Note: Up to date avalanche bulletins are now being issued for many of the National Parks and can be found at www.avalanche.ca
The big warm up of last week changed things considerably with heavy rain at lower elevations, and lots of new snow with strong winds in the alpine. This resulted in a lot of snow loss at lower elevations, the melting of a many south facing/low elevation ice climbs, the formation of an ice crust in the snowpack which will be something to watch once more snow arrives, and elevated avalanche hazard up high.
Lower elevation travel on skis is fairly rugged and early season hazards like rocks, fallen trees, open creeks and a thin snowpack are present. Glacier travel also remains tricky with thin, weak crevasse bridges in most areas.
Hiking and scrambling at lower elevations and in the front ranges is still possible but bring cleats for the slippery trails and be aware of the avalanche hazard that may be present at higher elevations.
In the Columbia Mountains after an excellent start to the ski season, a thick rain crust now extends from valley bottom up to above treeline with not a lot of snow on top of it. This has made lower elevation travel and ski conditions quite challenging and ski crampons may be useful for accessing some areas. In the alpine, storm and wind slabs are present and caution is needed until these settle and bond, however things will start improving as new snow arrives this week.
In the Rockies travel at and below treeline also remains rugged with not a lot of snow, though this has also been helpful for some of the early season ice climbing approaches. A rain crust is present up to treeline with little snow on top of it and in the alpine the snowpack remains fairly thin and heavily wind affected. Pockets of good skiing can be found above treeline but careful travel is needed.
The next week of cool temps and not a lot of snow in the Rockies should allow for a big improvement in ice/alpine conditions but right now lower elevation ice climbing around Field, Banff, the Ghost and many south facing routes on the 93N have taken a big hit and need time to reform. Some good climbing can still be found on higher elevation North facing routes that survived the heat (e.g. Storm Mtn, Mt Murchison, Ranger Creek) but expect thin early season conditions and be aware of the increased avalanche hazard on some of the routes. Avalanche gear is recommended.
For other shoulder season activities, some of the lakes in the Rockies are back in good shape for skating (a minimum of 10cm of ice thickness is recommended), limited mountain biking is still possible on the front ranges, ski hills and cross country ski trails are opening up, and the dry tooling venues are great for ice season prep.
Lots of great ways to get out and enjoy the early winter season as we wait for the main snow and ice seasons to arrive.
ACMG Mountain Guide