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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Day 130 final day

And today was the final day of what has been a good (good but not great) season and it finished on something of a high. Overnight we may have had a cm or two of snow but nothing to get excited about. It was -4 first thing but a bluebird day so the temps rose very quickly particularly in the direct sunlight. During the day the temps rose and I am not sure of exactly how warm it got but on the way home it was +9 on the temp on the truck and in the afternoon I noticed it was about +5 at the White Pass load.

Today was closing day so we did expect to do any serious skiing and in any event my mind was occupied with trying to do better in the Slope Soaker where I stacked it on landing last year. We went up to the top of the Old Side and had a few loops around Bear and Lizard Bowl all of which were soft and easy in the softening sun. It was then time to register for the Soaker and then after that on the advice of an experience pond skimmer (thank you  Robin) I spent the rest of the morning in the Terrain Park getting used to hitting blind jumps and keeping my weight centred on the landings.

After the safety briefing at 12:30 we were ready for the main even at 1:00 and at number 10 in the starting line up I was ready to go. The best thing you can say is that I did better than last year and at least managed to stay on my feet for some time after I landed on the water which was big improvement. It took some time to get back to the locker rooms and get changed back into my proper ski gear and get ready for a full on afternoon's skiing. Here is me getting out of the water,

We had word during the morning from the New Side that things were skiing well in the sunlight and the Polar Peak and the Currie Head Wall were open and good - after lunch we went up to put this to the test.

Lift Line was closed under Timber Chair but you could cut in somewhere near the top and it was ok skiing with soft lightly tracked snow on a firm base. As Polar Peak was open we went up and found the conditions excellent soft skiing in all the chutes. Grand Papa Bear and Barely Legal were particularly good and in many ways better than at any time so far this season with easy soft skiing. The Currie head wall looked like it had received a good hammering since it had opened so we decided that the juice would not be worth the squeeze to hike up and ski it once again this season. To our surprise the Polar Chair was closed at about 3:10 so we could loop no longer and so we headed out to Decline which skied ok most of the way down but got a bit mushy in the final few turns.

It was getting late so we just had time for a White Pass (Gun Bowl, Pillow talk, Megan's Dilemma ) loop in what was slightly resetting up soft snow but still very easy skiing. Last run of course was Skydive where I found myself to be the sole representative of the Skydive Last Run club which I guess was only to be expected after a long and hard season. It was good skiing all the way down with soft snow on top of a firm base and I hit it in one all the way down to the base - a great last run of the season.

In the Plaza BC/DC (and AC/DC tribute band) were just finishing off as we got there so we went to the Griz Bar balcony and drank beer. As more buddies rolled up things just got better and guess what - we drank even more beer. It was great end of season party even by Fernie standards.

That's it for this year folks - a full season report will follow in a day or two.