Healy Pass

Banff
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Healy Pass

Distance: 19.6km
Elevation: 869m
Time: 6-10

Difficulty Rating:

Snowshoeing to Healy Pass is a great day out in winter, and a fantastic break from the busy ski hills. The trail to Healy Pass is popular and often packed down thanks to its popularity. The expansive views of the vast meadows of Healy Pass and Sunshine Meadows make this a fantastic snowshoe trip.

Getting there

Drive 7.7km west of Banff on Trans-Canada and take the Sunshine Village exit. Drive 24.2 km on this lovely road to Sunshine Village ski resort.  Drive to the back of the parking lot, past the lodge and park there.

About

When to do

December - April

Mountain Huts

None

Toilets

Trailhead

Pets allowed

Yes - On Leash

Avalanche Risk

Challenging

Family friendly

No

Route Signage

Average

Crowd Levels

Low

Route Type

Out and back


Elevation


Detailed Description

Anyone on a snowshoe trip should have Avalanche training, we recommend AST 2 for all backcountry travellers, and AST 1 is the minimum. It is important to note that when travelling through avalanche terrain it is extremely valuable to always have a companion. You can download a list of Avalanche Terrain Ratings from Parks Canada on their site.

You will usually need to tell the parking lot attendants for Sunshine Village that you are snowshoeing to Healy Pass, as they don’t let Sunshine Visitors park at the rear parking lot. From the parking lot, walk behind the main lodge and gondola base, looking for a trail kiosk under a large retaining wall. This is where you can put on your snowshoes and begin the day!

This trail is popular, so there should be a well-packed trail here. You will be following the summer hiking trail, so the route will be familiar for many hikers.

Thanks to the popularity of Healy Pass for snowshoers and ski-tourers, you should be able to move quickly on the well-packed trail towards Healy Meadows. The trail crosses the run out zones of three avalanche paths, remember your AST training and spread out and move quickly going through avalanche run-outs. It is important to be aware of your surroundings, and read the terrain as you continue along the trail. You will pass two small bridges along the route to Healy Meadows.

Once reaching the meadows, you’ll be able to catch some sun for the ascent to Healy Pass. Enjoy the scenery here, as this is where the views begin to grow.

Continue towards Healy Pass, you’ll usually be following a mixture of fresh and old ski tracks, gently gaining elevation in the open meadows. The grade steepens as you gain elevation, but still remains relatively gentle. Be cautious here, as this area can see strong winds, sweeping the snow right off the rocks.

Our snowshoes had no trouble getting up to Healy Pass, but an earlier group of skiers had evidently abandoned their skis low down and post holed their way to the top. In high risk conditions, be sure to stay on the main trail, avoiding any potential avalanche hazards.

The average snowshoer in good conditions should be able to reach Healy Pass within three to four hours. It can be cold on top of Healy Pass, as it is quite exposed, but this makes for excellent views. We continued on past Healy Pass towards Healy Pass Peak. Do not attempt this ascent unless you are trained, equipped and experienced in avalanche terrain.

For our day, we reached the summit of Healy Pass Peak four hours after leaving the car. We’d traveled very quickly for the first 7 km, but had slowed down considerably in the meadows as we tired a bit, broke a bit of new trail, and just soaked in the scenery. It was a bit cold on the summit, but the views under the clear blue sky were absolutely fantastic in all directions and we hung around for 20 minutes before starting a very leisurely descent.

The return trip is quite pleasant, offering great views from the pass down to the meadows. Enjoy the packed trail back on the route you came in from.

Insider Hints

  • Keep in mind this trail is accessed via the same roads and parking as Sunshine Ski Resort, which means it will be very busy on the drive and in the parking lot. Get there early to get a good spot!
  • Snowshoeing in the Banff takes you into remote terrain. Make sure you are prepared for an emergency with warm clothes, extra food, matches and ideally a satellite transceiver, like a Garmin InReach. Cell phones do not work until you get to Canmore.
  • Always check the avalanche forecast for Banff before heading out.

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