With spring on the way, it’s time to get down to this business of line skiing. The Kindergarten Couloir is a stunning, relatively chill North-facing line sitting above the south end of Boom lake in Banff National Park. We had the couloir on our list for the season as it gets a reputation for being a straight-forward Rockies Classic. Despite the relatively mellow nature of it (compared to something like Aemmer’s or the Grand Daddy Couloir), it is still definitely full value… running almost 700m from the top-out to the bottom of the fan in one straight shot, somewhere between 35-45 degrees for its entire length.
The line still deserves a fair amount of respect. We found substantial avalanche debris on the fan from a recent mini-cycle that flushed out a lot of the faceted top layer triggering a bunch of loaded slabs on the fan itself. A number of accidents have happened in here as well, with more than a few people getting buried by cornice triggered avalanches through the years. One of the writers of the Icefields Parkway guide book was almost completely buried here in an accident in 2017. Be sure to use your own judgment and experience to make a call when attempting.
This is a Canadian Rockies Couloir, and it is impossible to avoid risk when choosing to ski one. Use your best judgment and minimize risk by starting early, and avoiding this kind of terrain when the avalanche risk isn’t optimal.
Kindergarten Couloir Trip Report 2019
We were up early, at the trailhead by 7:45. It was also time change weekend, which means we had gotten out of bed at the equivalent of 5am. Add to that the fact that it felt like -30C at the parking lot, it was a bit of a rough start.
We skinned the 5km to boom lake… overshooting the turnoff by about .5km, instead skiing the trail to the lake, and then backtracking south to the base of the fan.
The fan definitely wasn’t looking very conducive to skiing. There were fresh tracks from the day before on the right aspect of it, but the left aspect was completely covered in avalanche debris from failed overloaded windslab. We were not feeling very optimistic, but decided to skin up a relatively safe channel of small trees to the top of the fan to dig some pits and scope out the conditions further.
Conditions continued to worsen as we climbed up. It was clear (as noted above) that a number of wind slab pockets had ripped out, and the variable nature of the pack made us think there could be more landmines waiting to blow. We dug two pits at the top of the fan, which failed about 60cm down on facets. Not great, but also seemingly localized to pockets no bigger than a few dozen meters wide at most. We made the decision to traverse over a little further to check out the couloir proper, and we are glad we did.
The scary conditions on the fan gave way to much more supportive (and typical) conditions in the line itself. Punchy hardpack snow topped with variable 10-20cm of soft was just what the doctor ordered.
We continued up the line, sticking right to the more sheltered aspect for the most part, and finding near perfect boot-packing conditions the entire way.
We quickly learned that this thing is actually pretty big. What looked like a short bootpack from the bottom turned out to be a line almost the same length as the Grand Daddy at almost 700m (2,300′) from the valley below (albeit, slightly less steep). A few hundred meters of bootpacking got us to the very top of the line, where the possibility of topping out was blocked by vertical sugar snow and an overhanging cornice.
We decided it wasn’t worth soloing the overhanging ice, and instead opted to switch over to downhill mode about 30m below the top out at a pinnacle that made for a nice natural platform.
We switched over and dropped in.
The top of the line was almost perfect snow. Just enough soft wind loading and sluff to make for reasonable turns, and only a few icy patches as we went down. The natural structure of the couloir makes for a number of safe zones to stop in on the way down to regroup, and also give our legs a rest.
A few hundred meters back down spit us out at the top of the fan. We opted to take the slightly steeper line to the right of the tree break, which landed us in some pretty variable snow at the top, and deep facets below. Back in the sun, it was starting to feel way more like spring than the icy confines of the North-East facing couloir itself.
We took a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine, before putting our skins back on and hiking back up to the high point of the trail back to the car. From there, it was skins off, and mostly ripping the luge run to the bottom.
Overall, a perfect day. Kindergarten was a bigger objective than we thought it might be, as long as the Grand Daddy Couloir we had done a few weeks earlier, and almost as steep near the top. In addition, it ended up being nearly a 15km round trip car to car, and overall about 900m of elevation gain throughout the course of the day.
A worthy entry in a long line of classic lines in the Canadian Rockies.