Canadian Rockies, Banff & Yoho National Parks
6-day hut-to-hut ski traverse
Ski across the glaciated Continental Divide
Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse Highlights
- The Wapta Traverse’s big brother
- Three backcountry huts
- Ascents of glaciated peaks en route
- Breathtaking scenery, big glaciers
- Quick access from Calgary Airport
This 6-day Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse will take us deep into the spectacular backcountry of Banff and Yoho National Parks. The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse crosses and then runs parallel to the world-famous Wapta Ski Traverse. It is a bit tougher and a bit more serious than the Wapta, but no less rewarding. The addition of the Guy Hut in 2015 made this traverse much more accessible, and it is now one of the most popular hut-to-hut ski traverses in North America.
In addition to ski touring through some of the most magnificent scenery that Western Canada has to offer, there will be opportunities to ascend peaks over 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) and enjoy good skiing from their summits. We will stay at three, well-equipped Alpine Club of Canada huts as we cross the Continental Divide and border between Alberta and B.C. The huts cover three eras of adventure: the 1939 Stanley Mitchell Hut, the 1989 Bow Hut, and the 2015 Louise & Richard Guy Hut.
The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse starts at Bow Lake, along the world-famous Icefields Parkway which connects Banff and Jasper National Parks. After five nights and six days high up on the glaciers we’ll descend back to civilization at Emerald Lake or to the Trans-Canada Highway between Lake Louise, AB and Field, B.C.
Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse | Day-to-Day Itinerary
Pre-trip meeting (evening before – optional)
OnTop Mountaineering’s Wilz family will host the pre-trip meeting in Canmore, AB in the late afternoon or early evening before your Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse. Canmore is 1¼ hours from Calgary International Airport, and pick-up can be arranged. For custom trips, we can offer alternative meeting locations and times. During the meeting, we will review the trip itinerary, do an equipment check, and distribute rental equipment (if necessary), food, and group gear. If time allows and everyone is present, we will conduct an avalanche safety exercise in order to expedite departure the next morning.
Day 1: Drive, approach to Bow Hut
The drive along the scenic Trans-Canada Highway from Canmore to Lake Louise and then north on the world-famous Icefields Parkway towards Jasper will take us to Bow Lake (120km / 1.5 hours). After strapping on our skis, our adventure will begin by crossing the frozen Bow Lake – one of the famous postcard images of the Canadian Rockies. After skiing up a trail in the trees and then through a narrow canyon, we will enter a broad, glacier-ringed valley that leads to the final slope below Bow Hut, which is situated at 2,350 m / 7,700 ft. This approach of about 8 km / 5 miles and 400 m / 1,300 ft vertical gain normally takes 3-5 hours, depending on conditions. For the energetic, there may be time left for a few turns above the hut before dinner.
If you live at low elevation you may feel the altitude at Bow Hut. Arriving a day early for a warm up ski tour out of Canmore, Banff, or Lake Louise is not a bad idea!
Day 2: Traverse to the Louise & Richard Guy Hut
The traverse from Bow Hut to the Guy Hut covers 12 km / 7.5 miles with about 820 m / 2,700 ft of elevation gain. It will be necessary to wear glacier travel harnesses and a rope for much of the 5-7 hours it will take to complete this section of the journey. On a blue-sky day, there is no better place to be than up high on the Wapta Icefield! We will pass between many beautiful peaks and enjoy views of mountains as far as the eye can see. If the weather is poor, we just have to think of it as the grand adventure that it is.
Day 3: Peak bagging and skiing from the Guy Hut
Day 3 will be spent in the area around the brand new, state-of-the-art Guy Hut. Our main objective for the day will be Mont des Poilus (3,166 m / 10,385 ft) – one of the highest peaks in the area. This sought-after ski mountaineering ascent involves skiing to just below the summit and finishing off the last few metres by bootpacking. The unbroken 500 m / 1,650 ft run back to the base normally provides fantastic powder skiing. We can make a second lap or ski another one of the many near-by options if we have the time and energy.
The day will involve a minimum of about 10 km / 6 miles of travel with 800 m / 2,600 ft elevation gain.
Day 4: Traverse from Guy Hut to Stanley Mitchell Hut
If conditions are right, we will descend from the Guy Hut to the des Poilus Glacier, cross it, and ascend the steep 300 m / 1,000 ft slope that leads to Isolated Col. After enjoying fine views of Little Yoho Valley, the Vice President, President, and other beautiful peaks, we will ski a great run towards the valley. If time and conditions allow, we can drop our heavy packs and make a ski ascent of Mt. McArthur, 600 m / 2,000 ft above. After yet another fine summit, a 900 m / 3,000 ft descent will bring us to the historic Stanley Mitchell Hut. If the avalanche conditions or visibility do not allow us to ski over Isolated Col, there is an alternative, more conservative line around Whaleback Mountain. For those who have the energy, we can make some afternoon runs from the Stanley Mitchell Hut.
The day will involve a minimum of 300 m / 1,000 ft of elevation gain over 8 km / 5 miles, more if we make an ascent of Mt. McArthur.
Day 5: Skiing near the Stanley Mitchell Hut
There are many options for excellent skiing and peak bagging around the Stanley Mitchell Hut. If conditions and energy allow, we can try for the Vice President or President. If visibility is poor, there are terrific tree skiing options. The skiing in Little Yoho Valley is some of the best in all of the Canadian Rockies and we are sure not to be disappointed.
Day 6: Stanley Mitchell Hut to the Trans-Canada Highway or Emerald Lake
On Day 6, we will ski out to either the Trans-Canada Highway or Emerald Lake via Emerald Pass or Yoho Pass. Skiing to the Trans-Canada involves losing about 750 m / 2,500 ft of elevation over 23 km / 14.5 miles. The last 16 km / 10 miles are on the summer road that leads to Takakkaw Falls, and this section normally passes by quite quickly. It is a relaxed way to finish a great ski trip! Skiing to Emerald Lake via Emerald Pass or Yoho Pass requires good avalanche conditions, good visibility, and lots of enthusiasm and energy from the group. If we can take one of these exits, it will be a memorable and exciting way to finish the trip.
Detail and Logistics
Your pre-trip meeting will be hosted by the Wilz family in Canmore, AB the evening before your ski traverse.
Closest airport / transport options
Calgary International Airport is located about 1¼hours from our base in Canmore AB, 1½hours from Banff and 2 hours from Lake Louise.
There are several private shuttle services providing hourly transport services from the Calgary airport to the Bow Valley (Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise). Try banffairporter.com
Driving times to the trailhead at Bow Lake: Calgary 2¼hours, Canmore 1¼hours, Banff 1 hour, Lake Louise 20 minutes.
Rental cars are also available in Calgary, Banff or Canmore.
Best season, weather, and temperatures
The Canadian Rockies Icefields tend to have a cold micro-climate in an area that can already be considered colder than most ski touring areas in North America with temperatures between 0C (32F) to -25 (-13F).
The best season for the Bow-Yoho Traverse is mid-March through the end of April when the weather tends to be more stable, temperatures are warmer, the snowpack is better settled and crevasses are more effectively bridged than in early season. The risk of not being able to finish the entire traverse or having to make adjustments to the itinerary is higher in early season (January – mid-March) than in late season (mid-March – mid-May).
Services included in the total price
Six days guiding by an IFMGA/ACMG certified Mountain, Ski and/or Apprentice Ski Guide, five nights lodging in Alpine Club of Canada huts, five breakfasts and 3-course dinners (professionally prepped and packed, light weight), use of avalanche safety and glacier equipment (harness, rope), National Park wilderness overnight fees, pre-trip meeting and all guide expenses.
Services not included
Transport from Canmore, Banff, or Lake Louise to the trailhead and back (we can usually carpool or arrange a ride in the guides’ cars), Calgary Airport pick up and drop off (CD $110 / person return trip), pre- and post-trip lodging in Canmore (from $26 / person), lunches and snacks. Any special meal requests will incur an additional $10 / day.
Any additional cost due to changes in the itinerary, may they be caused by weather, mountain/avalanche conditions or personal preferences.
Can I Do It?
The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse is a strenuous backcountry ski tour on mostly glaciated terrain using alpine touring skis or sturdy telemark equipment. You must be able to ski safely and in control at all times while wearing a heavy (16-18 kg / 35-40lb) backpack.
Depending on the conditions, we might need to ski roped together on both ascents and descents.
You need to be in good physical and mental condition, ready to be on your feet for up to eight hours on some of the days. If in doubt whether you have the required skills or fitness, give us a call!
On a custom basis, we also offer a shorter itinerary that does not allow for extra days at the Guy and/or Stanley Mitchell huts.
What happens if the avalanche hazard is high during the traverse?
One of the strengths of the Bow-Yoho ski traverse is that it can still usually be done when the avalanche hazard is considerable, and at times even when it’s high. The biggest area of concern is getting over Isolated Col, and we can take a more conservative (but longer) route around the Whaleback in order to avoid the Col.
Can the Bow-Yoho Traverse be done on a splitboard?
We do not recommend using a splitboard on the Bow-Yoho Traverse because of the final 23 km ski out to the Trans-Canada Highway on the last day. 16 of the kilometres are on a low-angled summer road.
How easily can the Bow-Yoho Traverse be aborted?
One of the reasons the Bow-Yoho Traverse is considered the“big brother” of the Wapta Traverse is because it is more committing. Once at the Guy Hut, retreat involves either returning to the Bow Hut or carrying on to the Stanley Mitchell Hut.
Do you need a ski helmet for the Bow-Yoho ski traverse?
Bringing a ski helmet on a ski traverse has pros and cons. Helmets offer valuable protection against head trauma, however, there are relatively few things you can hit on the Bow-Yoho traverse. The skiing is almost all above treeline except for about two hours of the descent on the final day. Relative to a ski resort there are few other skiers you could possibly collide with (but it has been done!) There can be rocks barely hidden by snow in wind scoured areas or in times of low coverage. Lastly, a helmet could offer head protection in an avalanche.
That all being said, the likelihood of needing one is relatively small. It is cumbersome to carry a helmet along with all the other stuff you need to carry on the Bow-Yoho traverse, and helmets add another item to the list of things to do when transitioning from climbing to descending. In the end, it’s up to you whether you want to bring a helmet or not.
How is the Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse different from other wilderness traverses like Bugaboos to Rogers Pass?
The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse is one of the best hut-to-hut traverses in North America and a perfect next step after the Wapta Traverse. The other wilderness traverses (Bugaboos to Rogers Pass, Monashees and Selkirk Traverses) are probably amongst the wildest ski adventures one can have anywhere in the world. They involve bigger backpacks, a higher risk to get shut down by weather and avalanche hazard, and higher costs due to the necessary helicopter access.
In more detail the main differences are:
Terrain: The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse travels almost exclusively above tree line and on glaciated terrain except for the first and last couple of hours of the traverse. On most other wilderness traverses you end up traveling below tree line quite a bit and usually try to camp in the trees to be able to dry out equipment at a fire and hide from wind and weather.
Skiing and snow quality: The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse usually has colder weather than the other wilderness traverses as it is located in the Rockies, which are influenced by the continental climate. The snow can be light powder or wind-packed. The ski terrain is a bit steeper than on the Wapta Traverse, but similarly, most of the summits en route offer steeper, fun skiing with light packs. Generally, one must ski steeper terrain with a heavy pack throughout most of the wilderness traverses. This terrain can be difficult to negotiate in bad weather and at times of elevated avalanche hazard. The snow quality can range daily from isothermic to powder depending on the elevation change.
Access: The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse is just as easy to access as the Wapta Traverse. The starting point can be reached by car from the Calgary airport within 2.5 hours while the other wilderness traverses require 3-5 hours of driving followed by a helicopter ride of 15-30 minutes.
Other users: Some of the wilderness traverses travel through heli-ski terrain, however, most heli-skiing operations shut down in early April (except CMH Bugaboos, which runs until early May). The core season for the wilderness traverses is from early April to early May. The Bow-Yoho Traverse is in Banff and Yoho National Parks and therefore no mechanized ski access is allowed. Capacity at the huts is between just 18 and 30 people. We may meet one or two other groups during the day, however, given the size of the terrain and the many options for summits, we may not meet anyone else until we arrive at the hut in the afternoons.
Summits: On the Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse, there may be opportunities for us to drop our heavy packs and climb summits along the way. Summit attempts are less common during the wilderness traverses due to the difficulty of the peaks, the additional time required, and the necessity to focus on mileage.
Avalanche safety and the likelihood to finish the entire traverse: The Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse can usually be undertaken in inclement weather with considerable avalanche hazard. The wilderness traverses require good weather and low to moderate avalanche hazard in order to get through the traverse safely.
Transport to and from the trailhead: Transport is not included in your trip price, however, we can arrange it for you. If you ride with the guide, you can pay the guide in cash directly for 0.55c/km. If riding with the guide isn’t an option, then OnTop can help organize a shuttle from Canmore, Banff, or Lake Louise to and from the trailhead. Please email us for details.
Alpine touring (or telemark*) skis and ski boots
Collapsible, lightweight ski poles
Climbing skins (stick-on), fitted to your skis
Large backpack (50-70 liters). You will also have to carry some group gear and food.
*Only bring telemark skis if you are an advanced telemark skier with backcountry experience.
If you do not have one or more of the following items, OnTop can provide them. Please book in advance.
Avalanche transceiver (modern, 3-antenna, 475 Megahertz)
Lightweight snow shovel
Avalanche probe (two to three meters long)
Harness for glacier travel
One locking carabiner
Bring the following:
Crevasse rescue equipment, if you are familiar with it. (Prusik cords, webbing, pulleys, auto-locking device). Your guide will bring a full set.
Repair kit for your equipment (can be shared between several people)
Temperatures in the Canadian Rockies vary hugely. Between December and February, temperatures can be well below 0°C during the day and drop as low as –30°C overnight. Between March and May, it can be above freezing during the day with overnight lows not normally going below –10°C. Having several clothing layering options is important.
Wind and waterproof shell jacket with hood (Gore-Tex or similar)
Wind and waterproof over-pants (Gore-Tex or similar)
Warm pants (eg. lined Schoeller fabric)
Thick fleece or wool pullover, or PrimaLoft jacket
Medium weight fleece shirt
Thin synthetic or wool underwear, top and bottoms
Two pairs of gloves (lightweight and heavier weight)
Scarf or neck gaiter (eg. Buff)
Socks (synthetic or wool, thick outer and thin liners)
Wool or fleece hat that covers your ears
Gaiters that fit over your ski boot (unless pants seal tightly to your boots)
Sun hat, preferably with a wide rim
Around the hut
Spare underwear and socks
Light down jacket or vest
Three-season sleeping bag with stuff sack. Sleeping rooms are unheated
Light hut slippers or Crocs (optional – socks or ski boot liners work too)
Toiletries (keep to a bare minimum – the huts have minimal washing facilities)
Sunglasses with high UV protection
Ski goggles with high UV protection
Sunscreen and lip protection with high SPF
One-litre water bottle with an insulator. Water bladders not recommended
Headlamp with spare battery
Lunches and snacks (eg. sandwiches, candy bars, dried fruit, nuts, etc.)
Personal first aid kit and other needs (eg. blister kit, prescription medicine, anti-inflammatory, contact lenses, prescription glasses, etc.)
Pocket knife or Leatherman (optional)
(Health) insurance documents
Light stuff sacs or Ziploc bags to keep your backpack organized and important items dry (optional)
Camera, spare batteries (optional)
Compass, maps, GPS (optional)
Ski wax / skin wax (optional)
Client / Guides
3 – 7 participants
Our minimum number to confirm a trip departure at our advertised is 3 people. If you are less than 3 people, please contact us directly as we may be able to confirm the trip date sooner with a premium cost of CD$300 / person. This premium is not payable if we reach the minimum number prior to the trip departure date.
Bow-Yoho Ski Traverse
- 5-8 hours per day on skis
- 16-18 kg / 35-40 lb backpacks
- Glacier travel
- Intermediate skiing ability required
Custom trips: December 1 to April 30
March 16 – 21
March 27 – April 1
April 6 – 11
April 16 – 21
April 20 – 25
On request, we can quote you in your preferred currency.
Certified guide, guide expenses, 5 x ACC hut nights, 5 x dinners, breakfasts, use of glacier and avalanche safety gear, Parks Canada wilderness fee
Transport to trailheads, rental of ski equipment, lunches, and snacks