Thursday, April 16, 2009

Season 2008/9

And so it comes time to gather up my thoughts on the overall season which I would summarise as surprisingly good considering the lack of snow mid season. Of course there may be a bit more life in the season from the Furnival weekend coming up but as I have said before I expect most of the action will be in the Griz bar not on the hill so lets call it a day.
Starting with the snow it is a recorded fact that the total snowfall for this season was around 650 cms which is low particularly compared with last year which was a vintage one with 1150 cms. When you consider that we had about 5 metres less snow falling this year the hill stayed in surprisingly good shape with a mid mountain base on closing day 210 cms and the whole hill skiable with the exception of Snake Ridge.
The real problem this year was the weather which most of my buddies have best described as "weird" for the whole season. Usually we get wet heavy snow in the fall followed by a reasonable dump around Christmas then the champagne powder in January. This gives the perfect stable skiing base. What happened this year was that we had no snow in the fall, very cold dry snow following opening day, normal Christmas dump then a warm up in early January with a heavy rain/snow mix. This meant that even with opening day being postponed it was very sparse - this is being polite as I have said I have mountain biked in more snow than we had on opening day.
By January we had the worst possible conditions with an inverted snow pack so that the avi risk was off the scale - it is no coincidence that this year we had 25 avi related deaths in BC, 8 in the Elk valley. It is a tribute to the great work done by the guys and girls of the Pro Patrol that no one in the Fernie resort area was hurt even though the pack was so unstable that they had to resort to Heli bombing inbounds for control. Sure enough the pack gave way and by mid January everything had slid to ground and everywhere you could see avi debris and death cookies about the size of my truck.
Everyone agreed that we had paid the price and had a great base for the January and February snows, the problem is that they didn't come, we had a 45 day snow drought. The base meant that you could ski anywhere on the hill but the surface conditions were challenging and everywhere was skiing about the toughest I have ever seen it, this may have contributed to the record number of injuries suffer by Ski School at around that time.
Mid March was another warm up with slush skiing and for a time it looked like we would have an early end to our season. The whole year was saved as far as I was concerned by great snow late March/early April which gave us the best skiing of the season and some awesome powder days. To finish off the sun shone and after a week of summer skiing it was back to spring skiing for the last few days - as I said not a bad season.
Things that worked well this year was the new glading in Mitchy chutes and Cougar Glades. The alder clearance on Snake ridge was also good but as the high traverse across Cedar was never cut this year it was not that easy to get to so not all that many got to enjoy it. Not so good things were the lack of alder clearance in the Cedar Ridge, Boomerang area which meant that the skiing there was very restricted early season. The decision to damage Kangaroo by cutting a cat track across it spoiled an otherwise good mid section of the bump run and was just dumb. The official reason given is that without the cat track there was no easy way out of Cedar bowl but as there is no easy way in I don't see that this makes sense.
RCR continue to make strange pricing decisions such a premium pricing the latter weeks of the season just because they are holiday weeks in some province or other. This in the face of an economic down turn, a poor snow year and partial closure of the hill doesn't make any business sense and a large number of vacationers I met were vowing not to come back until the prices moderated. From a personal point of view this is excellent news as it means even less people on the hill next year but as I said from a business point of view a very strange policy.
My favourite memories are during the final snow cycle hiking the ridge above Cornice chute time after time to either jump off the cornice or drop into one of the tight steep tree lines back into Lizard. This isn't an area I have skied much before but with good snow next year I intend to be back.
It is a beautiful bluebird day today with temps of about +3. Lots of jobs to do that have been neglected during the ski season then a day skiing on Saturday to say goodbye. Sunday we head off for a cultural tour of the Okanagan wineries but will be back at the end of the week for a final tidy up before heading back to the UK. That's it for the season as I can't think anyone will be interested in reading about my summer sailing life in Cornwall so no more blogging until I get back to Fernie for skiing next winter. May post something about the mountain biking and rafting when I am here in the summer or some reports from the Hintertux glacier when I go up there for some summer skiing at the end of September.
So long and thanks for the fish - see you all end of November. Anyone wanting to get hold of me during the summer try

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

14th April

Day 113 and last day of the season - of course it isn't quite last day of the season as the hill will be open on Saturday and Sunday but that will be the old side only and then mainly for the benefit of 5 bus loads of drunks coming up from Edmunton to party for the weekend. In other words the events are more to be connected with partying than with skiing so I don't intend to report on it unless anything really funny happens.
Nothing much happened overnight and today was forecast for sun and cloud this morning turning to flurries this afternoon which is more or less what happened except that the flurries didn't cut in until we were pretty well off the hill. Arriving at the hill I was amazed to hear all the whinging that was going on about yesterday's skiing particularly from the ski hosts - see my post of yesterday for just how good things were. It turned out most of them had stayed on the old side. Now it may just be me but if it rains in town all night and when you get to the hill you see the rain/snow line very high up then you go straight to the new side and if you don't then you only have yourself to blame for the crappy skiing that you will get.
Hit the old side with the expectation of having to stay on the groomers. First signs that things were different was early on when I hit the left ungroomed stuff off Cruiser and found it to be soft and untracked. Riding up the Boom chair everything underneath looked ok so I decided to take a gamble and drop into Boom bowl. What I found was that everything had been beaten sort of flatter than usual by the rain and now there was about 3cms of fresh on top with the under layer firm but not icy.
This set the pattern for the morning and we skied everything we normally would on an old side powder day in conditions that were not exactly perfect but still were very good. Boom Ridge, Linda's, Boom bowl, Cedar ridge three ways, King Fir and Kangaroo three times most of which was untracked were all excellent. Finished in Bear chutes which like most of the old side was in great condition.
In the afternoon we tried the new side and again we found it in better condition than we might have expected. County line loops through Stag Leap and Decline were as good as any sking since the last powder dump. A dip into Concussion found it a bit mushy for my tastes but Rob and Mike Mac who I was skiing with seemed to think it was ok. Final run was out through Skydive as anyone who knows me would have guessed. The traverse had set up very chunky but when we got through Skydive skied the best it had for a couple of weeks with hard bumps at the top then a soft surface all the way down which we could free ride at maximum speed - what an excellent way to end a season.
In the next few days I will set out my thoughts as a season summary and then that will be it until next season. May do a week or two on the glaciers in Europe in the summer but probably that won't be worth writing about - let's see.

Monday, April 13, 2009

13th April Easter Monday

Day 112 and this was a genuine powder day - well lets not get carried away it wasn't awesome powder but if you count a powder day as one where you make a significant number of turns in untracked snow and quite few of those are turns where you don't scrape the bottom this sure enough was a powder day.
Last night it rained for long perods and the topic of debate in the bars was where, if at all, the rain turned to snow up the hill. The morning revealed a very high snow line on Mount Fernie so we headed to the new side to get the best posssible snow result by skiing the highest parts of the hill. First run down Lift Line was not good with wind crust at the top and rain crust from half way down and to be honest it didn't get much better in there all day.
Weather for the day flicked between snow flurries to sunny periods. In the sun the surfaces softened but then set up as each flurrie passed. The flurries didn't give enough snow to cover
the resetting so as the day went on the crust got worse so that by the end there was some very challenging surfaces but before that we had some great skiing.
From the outset Gun bowl was excellent with untracked powder although only about 5 cms deep - the official report gave 14 cms of new snow and all I can say is that I want a bottle of whatever they were drinking. We spent the whole morning in the Whitepass area working our way across Gun bowl to get fresh tracks each time then working our way back to the lift by a combination of I bowl, Fiery Hornet, under the lift, Highline Trees and other variations. With only a quick break in Lost Boys Cafe for a hot chocky and one of their awesome cookies it was 2 before we were thinking about lunch and that after I had hiked Knot chutes which had opened to the surprise of most of us.
I would had gone to lunch but ran into my buddy Rob and we skied a bit on White pass then found great snow mostly untracked in 123s. We came off the hill through Diamond back as we did all afternoon and found the snow variable with soft surfaces, sometimes with a quite hard crust, and some underlying ungroomed bumps. Next circuit we tried Anaconda and were amazed to find it untracked, deep and soft at just before 3 in the sfternoon - great to see that there was no one on the hill, or at least no one who knew where the good skiing was. Final run off the hill through 123s provided more excellent untracked snow at the very end of the day.
Never tried the old side but reports I got in the Griz bar suggested it wasn't any great shakes as the rain line was just about at the top of Lizard bowl.
More rain/snow called for so we could actually finish on a powder day, how good would that be ?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

12th April - Easter Sunday

Ok one last pic from hotdog day which is me coming out of the Goat Trail at the foot of Boom bowl onto the Bear run - could be a shot straight from the 1980's except for the twin tip free riders which of course are a bit of a give away.
Day 111 ( Nelsons) and winter returns - well not exactly winter but a significant change in the weather. Last night it rained but with deck temps of +4 hill snow didn't really seem much of an option. We arrived to areport of 1 cm of fresh but more inportantly the conditions were overcast with occasional flurries so there was no direct sunlight to soften the snow and the melt line moved only very slowly up the hill as the day went on. Even by afternoon the melt line was only about three quarters of the way up the hill and as we left the hill the upper slopes were getting a fair amount of new snow although how long this will go on for is a matter of debate.
We started on the old side and found pretty well everything frozen so had to spend rather longer on the groomers than usual. Eventually the lower slopes softened and we found that Kangaroo was particularly nice having been beaten flat by the nights rain, frozen then softened on the surface, This gave near perfect spring skiing ( as opposed to summer skiing which is what we have had for the past few days) and we ripped it several times.
Encouraged I stuck my nose into Boom bowl and Boom ridge and found them both to be rock hard bumps with tufted ice on top which was very tough going. Second time through Boom ridge I decided to have another try and even though when I tested the surface it was ice again I went in and found it just as bad - just goes to show how dumb you can be, but still ok if challenging and living up to it's double black diamond grading.
We went to the new side and immediately found some fresh snow. In Lift Line this had the effect of providing a new surface over the ice and much improved the skiing. At the top of White pass there was about 3cms of fresh snow in Gun bowl which was really dust on crust with the underlying surface being rutted ice from the day before - not great. Deciding on an easy run off the hill before lunch we dropped down Down Right only to discover it hadn't been groomed and was pretty icy so we just had to suck it up and bounce our way down to the day lodge.
In the afternoon I tried the new side again and did the usual loops out on the County Line to try Decline and Skydive. Due to and error of judgement I managed to blow off both skis on an ice chunk in Cornice chutes and take a header down the chute as a result - heigh ho, no harm done except to my pride. On Currie creek shoulder there was a lot of damage with branches, roots and leaves all over the traverse, don't know what caused it ( hope it wasn't a bear waking up and having a scratch) but I went for my good citizenship award by stopping and cleaning up the trail.
Spent the rest of the afternoon cycling Skydive and Decline the latter being slightly better. As you might expect the runs were icy at the top great in the mid section and a bit heavy at the bottom - typical spring skiing.
Light rain and + 5 so could be snowing on top at this moment. Some reports call for 2-4 cms tonight so we may be getting a little more winter and fresh snow , if not real powder, before we finish off.