Friday, September 15, 2017

Fall Report 2017

Well here we are again in Fernie having spent a couple of weeks poking around to try and find out what things might be like for the up coming season. Actually until a couple of days ago I was out running 14 miles every day in training for some marathons later in the year and the training was going really well. Suddenly 4 miles into one of the runs there was a twang in the back of my right thigh and I was in a lot of pain. It seems just to be a pulled muscle and today I was back out trying a very gentle 2 and a half mile jog The pain is down to a dull ache so I hope I am on the mend and the marathons will be ok although the break in training is pretty unwelcome.

When we turned up in Fernie one thing was very apparent - smoke. Actually it was a lot more apparent on the drive from Calgary as in South Alberta the smoke was so thick that viz on the road was down to less than 100 metres in places. The cause of course was the wild fires that have been burning in Alberta, BC and Montana for quite a few weeks now. Everyone tells me that after a fairly wet spring there have only been 3 days of rain so everywhere is brown and dry and ready to catch fire at the first lightening strike. This is reckoned to be the worst fire season since about 2004 and even then the smoke did not hang heavily like a fog in the valley as it has done this year.

Of course there have been fire restrictions in place for weeks but the day after we arrived a restriction was placed on anyone accessing Crown Land for recreational purposes and lots of private land also followed suit. What this meant was that the only land that could be accessed in Fernie was the Ski Hill when open for summer activities and Island Lake on the trails up the valley from the lodge, in other words about 5% of what we would usually have for hiking and biking. In the past few days Waterton Lake area has more or less burned down and the Prince of Wales Hotel was only just saved.

In terms of activities for us, this all meant that our first weekend rafting had to be cancelled as access was across Crown Land. We have used our two summer lift rides to go up the ski hill and hike down from both the old side and the new side on consecutive weekends and I took advantage of the bonus opening weekend to have a day's downhill biking on the hill which was pretty tough. We have been up to Island Lake a couple of times and hiked the Mt Baldy loop and Fir Trail which was just about all that was open. Of course we went to Kikomun Creek Park and hiked Hidden Lake and Surveyors Lake and got some great pics of the painted turtles.

The weather up until a couple of days ago was 30 degrees plus every day and bluebird skies as it has been all summer. The Fall change now seems to have set in and temps are falling fast so that the daytime highs are only in the teens and in the next couple of days the night time temps are forecast to drop to below zero for the first time. Yesterday we had some light precip which fell as snow on the top of the Three Sisters so it was technically the first snow of winter although it will melt and then re-fall many times before the solid winter coverage starts to build up. The good news is that with some precip in the outlook the fires should start to come under control and things will start to get back to normal.

Having hiked over the hill not much seems to have changed. It always fascinates me how much steeper everything looks with no snow on. I am also amazed at how dense the bushes are on the open runs so that it seems impossible that they will be covered and beaten flat by the snow but every year that is exactly what happens. There was a fire up on Snake Ridge a few days ago and we all hoped that it might do some alder clearing for us but I understand it was only a very small area and we are not likely to even notice it in the winter. I did notice what looked like a wooden ramp (although it may have been a fallen tree) at the top of the first Knot Chute so they may be trying to make the entrance there a little easier. Other than that I suspect what we are going to see next season will be remarkably similar to what we saw last season.

One of the effects of a wet spring and hot summer has been that we have had an awesomely good berry season. While hiking there were still loads of berries everywhere which is not usually the case as the bears will have had them all. Looks like the bears have more berries to eat than even they can manage and this was confirmed by the contents of the large quantities of bear scat full of berries we found on the various trails we were hiking. The really good news is that the bears will not be so easily tempted to come into town in search of food and the human /bear conflicts that usually occur at this time of year should reduce - I have only seen signs of one bear in our neighbourhood so far. A couple of years ago nearly 40 bears were shot and we have to hope for a much lower number this year which should be achievable if everyone strips their fruit trees and keeps their garbage locked up - please.

So what's the weather outlook for the up coming season. Memories are being strained to go back to the last big fire season which we think might have been 2003 or 4 and no one can rightly remember what kind of winter we had afterwards. I think I recall that 2004/5 was a pretty crappy but then I could be wrong on that. The various long range forecasts from Environment Canada to the Farmers Almanac seem to agree that the winter will be slightly wetter than usual but there is divided opinion on whether it will be colder or warmer than the norm. If colder of course it looks like we could get a great snow year but if warmer we are going to be hit by some big rain events. Heigh-ho, what ever happens I will be out in it everyday so I guess in the final analysis it doesn't really matter.

Finally those who will be looking out for me in the big red truck will be disappointed. I took the truck for it's regular service only to be told that the ticking noise in the engine could be a sign of something really expensive about to happen. I looked up problems on the Triton 5.4 engine on line only to find that this is a well known problem and the engines from the year 2008 are a well known piece of crap. I decided to trade the truck while I could still get a good price an I am now driving around in one year old Jeep Cherokee (well I wasn't going to buy another Ford after that was I ?) with 4 years warranty still left on the power train. It is the 3.2 V6 which is rather quick but does drink gas but with the few miles I do that's no problem.

So that's it, see you all at the end of November and in the meanwhile remember - Keep your stick on the ice,

PS added from Cornwall -
  1. Latest predictions for this winter look really interesting. Now La Nina is edging ahead of a southern oscillation neutral outcome but the best news is that between them they make up well over 95% of the probabilities an el nino looks very unlikely. That could mean an awesome winter skiing for the North West Pacific http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/enso_advisory/ensodisc.shtml

Monday, April 17, 2017

Season Summary 2016-17

Looking back at the season just gone there were some real high points and one or two lows. For the season as a whole it has been a good season, not an awesome one or an outstanding one but a good one which as this is Fernie means it was way better than 90% of other ski resorts could even dream of (ending a sentence with a preposition are my standard slipping). The trouble is that after the season two years ago which was the worst for 40 years, and last year which was nothing to write home about people are tending rave over this season as if it was one of the great vintages, which it was not, it was however good.

First lets look at the statistics. We had just shy of 11 meters of snow fall and that is good by any definition. What was particularly good was that when the snow came it fell from top to bottom of the hill so we got great coverage all over and not what usually happens with good snow at the plot near the top of Bear and then rain affected surface below that. You only have to look at the pictures of last years Slope Soaker where the bottom of the hill was bare and this year where we still had great coverage. On closing day the base as measured at the plot was about 330 cms and the whole hill was totally skiable.

We had a season of 137 days which makes it one of the longest I can remember. Unfortunately due to family circumstances I had to return to the UK for 7 days at the beginning of February so I only got 130 but with the seniors discount (this was my first season as a senior) I reckon I got the daily average cost down to about $5.50 which I think represents fair value. Of course the hill could continue to stay open for several weeks but given the very low number of skiers seen in the final week we have to accept the financial inevitability of closing down after Easter.

The season started in the first week in December and conditions were so sketchy with no real snow fall that for some time it looked as if we might not open on time. After a few days of not very good skiing on our rock skies the snow machine switched on and the temps dropped to highs in the mid minus teens and lows in the mid minus 20s or colder. The result was that the snow that came down had about a zero moisture content so although it was awesome blower powder we didn't really get that base of good old wet Sierra Cement that we usually do to cover the rocks and beat down the alders. These conditions continued right through Christmas and the New year holidays and gave us one of the best pre Christmases I can remember.

January came and so did the usual January snow drought. It seems to me we always get a period of about three weeks from early January when we don't get any snow at all and this year was no exception. The problem this year was that despite good snow falls we hadn't had the solid base and skiing during the snow drought involved a lot of dodging obstructions, particularly alders that were sticking up for much longer than usual this season.

In Early Feb the drought broke in spectacular style with one of the biggest blizzards to hit Fernie for years. The problem was that we had too much snow in too short a time so that most of the hill was closed for several days and the number of really good awesome powder days that we got out of that cycle was fewer than you might have expected. The real issue occurred right on the tail of the final part of the storm when for one evening and into the night it rained from top to bottom of the hill and then froze - everywhere off the groomers became ugly rain crust and some of the toughest skiing I have ever done.

Things slowly improved with the odd flurry starting to repair the hill but for several days the only tracks on Skydive were mine, along side the ones I had left in the rain crust the previous night.  Mid February the snow machine turned back on again and ran through to the third week in March. This time the snow kept coming in manageable amount of 10/20 cms (sometime a bit more) night after night so that most of the hill was open most of the time. A special mention here has to go to Pro Patrol who did a fantastic job of getting Currie Bowl and the Reverse Traverse open quicker than I can ever remember giving us great deep untracked powder skiing every day. This was the truly awesome part of the season. This was the time when I seemed to spend all my time in the trees of The Brain, Nameless Trees, Diamond Leg Trees, Triple Trees and White Rabbit, a run I had only skied once before this season

Late March we started to get spring skiing but not in the usual way. We didn't get sunny days ( in fact I think we only sat out on the deck three times after skiing. What we did get was loads of precip usually coming as snow from the White Pass load and above, and rain below that although we did have a few days of rain all over the hill. This meant we did get some pretty horrible days of skiing pure elephant snot although on the days between the precip we had some good soft skiing on the wet surfaces which softened with atmospheric warming. We also had some dreadful experiences when the crud refroze overnight and was almost unskiable until it softened later in the day.

Towards the end of the season it was the North Facing slopes that stayed in the best condition and more than usual we spent days looping the Saddles, Corner Pocket, Lone Fir and Gotta Go. We also seemed to spend a lot of time in the Knot Chutes as they softened in the sun. The Currie Head Wall opened just before the end of the season for two days only (plus closing day of course) and I managed to get some drops of the Wimp Chutes just to show everyone that the old man can still ski a headwall once in while.

The final weekend summed up the crazy end of season conditions that we were having. On the Saturday we had full on winter conditions with snow or graupel showers all day all over the hill and some great untracked powder although it was on a hard refrozen base. On the Sunday it was bluebird conditions with all surfaces softening in the sun for spring skiing and a perfect end to the season sitting out on the deck of the Griz Bar drink beer and listening to BC/DC.

So that's it folks a good season which finished on a high. For us it was good mainly because Lynda's new hip is now fully functional and she was back skiing all the stuff she used to (Polar Peak, Saddles, Big Three etc) with no pain or problems. I think her new Volkl 108s helped and despite having to go back to the UK for 28 days she still got in 95 on the hill.

We are now heading back to the UK for a summer of sailing and running marathons but not before we swing by the Galapagos Islands on the way home, well ok it's a bit of a detour but it's somewhere we have both always wanted to go. Watch out for the fall report in September and see everyone next year.

PS a reminder to get your seasons pass for next year at early bird prices when they go on sale in May. Ski passes are the strangest purchase any of us make, we pay 100% up front months in advance for something where we have no idea of the quantity (number of days) or quality (conditions) of what we are buying. That having been said the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.