Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day 4 Welcome to the New Side

Yes, today as promised the New Side opened for the first time this season so having had three days of the Old Side we headed off up Timber and stayed on the New Side all day. Just like the Old side it was very wind affected which gave variable conditions but more of those later.
The temp as we arrived at the hill was about -9 at the base and a little lower at the top. During the day which was sunny but with ridge line cloud the base temps got up to about -3 but up top it sayed cold with a harsh wind that must have given a wind chill of a good 5 degrees lower than the mercury temp. The base was 112 cms and the surfaces varied from boiler plate ice to awesome powder via raincrust and wind slab - in other words just like yesterday you had to keep your wits about you.
All day we did a series of loops either from the top of White pass back to the foot of the chair or all the way to the bottom then up Timber and down to White pass that way. Anyone who knows the hill knows this pattern gives endless permutations of runs and terrain to ski. It was a rolling opening first with just White pass, then near side Currie and finally all of Currie as far as Easter bowl hike up (Skydive, Stag leap etc were all closed due to poor coverage). Even the Knot chutes were open which I didn't hike as the skiing in there didn't look any better than what was on offer in the rest of the area without having to hike.
The runs back from Timber top to White pass were all a bit scratchy but Puff improved with skier traffic, Lift line/Lower Big Bang was quite good powder in places but lots of hazards and Heartland right side was slick but with some soft snow near the edges.
For the remainder of what we skied (in some cases several times over) the verdict was -
Gun Bowl - great soft powder everywhere except on the far ridge that was wind swept ice. Skied it lots to access other areas and enjoyed it every time but towards closing the light got very flat.
Highline trees - windslab, not really worth the effort.
Surprise trees - Three times and great skiing as the trees had protected the surface from the wind effect. A bit twiggy and stumpy but very nice soft and mostly untracked snow.
Milky Way trees - very disappointing as we thought they would be great, in fact they were no more than ok with a lot of wind slab.
Morning Glory trees - Great, not much traffic and still loads of untracked soft powder when we got there. Disn't seem to be wind affected at all but you still had the long ski out at the bottom of Falling Star.
Anaconda Glades - when the fence dropped on Currie we ignored the bowl and went straight to Anaconda where we put first tracks in the steep and deep left cut back which was great powder all the way down, just awesome and the biggest problem was getting hit by your own slough. Towards the end of the day I hiked the hump and dropped the chute just beyond which was unskied presumably because of all the bushes in the top, just a little bush whacking and then it opened up into truely awesome powder.
Diamon Back - Nice at the top but icy and very aldery at the bottom, needs more snow before I try that as ski off again.
1-2-3s - Quite a lot of avi debrise but if you skied between it there was some very nice soft stuff and great powder in the trees on the right of 3. Did my good deed for the day in 3 recovering a ski that had been lost about 100 metres uphill of where I found it - always amazing how far these things travel.
Corner Pocket - Not often you get to ski one of the double diamond saddles on opening weekend. Snow was ok in the pocket with only one tire showing and below it was great untracked powder which just got a bit slabby lower down. Cut across to exit via Easter bowl which was also soft and only lightly tracked.
High Saddle - See Corner Pocket. Due to board scrape I has to slither the last little bit out of the chute but after that great powder.
Triple trees - Second to last run and we hit the top section of triple trees down to Trespass trail. To our amazement the undergrowth was far less than we feared, the powder was soft and there were so few tracks you could find a fresh line all the way down even late afternoon.
Easter bowl - Final run of the day took the reverse traverse all the way out which was in surprisingly good shape and the whoop-de-do above Currie Creek almost non-existant. With Skydive closed it was the nearest I could get for a final run and it was still great with plenty of untracked lines until lower down.
All in all a great day on varied conditions but with great powder snow untracked if you were prepared to look and work for it. No beer after skiing as we had to get back for tea before heading up for a presentation on avi dangers by CAC . The presentation is in the Griz bar so we will be back there at 18:30 and just treat it as a late start to the apres. Watch this space.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Day 3 or was it day 1 being opening day

A good question but with the preview weekend opening day does in fact become day 3. Crowds were the lowest I had ever seen on an opening day with no line ups and the Griz bar almost empty in the evening. Two reasons for this have been suggested both of which are covered below, either it was the fact that opening was on a Friday and not a Saturday or the fact that only the Old side was open put people off.

Opening on a Friday was an unusual decision. There could be two possible reasons, either the hill were going back to the traditional opening day (Friday was last used in 2004, but also for many years before that) or it was a shrewd marketing move to give, in effect, a three day weekend at the start of the season to boost income. Unfortunately conversations with friends in the know have thrown up a third possibility - someone mis read the calendar and thought that the 2nd was a Saturday by the time they discovered their mistake the 2nd had been published as the opening day and the rest, as they say, is history.

Turning to the closure of the new side, we come again to the question of the constuction of the new Polar Peak lift. As I predicted no flying conditions were apparent in the last 7 days so the lift remained in kit form in the parking lot. Today being the first blue bird day the towers were flown into place but construction regulations meant that flying could not take place over an open ski slope, hence no New side. I am told that every thing is in place now and the New side will open tomorrow but with resricted access below Currie bowl to avoid the construction site. When the actual lift opens is anyone's guess, you can get goods odds against any time this year.

It was about -3 when we arrived at the hill and -6 on top. Temps during the day came up to low plus temps in the sun and around zero higher up before plunging this evening to around -6 at the base. The forecast was calling for overcast conditions early on so it should come as no surprise that we had a beautiful bluebird day all day really helping the heli construction of the new lift.

Snow was very wind affected and much tougher than last weekend. Up top in places it has been swept down to an ice base while in other places it was wind slab which was very slabby and grabby. Lower down there was what felt like rain crust. All in all it was very tricky conditions where you were never quite sure what you were going to land on out of a turn and you had to be ready to react quickly if you had mis judged the surface. I saw a lot of falls and a few injuries as result of these tricky conditions.

Like last weekend we spent our time all over Boomerang, Bear chutes, Cedar ridge, Linda's run, Cedar glades, and all asssorted routes in between. Everthing really was reflected in the above report on conditions, slabby/grabby/ice on top and rain crust down low. Not over selling this am I ?

Late morning we tried the fence between Dancer and Easter bowl which was a bit softer than most but the ski out through the chutes very icey. We then got word that the sign line on the far side of Cedar had been dropped and we headed out for loops through Redtree and Steep and Deep (both twice) and a loop back to Bear through Boomerang. Again, just as described there was good soft untracked powder up high, plenty of bushes to avoid and some scrapy crust down low, all in all not bad skiing but you did have to pay attention.

We had a very late lunch so that the afternoon was just a couple of drops off Cedar Ridge - very nice soft snow between the alders and a trip to the Fish bowl. Now as a warning I don't think skiing out of bounds on opening day is a very good idea unless you take care and really know what you are doing. The Poppa chutes were awesome untacked out of bounds tree skiing and worth the hike. The next face was a bit bushy but ok,becoming crusty lower down. The real problem was finding the ski out to Redtree on a thin snow base which took a lot of concentration and knowledge of the terrain. A quick loop back through Boomerang which was still ok finished the day.

Too much beer in the Griz bar followed by a hot tub on the back deck under the stars in -6, dinner and now this - really ready for bed. Tomorrow night now looks like hanging out at the Griz bar for a seminar on avalanche risks from 6:30 - 9. You can never know too much about this stuff so it should be a good evening.

Outlook is for a dusting of snow ( maybe) and then getting colder - lets see.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Just Kidding

I really wish this was what it was like today but actually it's a picture of Lynda and me in Fish bowl last year. The pitch behind us is the steep chutes usually full of alders but totally covered after a massive dump. This was probably the most awsome run ever in untracked thigh deep powder so lets hope we get some of that in the season to come.

On a positive note we had about 5 cms overnight and probably double that on the hill. The base is still around 100cms with opening scheduled for Friday which is way better than many years. About 3 years ago we opened with 35 cms which was very sketchy - I have actually mountain biked in more snow than that. Another interesting point is that looking up into Fish bowl from my deck there just doesn't seem to be so many alders so maybe the wet spring avies from last year's huge base has ripped out some of the young growth - here's hoping.

Having killed a few days around town doing such vital tasks as firing up the hot tub and hanging the Christmas lights on the deck and the tree in the front yard I now have a better feel for what has changed in Fernie and the answer is not much - thank (insert deity of choice). The reason we all come back here each season or live here all year round is because we like it as it is.

Of course there are all the usual rumours about changes - a new ski area to be developed on Fernie ridge with a gondola from town - (yet another) new golf course with attached property development - massive development of the hill including condos, a hotel, a people mover (?) - several new condo developments around town etc. Over the years I think I have heard every permutation of the above plus more stuff and here we are with no real change. I guess some of it will happen one day but until then I think I'll just chill out, ski with my buddies, take what comes and believe the changes when I see them.

On the subject of change work still goes on with the new Polar Peak lift wich remains to a small extent in kit form at the base of the hill. Everyone tells me it will only take two clear flying days to heli everything into place but I'm not holding my breath. Even after construction there has to be safety testing, adjustment and certification - if it's up and running by the Christmas holidays I will be amazed, hope I'm wrong.

Something else has me puzzled and that is the 50th year celebrations of skiing on the hill. The publicity is very specific about the date of the start and even who rode the first chair (Heiko and Linda) . I happened to be in the Fernie museum ( well worth a vist if you have time to kill down town) and that had pictures of the opening day of the ski hill (then known as Snow Valley) in January 1963. Must find out exactly what happened between November 1961 and Jan 1963 as it is starting to worry me.

Finally a word of warning to my Brit followers of whom I know there are quite a few. Fernie is going to be a tough nut to crack for Brits this year due to 3 problems -

-Canada was a cheap place at $2.50 to the pound like when I bought the house here. At $1.60 it isn't cheap and in certain respects is getting quite expensive although not quite as bad as Europe from what I have been told.

-The policy of the hill is still no discounts for multi day tickets so if you are here for 10 days high season you will have to fork out $800 plus tax. The Skimore card does represent a good discount deal but this may not be sold to Europeans because it would undercut the discount arrangements with the European tour operators. Tough luck for Brits, especially if they are not travelling with a tour operator.

-Getting here is expensive. Air Canada used to reduce their prices as the winter approached but not this year. I flew over on an almost empty BA flight (only because it was part of a round the world package involving attending a budddies wedding in Sydney on the way home in May). I use to always fly Air Canada as it was only marginally more expensive than charter but no more. Best bet is to try Canadian Affair who seem to have the only reasonably priced flights and try and get on one of their Air Transat flights (avoid Thomas Cook flights like the plage as everytime I have flown with them there is something wrong with the seat reclining, or entertainment system or something else which just about makes a 9 and a half hour flight bearable.)

All that having been said there does appear to be quite a large number of young Brits about and I can only assume that there are still a few comparativly wealthy parents who think it's worth while getting shot of their teenage offspring for a few months at any price - you have to admit it's a fair point of view.

Enough ramblings for me. Out last night for wings night at the pub, off to the movie house tonight, seeing friends at their place on the hill for dinner on Thursday, opening day party Friday, hockey Saturday - who said life in a small mountain town is quiet. First day report proper to come in a couple of days.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 2 and we got away with it

Yesterday was great but today we had word that it was going to warm up and rain so we were really expecting a pretty poor day but in the event it turned out fine.

Temps on the deck when we got up were zero and upper mountain temps were -1. The day was overcast, the darkest I have ever seen so that by mid afternoon it was more like midnight and very murky to boot. During the day the temps came up to about +5 but the rain held off so that we had a few ice balls on top late afteroon and as we came off the hill at 4 it was starting to rain at the base. The truth is we got away with it as even with plus temps the snow held up fine for all the time that we were on the hill.

The groomers had been out and quite a lot of the runs had been groomed pretty well if you like that kind of thing. As is well known I don't ski groomers ( except to get from A to B) and hold the fairly controversial view that skiing groomers isn't skiing at all, as a result we made for the most interesting ungroomed terrain we could find.

Again it was Old Side only and we limited ourselves to what we thought would be the best area ranging from Arrow on lookers left to Cedar centre glades on the right. On the left we only got as far as Arrow because we were dropping the Sunny Side shoulder and linking China Wall. On the right we think that going beyond Cedar centre you give away too much vert to get to where you are going, only to have to track back again.

We did everything between our left and right limits several times and would summarize what was there as -
Sunny side/China Wall - the alders are in sort of tufts so you have to navigate round the humps which are quite tight but subject to that nice soft snow - a kind of cross between slalom and bump skiing.
Bear Chutes - Very bushy but the bits in between were still untracked powder.
Boomerang bowl - Great, a big improvement on yesterday as there seemed to have been some blow in which gave a great skiing surface on yesterday's tracked powder.
Boom Ridge - Just like Boom bowl, fantastic wind sift for this time of year,
Linda's Run - Surprise of the day as we expected to have to do some serious bushwhacking to get through and it was actually the clearest pitch on the whole hill - better than I have seen in mid season in other years in Linda's.
Cedar Ridge - Like yesterday great powder skiing in between the alders and undergrowth, you just had to pay attention.
Nearside Cedar to the Gully - Surprisingly good tracked powder with a ski out on to the trail possible through a few alders which is a lot better than it usually is at this time of year.
Cedar Centre Glades - Still huge fun in soft tracked powder with trees tight enough and terrain varied enough for the whole thing to be stacks of fun.

So that was it and just as the rain was about to start it was over - as I said we got away with it. We now have 4 days to kill before opening proper and with more snow in forecast the hill should stay in pretty good shape. More thoughts during the week as things develop. We have just leafed through Lynda's old journals and the snow figures this year look like being some of the best of the last 8 years.