Thursday, April 22, 2010

Summary of Season 2009/2010

So with the hill closed, the snow melting fast, daytime highs reaching +26 and afternoons spent biking down to Rip'n'Richards so you can sit out on the deck drinking coolers it's time to reflect on the past ski season.

Let's start with the facts about the conditions. Whatever anyone says it was far from a stellar year as far as snow went. The total snowfall for the season was a little under 700 cms. The publicity for the hill claims an average snowfall of around 900 cms so however you look at it on official figures the snowfall was at least 200 cms light on even an average year. Two further factors need to be considered - a considerable amount of snow fell pre season prompting the early opening of the hill but in the final week before first opening there was a heavy rain storm which washed away or at least compressed a lot of the first snow. Secondly the snowfall is measured at mid mountain and with the warmer late season temps there were many days when there was measured snow at mid mountain that fell as rain at the base. All in all a very poor season in terms of snowfall which is perhaps not surprising in an El Nino year.

The season started early with a bonus opening weekend end of November prompted by the good early conditions. Unfortunately a rain storm the week before opening had been announced meant that a lot of the base got washed away and we opened with about 75 cms which was at least better than last year when it opened late and with only 35 cms.

After opening proper we had small accumulations through to Christmas but with some really cold conditions - daytime highs of around -28. The snow remained very difficult with variable conditions all over.

The Christmas break remained cold but as we moved into the New Year we had the now traditional burst of snow giving some acceptable powder days. By second week in Jan the snow base had risen to a little over 2 metres and all the talk was that we now had a great base and all we needed was fresh snow, what we got was nothing.

From mid Jan to late March there was hardly any snow at all and what we had in the warm temps mostly came down as rain with ok snow at the top. Amazingly during this period the hill stayed in good shape which wasn't all together surprising. Three things destroy a hill, sun, rain and skier traffic. During this period we had no sun ( 6 weeks without even a sight) no rain ( in fact no precipitation of any kind) and as a result hardly any skier traffic ( more of this later).

Just as the hill was wearing out and it looked like an early closing would be inevitable winter returned. Last week in March it started as a snow rain mix and as it got colder the snow line moved down the hill each day so that by the end of the first week in April we were getting -8 temps at the top and real winter snow all the way down to the valley floor. Strange when the last two weeks of the season give the best skiing and best powder of the season but then it was a strange season for weather.

It was just as well had the last burst as on Furnival weekend (bonus weekend after closing weekend) the temps were back to +20, conditions were bluebird skis and the lower hill was falling apart so quickly that there were only a few sparse tracks left open to the base with the rest bare patches.

So that was the season, ok with some good days but nothing to get too excited about. The one noticeable thing was the crowds, that is the total lack of them. I have skied this hill for 10 years, the last 6 full seasons of 120 days or more, and I have never known so few people on the hill. There were days when mid week on the hill Lynda and I would ski through one of the main bowls and not see another living soul. Even in the Christmas/ New year period when we used to get bumped into parking lot 3 we were parking halfway back in 2 even at 9 in the morning.

When RCR took the hill over they said they would push up the prices until the market pushed back and I guess that's what is happening. The trouble is that once poeple vote with their feet it takes a long time for them to come back. The outlook isn't good as with the strength of the Canadian dollar there will be far fewer Brits and Yanks around so looks like the numbers will be down for some time to come - great for me but not so good for the hill. My advice would
be to do 3 things at once.
Re intoduce the terrain park. If the kids can't have a terrain park the whole family will go elsewhere. Bonus would be to make life safer for the rest of us with all the park rats off the open hill.
Start host tours again. In mixed abilty groups the low intermediates liked to do these tours while the rest of the group ripped up the hill. Lets be sexist, we are usually talking about the mothers in a big family group and if they don't get to ski with a host neither they, nor the rest of the group will come.
Finally sort out the ticket pricing. Offer multi day discounts, stop charging premium pricing during obscure out of province holidays, make mid week passes for 5 days not 4 and stop basing pricing on what Whistler does - Whistler has about 4 times the terrain and lift capacity, it's stupid to even compare the two.

Well that's it including some free business advice. Back to the UK at the end of next week and then on with the sailing season. See everybody next year.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Days 122 &123 Furnival

So after closing day we headed off on our road trip and spent a couple of nights in Nelson (still the hippie capital of BC with all that implies) and a night in Kaslo ( just the most beautiful small lakeside town in the whole of BC) before coming back to Fernie for the "bonus" weekend which is known as Furnival. During the trip we also went to the hot spring pools at Nakusp and Ainsworth which were both great as there is nothing better than relaxing in a natural hot spring pool.

Furnival is more about hanging out with your buddies and drinking than it is about skiing which given the conditions was just as well. The weather forecasters confidently predicted that we would have a weekend of cloud and showers so given their record this season it came as no surprise to anyone that we got two days of perfect bluebird conditions. At this time of year it meant that night time temps barely got down to zero and day time highs were well over +20 for most of the day.

From the start both days were very soft on the groomers becoming super soft slush as the day went on. Off piste was all but impossible and the only stuff other than the groomers that were skiable were the old hard ice slopes which in the current condition hadn't softened too much.

The new side was closed and even on the old side the only stuff open was Lizard bowl and Cedar bowl about half way across - as I said this weekend was not really about skiing. The best runs were Easter bowl, Cedar ridge, Kangaroo and Boom ridge. This gave limited skiing but everybody was just enjoying skiing in T shirts and shorts.

Another highlight was to try and shoot the water pools at the base of each lift in which we were only partially successful as the soaking boots will testify. Great music, great drinking and great partying to finish the season. The only draw back was arriving at the the hill this morning and not finding my jacket or being able to work out what I had done with it last night. Returning home to tell the cell phone company that the phone had been stolen along with my jacket I was not best pleased to find the jacket and phone in my closet where obviously I had left it last night. Ah well, I guess this sort of thing will come to us all eventually.

Give it a couple of days and I will gather my thoughts on the season as a whole.