Chickadee Valley

Tana Stratton, Zosia Zgolak and I originally planned on skiing to Rockbound Lake on 25 April 2021, but snow conditions were so poor at the trailhead that we decided to go elsewhere.  Tana suggested Chickadee Valley in British Columbia's Kootenay National Park, and although Zosia had already skied there earlier in the season, she was game for another visit.

The crux of this ski tour is safely crossing to the north side of Highway 93 from the Continental Divide parking lot.  Vehicles zip by here at more than a hundred kilometres per hour, and there is also a bit of a blind corner for westbound traffic.  As such, it can be a bit unnerving to shuffle across the pavement in clunky ski boots while lugging skis and poles.  Fortunately, Tana, Zosia and I got across the highway safely, and we were soon climbing up a well-established skin track into Chickadee Valley.  With the exception of some icy spots near the highway, snow conditions were surprisingly excellent even by mid-winter standards.  The skin track followed the valley's main creek, and although there were many spots where we could see open water, all snow bridges felt stable.  There are several options for skiers in Chickadee Valley, but we stuck to the main skin track heading to the back of the valley.  Much of this approach is flat and semi-open, and although the skiing felt a little mundane at times, it was also easy and uncomplicated.

Just before reaching a headwall guarding a bowl at the back of the valley, Tana, Zosia and I passed an open slope below a chute that had evidence of a large wet snow avalanche.  The open slope looked enticing to ski, but we ignored it for the time being as we proceeded to climb the headwall.  Upon entering the bowl, we worked our way up an obvious snowy ridge not far below a hanging glacier.  The climb up the ridge was quite steep, but thankfully, we never felt the need to use ski crampons.  Because of the flat light, we stopped just short of the apex of the snowy ridge as it was beginning to feel like an uncomfortable knife edge (looks less scary in our photos).  We stripped off our climbing skins here and subsequently enjoyed a wonderful ski back down into the bowl.  Had the light been better, we might have considered skinning up for another run, but instead, we stopped for a quick snack break before continuing down the headwall which was also a delight to ski.

When we returned to the aforementioned open slope below the chute, Tana, Zosia and I decided to climb up to the edge of the wet snow avalanche for an extra albeit shorter run.  While both Tana and Zosia stopped to re-attach their climbing skins, fresh snow was sticking to the bases of my skis so much that I was able to climb all the way up the open slope without skins!  Of course, I still had to take my skis off to scrape off the sticky snow, but astonishingly, my subsequent run back down felt silky smooth.  Tana and Zosia also had nice runs down the open slope, and after regrouping at the bottom, we settled into a long and uneventful ski out the valley and back to the highway.

Given the marginal ski conditions that Zosia and I experienced the previous weekend and the somewhat crummy weather forecast for this day, I had low expectations for this ski tour into Chickadee Valley, but it turned out to be a surprisingly fun outing.  Sure, the weather could have been sunnier, but at least it was warm and windless all day.  More importantly, the ski conditions were superb, and I lamented not bringing my recently-purchased new skis to try them out in fresh powder.  Most of all, I had the privilege of sharing the trip with some awesome company.  Thank you, Tana and Zosia, for your patience and good humour!
Skiers fall into the water more often than you might think!

Tana and Zosia follow a creek up into Chickadee Valley.

Tana is usually good for one "yo" when yo-yo skiing!

Tana points out where she would like to go at the back of the valley.

We'll be back!

Sonny and Tana pass an enticing open slope.  Evidence of a large wet snow avalanche can be seen higher up in the chute.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

The price of admission is the long approach, but here we are now at the main attraction!

Zosia and Tana reach the last trees before entering the bowl at the back of the valley.

Too long of an approach for ice climbers?

Some impressive icefalls hug the cliffs near the entrance to the bowl.

That snowy ridge at centre looks attractive...

Zosia points out where she and others went up when she was here earlier in the season.

Photo courtesy of Tana Stratton

Let's go for it!

Tana and Zosia head toward the snowy ridge at right.


We'll come back some other day...maybe next weekend!

This big slope below some impressive cliffs looks attractive to ski, but the group would forego it on this day.

Thankfully, no ski crampons were necessary!

The climb up the snowy ridge is very steep.

The drop-offs on either side looked worse in the flat light. Although not quite on the apex of the snowy ridge, this is about as high as the group would venture.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Time for some fun! Zosia and Tana stop on the snowy ridge to remove their climbing skins.
Looking good, Zosia!

Zosia and Tana ski off the snowy ridge.

Pretty darn good for late April anyway!

The snow is fantastic on this day.

Like my new yellow pack? It's the Black Diamond Speed 40.

Despite the flat light, Sonny manages to make a few turns down the slope.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Don't worry; the glacier is farther back than it looks here!

Zosia skis in front of a hanging glacier at the back of Chickadee Valley.

She is in her element here! Tana rips down the easy slope with verve.
Maybe we should have added a "yo" here... Tana and Zosia make their way back down the bowl.
My ski bases probably need some serious repair and waxing! Without using skins, Sonny climbs to the edge of the wet snow avalanche above the open slope the group passed earlier.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

There's our "yo" for the day!

Zosia enjoys a great run down the open slope below the wet snow avalanche.


Try not to fall into the water! The ski out the valley is long but not complicated.
An amazing ski tour despite the cloudy weather--definitely worth repeating! Total Distance:  15.8 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  6 hours 4 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  711 metres

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