Windy Viewpoint And Pigeon Mountain Ski Resort
On 20 February 2021, Zosia Zgolak and I did a ski tour of Windy Viewpoint and the defunct Pigeon Mountain Ski Resort (PMSR) in Alberta's Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park.  Windy Viewpoint is the east end of Wind Ridge and shares the same approach trail as described in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide.  Both Zosia and I have hiked up Wind Ridge separately in the past, but neither of us had ever tried it on skis or visited Windy Viewpoint.  Knowing that there is some scrambling involved in reaching the top of Wind Ridge, I was already doubtful about the prospect of skiing all the way up, but Windy Viewpoint would make a good consolation prize regardless.  Our plan was to also ski up and down nearby PMSR if we had extra time and energy.  I have long been curious about the reclaimed ski runs of PMSR which I see every time I drive home from the mountains along Trans-Canada Highway, and I am certain that skiers still frequent the slopes whenever there is a fresh dump of snow.  The resort's history and demise is featured in this interesting Calgary Herald article by Michele Jarvie.

Starting from the Pigeon Mountain Day Use area (south of Dead Man's Flats at the end of George Biggy Sr. Road just before the entrance to Banff Gate Mountain Resort), Zosia and I skied past the turnoff to Skogan Pass and followed the signed trail to Windy Viewpoint.  The snow-covered trail was well-packed mostly from foot traffic, but we did see some old ski tracks as well.  On the way in, we took the hikers' trail which was re-routed with new bridges after the biblical floods of 2013.  We had no problems skiing this section, but the trail undulates a fair bit with all the creek crossings.  Once we merged with the equestrian trail, we settled into a long and gradual climb, first along West Wind Creek and then up the east end of Wind Ridge.  There is a large section of Wind Ridge that has an annual closure from December 1 to June 15 to protect important bighorn sheep habitat, but fortunately, the trail skirts around the perimeter of this closed area and is still open year-round.  Where the trail emerges from the forest onto steep open slopes, we ran into some wind-affected snow which was a bit tricky to ski on.  We donned our ski crampons here to give us better purchase on the icy snow, and even then, it was not easy to traverse the covered trail.  More alarmingly, we noticed some instabilities in the snow pack here including one sizeable and loud fracture.  Although I did not think there was enough snow here for a slide to become deadly, we quickened our pace a bit to get to safer ground.  Once we were clear of the danger zone, we climbed a little higher before reaching the next steep section of trail that was largely snow-free.  We ditched our skis here and boot-packed uphill to the juncture between the routes for Wind Ridge and Windy Viewpoint.  By this point, we had pretty much given up on climbing Wind Ridge.  The remainder of the route up the ridge was snow-covered and steep, and the snow was likely wind-blown and prone to avalanche especially in light of the fracture we encountered earlier.  Neither of us felt it was worth the risk, and instead, we were quite content to hike up the much safer route to Windy Viewpoint.  Indeed, Windy Viewpoint lived up to its name as we were treated to some great views while being buffeted by the occasional wind gust.  Roughly fifty metres to the north is a more sheltered viewpoint, and we stopped here for a nice lunch break out of the wind.

For our descent, Zosia and I retraced our steps back to where we ditched our skis.  We then cautiously skied back across the problematic section we traversed earlier, and fortunately, the snow remained unreactive this time.  The forested slopes of Wind Ridge are not conducive for skiing as there is too much deadfall and not enough snow, and consequently, we were forced to ski back down the trail which was a bit of an adventure given the choppy conditions.  We snowplowed a lot of the steep upper half of the trail which proved to be quite tiring, and it was not until we reached the turn along West Wind Creek that we were finally able to relax on the more gentle lower half of the trail.  To avoid the unnecessary undulations along the hikers' trail, we opted to take the slightly longer equestrian trail on the way back.  We encountered a bit more deadfall on this trail, but otherwise, it seemed to be a smoother ski with less abrupt dips.  After merging again with the hikers' trail, we returned to the turnoff to Skogan Pass to begin the second half of our ski tour.
Okay, enough with the creek crossings; let's start climbing!

Zosia crosses one of the new bridges installed in the wake of the 2013 floods.

Maybe next summer I'll climb that...

The first peak of Mount Lougheed looms ahead as Zosia skis along the trail to Windy Viewpoint.

Most dangerous slope of the day. The snow on this steep slope is wind-affected and shows some instability.
The upper slopes aren't calling my name today! Wind Ridge comes into view.
Lotsa sheep poop here! After ditching her skis, Zosia hikes up a wind-blown slope.
Easy hiking here. Zosia works her way to the east end of Wind Ridge.
I'm not gonna claim a summit here, but it sure feels like one! Sonny and Zosia arrive at Windy Viewpoint (1842 metres).
Lotsa familiar peaks on the far side of the valley! Here is a view of Bow River valley to the northeast.

Sadly, winter ascents of Pigeon Mountain are no longer allowed.

Pigeon Mountain dominates the view to the east.  The remnants of the ski resort runs are still visible.


I've been up Windtower twice, but another trip might be warranted in the near future...

The view to the south includes the four peaks of Mount Lougheed and Windtower.

I still haven't climbed The Orphan!

Rimwall Summit, The Orphan and Wind Ridge round out the view to the southwest.

She still has her skins on! After retrieving her skis, Zosia carefully skis back down the trail.
Why Wind Ridge is not a popular ski objective!

The ski back down the trail unfortunately entails a lot of snowplowing.

The sit and kick back technique!

While descending the less maintained equestrian trail, Zosia demonstrates an unusual technique for getting over downed trees.

While it would have made more sense to skin up the reclaimed ski runs of PMSR, for some reason I had it in my mind to climb partway up the trail to Skogan Pass and then bushwhack the remaining distance to the top of the resort.  As Zosia and I would quickly learn, this was a grave miscalculation made even worse when we left the trail on the wrong side of notable gully on the lower west slopes of Pigeon Mountain.  The forested slopes here are littered with deadfall, and although we could still climb over and around much of it, the whole endeavour felt quite tedious and unpleasant.  The worst part was realizing too late that we were on the wrong side of the aforementioned gully which has steep embankments and is choked with more deadfall.  Unable to find an easy way across, we ultimately had to bite the bullet and dive into the tangled mess of snow-covered logs in the gully before removing our skis and squirming up the other side through deep sugary snow.  Travel was easier once we cleared the gully, and we eventually worked our way to the top of the ski resort which is marked by a concrete foundation and a small cairn.  Numerous old tracks in the snow confirmed my suspicion that people still come here regularly to ski these slopes.

After removing our climbing skins, Zosia and I skied down the reclaimed runs of the resort.  Some of the runs on the upper half of the resort are still wide open while most of the lower runs are now being slowly choked by shrubs and forty-year-old trees.  Overall, the skiing was passable if not great mostly because a lot of the skiable areas were already tracked out by other backcountry enthusiasts.  It would be interesting to return here immediately after the next big snow storm.  To avoid cutting through Banff Gate Mountain Resort near the bottom, we traversed to skier's left and entered forest for another round of dodging deadfall.  Thankfully, this second round was short-lived, and we were soon skidding into the day use area parking lot to wrap up our ski tour.
We'll save Skogan Pass for another day.

Zosia climbs up the power line right-of-way which ultimately leads to Skogan Pass.

It gets worse later...

After leaving the trail to Skogan Pass, Sonny encounters some difficult ski terrain on the lower slopes of Pigeon Mountain.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

My, what sharp claws those must have been!

Zosia inspects some mysterious claw marks on this tree.

No lift lines!

Zosia reaches the top of Pigeon Mountain Ski Resort (1656 metres).

Well said!

The cairn at the top of the resort has a profound message.

Glad we got our views earlier there as the clouds have rolled in.

This is looking across the valley to Wind Ridge and Little Sister (right) from the top of the resort.  Windy Viewpoint is visible in front of and below Wind Ridge.

First tracks! Zosia descends a wide open run that has not yet been reclaimed.
Still having *@#&! issues with my skin glue! Sonny cruises down the wide open run.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

I plan to be back here after the next big dump of snow! Zosia weaves her way between trees on a ski run that is slowly being reclaimed.  Plenty of old tracks here show that people still frequent these slopes.

Ski to your door!

Sonny approaches Banff Gate Mountain Resort near the bottom of the ski run..

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak


This ski tour had everything--the good, the bad, and the ugly! Total Distance:  14.9 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  7 hours 44 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain:  775 metres

GPX Data