There isn’t really any high end ski line in the Rockies more recognizable than Mt Victoria’s NE face. Sitting at the back of Lake Louise, one of the largest tourist draws, dropping seracs every few minutes on a hot summer’s day, it commands attention.
I needed a single day ski to go for, before getting things together and heading out for a big Rockies expedition. So I had to pick something that would let me get home in reasonable time, yet was non-solar enough that the snow was still good. It was clearly time to slay Victoria. Leaving the car at 4am, I skated across a perfectly frozen and mostly smooth Lake Louise in 15 minutes. The surface was that perfect. Then up towards Abbott Pass. I went too far before heading to the right and up, and missed what was the right way to get up to the level of the Victoria Glacier. I did a bit of frisky skinning on hard crust and made my way via a different route, eventually ending up on track as the sun started to rise.
After that I made my way through the crevasses, frequently consulting the Google Earth stills and my old camera shots to find the right way. Then up onto the upper serac, skinning over the scrund, then starting the bootpack. Again like on Murchison, snow went from hard crust to reasonably good snow all in a matter of meters and I was off up the face on only aluminum crampons and whippet. Climb, climb climb and I reached the top, 5 hours after leaving the car. I reasoned a bit of sun couldn’t hurt the ski quality, so I went tromping around to try to find the summit cairn unsuccessfully to pass the time.
Then ski time. I climbed the right side of the face, but being just behind the main rib of the face the snow was cross-loaded into soft but reasonably large fins of sastrugi. So I decided I’d ski the climber’s left side, and once looking down I was pleasantly surprised that it was steeper than the other side. Snow was wicked, very little sluff and a consistent 10cm ski penetration. I was thinking the whole day about the bottom part, should I cut left to the safety ontop of the upper serac to where I started bootpacking, or should I get some extra turns on the face and cut under the serac to get back to the bench? I finally decided I should just go for it, and after the face I went as quickly as possible in the kill zone, skis running solely on serac chunks for a couple sections. The extra skiing on the face was very nice. Then once out of the worst of the exposure, I sidestepped and skated to the flats on the glacier.
I decided the still-crusty snow could definitely use some sun and softening. So I set up the skier’s lawn chair and tried to sleep for a bit. The fickle wind kept that from happening though, so I started skiing again before long. The crust didn’t take long to get a little bit of ski pen, and the incredibly smooth surface was like the greatest groomer ever, just push those edges in and fly across the hill. I kept skiing past my morning mistake to try to find the proper way up and down. After a bit of trepidation over whether the large chute I was approaching went clean, it all turned out well and I knew that it must be the usual way up. Really corny skiing in there, on the east facing and now warm chute. Then down off the moraine to the valley bottom, and all the way to the lake, which was still in perfect ski skating condition. Awesome line, well worthy of its classic status.