Return To Fortress Ski Resort
On 28 March 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I were invited to join some friends to ski at the now-defunct Fortress Ski Resort (FSR) in Alberta's Kananaskis Country.  Almost a year ago, we were similarly invited, but on that day, public access to Kananaskis Country was shut down by the provincial government in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.  A year later, the pandemic is still ongoing, but this time, there were no access restrictions.  Joining Zosia and me were Pierre Fournier, Wendy Kadar, Michael Schoemaker, and Wendy's friend who arranged this exclusive opportunity for all of us.  We also made plans to stick around for an après-ski dinner on site.

Rendezvousing at the gate along FSR's access road just before the bridge over Kananaskis River, we drove in two vehicles up to the base area's maintenance shop.  I first learned how to ski at FSR many years ago, and I felt quite nostalgic returning to the base area for the first time in nearly seventeen years (I scrambled up Spoon Needle the last time I was here).  Although the ski resort officially closed in 2004, the area has seen a lot of activity over the years in the form of filming for commercials, television (eg. Hell On Wheels), and movie productions (eg. Inception).  There have also been several attempts to revive the ski resort, but at present, only a cat skiing operation has come into fruition.

Starting from the maintenance shop with fresh snow falling, the six of us headed north and climbed to the top of the first ridge before skiing down the other side on what used to be a black diamond run known as "Rampart".  We then climbed up the steep forested slopes of a second ridge which is the same one that was once accessed by the resort's Farside Double Chair.  Initially, we had some concerns about an underlying layer of crusty snow, but conditions seemed to improve as we climbed higher up the slope.  Had the weather been clearer, we probably would have climbed to the top of a hump unofficially known as Mount Baldy, but with low visibility and unpleasant winds, we opted to stop short at the last trees and begin skiing instead.  Careful to avoid the open areas reserved for the cat skiing operation, we stuck to the forested slopes where we found plenty of fresh untracked powder to rip through.  When we bottomed out, we stopped for a short lunch break before climbing up a little further north for another lap.  This second climb up the slope felt steeper, and we even had some concerns about possible avalanches in a few spots (hazard rating on this day was moderate-considerable-considerable).  As such, we did not climb quite as high this time before turning around to enjoy another round of powder skiing through the trees.  Partway down, we got a call on the radio advising that we should head back to the maintenance shop soon in order to drive out before the access road became impassable from the heavy snowfall.  We promptly finished our descent and then climbed back up the first ridge along where the Curved T-Bar North (now removed) used to run.  The short descent back to the maintenance shop was perhaps the most painful part of the day as we skied right into the teeth of a nasty wind with blowing snow pelting our faces.

Upon returning to the maintenance shop, Pierre, Michael and Zosia helped Wendy's friend unload some firewood that he had brought up in his truck, and we subsequently packed up all our ski gear.  Other than having to push one of our vehicles out of deep snow just outside the shop, we had no issues driving out the access road.  While Pierre had to depart for a prior commitment, Wendy invited the rest of us to her place in Bragg Creek for the much-anticipated après-ski dinner which turned out to be excellent.

I wish to thank Wendy's friend for inviting us to ski at FSR, Michael for safely shuttling Zosia and me in his van, Pierre for his encouragements and good humour, and Wendy for her always-generous hospitality and infectious laugh.
Brings back so many good memories...

It is a snowy spring day at the defunct Fortress Ski Resort.

Guess where Mel lives!

Sonny prepares to depart from the maintenance shop for the resident cat skiing operation.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Well, it's a promising start... The group heads for the ridge north of the maintenance shop.
I wonder what TV reception is like here... Wendy and Zosia pass what appears to be a lift attendant's warming hut.
Looks steep! After dropping down into a drainage, the group heads toward a second ridge.
Hard work!

The group climbs up the steep slope of the second ridge.

Sigh...too bad the weather wasn't nicer!

The group stops near the last trees below a windswept hump known unofficially as Mount Baldy.

Are we having fun yet? The group takes a break at the highest point reached for the day (2304 metres).
Time for some turns! The group begins descending the slopes of the second ridge.
Talk about getting cold feet! Zosia appears to have a lot of fresh snow stuck to her boots.
Never too proud for snow-plowing!

Sonny resorts to snow-plowing to get down this steep and narrow gully.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Zosia: Wendy, I thought we were supposed to be going somewhere less steep...

The group ascends the second ridge for a second time.

If you like steep and deep, this is your playground! Zosia cautiously descends a very steep slope which has some potential to avalanche.
Just call me the human icicle! Sonny cuts through lots of fresh powder.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

If we can't have a party indoors, let's take the party outside! Wendy, Zosia and Pierre pause partway down the slope to socialize.


Pierre skis deep powder like a champ.


Ripping it! Zosia also skis deep powder like a champ.

The group has to climb back over the first ridge to return to the maintenance shop.

Be sure to bring whiskey...lots of it!

Inside the maintenance shop is this room full of old signs from the defunct ski resort.  Zosia points out where she would like to go if she comes back in the future.

If you build it, they will come. Total Distance:  8.7 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  6 hours 15 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  770 metres