Sometimes, December can be darn cold and windy in the shaded north-facing slopes of the Alberta Front Ranges, but Sunday's tour off the Smith-Dorrien Highway south of Canmore proved to be quite excellent. This week's snowfall laid down a very pleasant 10-50cm of light fluff, depending on the aspect. The light snowfall during this day came with no wind, balmy -3C, and little of the way of visibility. First, we spent 30 minutes fixing up the ice bridge over the first stream crossing, in hopes coming cold weather would set this up for the winter.
We were wary of a class 2.5 avalanche that was documented on the Kananaskis facebook page, so as we ventured into the hanging valley, we were eying the various avalanche paths, trying to determine exactly where that had occurred. Much to our surprise, we finally saw that the slide had taken out a gully that was skied fairly regularly. The visibility was very difficult, but we finally realized that it had likely been caused by a cornice collapse that fell off the 200m headwall, onto steep, unsupported fresh snow below. This precipitated the 40m wide slide that eventually found it's way down into that gully. At that moment, a few skiers and riders came down off the steep col, and eventually encountered the rubble (again, visibility was tough). A couple of them actually cut the steeper slopes of the gully beside the rubble, and did not precipitate any sliding. This suggested the storm layer was bonded better that one would think.
We ventured in the other direction, up an alternate fairly steep aspect. At one point, we stopped to dig a snow pit to see what was up. There was definitely a layer (the "Dec 4 layer") caused by a period of no snowfall, clear starry nights, and high winds. However, compression tests suggested the storm layer was bonded reasonably well - not so much that I would venture into extreme terrain.
With that in mind, we climbed high onto a moraine, had a bite, took the skins off our skis, and one at a time, made a hundred turns back to the bottom. Big grins and thumbs up had us climbing back up for another run. Excellent fun!!
On the way out, the other ice bridge had collapsed - likely due to somebody walking across, instead of using skis (or their split board). Again, we took our shovels, and spend time fixing it up for next time. Sort of a community service!
By the way - we saw a total of 5 moose(s?) between us on our travels. This area is alive and well with those gangly ungulates!