canada,  rockies

a canadian exploration | little sifton, rogers pass

7 mi . 3400 ft gain . 7730 ft high

Note: We did not end up doing the full Little Sifton tour, which would have been closer to 4500 feet of gain.

When near Rogers Pass, one must ski tour Rogers Pass, if that is in your wheelhouse! It’s simply a backcountry skiing paradise with so many options and easy access to giant bowls and open slopes. But then, that also means it is prone to higher avalanche risks. During this trip, there were a lot of factors that played into decision making from being tired of back-to-back downhill days, to getting sick, to the weather and avalanche conditions. Regardless, we were fortunate enough to squeeze in one day of Rogers Pass. I was only a little jealous of a group who dedicated a whole week of touring up here for their vacation! I surely will be back to explore more of this wealth of fun.

Glacier National Park

Picking a route

Probably the most common area to tour is straight from the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. The main approach is the Balu Pass trail, following the Connaught Creek. The Balu Pass uphill track made me think of my local ski touring area, Snoqualmie Pass. It’s a well-trodden trail, mostly easy to follow and brings you through a long valley with some overhead hazards. But unlike the Source Lake winter trail, this one gets you out of the forest much quicker. Somehow the Balu Pass trail was smooth as butter and worked equally well as an out track.

Within the Balu Pass valley, you’ll find plenty of bowls and narrow chutes to ski. There are so many options for all sorts of adventures here. The simplest tour is heading straight to the saddle, Balu Pass. It’s low-angled terrain, so it might not be as exciting for some. However, I do think that this would be an ideal route for high avalanche risk days or for those who want a straight forward day. The next low-angled routes are primarily on the north side of Connaught Creek. There are plenty of bowls under the Ursus Major and Ursus Minor Mountains. One of the most famous runs is Grizzy Couloir just east of Ursus Minor.

And then there’s Peak 2730 or Little Sifton. This is the one we chose. While the skin track will force you to travel through some steeper terrain, it primarily travels through a convex, forested terrain when it is steep. Basically you’re trying to ride the ridge line as much as possible, meaning you minimize the potential to get caught in a slide. It also has one of the shortest approach along the Connaught Creek/Balu Pass trail. And above the initially steep terrain, it remains at a low angle (<27 deg) all the way to the summit.

To the south of Connaught Creek lies Cheops Mountain, which has a few north-facing bowls and some moderate terrain to the south side near Balu Pass. It’s got plenty to explore for both the thrill seekers and the view seekers.

It would take more than one blog to thoroughly explain the other ski touring regions near Rogers Pass. For reference, I’ll mention a few other tours we considered as backup plans. The Asulkan Access to Illecillewaet Glacier and nearby bowls by Eagle Peak and Asulkan Pass looked pretty and generally travels on low-angle terrain with minimal hazards. However, we decided against that area because it had a longer approach with less exciting skiing. The glaciated terrain was much more mellow terrain (read: flat) and we weren’t sure how well covered the glacier would be in terms of bringing glacier gear. There are a few bowls near Avalanche Peak, but seemed to have more overhead hazard than we wanted. And lastly, starting here meant driving back from the Discovery Centre and it seemed like less hassle to just drive to one location. In general, exploring new terrain with new weather and avalanche patterns meant being more conservative with decisions.

Mesmerizing peaks along the highway

Permits and Highway Avalanche Control

Before we could get going on our tour, there were more complications than I was used to in Washington. But I am grateful for the system they’ve placed at Rogers Pass! For general winter highway avalanche control, there are specified regions that are closed for the whole winter season and some that are intermittently open. Every morning at 7am, you can check to see which ones are open that day. Sometimes it can be a bummer that you can’t start earlier but I’ll take any excuse to sleep in!

Everyone in your party needs their own winter permit, free to obtain. The point of a permit is understanding where you can recreate and fines are severe if you violate it, not to mention the potential accident. If you’re planning to ski multiple days, I highly recommend taking the 45 minute (or less) quiz to receive an annual winter permit. It takes a couple days to process, but you can print out the permit at home. It includes a parking permit for a single car. If you’re planning to ski just a day or two, it’s easy enough to get a daily permit at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre. They open at 7am.

Additionally, you’ll need a Canadian National Park Pass called a Discover Pass. The America the Beautiful pass does not work here! You can buy either a daily pass for $11/person or an annual pass, which may be a better option for a longer trip. It can be purchased at any National Park visitor center, like at Lake Louise or the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and a few other places too!

Now you’re all set to go!

Pre-Trip Planning

It goes without saying, but it’s always a good idea to double check everything before you click into your skis. There’s decent cell service in the Rogers Pass area, especially by the Discovery Centre. Check the avalanche conditions and definitely check which regions along the highway are open using their interactive map. It truly is for your own safety. There are restrictions for parking as well as recreating in specific areas and it can change day to day. I found that taking the quiz for the annual permit was super informative! And then obviously, go check weather one last time.

Sunset along the highway by Rogers Pass
Balu Pass
Crawling under the cliff band and escaping through the left


Like aforementioned, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of following the skin track up Balu Pass. It hadn’t snowed in days, so there were no restrictions on where you could ski tour that day. A few other groups had gone up before us. Some headed straight up the valley and others just hiking above us, going towards Little Sifton. Using old tracks I pulled from the internet (likely off of Caltopo shared maps feature), I could approximate when to turn off the main track and start heading uphill. Generally, the trail took the path of least resistance and start heading up when the trees thin out. It would zig zag up the steep slope, but at least it got it all out of the way for the first nearly 2000 vertical feet.

The trickiest bit was navigating some cliffs that weren’t shown on the map. They must’ve only been 20-30ft tall, with few gaps to surmount it. Instead, we followed tracks that exactly matched the gpx file I had imported to my phone. When we reached the cliffs, we traversed under the cliff headed north. There were tracks going around the south end, but I’d wouldn’t recommend it (although you could try exploring that and let me know what you find!). Eventually, we found one little gap to pass through to reach the flat expanse one the above ridgeline. On this particular day, we encountered lots of holes and gaps created by the boulder field. Soon, the visibility got incredibly low for us and that added some difficulty in visual assurance for what hazards laid around us.

Once on the ridge, it was smooth following the old skin track. That is, until wind blown snow had covered the tracks here and there. And then with the low visibility, it made our heads spin and we felt a little lost. Fortunately, the terrain was mellow enough I simply charged forth. But soon, we had enough of the low vis conditions and decided to turn around. Skiing on the wind affected snow was unusual but we found pockets of soft snow coming down near the trees. Navigation was tricky while managing the descent because we started to see the potential of wet loose avalanche, as exhibited by rollerballs we’d send off under the sun. We were surprised to find moments of easy skiing in and out of the grabby snow.

We started getting pulled into the slide path and found it difficult to stay in the dense trees, so we decided to quickly and directly cross over the gully where we saw other ski tracks descending just above on a ridge. Once at the bottom of the gully, we met up with our morning tracks along the Connaught Creek, smooth sailing our way back to the Discovery Centre.

Although we didn’t summit Little Sifton as planned, it felt like a great decision to turn around. There was no need to push the limits, it wasn’t like we could tour everything here anyway or get summit views or ski non-wind affected snow if we went higher. So in all regards, it was still a great ski tour given all the conditions.

Before the low-vis conditions
Cheops Mountain
Looking towards Avalanche Mountain


  • Get more info about Rogers Pass ski tour areas and your ski touring permits here
  • Make sure to check online to see what areas are open the morning of your tour and/or stop by the Discovery Centre if you’re not sure
  • Don’t forget a Discover Pass (Canadian national park pass) whether for just a day or two or a full annual pass!
  • We based ourselves 45 min away in Revelstoke, but you can just as easily get to Rogers Pass from Golden 50 min away

Photos taken on Canon 5D Mark IV

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