I always look forward to the first turns of the season. With the early snowfall this year, I thought I would have a good chance of finding turns up in the Helm Creek area, maybe on the Helm Glacier or somewhere around the Black Tusk. It had only snowed for a day or two prior to the Thanksgiving weekend, so I was uncertain on how much snow there actually would be. The forecast was looking good enough, with a clearing trend on Monday. If nothing else, I would go on a nice hike with my skis with some quality scenery. To prepare for the first day of skiing, I hosted a calzone hosting party (for one). Partial whole wheat calzones with olives mushrooms and chorizo and lots of cheese. They freeze well and make for perfect ski day lunches.
Snow line. Two bikers, two trail runners going up and one coming down were the only people I saw all day. I love Garibaldi Park during the shoulder season. The snow patch off the shoulder of Black Tusk was my initial idea. I wasn’t sure how much snow I would find up there. I ended up skiing solo, as I wasn’t sure if there was actually any skiing to be had. I would feel bad about dragging somebody else out for a long hike when there were more interesting things to watch on Netflix.
Hiking up through the forest via Helm Creek trail. It’s a longer way to get to ski-able slopes if that’s what you’re after. The Garibaldi switchbacks to Taylor Meadows to the south slopes of the Black Tusk is the quickest way to get to turns around here (see 2015 ski trip report), but I wanted to change it up this time. I was just on a late-season hiking trip, with my skis. I didn’t mind the slog. It was cloudy on the drive up and in the parking lot, but the sunshine started to appear. I was getting damp from the humid conditions under the forest canopy as the snow melted off the tops.
Early fall snowfall. There was about 30-40cm of snow up here. No base to speak of, but with the overnight rain and cold temperatures, the snow surface was almost frozen. Every step was crunchy. It snowed most of the day on Saturday up here, but it rained at the tail end of the storm. When I checked the Whistler weather plot, Pig Alley was showing +2 and rain. There were some impressive rain runnels out there.
The snow conditions were less than ideal for turns today. Behind me, is the north side of the Black Tusk that offers a nice ski run. The top is a permanent snowfield, with smooth slopes below. I’m eating my summit calzone on top of the Cinder Cone here. After seeing how much snow there was, and how nice it was for going up rather than down, I decided to make a tour out of the weekend instead.
Looking over the Helm Glacier and Castle Towers Mountain. I decided to go and camp up at the col. Having run through that area in the summer, I thought it would be nice to stop and spend time up in that scenic spot, especially with the forecasted clearing weather. Fingers crossed I wouldn’t end up in a whiteout up there.
There are some nice smooth slopes on the northwest side of the Cinder Cone where you can make good early season turn with the less amount of snow. It’s all just little rocks, so you can ski it with ease. On the other hand, I discovered that the south side of the Cinder Cone is much rockier. It’s a good thing the snow was completely frozen. No rocks were injured on this descent, despite my best efforts.
30cms of firm snow on the Helm Glacier. The snow was semi-breakable. The entire time while skinning up the Helm Glacier, I could hear the snow consolidating with every step. A little spooky. I stepped onto the glacier a little above the toe, stayed in the middle, and veered climber’s left where it steppened to avoid the thinly bridged crevasses. Most of them were quite obvious, but with more snow now, I would be more cautious.
My “hole in the snow” and Gentian Peak behind me. The forecast was for some light to moderate north-easteries as the high pressure built. It’s not exactly wind protected at the col up here. The wind pressed snow was ideal for building a snow wall. With a few cuts of the shovel, I could lift up a metre long block without it breaking in half.
My little home at the top of the Helm Glacier, near the rocks. Note the crevasses on the right, up on the headwall on the Helm Glacier. You can avoid that before trending left as the slope steepens on the Helm Glacier (see google earth imagery and old summer photos).
Evening light on the northwest face of Castle Towers Mountain. A memorable ski descent in perfect conditions.
My Thanksgiving meal of corn and crust. My first turns with two skis in a long time. I didn’t really count the sideway slipping and mini-golfing off the Cinder Cone as skiing. My spring ski season didn’t quite pan out the way I imagined. I lost a ski, hurt my shoulder and decided to do more trail running instead by late-May after a very warm start to the month.
I woke up expecting clear skis and bright sunshine. The forecast of evening clearing and sunshine on Monday didn’t materialize. The deep through to the south was still pushing clouds into the area, while the high pressure in the north developed. The morning sunshine didn’t hit any of the mountains in the area, except for Mount Tinniswood way to the northwest.
Where to go? It was cold out. -8C with a light northerly wind. The snow was completely frozen. Steep ski slopes were not going to be fun. I decided to ski down the Helm Glacier, part way, traverse over to the lake in view and then up the east side of Panorama Ridge.
Touring on the Helm Glacier, or maybe just posing for the camera and pulling my saggy MEC clearance schoeller pants up. I bought those for $10 once! Nowhere near as good as my Outdoor Research Trailbreaker pants, but these still hold up to most ski days.
The top of Panorama Ridge was well, panoramic. I didn’t have anywhere in particular to go, the snow was kind of terrible for turns. I was less looking forward to making turns, than opening my summit beer and chowing down on my calzone. This was the theme of the weekend for me, pizza, not french fries. Food wise, and ski technique too. Flowy ski turns did not happen on this trip. Snow plows and side slipping were all I did.
But because the snow was so firm, my skis were well bridged over most of the rocks. It was still a salt and pepper slope on the way down. I flew over the bootpack track on the way off the top, landed way in the backseat and scraped my pants on a rock as I glided over it. The rest of the descent was a little less eventful. I’ve skied the main run on the right in the spring. But it the upper shrund was poorly bridged. You might be able to bypass it on the climber’s left side. This can be a nice 300m run in good conditions.
I didn’t do the full Helm headwaters loop. That should include going up the east shoulder of the Black Tusk and then skiing down the north slope (see trip report). But the snow didn’t look good, and I’ve skied that before. I’ve never been to Empetrum Peak, a little less-travelled part of Garibaldi Park, despite behind so close to the more popular spots. It offers a nice view of the north side of the Black Tusk. It was either going up to the summit and going home late, or skiing out and going home early. The choice was easy for me on this beautiful early October day.
I crossed the Cinder Flats and hopped across a few rocks over Helm Creek. The south slopes leading up to the col between the Tusk and Empetrum Peak were softening in the sun. These grassy slopes were only covered with 10-20cm of snow in places. I’ve skied on less snow before though, mostly during the mid-winter season at Cypress Mountain. I finally found my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes on this south aspect when I descended later.
It was actually geting chilly on the summit of Empetrum Peak. The Helm Creek valley is behind me. The summit was further than I thought it was, as it’s along a rolling ridge. There are a few ski lines off the ridge that look good with a good snowpack.
The beautiful Helm Creek landscape. I love this time of the year when you get the first snowfall in the mountains. The sunny days aren’t common, and I’m really happy when the timing and conditions make a trip like this possible. The water was only knee deep here, an easy crossing.
The fading sunshine at Helm Campground. It was a little slow going getting to here after crossing Helm Creek. There wasn’t much snow in the lava fields. It’s quite a bit flatter here than Taylor Meadows, where you can just rip your skins and effortlessly glide out.
It was another two hours of skiing/hiking back down to the car leaving Helm campground. I skied down to 1300m, with some fairly marginal skiing in the forest. I’m sure I left a lot of ptex on the trail, enjoying some questionable skiing when it was definitely faster to just walk. I turned on my headlamp at the Cheakamus bridge and quickly walked the last 1.5km uphill back to the parking lot. As per usual, with low expectations, you can turn any conditions into a pretty good ski trip.