There are some awesome, hidden gems all over the Canadian Rockies. Venturing out beyond the usual ski touring haunts, it’s easy to find some amazing lines quickly, and often with not a lot of effort. The sugar cube is a perfect example of a quick day trip that rewards a short drive and approach with an awesome little line.
Adam, Brandon and I started the day without much of an objective. We wanted to ski somewhere around the icefields parkway to take advantage of the higher altitude and more snow. Unfortunately, none of us had a lot of area knowledge yet, as it was early in the season. We settled on Cirque Peak area, and set off.
We started out by accessing the zone from the creekbed (rather than the Helen Shoulder access) and soon found the snow to be extremely wind affected.
We grew concerned that our day might become more of a hike than a ski due to snow conditions. Upon exploring the valley, we noticed the interesting sugar cube feature on the far west end of the zone. I had seen the feature in Marcus Baranow’s 93N guidebook, and decided to head that direction to assess.
As we climbed the fan below the Sugar Cube, we found much better snow than expected. Finding better conditions than expected would become a theme for the rest of the year.
We skied partway up the fan, and then soon found ourselves boot packing through incredibly deep facets towards the short Couloir. While it was short, the incredibly deep and bottomless facets meant we were fully wallowing our way up.
We soon were grateful for the effort as we topped out on the Sugar Cube, and clipped in for a short but rewarding run back down to Cirque valley.
Accessing the Sugar Cube
There are a few ways to access the Sugar Cube. In good conditions, the most ideal way is to ascend as per Crystal Ridge, and drop over the East aspect towards Helen Lake. You can then exit via Cirque Peak Access, the Helen Lake Summer trail, or by climbing back out. This is the “easiest” way, however it requires bomber avalanche conditions as the East Aspect of Crystal ridge is subject to wind loading.
The alternate way to access the Sugar Cube is to park as for Cirque Peak, and ascend the Cirque Peak/Helen Lake valley to the bench just south of Helen Lake proper. From here, the Sugar cube is obvious and is a relatively short ski + bootpack to ascend. This is the optimal way to approach if uncertain of conditions, as it allows you to assess while ascending.
From here, you can ski out to your car the same way you came in.
Be aware that either approach requires a bit of a slog, and frankly isn’t a lot of vertical skiing for a lot of effort. The Sugar Cube is certainly a novel feature in the area, but there are better bang-for-buck ascents in this area if you are focused on good skiing.
Approximate round trip (via Cirque access): 8km+
Approximate elevation gain (via Cirque): ~500m