If hiking for your turns during the spring means you’re committed, what does hiking for your turns during the summer make you? Aside from chemically unbalanced perhaps, it makes you lucky. A number of glaciers still exist in North America, from the Sierras to the Tetons, offering skiers and riders excellent backcountry skiing and summer ski touring opportunities.
So what exactly is a glacier? The University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Ice and Climate scientists define glaciers as ice that moves. Alpine glaciers — the ones we like so much in the summer –form high in the mountains and travel through the valleys below. The pow we seek in the winter is long gone, but the ice remains (meaning: sharpen those edges). Don’t be too concerned about them moving while you are aboard. The move pretty fast for a glacier, but we can handle it. They are said to move about 12 inches per day.
Conditions on glaciers during the summer months are totally weather-dependent. The skiing can be icy and hard pack in the mornings, but get wet and slushy in the afternoons. Most glacier skiing operations open early and close by lunchtime. And, but the way, you need to be careful, though most obstacles are marked on popular skiing and rising glaciers. There can be ice falls, snow and ice avalanches from the sidewalls and ponds of rather chilly water.
Sometimes you’ll see glaciers called snowfields. Don’t be fooled. There’s a difference. Glaciers move; snowfields don’t.
Here are the seven glacier skiing spots in North America to have some fun on while scratching that summer skiing itch. As is likely evident from the photos and video below, some of these lines are very steep, technical and high-consequence with tricky conditions (not to mention crevasses) that require avalanche training and ski mountaineering skills. Going with a guide or somebody who knows the route and conditions is advised. Expect to pay a climbing fee and obtain a climbing permit (if required) before attempting some or all of these climbs. Researching each of these routes is recommended, as they vary by skill level.
Just in case you are wondering, the largest glacier in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records is Lambert Glacier in Antarctica. It’s 50 miles wide and more than 250 miles long and some 2,500 feet deep. There is some skiing in Antarctica, but not on the glacier. The smallest named glacier its in Montana’s Glacier National Park, hanging above Grinnell glacier. Pick one of our fields below to scratch your summer itch.
1. Grand Teton National Park: Glacier Route, Middle Teton
Iconic, daunting and beautiful, the Glacier Route (east face) of Wyoming’s Middle Teton is no cupcake. The lengthy trek tops out at 12,350 feet and delivers some 7,000 plus feet of vertical straight to your quads (trailhead to summit). Be prepared to leave in the wee hours of the morning and do some serious boot packing near the summit.
2. Glacier National Park: Salamander Glacier
Just as the park’s name implies, summer skiers and splitboarders will find multiple options for glacier-fed ski turns in Glacier National Park, situated in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Salamander Glacier spans more than 42 acres at an elevation of 7,200 feet. The glacier sits on a shelf on the east side of the ridge. Salamander Glacier can be reached via Grinnell Glacier Trail (the trail is 5.5 miles one way and gains 1,600 vertical feet).
3. Mount Shasta: Hotlum-Wintun Glacier
When your friends ask you what you did today over a round of beers August, you can coolly reply, “Today, oh, I skied a volcano.” Mount Shasta is located in the Cascade Range of northern California, boasting a 14,162-foot summit. To access the Hotoon permanent snowfield located between Hotlum and Wintun glaciers for summer skiing, take the Brewer Creek Trail to the north side of the Hotlum-Wintum Ridge for direct lines and crevasse-free descents.
4. Sierra Nevada: Palisade Glacier
Located in the John Muir Wilderness area of California’s Sierra Nevada, Palisade Glacier descends from North Palisade Peak (the third highest peak in the Sierra Nevada range at 14,242 feet). Hike or skin up the North Fork of Big Pine Canyon to access and ski the Palisade glacier. Ascend the glacier beneath the vertical walls of Temple Crag and descend nearly 2,000 feet back down to Third Lake or, if the legs and lungs are up for the challenge, keep heading upward toward your choice of couloirs.
5. Mount Rainier: Paradise Glacier
Mount Rainier claims the highest point in Washington State, scraping the sky at 14,411 feet. This stratovolcano is a training ground for mountaineers across the Northwest, providing a variety of ascents and descents. Paradise Glacier is home to a number of crevasses, so it’s best to ski earlier in the summer and be aware that route selection is key. To mitigate the danger, hike up the relatively crowded Muir Snowfield to access the Paradise descent.
6. Mt. Hood: Palmer Glacier
Look to the South side of Mt. Hood. The Palmer Glacier stands at an elevation of 9,300 feet to 6,200 feet. It is named for Joel Palmer, an Oregion pioneer. This is the official training site off the U.S. Ski, Snowboarding and Freeskiing teams during the summer. The Theon-hill facilities are high up on the glacier at Timberline Lodge and Ski Area.
7. Idaho Springs: St. Mary’s “Glacier”
See the quote marks around “Glacier?” That’s cause the common name for St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado is a misnomer, if that matters more than 12 inches a day. It’s actually what is known as a “semi-permanent” snowfield. They actually hang around a long time, so it’s easy to confuse these snowfields with glaciers, but we do seek accuracy here. But, you’ll need to work to ski or ride this one. It’s about a 3/4 mile hike to the lake which is nestled in the hills and mountains. It’s a short hike to the bottom of the glacier, but longer and steeper if you want to get to the top and ski or ride down if the ice is thick enough.
8. Whistler Blackomb: Horstmann Glacier
The Horstman Glacier is a glacier located on Blackcomb Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of the few opportunities ski or ride on a glacier during both the winter and summer seasons. Summer conditions can actually offer some soft snow under beautiful blue skies (don’t forget the sunscreen. Horstmann is best for intermediate to advanced skiers and riders and is ideal for improving jump, bump and park skills.