of sun and cloud for most areas getting towards mid-week.
Snowfall amounts at alpine elevations will be variable, at least 15 cm in most areas but look out for up to 45 cm around the Columbia Icefields and some areas of the Columbias.
Temperatures will continue to be in the negative single digits in valley bottoms to start but by mid-week it will plummet with the clearing: into the negative teens or even minus 20s at treeline elevations.
Expect varying amounts of snow at treeline and above. How much you find will depend aspect, elevation, terrain type, and what region you are in. It is that in-between time where there is not enough snow to ski below treeline, too much snow to walk at treeline, and quite variable at upper elevations where the wind has moved the snow around.
There is 25-80 cm of snow in the Bow Summit area at sheltered treeline areas. Lake Louise ski area reports 45 cm at treeline and K-Country has 20-50 cm at their weather stations. There is about 30-50 cm at treeline and 90 cm in the alpine in the southern Selkirks (Valhallas). At Glacier Park there is 10 cm at road level, and 20-35 cm at treeline elevations. Expect significantly more snow at higher elevations.
Ice climbing is definitely in, but "in" does not mean widespread. The usual early season climbs are getting done - higher elevation and north facing.
Short days and avalanches are the major concerns at the moment. Thin snowpack skiing hazards (rocks etc) are also a concern - wear a helmet!
It is still black until 8 am and sunset is about 6 pm so bring extra batteries for your headlamp and be prepared to move around in the dark.
It is the time of year to get surprised by pockets of snow, especially in wind loaded areas (you know - the only areas deep enough to ride right now). You may be moving around in shallow snow most of the day where it doesn't seem deep enough to avalanche, and the next thing you know you step on a pan of wind slab and it takes off. It is not a good time of year to go for a ride as usually you are going to pile into some rocks at some point along the way. There was a skier triggered size 1.5 avalanche at treeline in the Lake Louise area in the past few days.
This time of year I think about heading for:
- normal early season ice climbing objectives
- valley bottom mountain bike rides
- ski terrain that starts high and goes higher (but not too high where the snow has been blown away)
- ice skating
- Red Rocks, Nevada
- low elevation skiing and ice climbing
Be patient and don't jump into winter activities as if it were mid-season. It ain't! But with careful evaluation and realistic expectations there are still a lot of things to keep yourself busy with.