Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day 90 how to piss off your customers in one easy lesson

Back to Fernie today for a busy Saturday with all the usual crowd up from Calgary for the weekend. Starting temps were -3 going up to +7 during the day which was probably right with maybe a few more degrees of warmth in the direct sunlight. No new snow but with all of the hill having been closed yesterday there was plenty of fresh on the upper mountain, the only problem was that pretty well all of the upper mountain remained closed due to avi conditions. A look around the hill revealed the longest and ugliest avies I have ever seen in almost every part of the hill.

No one has a problem with the hill being mostly closed due to avi risk, those decisions are taken by people who know far more about it than we do and have our safety at heart. The problem we have is how we are treated by the hill as a result.

Today as an example whilst the Elk, Bear and Boom chairs were open (not Haul Back as was claimed on the web site) sign lines were in place so that Lizard, Boom bowl, Bear chutes etc were all closed and the only skiing was Bear (with sign lines either side) and Kodiak down to Boom. This was about 15% of the hill and even later in the day when a very restricted Timber opened it was still only about 20% of the hill and yet the price for day tickets was 100%. How would you feel if you went into a gas station and put in 10 bucks of gas and then were charged 50 bucks - the ski hill is the only business I know that seems to think this is ok.

To make matter worse, at 9 when the breakfast club had been skiing the hill for an hour and getting first tracks and the hill was due to open, it was shut and remained shut until well past 9:30 before we were allowed to go up the Bear or Boom. The reason was that a group of - well you choose the adjective- were here on some corporate freebie and they were given the hill to ski ahead of all the rest of us fare paying customers including those who had just paid 100% for 20% of the hill. No safety issues as they were skiing the same restricted area that was eventually made available to us, just go old fashioned corporate greed and "screw the customer."

When we got going the little skiing that there was on Bear and Kodiak had been totally trashed by various privileged groups that were there before us but we made the best of it. Soft snow to the far right of Kodiak and soft snow becoming soft then hard bumps on the left of Bear. Right side of bear was also bumps which just got harder as the day wnt on. With so many people in a tiny area the risks of contact were getting so great that just before 12 we bailed for lunch.

We had heard that Timber was opening around 12 which was true. Trouble was nothing was open, Falling Star closed, Lift Line closed etc. The only run of the hill was around Puff/Trees to White Pass, Black Cloud and Summer road - the whole process was only livened up by the occasional foray into the various trees that flanked the descent. The snow above White pass was just awesome and soft which bodes well for the time when they open the White Pass lift. Anything lower down was a bit crusty on the base and heavy on top. By 3 we had enough, after all there are only so many ways you can ski Black Cloud.

Only problem with the closures was that they were not enforced. The lift line under Timber was being poached all afternoon and nothing was being done. Now I don't poach, never have, I think it shows disrespect but that is on the basis that those who do poach get their passes pulled. If nothing is done to enforce the sign lines then why should any of us keep clean and as a result lose out on any first tracks. I will be watching tomorrow and if the same attitute is being taken to poaching then I figure I might as well join in as long as no one else seems to be taking it seriously. On the other hand if some passes start getting pulled then no one is happier than me and we can all go back to obeying the rules.

Some new snow forecast overnight and the ridges on the hill being heli bombed, lets see.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 89 an unexpected road trip to Kimberley

The reason for the unexpected road trip was that Fernie was closed due to avalanche control. I expect they will claim that they weren't closed as the Elk chair and the Mighty Moose were running but as these access less than 10% of the hill and none of the interesting stuff the hill was to all intents and purposes closed. Interestingly they were charging 50% of the ticket price for 10% of the hill and the web site says that tomorrow only the Old side will be open so we will have less than 50% of the hill but full ticket prices will apply. I can't see anyone in their right mind accepting this and actually coming to Fernie to ski while this is going on.

When we arrived at the hill we were told of the situation and that our season passes would be good at Kimberley today. We threw our skis on the roof and drove to Kimberley and by 11 we were on the first lift going up. Because of our late arrival we skipped lunch and skied straight through to 4.

Kimberley had 13 cms of fresh overnight and it seemed to have come down on a base of fairly bumped up skiing giving soft bumps with some great untracked snow. I didn't know the hill so we just headed out to what looked like the toughest areas and cycled the Easter and Tamerack chairs skiing in the Black Forest and Vimy Ridge areas.

Whilst nothing was as tough or as steep as Fernie there was still some good fun stuff to be had. Particularly Fuzzy and Flapper felt a bit like Skydive on a rather watered down basis but the soft bumps were great. Out the other way Vortex was the best of quite a lot of runs which had a nice terrain park feel with creek beds and shoulders. Given what was on offer in Fernie we had an outstanding days skiing in bright sunshine and plus temps of around 4.

During the day we heard that highway 3 to Fernie was closed due to an avalanche east of the bluffs. We stayed for a couple of beers and nachos and by the time we had finished as we drove back we got word that the highway was clear so not all bad.

So tomorrow is a Saturday on the Old side only, pretty ugly I would think. Not to bad for us season pass holders but if I was a vacation skier from the UK (say) trying for my one ski break of the year looking at $1.60 to the pound, no discounts for multi day tickets, not being allowed to get reductions with the Ski More card because the hill has done a deal with European tour operators to allow them to keep their cut of ticket sales rather than pass it on to vacationers, and now most of the hill shut then I don't think I would come back to Fernie any time soon. Good news for us - less people on the hill.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day 88 I came back for this ?

Actually today was a bit better than you might have thought it was going to be judging by the totally crap conditions at the base of the hill, however, I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

I got back yesterday evening and a big thank you to Air Canada for cancelling the direct flight from Heathrow to Calgary so I had to re book Heathrow-Edmonton, Edmonton-Calgary. The result was adding 4 hours to the journey, leaving 2 hours earlier and arriving two hours later, just what you need when coming back on a long trip.

Having heard of the awesome conditions that have been around since I left and with a heavy snowfall warning for the Elk valley I was pretty optimistic about today's skiing - wrong. There was no valley snowfall, it rained all night although the hill reported 15 cms of fresh (they didn't say fresh what) at the mid mountain snow plots. On the way to the hill it was +2 and raining and that is what we faced as we got ready to ski,

With rising temps and rain on top of the awesome amounts of snow we have been having you don't need to be a genius to work out that the avi risk was off the scale with more stuff closed (Currie bowl, Cedar bowl, Lizard bowl) than was open, I understand that full prices were still being charged for day tickets even though over half the hill was shut - amazing. None of the New side was open and only Elk and Deer on the Old side were available so you had the option of skiing the lower hill in pouring rain if you wanted to start on time, we went for a coffee.

About 10:30 we got word Bear and Boom were open and went to check them out. Bear was heavy partially tracked powder at the top and pure elephant snot from about half way down. Sign lines were down at the top of Boom to make sure you couldn't hit Alpine Way or Cedar ridge in that direction so the only real choice was Boom. As first glance it looked like it was going to be super heavy and hard work but actually you were skiing around on top of the snow so the effect was a very strange one of sort of having moon gravity and skiing in slow motion without the usual hard pull on the legs that you get in those circumstances. We had a few great if rather weird feeling runs in that stuff which was much more fun than perhaps it sounds.

We went to the New side and not only was White Pass open but so was the I bowl, Idiot traverse and as a result Surprise Trees - Anaconda was well and truely shut and remaind so all day. The Gun bowl was bit challenging due to the poor light but Surprise Trees were just awesome in the top with great lightly tracked heavy powder turning to rather heavier stuff for the last few turns. We had several runs then a late lunch.

After lunch it was still raining hard at the base with plus temps so again we went high to White pass where it was wet snow building up at a very significant rate and continued to hit out to Surprise Trees which by now where very deep and heavy with huge sloughs almost amounting to avi conditions. After about 4 runs through still getting great tough skiing White Pass chair was closed at about 15:10 due to avi risks and to be honest I was surprised it had stayed open so long. No point in trying to ski the lower mountain in the rain so we hit the bar.

Not a great day back but given the conditions it could have been a lot worse. The heavy snow which normally would have been hard skiing for some reason seemed to ski very easily, almost hero snow at some times, but very slow. Tomorrow could improve as the warm front passing through cools and the precip turns to snow some time over night, lets see.