Surprise Pass, Lake Louise Alberta

~ By JonnyPublished March 1, 2020


Surprise Pass ski tour, near Lake Louise Alberta, is one of those iconic backcountry tours that deserves a revisit at least once per year when conditions are good. This classic ski tour requires a solid 3-6 hours to complete the approximately 900m of elevation gain over roughly 9km. The first 2-3km ascends nearly 550m to Sheol valley, where you traverse relatively flat terrain (with exceptions) to the final couloir ascent to the pass.

The route travels through significant complex avalanche terrain, so good conditions are a requirement. Learn more about Skiing in the Canadian Rockies here.

The final pay off for your efforts is a spectacular 700m run from the pass to the west end of Lake Louise, often featuring excellent snow and wide-open turns.

There are numerous options along the way for side laps en route to surprise pass proper. A short walk up to the top of Mt. Fairview provides a few extra turns, and more ambitious parties could tick the boot pack to the top of the dogleg couloir on skiers left while descending the main slope to the lake.

One of the main highlights of the tour is most definitely the impressive Aberdeen and Haddo glacier looming behind you while you ascend the main Surprise Pass Col. The views of Lake Louise and Mt. Victoria on the descent are further eye candy.

Continued below….

Ascending the Surprise Pass Col with Aberdeen looming behind
The first drop into Sheol Valley, and three skiers below heading up towards Surprise Pass
The first drop into Sheol Valley, and three skiers below heading up towards Surprise Pass

Surprise Pass Trip Report

We started from the car park sometime around 9 am, and by noon we had finished the boot pack to the pass. Greeting us was a solid 800m ski run to the valley bottom with near-perfect snow on the top 2/3rd’s of the run.

Strava GPS track of the route (missed the first kilometer)
Skiing up the bowl towards the pass

We found fairly stable conditions across the entire route, with no recent signs of instability. The boot pack to the col was also pretty benign, with some nice solid snow near the top making the final few meters a piece of cake.

Final kick turns to the top of Surprise Pass

For anyone looking for a quick day tour with a near-perfect run, this is an ideal choice. The tour is relatively quick as well as it is only around 10km return and 800m of elevation gain. Fit parties should be able to complete the tour in 3-5 hours.

The run down from Surprise Pass proper is not a Couloir, however, it does feature some beautiful walls at the top on either side and is a wide gully-like feature with plenty of room to make big turns.

Safety Disclaimer

As with all ski touring objectives in the Canadian Rockies, caution and good conditions are a must. Be sure to visit https://avalanche.ca for up to date avalanche forecasting. User your experience and judgement to make safe decisions when attempting complex terrain such as Surprise Pass.

The first few turns from the Col on Surprise Pass
Perfect snow for miles
Perfect snow, and the excellent dog leg couloir on lookers right
@alpinebettie getting some amazing turns
Nearly to the bottom of Surprise Pass
The last few turns on Surprise Pass
Go Pro shot from the col.

One thought on “Surprise Pass, Lake Louise Alberta

  1. Pingback: Ogden Bench / Sherbrook Lake Ski Touring - Alpine Journals

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