Terrain Photos – Whitehorn II

The Ultimate Steeps is the area on the Lake Louise trail maps that is also known by its avalanche control name, Whitehorn II. The photo below is another taken from a helicopter on May 10,2007, and the effects of the warm spring weather are made obvious by the prevalent snowballing that can be seen. Comprising seven gullies, Whitehorn II is a vast and steep area that used to be a permanent avalanche closure, and has only recently become a regular part of the yearly run inventory at Lake louise.

Up until about 15 years ago, all avalanche control at Lake Louise was performed by Parks Canada. I can remember my first few seasons skiing at Lake Louise, skiing along the valley bottom towards Paradise chair and seeing a park warden sitting on a snowmobile at the bottom of ER 5, waiting to write tickets for those entering the avalanche closure above. When avalanche control operations were handed to the ski area, it took a number of years for the control staff to learn all of the intricacies of the weather history and also of the terrain that had up to then been regularly open. While an in-depth knowledge of a slope’s snowpack is essential to forecast hazard, one must also be intimately familiar with the ground that lies underneath, since surface features such as trees and rocks play a large part in how the snowpack behaves on a slope. These features can also affect how the wind travels across a slope, and have a large influence on how wind-blown snow (fetch) distributes itself in any given area.

Once the avalanche control team had become familiar with the reguarly-open terrain, they began to set their sights on places that had never opened, and for which little historical information existed. The first year Whitehorn II opened was for the final two weeks of the season, when the relative lack of experience in that terrain was tempered by the settling effects of the warm spring temperatures. Then, with each passing year, and as familiarity increased, that terrain would open earlier and earlier each season, provided of course that conditions permitted. In a good year, when things like snowfall, temperature, and wind cooperate, Whitehorn II can be opened well before Christmas.

In the photo below, runs that appear on the Lake Louise trail map appear in black text. Other features of note appear in red or white. In the recent re-naming of much of the alpine terrain, each of the gullies in Whitehorn II received a new handle, and to avoid confusion, each gully’s name starts with the letter with which it was formerly identified (e.g. Adrenaline = ‘A’ Gully). While knowing which gully you’re in can sometimes be a little confusing, there are a few visual aids that can be helpful. For example, when looking up from below, Chimney (‘C’ Gully) is the first gully, going from left to right, that reaches the full height of the Summit Platter. Chimney is also the gully you’d be skiing if you unloaded the Platter and went straight over the back and down without traversing. Adrenaline and Big Horn are shorter, and start lower down.

To enjoy the full vertical of F, G, and H/I Gullies, cross the Boomerang traverse and enter through the gate at the high point at the end of the traverse, rather than the gate at the top of the lift. Most people enter through the lower traverse, meaning four or five turns in mostly-untracked snow await those who enter from above. As mentioned in an earlier post, you won’t find ‘I’ gully on the trail map since it is actually a part of Whitehorn III. However, in order to open H Gully, I Gully must also be controlled, and in good years is a skiable line. H and I Gullies always open and close together, since there is no practical way to divide the two with closure fences.

The Ultimate Steeps

The Ultimate Steeps (click on photo for larger version)


3 Comments on “Terrain Photos – Whitehorn II”

  1. snowsurfer says:

    This is an awesome pic, can’t wait to experience the Lake at it’s fullest. I’ve just moved out to Banff for the season and hear that Lake on a powder day is hard to beat. Will be frequenting your blog and add you to my blogroll too on my site: snowboarders for life.

  2. yak says:

    What year were your terrain photos taken? The coverage looks ridiculous.

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