Burstall Pass
On 11 April 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I convinced Tana Stratton and Mike Wingham to join us for a ski tour of Burstall Pass in Alberta's Peter Lougheed Provincial Park.  I had already visited Burstall Pass in the past on multiple occasions (most recently in 2016), but this would be my first time using AT gear.  With recent warm temperatures, I was expecting snow conditions to be somewhat marginal, but as we drove to the Burstall Pass trailhead, I was quite surprised at the abundance of snow remaining both on and off the road.  A second surprise was that it felt much warmer at the trailhead than what my car's thermometer was reading, but the snow still felt pretty good for skiing.

Following a well-established skin track, the four of us had no problems skiing the undulating trail to the open flats of Burstall Creek and then climbing the headwall into the upper valley below Mount Birdwood.  We continued to follow the skin track through the trees at the head of the valley and eventually crested Burstall Pass.  Unfortunately, clouds had rolled in and obscured most of the surrounding views.  After a short break here, we headed over rolling terrain toward South Burstall Pass and considered skiing up Burstall Pass Peak.  However, as we arrived on a false summit short of the top, the inclement weather dissuaded us from continuing further, and we simply turned around here.

The ski back down to the upper valley was easy enough, but because of our route selection, we kind of wasted an opportunity to make some nice turns on the slopes below Burstall Pass.  While Tana and Mike remedied this by skinning up again to ski these slopes, Zosia and I opted to continue descending on our own.  I had a minor wipeout while skiing down the headwall, but otherwise, the remaining ski back to the trailhead was largely a dull affair.  There are a lot of annoying uphill sections on the way out, and although they are not terribly strenuous, it is virtually impossible to maintain any sustained momentum.  As such, the ski out feels just as strenuous if not more so than the ski in.  Tana and Mike fared a little better on the ski out and arrived at the trailhead only a few minutes after Zosia and me.
Warmer than expected!

Zosia begins skiing from the trailhead under sunny skies.  Behind her is Commonwealth Ridge.

This trail really sucks on the return ski!

The north end of Mount Burstall comes into view as the group skis along the trail.

Feels like mid-winter still! Despite recent warm temperatures, there is still a significant amount of snow in this area.
It looks like somebody was skiing on the avalanche slope. Tana and Zosia arrive at the flats across from Pig's Tail (left) and Commonwealth Peak.
Mike is even switching climbing skins! Mike heads across the flats in preparation for the climb up the headwall into the upper valley (right).
The weather won't be so nice when we come back through here later... Here is another look back at Commonwealth Peak (left) as Zosia and Tana cross the flats.

The FHR Traverse is something I hope to do in the future...

This is looking south toward Robertson Glacier which is flanked by Mount Robertson (left of centre) and Mount Sir Douglas (right).


A much easier climb with AT gear vs. light touring gear (especially light touring gear without skins!) Sonny and Tana climb the headwall guarding the upper valley.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Hmmm...there goes our sunshine! Zosia enters the upper valley with Snow Peak in the background.
On our way back, we really missed out on the great ski slopes at right! Burstall Pass Peak is barely discernible at left against a cloudy sky.
Glad we're not breaking trail here! Mike follows a skin track up the slopes below Burstall Pass.
We're taking a roundabout way up to Burstall Pass! Mount Sir Douglas looms in the distance as Mike breaks trail across a slope near Burstall Pass.
Shame about the cloudy sky... The group arrives at Burstall Pass with Mount Birdwood, Pig's Tail, and Commonwealth Peak in the background.
I think Zosia dropped her pole here!

Sonny, Mike, Tana and Zosia pose for a group photo at Burstall Pass.

We should have tried skinning directly up Burstall Pass Peak.

With lots of energy left, the group sets off toward South Burstall Pass which is somewhere at far left.  The top of Burstall Pass Peak is barely visible at right.

Looks moody!

Here is a more comprehensive view of Burstall Pass with Snow Peak in the background.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


At least we can see where we're going now! The sky clears up a bit to again reveal Mount Sir Douglas.
That's what happens with iffy weather...

Zosia is a bit disappointed that no one else seems interested in pushing on to the top of Burstall Pass Peak which is right behind her.  This false summit (2547 metres) would be as high as the group would climb on this day.

Sure enough, the sun is coming out again after we turn around prematurely!

Tana cruises back from South Burstall Pass.

This was a mistake going down this way... Zosia drops down a short but steep slope.
Sadly, this was the best skiing of the day for me and Zosia. It is Sonny's turn to drop down the same slope.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Too bad the ski down from here sucks...

The sun comes out again to light up the best view of the day.  L to R are Snow Peak, Mount Smuts, Mount Birdwood and Pig's Tail.


I'm still kinda choked that we took such a lame route back down... Zosia follows ski tracks through the trees of the upper valley with Mount Birdwood, Pig's Tail and Commonwealth Peak in the background.
Did I mention the return ski along Burstall Pass trail sucks ass? It is snowing heavily as Zosia heads back across the flats on the ski out.