In the evening on December 11th I noticed a press release from Talus Lodge about their new Climate Action plan, the move to self propelled access for a lodge that traditionally only did fly in access seemed like a bold move. How many hikers and skiers would take that journey I wondered? I quickly sent Thomas Grandi, owner and lead guide of Talus, a text offering to take up the challenge of a ski in mission to see what it was all about. Less than a year ago I took a helicopter in and out of Talus during a four day ski trip with MTN Guiding. With the quick access still fresh in my mind (it was actually the first time I had been in a helicopter) I was curious to compare the two different experiences.
Thomas sent the beta and an offer for me to ski into the lodge later that month. After looking at the GPS files I realized that it was not a short route, do-able even for weekend warriors but not your typical ski in lodge distance. The 22km and +1400m/-1000m vertical on the way into the Lodge were average mid to late season skiing days for me and lower than days I would consider “big”. Food and bedding were also waiting for me at the lodge, so I had a light pack when comparing it to most ski in huts I’ve been to. The route was straightforward and I had previously skied a good amount of it in previous trips. The only unknown area to me was between Burstall Pass and Leman Lake, but a little unknown never stopped me before, rather that’s what it was all about in my eyes!
This of course was radically different access than how I arrived to Talus during my last visit. The helicopter ride from the Shark Staging area is short and sweet. The landscapes are awe inspiring from the air and as you curve around White Man Mountain Talus Lodge presents itself perched above and below large cliffs. This option takes roughly 15 minutes from loading the heli to settling into your room, admittedly it was nice for a change.
Change is what Talus Lodge’s Climate Action plan is all about. We live in a world that is changing if we like it or not. “These are changing times. We have a responsibility and capacity to make positive progress. In this case, the solutions can deliver a more meaningful wilderness experience. Self propelled journeys feed the soul, foster physical and mental health and provide a greater connection to each other and to Earth.”. I couldn’t agree more with Talus Lodge owner Sara Renner. Self propelled mountain travel can be a lot of work but it is more rewarding and the ski route in and out of Talus is no exception.
I met Thomas, Leo and Aaron in Canmore early on December 26 in order to carpool to the Burstall Pass parking lot. We arrived just after 7am to a dark and cold -28C start. By sunrise we had already covered the first 5kms thanks to the well packed and maintained trail leading to Burstall Pass. I would imagine future guests will plan to start in the dark, the trail is easy to follow and to be honest there isn’t much to see for the first 4km.
The views improve radically over the next 2.5km. As you travel through treeline drainages and into the alpine you are surrounded by large peaks including Mount Birdwood and Sir Douglas. Once at Burstall Pass it was time for us to rip our skins and ski down a short slope to regroup. Thomas explained that in better avalanche conditions it was possible to sidehill the larger slope to the south in order to reach our true descent of Burstall Pass. After our regroup we skinned up to a high point and prepared to ski down into Banff National Park. This 400m run goes through well spaced trees with scattered pillows and it ended up being the highlight of the ski in route for me, this is excellent downhill skiing terrain.
Once reaching the flats and sharing the stoke of our individual runs we took a short break to have lunch in a flat sunny opening. This location is about the half way point for distance but a little under half way for effort. The next 2.5km travelled over mostly open flat terrain, including crossing over Leman Lake, before arriving at the border of Alberta and BC. The forest at the border feels a bit magical with the large snow covered trees and rolling terrain. I couldn’t help to look up at the slopes in this area with urges of doing a short lap, the terrain looked prime for freeskiing as it was covered in pillows and fallen old growths. Once exiting this magical, remote zone we were presented with a view of the Phat Albert ski run across the valley. Phat Albert is an awesome tree skiing run with 500-600m of fall line vertical, depending where you start. It is the final big climb before reaching treeline in order to access the lodge.
After a short break we skied down the old logging road to the base of Phat Albert and the trail breaking begun. With four strong skiers we made short work of the slope, in a larger guided group this task would be fairly easy if everyone was able to do their part. Sooner than I expected we found ourselves just north of Waterfall Lake and only 3km from Talus Lodge. After a short break we skinned up and through the smaller cliff bands to reach the alpine. We had been travelling for about 7 hours and it was decided to take a victory lap down Living Room Envy to end our day. If you go on this trip and the guide suggests the same you should take it. You’ll probably be tired but it’s not much more vertical and you are able to ski almost directly to the lodge instead of skinning the flats. Our trip ended up being 8 hours one way this time, Thomas explained that it was an average time with 6 hours being fast and 10 being long.
After two wonderful days of skiing at the lodge it was time to head home. The ski out is more enjoyable as the downhill sections hold better value due to less uphill travel. After leaving the lodge you skin over flats for less than 2km before stripping skins and heading down over rolling alpine terrain to the start of Phat Albert. On our trip we decided to ski the short couloir leading down to Waterfall Lake, this added about 100m vertical of climbing and was definitely worth it. After skinning to the top of Phat Albert we dropped in and enjoyed awesome turns all the way to the bottom of the valley, this run is one of my favorites for tree skiing in the Rockies. Following the old logging road up to the border of Banff National Park was easy and before we knew it we were crossing Leman Lake. We decided to strip our skins to head down to the flats but after doing so we both agreed it wasn’t really worth it. Next was the main climb for the day up to Burstall Pass but with only 400m it didn’t seem all that bad, and it really wasn’t. At the top of the Pass we found some great turns all the way to the open flats before the summer trail presented itself. With only 4km of rolling packed trail left we threw the skins on and made great time back to the parking lot. Our trip took 7 hours, which is about average and we got the bonus couloir run at Waterfall Lake, not bad at all!
“Now that you’ve done both what do you prefer?” asked Sara Renner. The fly in is nice and I assume most will take this option but the ski in is a true experience, one earned and with its own rewards. I highly recommend the ski out if the option is given, the downhill ski value is better than the ski in and it has a bit less mental wear as you can see most of the route from the lodge. When you ski Phat Albert from the lodge as a day trip it is a 11km round trip, the same effort would put you almost at Burstall Pass on the ski out.
I would recommend the ski in and out trip to Talus Lodge for strong skiers looking for an experience that will stay with them for many years. For those looking for a “ski vacation” the fly in access might be better value but then again there is nothing like a good adventure to have you forgetting about your day-to-day work life. I do not recommend this route for those who are focused on downhill skiing as a priority or those who have not done similar days for distance and vertical.
Regardless how you get there, a visit to Talus Lodge will not be forgotten. The skiing terrain will accommodate all skill levels, the food is outstanding and the views are world class. For more information visit www.taluslodge.com and to read more about their Climate Action plan please visit www.taluslodge.com/climate-action/