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.
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.
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.
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.
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.