Beauty and the Beast: Highway 1 from Calgary to Revelstoke
We came up with the descriptor – Beauty and Beast for this stretch of highway because many aspects of this highway are world renown for the beautiful landscapes, vistas and mountain ranges that make it one of the most stunning drives in the world. The beast aspect is the dangerous and often perilous characteristics of this small thread of pavement through very harsh terrain coupled with ever changing mountain weather. This highway sees about 10,000 vehicles pass along it every day from Calgary to Revelstoke and further west all the way to Vancouver. The stretch of highway passes through three world famous national parks, including Banff, Yoho, Glacier and scoots right next to Revelstoke National park, some of the most beautiful places to visit in the world. Highway 1 is Canada’s national highway that stretches from coast to coast and it is a major connector economically for western Canada and is the main highway to get from Calgary to Revelstoke, and so it sees lots of commercial as well as tourist traffic.
The highway from Calgary to Revelstoke is 412 km (252 Mi) that passes through iconic mountain towns, towering peaks, national parks and is one of the most scenic and dangerous highways in Canada. After leaving Calgary, the gateway to the west, and a hub for the oil and gas industry in Canada, you come to the mountain Town of Canmore that sits on the edge of Canada’s first national Park, Banff. The Town of Banff is located a short distance off of highway 1 and is nestled in the Rocky Mountains it offers a variety of mountain outdoor experiences. As you continue to travel along highway 1 west you will pass by the famous Lake Louise. The picturesque Lake is world famous for its pristine emerald coloured lake and is certainly worth the drive to see it. After you pass Lake Louise, Highway 1 west continues down into Field located in the Kicking Horse River valley within the confines of Yoho National Park. Field is the last outpost before arriving in Golden British Columbia. The road between Calgary and Golden is busy with heavy transport, tourists and many travelers heading out to enjoy the backcountry. This first section of the road, from Calgary to Golden on your way to Revy certainly can be challenging with deep snow and changing weather conditions, however it is relatively easy and less hazardous than the next section past Golden. This first part has more aspects of the road that are twinned, more passing lanes and there are more towns or places to stop for breaks or help if needed.
Left: Sunset heading west on Hwy 1. Center: Hwy 1 from Roxanaphotography.com website. Right: twinned road east of Golden
The stretch from Golden to Revelstoke is truly the beast. This 150-kilometre stretch of highway that cuts through the Selkirk Mountains, the Continental Divide, and includes the climb up and through Rogers Pass in the Glacier National Park. Rogers Pass is a national historic site with an elevation of 1,330 meters, or 4360 feet and is a highway through heaven. This stretch of the Trans-Canada is known for receiving a mind-boggling amount of snow each year — an estimated average range of 10 to 12 meters, or 32 to 40 feet, making the drive a trial as well as a beautiful winter wonderland. This stretch of the highway is mostly single lane in each direction with plenty of sharp curves, narrow bridges and steep hills, drivers should be prepared to drive in changing weather conditions, slippery deep snow through the high mountain passes can also mean heavy rain with hydroplaning situations in the valleys. Many parts of British Columbia between Oct. 1 and April 30, it is mandatory for all passenger vehicles to use winter tires with either snowflake or M&S (mud and snow) symbols, and heavy transport truck must use tire chains were required. While the terrain and conditions can add a challenge to this drive it truly is a beautiful tour through rugged, undeveloped mountain landscapes. The remoteness of the drive adds to the magnitude of the landscape as you wind along the thin stretch of highway carved out of these rugged mountains.
Top photo: one of several beautiful mountains in Rogers Pass. Bottom: Roger Pass from a nearby mountain ridge
You should be prepared for road closures that can last a just few minutes up to several hours; many are caused by avalanche control and sadly some by accidents. The weather can change dramatically and there can be very powerful storms that dump several feet of snow in a few short hours. While many avalanche prone areas have snow sheds, which are partially enclosed tunnels in very high avalanche zones designed to keep travelers safe, other areas need to be temporarily closed for avalanche control. As you travel through the passes you may spot the military five-ton trucks pulling the Howitzer artillery. The military use howitzers to blast away at the mountain peaks that are laden with snow. They of course close the stretch of the highway they plan to work on and then remove the avalanche danger in a controlled fashion. After the military bombards heavy snow laden mountain peaks, highway work crews come in with large tractors and other equipment to clear any debris that has covered the road and then open the highway up again.
Above: The military blasting away at snow laden mountains for avalanche control
Left: snow shed covered with avalanche debris. Center: Avalanche debris across the highway. Right: Rogers Pass web cam during a road closure.
The Good News
This section of the highway is certainly a beast; however, it is one that can be conquered by being prepared. Being prepared for driving in the mountains in the winter is what will prevent most problems for travelers. You can mitigate many issues by having a well maintained and serviced vehicle with the right tires. If your a sledder, check and service your trailer, wheels, lights and hubs, we certainly have seen a number of trailers abandoned on the side of the highway after they break down. Don’t drive if you’re too tired, pack winter survival gear in your vehicle, pack extra food and water in case of road closures, have a working cell phone and charger, most importantly, drive to the conditions. The Drive BC web site is a great resource that provides up to date road conditions, construction slowdowns or road closure information. This site has a series of webcams that cover most of the main roads in British Columbia and parts of Highway 1 into Alberta, including Lake Louise and Banff, you can view current visuals that can be used to help plan your trip.
Even with all the challenges of this section of the highway, you want to drive this highway because you get to enjoy the beautiful views as well as it brings you to the great sledding in Revelstoke. The deep snow that falls on the highway also blankets your favourite riding areas. Revelstoke gets on average 60 feet of snow each year; this is what helps make Revelstoke one of the top three sledding destinations in the world. The deep snow, the beautiful mountain town and the amenities keep bringing back thousands of sledders each year. Many of us travel this road on a regular basis, we understand the challenges and we understand that the risks, when mitigated, results in fantastic journey into a sledders paradise. So if you plan to travel this highway, make sure you too prepare for the trip and come get some of the epic snow and terrain Revelstoke has to offer for sledders, we at sled-revy hope to see you on the hill. Remember, be careful out there.
Top: Revelstoke from Mount MacKenzie. Above: Downtown Revelstoke
We are people that love sledding in the backcountry, we love getting out and away from the crowds and enjoying the challenge of the deep snow and mountains. We love the Revelstoke area, we believe it to be the best place to backcountry sled. We are people that dedicate a lot of time to becoming better sledders and we want to pass this passion onto others as we believe there is no better sport than sledding in the backcountry.