Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day 3 - Awesome opening day

Of course it's a bit strange that opening day is in fact day 3 of the season but with the preview weekend that's how things are.

Last nights snow kept up all night but as it was so light there was only about 5 cms of fresh but very light powder. Starting temps were about -10 rising to -6 during the day and with flurries off and on keeping the snow base just above the 100 cm mark and the light pretty flat it was a typical early December day.

Having skied the old side last weekend and with great reports on the state of White Pass from patrol buddies we hit the new side. There was the usual opening day crowd but as the whole of the hill was open after the first two lifts there were no more lines. This is something that European skiers have trouble getting their heads round - the idea that you finish your run, ski up to the lift and get straight on. With the exception of a couple of holidays that is how it will be for the rest of the season.

The whole White Pass area was open and the hill had only groomed the main runs out of the bowls so it was wall to wall powder. They tend to do this early season and I am not sure if it is the fact that early season skiers are locals and don't like grooming or that they need a bit of skier traffic over the snow before they can groom that makes them do this but as it results in the maximum area of ungroomed snow who cares.

Great skiing by cycling White Pass chair any way you wanted from Milky Way trees to Surprise trees and all points in between meant you could find untracked snow all morning. The Idiot traverse out to Surprise trees was in better shape than it was all year but Anaconda Glades were closed at first.

As Currie bowl was open we dropped 1-2-3's and I expected it the be good at the top and rain crust at the bottom. In the event it was wind crust at the top and just got better as you went down which just goes to show how much I know. There was a warning about conditions on Gilmar Trail but all in all it was no worse than I have seen it mid season.

From Timber we tried Lazy Locals traverse and found it a bit scratchy having to jump some rocks. Sib ridge and Michy Chutes were fenced off but with signs of poaching. With no choice we dropped Big Bang which was fun but with quite a few hazards. On the next trip out to Surprise we found Anaconda had opened and dropped in. Anaconda was ,well, Anaconda - steep, tight trees, hardly skied and deep deep powder which flew back over your head on the up draft as you skied, just awesome.

Finished off the new side with an attempt to take the County Line which was frustrated as it was closed. Cut left as soon as the sign line would let us and skied Alpha Centauri / Concussion which was all deep and only lightly skied. Did think about seeing if we could get out to Skydive traverse but I am not sure we would have made it and looking back up I don't think the juice would have been worth the squeeze.

After a late lunch tried the old side with not much time left. Like last week there was very little groomed ( hooray) and hardly anyone there. Went out to Snake and found some good untracked shots. Poached the bottom of Kangaroo although technically as there were no closed signs perhaps I didn't. Tried Boom ridge to see if a little extra snow had improved it and it had but it was still a bit technical. Skied out through Boom and the goat trail which was a bit tight then finshed with a run through mid Lizard which was a nice way to finish.

All in all excellent powder for early December and a great way to start the season. Talk in the bar was of the official web site which was claiming this as the most snow for 34 years. This is nonsense as we have opened with more snow than this is the last 4 years and everyone has stories of many better years - for the record snowfall to date it about average. This is dumb as all it means is that no one will believe the official site when the snow really is at record levels. It is particularly dumb as there is no need to bend the truth - we have average snowfall and the opening day was just awesome.

On the way back from the hill encountered a police roadside check for drink driving. Looks like they are clamping down on this again this year so everyone make sure you have a designated driver in your group.

Forecast still to get cold (-25) then warm and wet with all the possibilities that brings, lets see how it works out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

One Day to Go

Another good night in the hot tub last night. So cold Lynda was wearing her red toque - she has to be the only person who doesn't see anything starnge in climbing into a hot tub wearing a red woolly hat and nothing else !!

Today dawned overcast with a forecast of flurries turning to snow and a high of -7. It pretty well worked out that way although sitting here in the evening the accumulation has only been a few cms but with more called for overnight.

Swam at lunch time and it is even cooler to swim watching snow falling outside the windows of the aquatic centre. Went down town in the afternoon to wander round the ski shops and check out the historic ( well about 100 years old) down town.

About 5 hit the pub for a few beers with various buddies and then came back home for yet another hot tub. Just sorted all the kit ready for opening tomorrow and ready to go.See tomorrow for the first report on the full season starting with the new side.

Tonight the Ghostriders are in Nelson playing the Leafs. Not that confident as the leafs were divisional winners last year and they still look pretty strong to me - we live in hopes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Well last night was the first proper hot tub. Temp down at -12 so the steam formed a sort of ice crust in your hair but it didn't matter as the water was 104F so you were plenty warm enough, a bit nippy getting in and out though.

This morning dawned as a perfect bluebird day but with the temp down at -21 on the mercury and -27 with windchill. Sat eating my breakfast eggs looking out of the window at the tree squirrels in the back yard raiding their nut store then running up the trees to sit on a branch and feed. Can't help but wonder how animals with so little body mass survive these temeratures.

Went to the aquatic centre for a swim and tried out the new snow tires in the frozen snow covered parking lot. They were awesome, I really had to try to get them to slide. Swimming looking out at the snow covered mountains was, as has already been said , very cool. A good day to make sure you dried your hair before leaving the building if you didn't want to have an ice crash helmet by the time you reached the car.

Tasks today involved returning the DVD to the library, getting some more food at Extra Foods and checking out the Art Station. This is the railway station that hasn't been used for that purpose since the last passanger train ran through Fernie in the 1960's. It's now a very good community art centre and always worth a visit if only to drop in at the excellent Blue Toque Diner - for European readers a toque is a woolly hat ! The current exibition is art priced at under $101 which seems a good way of going about art to me - may drop back and buy something before Christmas.

Afternoon was spent at the hill where they have blown loads of snow on the lower mountain so ski outs at the weekend should be ok. Bumped into a patrol buddy who had just come down from "working" and said that White Pass was pretty good but there was a lot of wind picking up and we shouild expect some windcrust.

Played with the transceivers taking it in turn to bury then find them. It was a useful exercise if only to remind you that the direction pointer on a digital beacon may point at 180 degrees from the target and you should always keep an eye on how the distance is moving as well. It always amazes me the number of people who carry beacons and never practice with them. We watch the DVD that comes with the kit at the beginning of each season as this also covers how to organise a self rescue - I know we all know this stuff but when you need to use it you want the actions to be second nature. We also have practice days like today.

While on the subject ( gets out soap box) what about the people who just turn on their transceivers in the boot room each morning, check they are flashing and head out. The fact is that just because a beacon is flashing doesn't mean it's transmitting, even if it is, it doesn't mean it's on the right frequency and it certainly doesn't mean it's receiving. Guys, just take two minutes each morning to do a walk by check with a buddy (we always do) to make sure everything is working. Who knows, the life you save by doing this may be your own.

Had a restoring beer in Kelsey's on the hill after an our of beacon recovery practice and then home for a quiet night in. Driving into town I noticed the beaver lodge by the river on the right and that there were mud tracks in the snow so it looks like the beavers are still out to play.

Forecast has shifted as usual. Environment Canada are still calling for a cold dry spell but the Elk Valley local forecast (usually a better bet) is now calling for flurries tomorrow and snow on Saturday with quite warm highs of around -6. The snow fall is only supposed to be 2-4 in town tomorrow but last year when they called something like this it dumped 30 so fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Change of Hosts

Well unsurprisingly the pub won last night but had a great time catching up with the news. When we turned out it was a clear sky with a full moon and all the mountains covered in fresh snow. There is something magic about the light in those conditions, all the mountains seem luminouse, almost as if they are lit from within. Stayed out on the deck to watch in light so bright you could read a book by it - now I know why I love the mountains in the winter.

The forecasters seem to be getting it about right so far. Last night was down to -15 on the mercury with about -20 including the wind chill. Today the high got up to -7 although beautiful bluebird conditions and for the next few days it should get colder - at least this means they should be making snow on the lower ski hill like there is no tomorrow.

While Lynda was at the gym working on her leg in the morning I spent the time trying to sort out the Christmas lights for the deck. As usual they were tangled and a load of them that had worked last year weren't working now. Went and got some replacements and strung the lights - why is it that two replacement bulbs cost $3.20 while you can get a new string of 25 including wiring and plug for $19.95 ?

Took the car to Canadian Tire at lunch for them to fit snow tires. Of course the tires I had ordered hadn't shown up ( they had been sent to Trail of all places) so I had to have my second choices of which ( surprise surprise) they had loads in stock. The bill came to $666, do you think someone is trying to tell me something? Had lunch and a couple of beers in Boston Pizza while waiting for the fitting. Now have 4 all weather tires in ok condition cluttering up the garage, don't know what to do with them , may try Ebay.

Oh yes, about the hosts as I know a number of my UK guests like using this service. For those who don't know the hill had a system whereby ski hosts act as greeters each day then offer free tours of the hill each morning and afternoon - not any more. The issues were explained to me by a senior RCR manager a few days ago.

The problem was that intermediate vacation skiers tended to use this service as a free guiding service and go out every day with the hosts which wasn't the idea. Even though the hosts were only allowed to ski blue groomed runs ( North ridge as well as long as it had been groomed in the previous 12 hours) this suited quite a lot of intermediate European skiers who weren't actually looking for anything more challenging.

From now on the hosts will just be meeters and greeters in the base area. During the day they will tour the hill offering assistance and presumably selling ski school services. The tours will continue but will be run by the ski school and cost 10 bucks a time ($9.95actually). A voucher will be issued for an amount ( possibly 100% of the cost) which will be redemable in the ski shop or maybe the day lodge - details to be finalized in the next few days and will be published here.

I have no idea whether or not this is a good idea or if it will work. Presumably people will either like it and buy more ski school product or not and vote with their feet. Doesn't affect me but I will keep my ear to the ground for guests who I know have liked sking with the hosts in the past.

Another cold day called for and we hope to go to the hill to check out the snow making and play hunt the transceiver in the snow - it's good to practice this before you get caught in an avi for real altough an amazing number of people don't seem to bother.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Nice Surprise

The nice surprise in question was that it snowed over night - not much ( a little under 5 cms) but it gave everything a nice Christmassy feel and anyway I always reckon that you can double the snowfall in the town for what falls on the hill and double that for what accumulates in the bowls - not sure if it's true but it sort of works out that way. The forecasters were calling for a clear night down to -11 so a light snow night only down to -6 was a nice surprise.

This time of year light snow is good as it doesn't get cleared away and you can read the tracks in the snow to see what happened over night with the wild life. This morning you could see that tree squirrels had been all over the back deck - perhaps they wanted a go in the hot tub. Out front a coyote had headed straight up the road, would love to think it had been a timber wolf but it was a coyote. Round the front door there were deer tracks, I would say they were mule deer, three of them. No I haven't developed tracking skills equal to those of Wild Bill Peyto it was just that as I was looking at the tracks 3 mule deer came over to see what I was up to !

Put a final coat of black rust paint on the rear fender of the Explorer and whilst it isn't the greatest paint job in the world you can't see rust any more and when the usual road dirt gets over it then it will look just perfect.

Swam at the aquatic centre and by that time the sun had come out and the temp risen to the daytime high of -3. There is something so cool about swimming whilst looking out of the big windows at the end of the pool at snow covered mountains bathed in sunlight. A quick trip to library stocked us with books and a DVD. As long as you like your movies a bit "artistic" the library is the best place to rent DVDs at only one buck for two nights.

Went to the hill and spent some time talking to Brian in Top Shelf about boots as I had mine blown to account for some spread in the right foot which took place due to all the running this summer. Boot heaters seem to have come on a long way and now that Brian and Donny have found a way of mounting the toe heaters between the layers in the foot bed it's something I might think about again - those guys have to be the best boot fitters anywhere in the country.

Finished the day with a quick visit to Alpine Spa to report that the footwell light in the hot tub wasn't working. Not the end of the world but .... they will look at it.

Just checked the long range forecast which is now calling for a steady decline in day time highs until next Monday when the high should be -23. The temps are then set to rise with several days of moisture, first snow then a snow rain mix so that two weeks from now we should be at +5. Bear in mind this is a 14 day forecast from the same organisation that didn't call for snow over night and last week called for 25 cms in the afternoon when only 3 showed up. I think we can be pretty sure that we are going to get an Arctic high for a few days which will be followed by some warmer wetter weather. When, how much, how warm and how wet are anybody's guess. The good news is that warm wet fronts bumping into cold air masses can give us massive dumps.

So what to do this evening ? Either wings night at the Pub ( huge plate of wings for about $6) or tight ass Tuesday at the movie house ( two for the price of one). I guess the Pub as there will lots of buddies I haven't seen yet since getting into town.

Monday, November 30, 2009

RIP The Meat Hook

This was a really weird day. Usually once the hill is open that is it - skiing every day. This year because the hill has opened a week early just for the weekend we are now faced with 5 days of kicking our heels waiting for the next dose of white powder.

Not all bad as having only had 24 hours between arriving and skiing we had a load of jobs to do. Started by going back to Extra Foods to stock up with the stuff we forgot on Friday. I have to say that they are making a real effort selling us reusable bags so they are supplying only a fraction of the plastic bags we used to get. Of course we used to use the plastic bags as bin liners in our small kitchen garbage bin so now we don't get any we have had to buy a supply of 50 small bin bags - not sure whether the overall effect is a plus or minus for mother earth.

The weather has been really warm ( up to 6 degrees) but overcast with showers. In the breaks looking up the hill it looked as if the snow line was about half way up so White Pass still looks a good bet when we get there. The good news is that it is supposed to go down to -11 tonight and stay cold all week so the lower mountain should get some good snow making between here and opening day.

The rest of the day was spent going to Canadian Tire to order some winter tires ( that is how you spell it here guys) for the Explorer and some rust paint to cover up some patches on the rear fender. Also managed to find time for a quick beer or two with Rob who was on his split shift at the mine today.

On the way down town heard that the reason for all the heli-bombing of the headwall last week was because it was part of the new Leonardo Di Caprio movie coming out next year. What with that and the John Cusack Time Machine Hot Tub movie shot here last year ( several buddies starring as extras) Fernie really is becoming the Hollywood of the North.

Sitting here now getting high on the fumes from the spraying of the rust paint onto the fender in the garage below. Have opened the garage doors but it doesn't seemto help much - a hot tub and beer is called for.

The reason for todays title is that yesterday in the Griz bar it was confirmed to me by a patroller buddy that the Face Lift will not be opening this year. For those who don't know this is a short rope tow with hooks to the highest point in Lizard bowl hence the nick name The Meat Hook.

The reasons for closing it down are safety and cost. The Meat Hook takes you up into the avi run out areas of the Lizard head wall and a huge amount of safety work has to be done to keep the area clear. This combined with the large amount of Cat time required to profile the drag and keep the traverses open makes it very expensive. Snow Cats ( Piste Bashers to you Europeans) don't come cheap.

Whilst I never like to see the lift serviced ski area reduced I can't get very excited about this - at least not as excited as some I have heard hold forth on the subject. The lift was never open very often, it was slow and as a result when open on a good day had such a long line that it was only worth skiing once or twice at the most. I probably didn't do it more than a dozen times last year.

The terrain off the two traverses either side isn't that intersting and it is only a short run down to the lower traverses. It does mean that the long traverse to Easter isn't really worth it but then it never was. If I was going to Easter I would always go via White Pass, Currie bowl, the County Line and then step up to take Easter from the very top which is much better. Going the other way it does mean that you will have the hike a little longer to get into Fish bowl or the very top of Snake. On the other hand the lower traverse across Snake means you only miss a couple of good turns at the top and if you are heading out to Redtree/Steep and Deep etc then all you lose is a hundred metres or so of cat track skiing.

In summary, sorry to see the Meat Hook go but it is no big deal and if it frees resources to get better bits of the hill open quicker in difficult conditions it's a price worth paying.

Hot Tub here I come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Day 2

As I predicted the flurries last night didn't really amount to anything and the hill was showing 3 cms in 24 hours and a mid mountain depth of 103 cms. Everyone seems to forget just how sketchy things usually are on opening day - Lynda read back in her journals and discovered this is the most snow at opening for over 5 years. Even the awsome winter of 2 years ago only opened with 90 cms and that was second week in December.

Strangest thing was the temperature which was supposed to drop to -11 overnight but on our deck barely got down to zero. At the hill it was about plus 2 at the bottom, minus 2 at the top and the freeze line at about mid mountain. The real problem was that it never got cold enough low down for them to turn on the snow cannons so the lower mountain remains in a very thin state. With a Chinook in Calgary giving about plus 10 and spreading this way it doesn't look like things are going to change short term.

Things at the hill were much the same as yesterday but with no fresh powder and far fewer poeple after the excitement of opening day had worn off. The weather was overcast with light freezing moisture ( I wouldn't call it snow) blowing in from time to time in a gusty wind. Only the old side was open again and the groomers had been out taking the advantage of having some skier compacted snow to extend the groomed areas.

The only new things we tried today were Cedar Ridge which was ok between the alders but so much growth showing it was impossible to get much of a rythm going and a bit crunchy towards the bottom. Snake ridge opened with a sign line keeping us out of Gorby bowl and a warning that KC chutes were very ugly. We had some great runs in un tracked powder off Snake cutting right above the chutes to get us back out on to Cedar centre. Took a look into Linda's and Kangaroo and decided against both due to a substantial amount of timber being evident.

So that's the opening taster for 2 days with the opening proper next Saturday. Between now and then we hope for some more snow which is called for at the end of the week or at the very least cold weather so that snow can be made on the lower mountain to improve the ski out. A summary of the current conditions -
Lower Mountain ( anything below Bears Den) - rain crust, ice and not much snow. Use only to get off the hill and even then be careful.
Lizard - Whole bowl in very good shape with tracked powder in most places. A little grooming in Arrow and Dancer but everything else un groomed. Only thing to watch is bottom of Easter where the gullies haven't yet filled in and there are many hazards.
Sunny side - Skiable with lots of alders.
Bear -groomed but with good ungroomed stuff off both sides.
Boom bowl and boom ridge both passable with caution and good sking in between the alders in the bowl
North ridge - groomed and good
Cedar ridge - passable in places with many alders but some good pitches.
Cedar bowl - a few groomed runs with good tracked powder in between the grooming.
Snake ridge - great powder now a bit tracked up. Pitches curtailed by the need to track right above KC chutes unless you are particulkarly fond on gardening.

Not a comprhensive list but I will add to my ramblings as there will be not much to report with 5 days of hanging out waiting for the hill to open proper. Hail to the Griz with a prayer for more snow.

On more important topics the hot tub worked well again tonight to get rid of early season pain and the Ghostriders 10 game winning streak came to an end last night - next home game next weekend and we will be ready.