The Presidents in Yoho National Park are a popular alpine mountaineering objective in the summer months. They offer one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Yoho due to their prominence relatively to other surrounding peaks, and on a clear day you can see more 11,000′ Canadian Rockies Peaks than almost anywhere in the Rockies.
In the Winter, they offer a different kind of challenge. Equally, if not more stunning than the summer – the 23km approach from the valley floor of Field, BC is what makes this a much less appealing place to visit.
There is a hut, but you first have to get there…
The Stanley Mitchell hut is an incredible hut. It is located right at the base of the Presidents Glacier, in the absolutely stunning Yoho National Park. The hut is certainly one of the most charming of all the huts in the Rockies. An old log cabin style, with a large party room and lots of views in all directions.
The catch to this little piece of paradise is that the normally short approach from Takkakaw falls in the summer becomes close to a 24km slog from Field due to the closure of the Takkakaw Falls road in the winter due to Avalanche hazard off of Mt Wapta. Not only is it long in distance, but a significant amount of elevation gain totally just over 1000m is included in the slog. Fortunately, the views are incredible the entire way. Just be prepared to spend a full day reaching the hut, and getting back to the car.
The Perfect Base of Ski Touring Operations
However, once you arrive to the Stanley Mitchell Hut, you are located in the perfect place to start your assault on the local slopes. The amount of high quality, high elevation sub-alpine and alpine ski slopes accessible from the hut is enourmous. Beyond the Presidents, Kiwetinok, McArthur, Pollinger, Isolated, and Whaleback peaks all ring the hut. Each mountain hosting dozens of lines and nearly limitless terrain.
However, if your main objective is to ski tour the presidents, the hut is perfectly located.
Accessing the Presidents
Accessing the Presidents from the hut is straightforward. I quick skin across the valley floor, and you are almost immediately gaining elevation on the Presidents Glacier.
The significant number of Crevasses on the North Glacier route do present a challenge and objective danger for summer attempts. In the winter, they are hidden. Most often, filled in with snow from January until April. However, they still pose a very significant risk. Many of the crevasses are more than significant enough to kill someone, and must be approached with utmost caution. Roping up for this ascent is a wise choice.
There is some Avalanche risk on isolated areas on the route. Most notably, some convex rolls in the lower moraines, and some significant overhead hazard and a steep convex at the top near the col. However, overall the slope is somewhat low angle, keeping the objective risk limited to the massive lurking crevasses below your skis.
The Presidents offer significant vertical relief – even after all the elevation gain from Field. Nearly 1,200m separates you from the summit – more if you choose to tick both summits in the same day (a must do!).
The benefit of this elevation gain is the absolutely glorious 900m run from Presidents Col to the Stanley Mitchell Hut. One of the very best single ski runs in the entire Canadian Rockies.
Presidents Col and the Summits
Upon reaching the col, you have three options. You can climb/ski one or both of the summits. The President (proper) is higher, and boasts a spectacular view. However, the semi-technical nature of the climb means skiing from the summit is unlikely for many.
The Vice President is much more skiable. However, the view is not quite as amazing, despite the massive main summit dwarfing the westward view.
It is highly recommended to give yourself a full day with an early start and ascend both summits if possible. Skiing both if possible, but definitely giving the Vice President a fair chance.
Alternately, many parties will “mountaineer” the summits, and opt to ski the north glacier only.
The North Glacier of the Presidents
This is without a doubt, one of the best big glacier lines in the entire Canadian Rockies. The North Glacier features wide open slopes, a relatively mellow angle, and close to 2000′ of vertical are almost unbeatable in a single run. The views north over the Waputik/Wapta Icefields are also truly mind-blowing. If there’s one view that captures the intensity of the Rockies in Winter, this is it.
My Experience Ski Touring the Presidents
On the day we climbed these peaks, we found the ridge to the President proper to be quite mushroomed with faceted flute-like snow making for some challenging ascending and descending. I personally wouldn’t have been comfortable skiing the face in these conditions, however i’m sure some wouldn’t have a problem with it. The South-East face of the President also was covered in amazing Alaska-style spines that could most certainly make for an incredible line for anyone wanting to give it a go.
The Vice President was significantly better, with a supportive snowpack topped with around 30cm of fresh powder. This made for reasonably good climbing and excellent skiing.
Overall, the Presidents are an incredible winter ski tour, tempered only by the long approach to the Hut. With that said, there is more than enough ski touring in the area to warrant spending as long as a week or two in the area. It holds a ton of good snow most years, and the terrain is most certainly second to none in the Rockies.
Safety Disclaimer for Ski Touring the Presidents
The Presidents are a major and serious ski mountaineering objective. The approach alone crosses a number of massive avalanche paths, which are a significant risk during times of high-avalanche danger. The hut and route are also extremely remote – with upwards of a 7 hour ski back to cell service if something goes wrong.
Avalanche Danger is significant at certain areas of the route – particularly on the upper headwall, and the upper slopes to both summits. Crevasses on the North Glacier route are very large, and often open early and late season. They are also visible as looming behemoths even in the winter.
All and all, while an incredibly rewarding objective, the Presidents are also one of the most serious and remote of all that I have written about on this website.
However, if you have the skill and experience, this is certainly one of the great ski touring objectives in all of Yoho National Park.
The climb up the glacier is relatively easy to the col. From there, conditions will determine how easy or complex the final climb to the President and Vice President will be.
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