While the ski season in North America starts winding down in spring, in some mountain destinations the attention turns to glacier skiing. A number of glaciers are located throughout North America, from the Sierras to the Tetons to Canada, where skiers and riders can enjoy fun summer conditions.
So what exactly is a glacier, and what does it mean for skiers? 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. That means that skiers will want to sharpen those edges. Note that sometimes you’ll see glaciers called snowfields. There’s a difference between the two. Glaciers move; snowfields don’t.
Conditions on glaciers during the summer months are weather-dependent. The skiing can be icy and hard pack in the mornings, but get wet and slushy in the afternoons. You’ll want to pay attention and be careful; while many obstacles are marked at popular destinations, there can be some ice falls and other hazards to keep an eye out for.
Below we share a few glacier skiing spots in North America. As you may notice in the photos and videos, many of these lines are steep, technical and high-consequence with tricky conditions. Additionally, you’ll want to have some 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 of these climbs. Researching each of these routes is recommended since they vary by skill level.
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 (trailhead to summit). Be prepared to leave in the wee hours of the morning and do some serious boot packing near the summit.
Mount Shasta: Hotlum-Wintun Glacier
It’s not every day you can ski a volcano. Mount Shasta, a stratovolcano located in the Cascade Range of northern California, boasts a 14,162-foot summit with a permanent snowfield for skiers and riders. To access the Hotoon snowfield, located between Hotlum and Wintun glaciers, take the Brewer Creek Trail to the north side of the Hotlum-Wintum Ridge for direct lines and crevasse-free descents.
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.
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 pay close attention to route selection. To mitigate the danger, hike up the relatively busy Muir Snowfield to access the Paradise descent.
Mt. Hood: Palmer Glacier
Look to the south side of Mt. Hood to ski down Palmer, the official training site of the U.S. Ski, Snowboarding and Freeskiing teams during the summer. The Theon-hill facilities are high up the slopes of Timberline. Palmer isn’t open during the winter and early spring months because of the abundance of snow, but once spring skiing wraps up on the mountain, summer skiing takes place here on Palmer.
Idaho Springs: St. Mary’s Glacier
St. Mary’s isn’t so much a glacier as it’s a semi-permanent snowfield. Here, 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.
Whistler Blackcomb: Horstmann Glacier
Horstman Glacier is a glacier located on Blackcomb Peak in Garibaldi Provincial Park. This is one of the few opportunities to ski or ride on a glacier at a North America ski resort. Summer conditions can actually offer some soft snow under beautiful blue skies, but just don’t forget the sunscreen. Horstmann is best for advanced skiers and riders, and you must be able to ride a T-Bar, since there’s no lift on the glacier. Horstmann is particularly ideal for those improving jump, bump and park skills. Additionally, Blackcomb hosts summer glacier camps.