December 4, 2020
I was on the hunt for snow. With half of Kananaskis shut down with the annual road closures and super hot temperatures further east, I headed to Lake Louise. Our original plan was to ski the track set Fairview Loop to Moraine Lake Road, go to the viewpoint, and then return via the Tramline. Instead, we opted for a last second adventure that took us out to Paradise Valley and Lake Annette. This detour was well worth the time and effort.
I absolutely love to ski. After trudging around in micro-spikes on my last four mountain adventures, the simplicity, lack of effort, and ability to eat up the kilometers quickly on my skis had me smiling all day. I know winter hiking is a new sport many are taking up, but if you truly love being outside in the winter, then I highly recommend skiing.
Parks Canada has a Winter Trails Map that you can download below. You can follow along using that map if you like. Note that Paradise Valley trails are NOT shown because they are in ATES Class 2 Challenging terrain.
We had our light touring skis (similar to cross-country skis but a bit wider and metal edges), poles, gators and regular day pack. We forgot a small thermos of hot tea, which we would regret later. We were in a Challenging ATES area so had our avalanche gear.
A pair of skins would have helped with the tricky snow conditions. There was fresh snow, but it was modified to sugar by clear overnight skies and a drop in temperature. There was a temperature inversion so the valleys were cold, but it warmed the higher we climbed. Our wax worked at some temps, but we did have to struggle in a few spots.
From the Lake Louise parking lot, take the Fairview trail (Trail #17 on the trail map). At the two junctions, be sure to take the straight ahead or lower of the options. To make a loop of Paradise Valley, continue past the trail head to the bridge. Follow the creek until you reach the turnoff for Lake Annette. Turn left and climb up to the lake. On the return, cross the first bridge to take you back to the main Paradise Valley trail. Follow this trail back to the Fairview Loop trail, which will then connect you with Moraine Lake. Turn left at Moraine (or turn right to the look out if you haven’t been) Lake Road. At the winter gates at the start of Moraine Lake Road, turn left to take the Tramline Trail back to Lake Louise.
Avalanche Terrain – Winter Travel Only
According to Parks Canada Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES), Fairview Loop, Moraine Lake Road and Tramline trails are all rated as “Simple – Class 1”. Paradise Valley is rated as “Challenging – Class 2”. Please ensure you have the experience and equipment necessary to ski into Paradise Valley / Lake Annette. This trip report is not an endorsement of avalanche or risk-free winter travel. All decisions are your own responsibility and at your own risk.
Parking and Trail Head
The entrance to Moraine Lake Road is closed this year, so we instead parked in the Upper lot of Lake Louise. This actually suited us just fine as it allowed us to take the Fairview Loop Trail, but if the Moraine Lake parking lot is open, then that’s a great way to go as well.
From the upper parking lot, head towards the lake.
Straight ahead (above the stairs) is the trail sign for Fairview (trail #17).
Turn left (away from the lake) and follow this wide and obvious trail. This is a mixed use trail, so be prepared for snowshoers and hikers. (The track set ski trail is Trail #2, accessed via Trail #4.)
Go straight (or slightly left) at the first junction. That trail takes you to Fairview Lookout that overlooks Lake Louise.
At the second junction, again to straight (or slightly left). That tail takes you to the col between Shoulder and Fairview Mountain.
Once past those two junctions, we continued straight ahead. The high point of the Fairview Lookout trail is around 2.5 km from the parking lot.
After the high point, it was downhill for another 1.5 km until we reached the trail head for Paradise Valley.
This is a major decision point. A) Turn right here to access the main Paradise Valley trail. This trail is above the valley, along the side of Saddle/Fairview Mountain. Dark red trail on map. B) Go straight to pick up the connector trail (major left in a few meters) to Moraine Lake Road. This route avoids all Class 2 Challenging terrain. Purple trail on map. Or C) go straight past the connector to Moraine Lake Road, go past the bridge, and then turn right to ski into Paradise Valley, following Paradise Creek. Blue trail on map.
We went into Paradise Valley via option C and followed the creek. On the way out, we took the more direct Option A back to the start of the Decision Point. We then took option B to exit via Moraine Lake Road.
From the intersection with Paradise Valley, we continued straight for another 200 m to the bridge over Paradise Creek.
We turned right after the bridge, and headed up Paradise Valley by following Paradise Creek. This is an absolutely delightful ski in, as we had the whole panorama of Mount Temple, Sheol Mountain, and the Saddle/Fairview Mountains to delight us.
The creek itself was also gorgeous. It was snow and ice covered, with hoar frost mounds growing in the cold overnight temperatures. It is not possible to do this route in the summer, because this whole area is moss and marsh, with many meandering creek fingers reaching out from the main Paradise Creek.
I will admit that we spent a long time skiing in, because we stopped to take a lot of photographs. Even though it was the same three mountains, each kilometer showed us a slightly different view. It was magical. It was also absolutely freezing! With the temperature inversion, it was about -18 in this low valley. I was thankful for my neoprene face mask. I also had hand warmers in my pack if it got too bad.
We continued up the valley until we reached the turn off for Lake Annette. This was about 8 km total from the parking lot, and 4 km from when we started skiing into Paradise Valley.
We could tell from the snowpack and tracks, that most people did not elect to go up to Lake Annette. Why is that, we wondered? We decided to go up here mainly because of our hiking buddy Annette. Would it be worth it?
The trail was badly damaged by skiers walking back down. Normally, I would rant about this, but on this occasion, I will not only forgive them, but heartily join in! The trail to Lake Annette is narrow and steep. This is where a good pair of skins would have been handy. Nevertheless, we persevered and skied up the misleading 600 m to the lake.
The view of Mount Temple from Lake Annette is stunning. From the highway, this view of Temple is more or less vertical and inspires awe and respect for the few mountaineers who have climbed this face. The view from Lake Annette showed the many options of climbing Mt Temple. I can see why people would climb it from here. Not me, but others.
To get back down from Lake Annette, I literally followed in my predecessors footsteps. It takes a LOT to get me off my skis, but this track was so narrow and steep, with a lovely steep and tree-infested drop off, that I thought it way safer to walk down. It takes even MORE for my husband Mike to remove his skis. He tried to ski the first several meters, but after a pretty good wipe-out, decided that skis off was safer.
So, was Lake Annette worth it? At the time, hell no. In the bigger picture of getting something done, absolutely! If only so I don’t have to go back and do it again (in the winter at least).
Paradise Valley Return
After hiking back to the start of the Lake Annette trail, we decided to take the main Paradise Valley trail back to the Fairview Loop. This will lead us directly to the start of the Decision Point area discussed above. This is the dark red trail on the map. We crossed the bridge, and then began to gain some elevation. The trail was higher up the side of the mountain than we thought, but this makes sense to get away from the boggy creek bed below.
The trail magically popped us out at the “Decision Point” section above. From this intersection, we continued straight for about 250 m. We turned left to take the main connector to access Moraine Lake Road.
We skied the connector trail for about 1 km of fairly fast downhill. This trail is tight and bumpy. Add in the freezing cold, the snow was rock hard and ungiving. On a warmer day, the snow would be softer and an easier ski down.
At the top of a little knoll, the trail splits. Straight ahead looks like the faster (shorter) route, but go left as you will almost immediately hook up with the gloriously track set Fairview #2 trail. This delivered us onto Moraine Lake Road (Trail #1).
From here, left will take you back to Lake Louise. Right takes you to the highpoint of Moraine Lake Road. Your choice.
If you went right on Moraine, this is the view from the look out. Mount Temple is on the right, Moraine Lake below, and a glimpse of the Valley of the 10 Peaks circling the lake.
We skied back to the winter gates at the start of Moraine Lake Road. On the left is the Tramline Trail (Trail #3), which took us back to the Lake Louise parking lot.
This is a wide trail with a really low grade for the original tram that would have run up from the Lake Louise townsite. It is a steady incline, but not that noticeable due to the slight grade.
This was a lovely day of exploration around Lake Louise on our light touring skis. At 20 km, with lots of exploration and stunning views, it was well worth the drive.
Totals – Tracked on Strava
Date: December 4, 2020
Group: Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance: 19.4 km
Elevation: 428 m (1,412′)
Time: 6 hours (includes lunch & breaks)