5 - 6
FATMAP difficulty grade
Spearhead and Phalanx overview tour The Spearhead and Phalanx Glaciers make a superb area for backcountry skiing when accessed from the lifts of WhistlerBlackcomb resort. There are dozens of glacier run and couloir variations, and almost endless ways to link them all together.
This introductory tour takes in several of the long glacier runs, and allows you to get a feel for the area to scope out steeper and more aggressive lines for later. The majority of the skiing on this route is feel good turns on open faces, but there are a few safety considerations to be aware of.
Firstly this route is almost entire in the high alpine, there are very few trees, so this is a route best saved for a clear day.
Also there is some glacier travel involved, so being trained in crevasse rescue and carrying a rope would be prudent.
Finally there are a few spots where the up track traverses steeper slopes with the potential to avalanche, so being able to read the conditions and choose alternative routes is mandatory. All that being said, let’s get into it! Start by riding the lifts on Blackcomb up to and including the Showcase T-bar.
Take the short bootpack to the Blackcomb Glacier, and traverse over to the designated backcountry access gate. Apply your skins and climb up away from the ski area through the basin known as Dean’s adieu.
If you choose your line carefully you will be able to reach the high saddle on lookers left without making any switchbacks. From the Col make a descending traverse, looking up to your left for the short bootpack to the obvious gap in the rocks known as the Guides Notch.
It is possible to do this traverse with your skins on, but if you aren’t confident in your skin skiing, or if conditions are firm then it is not recommended! The purpose of the Guides Notch is to avoid the steeper and often rocky entrances known collectively as Don’t Swill.
Once through the notch you are now on the Spearhead glacier, and are ready for the first run.
The first few hundred meters of the descent is quite steep, and there can be a legitimate crevasse hazard, especially early in the season, so use caution here.
Once you are on the flatter part of the glacier you have an excellent overview of several classic routes.
Looking back the way you came you will be able to see the steep entrances of Don’t Swill, and the high traverses to Husume and Corona Bowl.
Further down, splitting the bulk of Phalanx mountain are the Stairmaster and Warrior Couloirs, and to the east is the uptrack to Vista bowl and Saucer Chute. For now, continue down the glacier to the bottom left corner enjoying the very mellow pow turns, and transition for climbing when you meet the obvious rocky ridge. Climb up the ridge a short way, and then travel due west, crossing a fairly steep snow slope.
Assess the avalanche hazard carefully here and chose a different route if necessary.
Continue climbing until you reach the Phalanx Phalanx Glacier, but it’s it not necessary to climb all the way to the summit of Phalanx Mountain.
Instead, double back and turn north east, and descend down the open bowl known as Spearhooker.
If you are short on time you could forego this descent, and instead turn north west, and descent immediately onto the Phalanx Glacier. From the bottom of Spearhooker climb the ridge again to the top of Phalanx Glacier, and then enjoy the long and open run down Phalanx Main.
This leads you to a broad and obvious bench.
Contour west on the bench, using the time to scope more lines for additional trips, including Wolverine Cique, which you will pass directly below.
Continue contouring at around 1900m, climbing slightly once you turn due south.
Eventually you will see a clean line directly down to the Blackcomb Glacier Road, and take this line to head back inbounds and finish the tour.
This is a major avalanche path so stay in the trees if stability is a concern. This is a very high value trip that combines easy access with long runs.
It also can be easily modified to make it longer or shorter depending on the group.
It is a great stepping stone route for people who are feeling confident in simple terrain, and want to try more challenging routes that aren’t too too crazy.
All that being said, be sure to time this trip carefully.
To make the most of it it is best done in good weather AND with good stability, and be make sure you are equipped with the appropriate gear and knowledge for glacier travel.