Hanging Lake is a popular backcountry skiing area near Whistler. It is the closest and highest elevation trailhead near Vancouver, and as a consequence it is often very, very busy. It's not uncommon to see 30 or more people here on a weekend. Many people perceive the trees as being low risk, so it is also popular for novice tourers.
Hanging Lake Trailhead is located in the Callaghan Valley Recreation Area about an hour and a half north on Highway 99 from Vancouver. It's just past Brandywine, 12 minutes outside of Whistler. The road branches northwest, a windy, twisting path for about 20 minutes to the nordic area. Keep going until you get to a ticket booth in the road. You will receive important instructions here regarding permit purchasing for the day and what time you are required to be out of the park. Park at the lot at the biathalon range.
Once on skis, cross the trail heading straight for the thick trees to the northeast. The trails winds down a hill. Follow a skin track at its base, if it exists, across a creek and up into the trees along a narrow trail. Continue up a series of switchbacks, where the trail joins a logging road. Immediately down this hill about 110 meters is a kiosk with trail details. From here, follow the tree triangles into the alpine. The trail gets steep about 1 kilometer past the kiosk.
As the trail steepens watch out for the skin track getting a little too steep. Many over-enthusiastic people will punch in a hyper-aggressive track that becomes tough to follow once it's been really packed out. Don't be afraid to create a lower-angle skin track. As my old boss used to say, "If you need your heel risers, your track is too steep."
The trail follows orange triangle blazes, gaining elevation along a ridge feature. There a is a clearing in about 1,100 meters that sits above a ravine. While a small slope, the angle is about 28 degrees and has the possibility of sliding in storm slab conditions that are common on the coast. While only a small slide (0.5 to 1) would be possible, it would brush a rider straight into a ravine—a deep burial. Take appropriate measures to mitigate the risk of crossing in storm slab conditions. Move one at a time to ensure only one person is exposed to risk or find a different, less risky route with a lower incline or denser forest.
Just beyond this slope, cross the ravine and head through sparse forest to a wide open area with cliffs farther up. This open area is a boulder field, and it makes for decent skiing in poor light. Yo-yo turns are doable here. Keep to the treeline for the skin track up and work your way up another steeper slope. Above this is Hanging Lake. Often this area is pretty low visibility, making a higher ascent very risky because there are many steep slopes above that are very hard to locate in flat light. It is best to stick to tree line.
There are several short and sweet yo-yo runs to the west of the lake, and a good run a little higher up and down a wide chute into the bowl. Return the way you came.
Despite its apparent safety, there are plenty of hazards at Hanging Lake. In 2017, a very experienced skier was killed in a slide above the lake after being the third person to drop into a line. If you're skiing above treeline, Avalanche Safety Training 2 should be considered essential for at least one group member and Avalanche Safety Training 1 for the group. Even for skiing in the trees, Avalanche Safety Training 1 and confident skiing ability to grade black is essential. If you're new to Canadian skiing, avalanche information is availble on avalanche.ca.
Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous outdoor activities that pose significant risks as conditions affecting safety (i.e. weather, snowpack stability, avalanche hazard) are constantly changing. Prior to engaging in these activities each individual should get the proper training to make safe decisions and be equipped to use avalanche safety resources and tools. Please visit our Backcountry Skiing and Avalanche Safety post to learn more.