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Spring Skiing in Western Newfoundland

Posted on 26 April 2012 by SomeGood

Spring Skiing in Western Newfoundland

The Long Range Mountains make up the northern terminus of the Appalachians. They run north-south through much of western Newfoundland. The striking beauty of this range as it seemingly rises out of the Atlantic Ocean is jaw dropping. Fjords, waterfalls, unique geology, abundant wildlife are just part of what make this region so special.

The steep terrain and usually abundant snowfall should put western Newfoundland on any eastern snowsport enthusiast bucket list.

It was on my Bucket List.

It is now on my ‘To Return To Bucket List’

Although I had visited Newfoundland on two previous trips I had yet to ski there. After the regular ski season and a few other commitments wrapped up at home I made plans to head to ‘the rock’.

After a calm 5 hour ferry crossing across the Cabot Strait from Nova Scotia to Port-aux-Basque, Newfoundland I was back. Low clouds the first day kept the views to a minimum which was fine as I had a few errands to run in Corner Brook, the biggest city on the west coast of the island, which included picking up a satellite phone for backcountry safety.

I found HiTech Communications. They were super helpful, had a fleet of sat phones and I was on my way out the door in minutes.

Unfortunately I missed the prime of the spring season by a couple of weeks when I arrived on April 18th. I wasn’t 100% sure where I’d find snow or how I’d access it. I started in the Blomidon (Blow-Me Downs) Mountains just west of Corner Brook since it was home to a former cat skiing operation. Sounded reasonable.

There was snow and it looked like a lot of it. However accessing it without a very long approach through what I assume would have been very wet and muddy trails seemed impossible at this time of year.

First stop. Skunked. Thankfully every other nook in Newfoundland is beautiful.

Little Port, Newfoundland. Gregor Wilson

High snow, low clouds, muddy trails.

The next day I decided to try my luck in the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park. Highway 431 takes a high pass along the north side of the Tablelands that gives easy access to the some of the highest 500M of terrain on Newfoundland Island. The Tablelands are also well known in Newfoundland advertising literature as the place where you can walk on the earth’s crust. Fortunately you can also ski on it.

Skiing the Tablelands, Newfoundland. Near Trout River

Skiing the Tablelands. Self-portrait.

The skiing was steep and nearly perfect corn. So good I did three laps.

Tablelands skiing in Gros Morne National Park. Newfoundland.

Another great run but I now had my sights on Trout River.

Next to the small community of Trout River are the Trout River Ponds (lakes). This southern side of the Tablelands is also known to have excellent skiing but a lack of snow on southern aspects only made for pretty scenery.

Tablelands & Trout River Pond

Trout River Small Pond & the Tablelands

Although the skiing had been excellent there wasn’t a lot of snow so the options were somewhat limited. I thought I should explore north of the park up the Northern Pennisula. I knew there were more mountains and hopefully more snow.

I found some more gorgeous mountains but accessing them at this time of year would have included a full day walk just to get to the base of the mountain or by using a snowmobile when there is enough snow down low. Skunked again but made the most of the day with more breath taking scenery.

South Summit, Newfoundland with lobster traps

Typical scenery

South Summit gultch

Fixer-upper with a view

More scenic shots as I drove south again towards Gros Morne.

The Arches Provincial Park. Newfoundland

The Arches Provincial Park

Western Brook Pond Mountains

The mountains of Western Brook Pond

I spent a few nights in Rocky Harbour which is the largest town within Gros Morne. It has the most options for travellers, especially at this time of year, as many tourist services were still closed.

Ten years ago I stayed at Gros Morne Cabins. Open year round, clean, comfortable, on the water,… it seemed like the perfect spot again this trip. Like most Newfoundlanders the staff were super friendly and helpful. Couldn’t have been happier except for the rain from which I was taking shelter.

The forecast did not look promising the next few days but by noon the skies started to clear and I was heading back to the Tablelands. This time I was exploring the eastern end of Highway 431. I wanted to cimcumnavigate around Winter House Gulch (a steep valley) to get a look at the terrain for future trips. Turned out to be the best day yet.

Winter House Brook map. Tablelands, Newfoundland

Winter House Brook map & route

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The early view up the valley was spectacular.

Winter House Brook valley

Winter House Brook valley

The eastern ridge I scrambled to get to the top of the Tablelands,

Winter House Brook eastern ridge

A rocky ridge scramble

Although sometimes on my hands and knees due to rotting snow, climbing the ridge was worth it,

Winter House Brook from the Tablelands

Winter House Brook Gulch

I had to be wary of a few lingering cornices that were threatening to drop on the north aspects but after 12 km and 4 hours of walking, scrambling and skiing around the gulch I was rewarded with the steepest and best corn skiing I’ve enjoyed in years. Perfect spring conditions. And almost skied right to my car.

Unfortunately all good things come to an end.

Although I was prepared to stay another week the forecast had a different idea.

Gros Morne Newfoundland rain forecast April 2012

Maybe it will get good on Saturday?

And with that I was packing up to return to Nova Scotia.

Although shorter and with a lot less snow than I had hoped for it was still an excellent trip. I’m already excited about my next ski trip to the area.

Before anyone asks, yes this was a solo trip which is not advisable but I do carefully consider the risks before proceeding. A link to an article I wrote on solo adventures.

MORE INFO

There are some spring restrictions on travel in the Tablelands and Big Level Mountain. They both contain delicate ‘fen’ zones which are a type of wetland. They are represented on some maps by a grass-like looking icon. Keep off.

Avalanches in the mountains of Western Newfoundland are a very real and present danger. They happen all the time and people get buried in them every year. Heads up!

Newfoundland is full of snowmobiles and they can go anywhere they want. No restrictions. Due to the late timing of my trip I did not encounter any but be aware they are present all winter and could be sledding above you. They are even allowed in Gros Morne National Park.

Weather can be difficult. The wind blows hard and often sideways. Low clouds can be common. Don’t visit for a few days. In winter and spring you need at least a week or two to help ensure some good days.

Helpful Resources

Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism

Environment Canada weather- Gros Morne

Backcountry huts of Gros Morne

Marine Atlantic ferry

Hi Tech Communications – satellite phone

Backcountry Skiing in western Newfoundland Facebook page

Keith Nicol’s backcountry skiing and adventure page

International Appalachian Trail – Newfoundland & Labrador

Gros Morne Adventures – Burridge Gulch ski blog

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