Well, that was the most thrilling (!!) trip I've ever had.
We spent the early part of Saturday in Calgary gathering up our avy gear rentals, shopping for food, and getting our plastic sleds and odds and ends for rigging from Canadian Tire (what a great store!). We then drove the Trans-Canada Highway to just the other side of Yoho National Park. The drive through Banff and Yoho parks was spectacular and TERRIFYING. Great, immense crown lines loomed on the lofty peaks, all along the Trans-Canada Highway. The debris piles were eerily close to the road, long avalanches having come down practically every path. The danger was obvious.
We stayed in a little lodgepole pine AirBnB house on the Kicking Horse River, just to the west of Yoho Nat'l Park (halfway between Field and Golden, BC). We (luckily) bumped into the neighbor, who turned out to run a dogsled business in Lake Louise, and was also a retired guide. She asked us what we were up to for the week. We told her about our plans to ski up to the Elizabeth Parker Hut and spend 4 nights there. She raised her eyebrows and asked, "Do you have a guide?" I replied that we didn't, and that it would be really expensive to get one. She turned stone-faced and asked, "How much is your life worth?" Uh, we got the picture. We cancelled our hut reservations that night. (The ACC was really great about it. We got enough back to cover much of the cost of alternative lodgings.)
Our group was thrown into disarray trying to decide on appropriate things to do while staying clear of avy paths. Two of us split off to ski Lake Louise on Sunday, which turned out to be a really busy powder day. I took my Cham 97 HM skis (with AXL bindings). It was glorious. We did a couple runs through the larches, steep and deep for sure. My ski buddy for that day is an excellent in-area downhill skier (former college racer), but this was her first foray into trees and untracked powder. It was a challenge but she loved it. Other members of the group skied the groomed XC trails around Lake Louise (the lake) and loved that. We all met for late afternoon tea at the Chateau Lake Louise. It was a very good day.
On Monday, we packed into our cars and drove up the Icefields Parkway. It was only open as far as Saskatchewan Crossing. By Hector Lake, we saw a lonely blue VW Golf, covered in snow, parked on the shoulder. We later found out that was the rental car left by the two young doctors from Boston who had died in an avy burial on Sunday April 12. That was chilling, to say the least. Very, extremely sad. We drove on, under perfect bluebird skies, oohing and aahing at the humongous avy paths all around us. Of course, the mountains are *incredibly* beautiful there -- glaciers hanging down, absolutely buried in thick snow. We stopped at the Bow Summit parking area, where we saw a party of skiers going up to Bow Summit. Knowing that we were in no way qualified to assess avy danger up there, we opted to ski the foot trail to the Peyto Lookout. The hiking trail to Peyto Lookout gave us easy skiing and a view over the wetlands at the head of the lake that was, uh... glorious. Words can't describe it. It's a real shame, but our ski back down was marred by a group of clueless 20-somethings who completely postholed the trail. I mean, it was an absolute bloodbath. Oh well. Just like the Catskills in that respect. Hurry up and ski it before the hordes of bareboot hikers get to it. Back at the parking lot, we crossed paths with the woman who was in the group of skiers we'd seen earlier. It turned out that the two guys were avy professionals assessing Bow Summit for avalanche.ca, and she was (get this!) their mother. We quizzed her about what they'd found, and she said that her boys had said it was pretty safe if you stayed low and avoided anything higher than the first bench. (We noted that.) We had a great chat with the guy who was clearing the parking lots along the highway. Really nice guy. After that, we drove north up the Icefields Parkway and got a crash course in what avalanches and avalanche terrain look like. Class 3.5 to 4 size slides were everywhere. It was scary beautiful, and exhilarating, and... humbling. All in all, it was a very good day.
Deciding to take it easy while the avy danger was elevated, we went to Emerald Lake. Again, just exquisite XC skiing. A couple of us made some turns at the base of the avy path (northwest side of the lake), since it had slid Sunday and subsequently stabilized. I had my trusty Vector BC/Switchback X2 setup on for that day. I even found some turns below the parking lots(!).
By Wednesday, after the avy danger had settled down to merely Considerable, two of us decided to give Bow Pass a shot. I brought my Vector BC/Switchback X2 combo, which were the absolutely perfect choice for this outing. Unfortunately, my ski buddy for the day had a problem with her Dynafit bindings, as the tech who installed them had left too much room between the boot heel and the binding heel-piece, which left her unable to lock into ski mode. It's strange that she'd been able to ski all day in ski mode at Lake Louise, only to have the bindings fail on her first tour. At any rate, she limped out and we drove down to Monod's in Banff to have her bindings adjusted. She was fine the rest of the trip. In the end, we didn't get to actually ski the lower (mellow) slope of Bow Summit, but I got to see it and make a few turns. It was absolute meadowskipping perfection. Soft beautiful powder, nicely spaced trees, incredible views all around, just the greatest mellow slope for an aspiring powder skier. Next time...
The next day, we split up into the XC group and the downhill group. My downhiller buddy and I went to Revelstoke for the day. We hit the North Bowl first thing. Boot deep powder on a supportive base, with deeper powder on a softer base lower down in the trees. Early spring conditions were the order of the day. Nice snow up high, but turning to wet slush down low. We took it easy, mostly skied the trees, had a (here it comes again) really good day. I gotta say, I enjoyed Lake Louise ski area more, probably since I like ski areas with gobs of nooks and crannies to get lost in, and the views can't be beat. But the snow was deeper at Revie.
The absolute highlight of the trip was the day three of us hired a guide and skied in Rogers Pass. Avy danger had not been as bad in the Selkirks as it was in the Rockies (Banff/Yoho/Kootenay), and had settled down to only Considerable above treeline by Saturday the 25th. Our guide (Isaac, farmed in by CAPOW) was great. Very patient, very thorough with the avy safety prep talk. A fantastic skier too (of course). He led us up to the Bonney Moraine, which turned out to be plenty for us (about 6 miles round-trip, 2500 feet elevation gain). The powder was boot-deep, dry and FAST up high. Isaac's probing revealed about 5 meters snow depth on the moraine. It was a 1.5 meter soft slab on top of a weak layer from February, with depth hoar below. Isaac had scouted it and determined that it was stable, and so it was. I brought the bigger/heavier Cham 97 HM rig, which was great fun on the short stretch of steep and deep, but wore me out on the approach over rolling terrain along the streambed. I should have brought the Vectors. They would have rocked the goods just fine, and the fishscales would have been perfect for the approach/exit.
Back in Calgary before our departure day, we asked around for food options, found out the manager of the hotel was Indian, and he kindly directed us to the best Indian dinner I've had since I was in London 30 years ago.
So, to answer the original question, the Vector BC/Switchbach X2 combo would have been fine for all backcountry destinations I was likely to try for, and the Cham 97 HMs might as well have had Hammerheads on them, as they're (for me at least) more of a resort/sidecountry ski than a moderate-distance touring option for my middle-aged legs. I'd love to have a pair of the Dynastar Mythic skis (the carbon fiber version of the Cham 97), but you know... First world problems, right?
Bottom line: I love the Canadian mountains out west. I loved my time there. I loved the food. I loved the people. I loved the skiing. I loved the ski resorts. I could not believe how mind-blowingly beautiful the Canadian mountains are, and before I forget... Did you know the forest in Rogers Pass was never logged? It became a national park right after the railroad went through, before the loggers could get to it. So, for me, I was skiing deep powder in spectacular terrain surrounded by an unbelievably beautiful old growth forest. I mean, for me... How good is that?
I'm going back.