Saturday, December 12, 2009

Day 10 the first really awesome day of the season

First the important things, we won the hockey last night 3-1 against Golden who were the second team in the division and we now lead by 10 points with a game in hand. Playing Golden away tonight so if we win this things are looking pretty good.

The overnight weather event came through and didn't look too inpressive with about 3 cms of snow in the drive. On the radio the hill announce that they had 17cms of fresh snow and we thought that this was just another load of marketing b/s - wrong.

When we got to the hill we found that there actually had been 17 cms of fresh snow and better still it had come down at about -8 which is the best temp for powder snow. Any warmer and it's too heavy and any colder it doesn't hold you up and let you float so at this temp it is the legendary champagne powder. Not only that but it was deeper in places and kept on building as it snowed all day and hasn't finished yet.

Discussed with a patroller buddy how what had been called as a flurry turns into a major weather event. His take is that weather systems hold up on the other side of the Lizard range and odd ones slip through Iron Pass so that they hit the hill without ever touching the town. That at least explains why I am knee deep in powder on the hill and haven't got enough snow to shovel in the drive.

As the top of the hill was socked in we hit the old side which was awesome. After a few runs through Lizard in good powder we hit out to Cedar skiing the new lift line and getting first tracks. Also got first tracks on Boom ridge which was just the right pitch to set off a big slough and then surfed the slough to the bottom. The trees in Cedar Centre provided a deep terrain park environment which we did a few times. For the first time this season stuck our noses in Linda's run which you had to access via a closed sign but after a few twigs was steep, deep and untracked.

In the afternoon hit the new side. Looped White Pass a few times having some great skiing in Surprise Trees. Kept on hitting out across Currie bowl and hiking into Currie chutes. The new snow on top of the blow in on Concussion gave a very deep feel and was mostly untracked. After that just kept getting further across the bowl dropping Corner Pocket, Easter bowl, and High Saddle and in each one it was over the head powder shots all the way from top to bottom as you dropped into Lizard.

Loads of beers in the Griz and the bar was full of all the usual suspects. Great banter and great times after an awesome powder day.

Went to the Christmas train. CP run a train every other year through Canada just before Christmas. The train is lite up like those Coca Cola trucks from end to end with a live band playing about half way down and the whole thing to collect food for the food bank. By this time the temps had dropped to -15, the wind was blowing and it looks like some serious weather is on the way.

Went to the pub to finish off then home for a quiet night. Forecast says it might be like this for 4 days, we canonly hope.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Day 9 and it's same old same old

Another day and another dollar, this day much the same as every other pre Christmas day. As I mentioned last night this report will be short ( before I go to the hockey game) rather than drunk when I get back.

It was much warmer today at only -8 as we hit the hill. We were lulled into a false sense of security and all peeled off a couple of layers and exposed facial skin. This proved to be a bit of a mistake as when we got to the top of the Bear having decided to ski the old side it was -13 with some wind. Whilst this was much warmer than what we have been having it is still pretty cold and soon everyone was scrambling to get on an extra layer and cover up - I was reduced to having to borrow a sweat shirt from Lynda which as we are not the same shape ( good news for both of us) was pretty uncomfortable.

The old side was just like yesterday with enough now groomed to satisfy even the most intermediate of piste bunnies. Everywhere else the blow in had worked to good effect so that wind grooming and wind sift gave some nice soft skiing in all off piste areas. Particularly nice was the new lift line in Cedar bowl cut for the fixed triple chair due to be installed next year running from Haul back to the top of Bear. Just a rumour but you heard it here first. Also Boom ridge where they have ripped out quite a bit of ground cover so that it is still one of the nicest runs on the hill with the proviso that it is rated double black and if you slip you will go top to bottom on hard packed snow and probably hurt yourself.

In the afternoon linked up with some buddies who were on their first full day off from the mine (fours days four days off) and went for a rip round the new side. We chased down loads of blown in wind sift just like the old side. Best areas were Concussion where the top is now as good as the lower section was yesterday and Corner Pocket which is still a hard hike away but still only has one small part of a tyre showing in the top. As always CP requires about 6 good technical edge to edge jumps to get through with the downside that if you don't make one you will take the 45 or more degree pitch into oblivion.

A fairly large group gathered in the Griz to discuss stuff. Top of the agenda was the forecast and opinion was that it would stay in the minus teens and give up some serious snow early next week. As I type the temps have risen to -6 which just goes to show the worth of the collective local knowledge of the weather - in truth it's a crap shoot.

Off to the game -go Riders go.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 8 - It's powder Jim but not as we know it

As usual the radio alarm went off at 7 and announced another day of maximum wind chill. This didn't seem very likely to me as the temp had risen to -11 and whilst the tops of the mountains were a bit socked in it didn't look like a whole lot of wind to me. Add to this that the weather lady said that it was snowing - it wasn't and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the forecast. I think I will have to revive my campaign from last year to encourage weather forecasters to spend less time looking at their computer screens and more time looking out of the window.

Got to the hill and decided to try the new side as it looked a bit milder than it has done and obviously no one had been up there yesterday. At the top it was -16 with quite a fair amount of wind, blowing snow/flurries and low cloud. Despite all this the conditions were very good. There had been a load of blown in snow which at first glance looked like wind crust or lunar landscape but was actually quite soft and the further up you went the more wind sift there was.

Ok, it wasn't powder according to our definition but on the grounds that it was smooth untracked snow and after you skied it you left tracks in it then by the lights of a lot of places this would qualify as powder. Even here it was really good fun.

Spent all morning in White Pass putting different tracks down the Gun bowl then hopping the ridge line into the I bowl and spreading our tracks all across that. Got as far as Surprise Trees by choccy break time which were no better than ok compared with the rest. Came down to base through the lower part of Concussion which was also full of wind sift.

Back up the new side until lunch doing the same then back down this time via Anaconda which was a bit heavy in places. About this time had one of those amazing experiences of light and weather that you get in the mountains. We were socked in but the light then shone on a small patch of Morrisey ridge on the far side of the valley. For a couple of minutes it looked as if this was floating in front of our eyes in the mist near enough to touch. A bit like sun dogs, angel dust etc if you have never been in the high mountains in the winter you wouldn't believe it.

After a very late lunch ripped round the old side and found some, but not as much wind sift improving pretty well everything on that side. Again the wind was blowing but nothing like yesterday.

In the Griz tonight the weather guys from the patrol were saying that the weather event may be coming but not for a couple of days. Laying in the hot tub tonight I could see the stars which is not good if you are hoping for snow. Actually I was looking at the W shaped constellation of Cassiopea. To the Greeks this looked like a woman laying on a sofa - wish I had a bottle of what they were on.

Hockey tomorrow night so it will either be a short report before the game or a drunk report afterwards.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Day 7 - Brutal

Woken up by the radio this morning telling me that the temp was up at a balmy -21, it then spoilt it by giving a wind chill warning and as a result a frostbite warning on any skin exposed for more than 5 minutes. The reason for this is that we are expecting a weather event at the weekend and these are always preceded by some cold damp winds. As always no one knows quite how much snow we will get or where but this is a particularly strange situation in that the temps usually rise quite sharply during the weather event and this time they are forecast to stay at daytime highs of -15 or there abouts - who knows what we have in store.

Arrived at the hill and as there didn't seem to be much wind decided to take a quick run up the old side then go over to the new. My mind was changed about half way up the Bear Chair when the wind cut in with the most brutal arctic effect I have ever felt. This called for a change of plan.

A good thing about the old side is that it is low and if you stick to the Boomerang chair you are sheltered from the wind. Being low down the temps aren't so bad and you are in the trees giving more shelter and some perspective in the flat light which resulted from the blowing snow. We cycled Boomerang and Haul Back all morning just taking different routes off the ridge line.

There had been more grooming and now pretty well every run in Lizard and Cedar bowls are groomed. There had been a little blow in wind grooming (very little) but for the most part the ungroomed remained heavy and tracked. Still looking for new ways down through the alders but in the main what looks good in between the alder growth is wind crust.

After lunch consider the new side but a quick trip up the old into even colder winds knocked that on the head. Spent the afternoon just like the morning then headed to the Griz for a beer. Picked up a couple of Dutch borders hitching back from the hill, they had been up the new side once and confirmed it was super butal and they had bailed straight away.

Got an email from a buddy in the UK this morning that made me think ( you Tom). He is getting ready for the season and is off down the dry ski slope to get some practice. I thought, here we are thinking we haven't got the greatest skiing and yet we could ( if we wanted) ski mile after mile of well groomed piste through beautiful scenery and interesting terrain. Back in the the UK there are thousands of skiers having to make do with a couple of hundred metres of toothbrush skiing - perhaps we should count our blessings.

Beer in the hot tub and an early night I think.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 6 and actually quite cold

Today I woke up to hear on the radio that it was -30 on the mercury and -36 with wind chill and that was in the valley. Delayed getting to the hill for half an hour but even then it was -27 at the base and as a result the new side was't loading so the old side it was.

Just like yesterday, blue skies, even colder, even fewer people. Around the old side there had been a lot more grooming which perhaps is no bad thing. The groomers are in good shape as is the unskied ungroomed, the only stuff I have found in that category is the top of Lizard under the Saddles. All the rest is tracked ungroomed.

One of the myths of skiing is that when the temps drop like they have now the hill is preserved in great shape. What happens to tracked up ungroomed surfaces is that they become rock hard on the base with some bits soft and other bits really hard when you hit the chunks. This is very very tough skiing which if you don't stay on your game all the time will result in a season ending ACL twist. In other words the ungroomed in Fernie at the moment is no place for the inexperienced.

After a morning on the old side experiencing the above - well who is going to stay on the groomed ? Found that the new side was open and went off to try that. Much the same as the old side with the ungroomed very tough. I am sure the official publicity may tell a different story but I will go with the Pro Patrol who have posted "not recommended" signs at the top of most un groomed runs.

Lets be clear, I am not saying that things are not good, I am having a great time. What I am saying is that you either need to enjoy groomers or tough sking ( that's me) to have a good time in Fernie right now.

Ok, staying warm. A number of friends are surprised that I ski all day in -25/-30 temps. These are my tips for being able to do this and as always these are just my personal views.

Boots - Key thing is get them to fit so you don't have to over tighten them and cut off circulation leading to cold feet. Neoprene covers will slow down the cooling but not much. Hot bags don't work in boots after the first hour because of the lack of movement to allow the chemical reaction, they really warm up at the end of the day when you remove them. Electric boot warmers are much better now and may be the way to go but at $300 .... just get good fitting boots and accept that for the few days when it is really cold your feet won't be exactly warm - just suck it up.

Lower Body - I wear two pairs of thermal long johns under my ski pants. Don't waste money on the expensive ski pairs, I use Marks & Spencers which are warm, cheap and durable ( one of the pairs I was wearing today was 22 years old).

Upper body - Layer up. Today I had a Mountain Hardwear base layer with a Gill rash vest over the top. Over that was a cotton ski top ( I find the synthetic/ natural mix works well) over that a fleece then my ski jacket. As my ski pants are dungaree style there is another layer in there somewhere.

Head - No exposed skin unless you want frostbite. I wear a fleece balliclava under my helmet so only my nose is exposed and then cover that with a duck tape shield. Two key things, cut a breathing hole for the mouth or you will steam your goggles ( biggest problem on cold days) and make sure the neck seal is good - mine is tucked inside the fleece with the jacket zipped over,

Hands - Get rid of gloves and use mits and layer up. I have thin inner gloves under some thinsulate wool gloves under a pair od Auclair mits. Not great for gripping but warm.

This way you can ski warm and safe for many hours while other have to leave the hill - enjoy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day 5, and a bit nippy

More of the same today but even more so. Cold overnight and the temp was -23 when we arrived at the hill but a beautiful bluebird day without a cloud in the sky, a typical Arctic high. Lynda still has to do 3 sessions a week at the gym to strengthen the leg where she broke it season before last and for some reason she decided that this morning might be a good time for a session.

Even by Fernie early season standards the place was deserted. Although a few more people rolled up during the day I guess that first thing there may have been half a dozen of us on the hill, so that's what it's like to have your own ski hill. Went up the Bear for a couple of rips down the deserted groomer throwing big GS turns at high speed. Rode up with a patroller buddy (there you are Tyler, told you that you would get a mention) who confirmed the news I got yesterday that the Saddles were open.

Considering how few people were around perhaps I was a bit paranoid yesterday not mentioning where the good skiing was going to be today but you always protect your powder stashes. Many people think that because the County Line is closed in Currie this means that the Saddles are closed - not so. If you take the low traverse and do a side step traverse for about 5 mins then a straight up side step for about 3 mins you get to Corner Pocket. The Pocket is a double black diamond chute which was is great shape with a hard but not icy ( well not very) surface covering the tyres that form the bed of the chute. After 4 quite technical turns the whole thing opens up into unlimited powder until you decided to cut right into Easter bowl which was a bit chopped up.

This was great skiing as everywhere else had been skied over and with temps in the low 20's the broken surface everywhere else was a bit uneven and firm to put it mildly. After a while we took a swing through Anaconda (Idiot traverse still in ok shape with a few jumps) and whilst not as good as Corner Pocket still provided some ok powder. That was the rest of the day until a late lunch cycling Corner Pocket and Anaconda on alternate circuits.

Just before lunch had my first major yardsale (wipe out in UK speak) in the same place as I always do - just at the bottom of Lift Line. This time hit a root/stump/rock/etc under the snow and flew a long distance head first before landing. Strange thing was that I landed on my right shoulder which has been giving me some pain from an old injury many years ago on the Hintertux Glacier. After the intitial pain and tingling in the whole arm I discovered that I suddenly had more mobility in the shooulder than I had for years and even now whist it hurts a bit it is way better than 24 hours ago.

Spent the short afternoon on the old side where it was chunky, hard and tough skiing. Looked for the mooses but only saw some tracks under Boom chair. At the top of Bear last time round the temp had dropped to -24 with clear skies. Best joke in the bar was that the official claim of the most snow for 34 years (obviously rubbish) was a mistake and what they meant to say was the most snow in 3 to 4 years.

Forecast is for a really cold night, maybe -34 on the hill. If this is the case there could be a delayed opening as lifts won't run below -30. In the hot tub tonight it was clear with the stars twinkling and steam forming ice on the outside of my beer bottle.

Quick word on the hockey, as predicted we lost to Nelson on Friday away but won at home on saturday to Kamloops Storm, wish we had gone now, next home game Friday, we will be there. If nothing much happens tomorrow watch this space for the secrets of how to ski in -30 and stay warm - ish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Day 4

Today was a typical pre Christmas day at the hill in Fernie. It was deserted so much that we didn't really share a run with anyone all day. It was cold ( -16 on the mercury at the bottom and way colder up top and with the wind chill) for some reason it always seems to turn cold just after opening. There was no new snow because there never is much before Christmas and as the fresh had been skied over you had to go hunting for good lines.

I love this time of year because all the runs which might be quite easy later in the season ski tough. They are full of tree stumps, big rocks, bushes and all manner of early season hazards. The only way you can ski them is by being right on your game all the time and as long as you stay clear of the groomers ( which we do) everything is challenging. A lot of people think I am a bit odd for loving this kind of skiing (actually a lot of people think I am a bit odd for a host of reasons including this) but apart from full on powder this is my favourite skiing.

Hit the new side hoping for a repeat of yesterday and were disappointed. It had suffered massive wind damage in the night so there was no soft and everthing was lunar landscape. The wind was brutal and the wind chill had to be way down in the -20's. We figured it had all blown over the ridge into 1-2-3's but that proved to be even worse. When the mountain mist blew in giving really flat light we took it as a sign that the new side was not the place to be and headed for the old side.

The great thing about Fernie is that if the old side is bad, the new side is usually good and vice versa. When it is heavy, wet and even raining down low you can usually get good fresh snow up high on the new side. When the new side is brutal with bad light ( like today) the old side is usually warmer and skiing in the trees gives good viz.

Went all over the old side which had some good blown in snow. We were on a two break strategy as always in the cold weather - ski 2 hrs, break for a half, ski 2 hrs, break for a half and ski for 2 hrs. At the first break met up with Andy who is a ski instructor we skied with a bit last year. He skied the middle section with us and we had particularly good runs on Snake ridge and Cedar ridge.

Last section was the same all over the old side finishing with runs on Boom and Boom ridge which were challenging for all the above early season reasons. Lower Lynda's was closed and we couldn't work out why until I was told that there had been 3 mooses on there earlier that wouldn't move - didn't see them though.

Next few days is getting colder with no new snow. This means that the tough conditions will get tougher and there will be even few people so happy days. A patroller buddy I talked to on the lift made a great suggestion of where to ski tomorrow which if it comes off will be awesome. Where is that ? no chance, I don't want to see anyone else there - tell you about it tomorrow.