Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Touring
Gros Morne National Park
Gros Morne National Park has all the ingredients for great backcountry skiing and snowshoeing experiences: coastal mountains with heavy snowfalls, lowland forests, treeless alpine highlands, and stunning vistas. Trips can range from short roadside excursions to multi-day adventures involving camping or overnight stays in one of 2 backcountry ski huts in the park.
There are no marked backcountry routes in Gros Morne National Park but skiers and snowshoers are free to plan and follow their own routes. To introduce you to the park’s winter backcountry opportunities, here are 3 suggested routes below. All are favourites among local backcountry users.
Safety - Before you Leave
There is a degree of danger in any activity, however, once you enter the backcountry the routes listed below are not marked, maintained, or monitored by Parks Canada, therefore users are solely responsible for their safety including monitoring weather, ice conditions, and choosing routes which are appropriate for their skill, fitness level, and navigational abilities.
- Plan your route and file a trip plan with a reliable person. A trip plan explains your destination, route, equipment and expected return time. Check out Adventuresmart for an example.
- Travel with a companion. There is safety in numbers!
- Check the weather forecast before setting out. Be prepared for bad weather, including strong winds that often cause whiteout conditions on the highlands.
Have the skill:
- Obtain the knowledge and skills you need before heading out. New backcountry skiers should seek experienced travelling companions or hire a guide.
- Trips are best suited to experienced skiers in groups.
- There are no marked trails in the backcountry. You require wilderness travel and navigation skills with a map, compass, and/or GPS.
- When travelling over ice on ponds or rivers never assume it is thick enough to support you. Always check ice thickness. Ice should be a minimum of 15cm (Canadian Red Cross).
- Hypothermia and frostbite are real hazards. Know and understand the signs, symptoms and treatment.
- Be avalanche aware. Avalanches occur in the steep terrain of Gros Morne National Park. If travelling in avalanche zones, you should be trained in avalanche safety and carry appropriate safety and rescue gear. Check out Avalanche.ca for information, online training, and access to local courses. With training, you will be able to recognize avalanche slopes, terrain traps and unstable snow conditions necessary for safe route finding.
Take the Essentials:
- Make sure you are well equipped and ready for an emergency. Cell coverage throughout the backcountry is very limited. Be prepared to extend your outing should it become necessary. Carry these and know how to use them:
- Extra insulating clothing, spare socks & gloves, and a base layer.
- Extra food, water (especially high calorie snacks)
- Navigation and communication devices
- Headlamp (extra batteries)
- Signalling device (whistle)
- Pocket knife
- Sun protection
- Sunglasses and/or ski goggles
- Emergency blanket/shelter
- Other equipment specific to your activity (pack shovel, repair kit, duct tape, multi-tool, cord, avalanch gear)
- Check out “The 10 Essentials” (Adventuresmart).
This unmarked route over gentle terrain is rewarding for both the beginner and experienced backcountry skier or snowshoer. The route takes advantage of reliable snow conditions found in the higher elevations of Southeast Hills and passes through open and forested terrain into the and scenic valley of Burridge’s Gulch. For those wishing to start testing their navigation and backcountry travel skills, this is an ideal first-time backcountry excursion.
*Note this route requires crossing a river, ensure ice conditions are safe prior to travel.
Distance: 7.0 km return
Duration: 2-4 hours
Terrain/Elevation Change: Gentle/100 m
Topographic Map Sheet(s): Lomond [12 H/5]
From the roadside pull-off, follow an opening through the trees heading in a northeast direction. After passing under the power line turn east following on old cut line to Southeast Brook. In this area the brook breaks up into many shallow channels and will likely be frozen or spanned by snow bridges. Cross the brook in a location you determine to be safe. Once across, continue following the old cut line to the northeast. Towards the end of the cutline, head in a more easterly direction towards the entrance of Burridges Gulch. From here to the gulch you will be climbing steadily and passing through a mostly open forest. After entering the valley, the terrain flattens and is mostly open. Continue to follow and explore the valley but be alert for open water and deep gullies partially drifted in with snow and undercut by the brook. The suggested turn around point is at the northern end of a small pond, approximately 2.5 km from the entrance of the valley. Beyond the pond the valley substantially narrows and is suitable only for more experienced skiers and snowshoers with proper backcountry gear.
- This route includes some pond and brook crossings. Check ice conditions and give a wide berth to areas where rivers and streams enter or leave ponds as these rarely freeze over safely.
- Following a heavy winter rain, Southeast Brook will often completely open up and make this route impassable.
Badweather Pond to Southeast Pond
This unmarked route is suitable for skiers and snowshoers with some backcountry travel experience. The route takes advantage of reliable snow conditions found in the higher elevations of Southeast Hills, provides close up views of the Long Range Mountains, and finishes with a gentle downhill run. Starting near the top of Southeast Hills, this rolling downhill route descends 230 m taking you through forests and across ponds before finishing near the park entrance at Wiltondale.
Distance: 8.5 km
Duration: 2-5 hours
Terrain/Elevation Change: Gentle/230 m
Topographic Map Sheet(s): Lomond [12 H/5]
Start Point: Roadside pull-off on route 430, 5.7 km north of the park boundary at Wiltondale. (UTM 454085E 5477344N)
When to go: Generally from mid-January until the end of March.
Begin by heading down through the woods and bogs to Southeast Pond. After traveling to the southeastern end of the pond make your way through a short stretch of scrubby woods. This breaks out onto a barren that crosses to a pair of smaller ponds. At the far end of the second of these ponds there is a short, steep climb through the woods before starting down the valley towards Bad Weather Pond, crossing a small beaver pond along the way. Once on Bad Weather Pond head to the outflow where you can pick up the old woods road that crosses under the power lines and runs back down to Route 430 near Wiltondale. If you have time and want to explore there is some nice skiing through a series of beaver meadows along the brook running into the southeastern corner of Bad Weather Pond.
- This is a point-to-point ski; make arrangements to have transportation waiting at the end.
- For Skiers: This route has long pond crossings, limited travel through dense forest, and finishes with a downhill run along an old woods road. It is a predominantly flat to downhill ski with only a few short climbs along the way. You should have skis suited for backcountry use and you may want to use climbing skins for the short, steep climb over the divide to the Bad Weather Pond.
- For Snowshoers: This route has lots of open gentle landscape with only a few short climbs and limited travel through dense forest. Snowshoers may want to avoid the long downhill descent from Bad Weather Pond and simply return back by the same route.
- CautionsThis route includes many pond and river crossings. Check ice conditions and give a wide berth to areas where rivers and streams enter or leave ponds as these rarely freeze over safely.
- The downhill along the woods road from Bad Weather Pond can be challenging under icy conditions or following heavy melts, also watch for bare patches of gravel caused by underground springs that are present most of the winter.
Burridges Gulch West Rim
This unmarked route provides access onto the Long Range Mountains and is intended for the experienced and fit backcountry skier or snowshoer. This route passes through a beautiful valley of open mature forest that leads onto the plateau of the Long Range Mountains. On sunny days the vistas on top are spectacular. Expect some steep climbs, thick forest, and some short sections of challenging terrain. Proper backcountry gear is critical.
Distance: 9 km
Duration: 4-6 hours
Terrain/Elevation Change: Steep Climbs/300 m
Topographic Map Sheet(s): Lomond [12 H/5]
Start Point: Roadside pull-off on route 430, 7.8 km north of the park boundary at Wiltondale. (UTM 453154E 5479060N)
When to go: Generally from early February through mid-April (later in season is often the best).
From the roadside pull-off, follow an opening through the trees heading in a northeast direction. Pass under the power line and then turn east following on old cut line to Southeast Brook. In this area the brook breaks up into many shallow channels and will likely be frozen or spanned by snow bridges. Cross the brook in a location you determined to be safe.
Once across pick up an old cut line and head northeast. Follow the cutline for approximately 300 m at which point head north across a bog to the northern end of a small pond (453611E, 5479522N). From the pond, travel uphill through the forest in a northwesterly direction. (Note: This section is steep, climbing 150 m in less than a kilometer and there are hidden stumps and fallen trees just under the snow. Ski with caution. Climbing skins are necessary.) When you intersect a narrow sided brook, follow it upstream for about 100 m and then turn in a westerly direction to the cut line (453282E, 5479989N). Follow the cutline uphill until reaching a barren. At this point, take time to enjoy the view, a taste of what is to come!
Continue northwest across the barren to UTM coordinate 453050E, 5480247N. From here, travel in a northeast direction through some thick forest for 200 m, before entering a beautiful valley with open mature forest. Follow this valley until it splits (454989 E, 5481213 N), taking the valley to the left (northwest). After a short steep climb you will reach a spectacular viewpoint (454912E, 5482051N) overlooking Burridges Gulch and the surrounding landscape. This is the suggested turn around point, however, depending on the weather, ski conditions, hours of daylight remaining, and your fitness level, one can continue to explore the top of the Long Range Mountains. If this is your turn around point enjoy the ride back down you’ve earned it!!!
- This route includes some pond and brook crossings. Check ice conditions and give a wide berth to areas where rivers and streams enter or leave ponds as these rarely freeze over safely. After heavy winter rain, Southeast Brook will often completely open up making this route impassable.
- Once on top of the Long Range Mountains, the winds are usually significantly higher and the wind chill considerably lower than in the valleys. Visibility can quickly deteriorate. Watch the weather conditions around you – retreat if low cloud or snow are moving in. Check the forecast including wind speed!
- In areas of disturbed forests (killed by insects or blow downs), many stumps and fallen trees can be hiding just under the snow. Ski with caution here.