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Big Ski Descent of Mount Bell’s East Face in Banff

Always check avalanche conditions before heading into the backcountry

Skiers in Canada have spent the past few months opening huge descents down some of the biggest faces in the Rock Mountains. From remote couloirs in B.C. to huge faces that rise about the town of Banff, it’s been a great year for backcountry skiing in the Rockies.

The big line skied this week was the east face of Mount Bell (2,910 m) above Taylor Lake near Lake Louise. The mountain was first climbed in 1910 by Nora Bell, sister of Fred Bell who worked with the Alpine Club of Canada in Winnipeg, and was previously known as Mount Bellevue. Bell is the highest peak on the ridge between Boom Lake and the Bow Valley. It’s separated from Panorama Ridge to the north and the Valley of the Ten Peaks by Taylor Pass. It has a popular summer scramble and a difficult winter mixed line called Zeitgeist IV+ M7- WI5R on the northwest face.

Matt Ruta and friends climbed to the summit and skied the entire east face to the base, which included a 35-metre and a 70-metre rappel. Ruta said, “Ski quality was unbelievable. Beautiful, unconsolidated powder on fluted spines. Things got spicy when the sun started punching hard and early. We left some gear behind for anchor expediency/backups and each ate a few heavy sloughs on rappel and at anchors.” Mount Bell has a number of north-facing couloirs that get skied, read about them here, here and here.

Other big ski descents this winter include the south face of Mount Dunkirk by Christina Lustenberger, Ian McIntosh and Nick McNutt; the east face of Mount Nelson by McIntosh and Lustenberger; Gold Card Couloir M4+ WI4 C0 60° 800m, which is a serac-threatened line in the Monashees, by Lustenberger, Brette Harrington and Andrew McNab; and Thor’s south face near Shelter Bay by Lustenberger and McNabb. In the Bow Valley, the east face of Cascade Mountain was skied this winter for the first time, read about it here.

There have been a number of avalanche deaths in Canada’s backcountry from avalanches this winter, including a skier who was killed on Haddo Peak last week. Always check conditions here and never head out without the proper training and experience to tackle these big lines.