Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 11 another blue bird Saturday

Today was always going to be interesting as being the first real weekend of the season. As it was the crowds were up a little but never enough to have to line up to get on the lift and I only had to share a chair three times which puts it in perspective compared with the use of the word "crowds" at other ski hills. In truth all we had were a few locals let loose for a couple of days, some weekend warriors up from Calgary and the kids and their coaches in FAST (Fernie Alpine Ski Team) - still don't understand why they rejected my idea to rename it Fernie Alpine Race Team.
The base hangs in at around 110 cms. This is a reflection of the fact that because we had the rain layer on the original snow we now have a very solid base, much better than say last year when it was about 10 cms more at this stage but with nothing solid underneath. The good news is that we are skiing on a relatively thin base but not breaking through so skis remain well protected, the bad news is that this could become a serious layer of weakness for avi events from now to the end of the season - watch this space.
We got to the hill in temps of -11 but with clear blue skis and a warming trend in the sun. With no ridge winds it must have warmed to about -6 on top during the day and -2 at the base. No new snow and not much wind sift but a little hoar frost under the mist at lower elevations.
Lynda decided to take the day off as she had girly things to do like a hair appointment so I was left to amuse myself doing stuff that the missus might not approve - you married men will understand this.
Went to the Old Side and tried to find the best way out of Steep and Deep trying it three times with chutes left, right and middle. Right (skiers) was the best of a bad bunch if only due to the lack of wet snow avi debrise. Came back in and ran Boomerang, Boom Ridge, Linda's, Cedar Ridge and King Fir several times. Linda's and Boom ridge just about got the vote on the grounds that they are starting to get tracked into some pretty nice firm skiing. Once down Kangaroo got me asking why I didn't follow my own advice of a few days ago and leave it until there is more snow.
In the afternoon went over to the New Side and found Currie bowl closed half way across due to a hive of activity on the Polar Peak lift. I can't think that this has anything to do with my comments of yesterday but it is a coincidence. By late afternoon it looked to me that they had rigged the com line and we well advanced with the main cable - maybe a Christmas opening is on after all.
In the curtailed terrain I looped White Pass a few times, Surprise trees were ok before dropping loops in Currie chutes ( low entry under the new lift) Currie Glades and Anaconda Glades - all good but chunky tough skiing just like all week. Last run I decided to hike Knot chutes as they have been open a week and I haven't been in. The skiing was really nice tracked snow but the way in was down a clingon line assuming you don't want an 8 ft jump onto a flat landing with big drops either side (I didn't).
Life was made more difficult by me breaking a second heal binding on my rock skis in two days. The only consolation was that the one that broke was not the one I had replaced the day before from my huge stock of Rossignol heal bindings acquired over the years under warrenty claims because the things keep breaking. I am now on my best skis for a few days until I can dig out yet another replacement. To be fair these are all old bindings and I am assured that the new ones are much more solid - as these are the ones on my new skis I hope so.
Snow is forecast in the next 24 hours with maybe 5 cms in town and more on the hill - lets see.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 10 A beautiful day even if the skiing was only ok

Sorry this report is a bit late. The problem is that after skiing and few beers we went to the movie house to see a showing of this years ski movie from Matchstick Productions ( far and away the best makers of ski movies at the moment) - The Attack of La Nina. For the price of the tickets for the two of us we could just about have bought the DVD to watch at home but it was fun to see it on the big screen plus all funds went to the Canadian Ski Patrol, also some excellent raffle prizes donated by Gear Hub.
Today was the coldest so far with starting temps at the top of -12 and if anything getting colder in the sinking cold air mass above the clouds, add to that a ridge line wind chill and the effective temp had to be something like -20, not really cold but enough to make you think.
Arriving at the hill we had valley fog but with the Lizard Ridge in sunshine appearing to be floating in the mist above the valley floor. This was just the first of many beautiful weather induced sights such as angel dust in the blue ski above the clouds, sun dogs, and the whole of the upper parts of the clouds turning into rainbow colours as you passed through them. As I said, the skiing wasn't great but it was worth going to the hill just for the sights.
There was no new snow but a light dusting which may have been windsift or possibly hoar frost but either way not enough to get excited about. The Old Side was just as it has been pretty well since opening with chunky tracked snow and plenty of early season hazards. We tried one loop out across Cedar bowl to Snake Ridge and KC chutes and just like before found that the sking there was no better than what was available directly off the top of Boomerang. Crowds were not an issue as once again the hill was deserted.
We ran through Boomerang bowl, Boom ridge, Linda's run, New Lift line into the gully, Cedar ridge and Bear Chutes. All very much as before with the best of the bunch being Bear chutes down to the Goat track, probably best because it's a bit scrubby getting in.
We moved on to the New Side and did a repeat of yesterday just running down through Currie chutes from Alpha Centauri to Currie Creek. As I have said there are so many variations on that face that you could ski it all week and still get a new line every run - unfortunately whist the runs may have been different the conditions were not so it was the usual tough hard surface wherever we went.
Two loops through Cougar Glades found the snow starting to track up a little and get a bit pebbley towards the bottom but still the best to be had on the hill. All these loops took us out past the new Polar Peak Lift where I have to say it does not exactly look like a hive of activity. Cables and chairs are stacked at the foot but to the untrained eye not a lot seems to be happening, I await the next publicity announcement with interest.
So another ok days skiing with some beautifuls views. The good news is that out of nowhere the forecast is now calling for snow on Sunday and again on Tuesday. This is a cause for some hope but bear in mind that these unexpected forcasts of snow can disappear as fast as they appeared.
Lets see what the weekend brings. Temp on my deck as I type this is back to -12.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 9 Mountain snow - not much but ok

So just as previously reported we started with temps of about -9 at the base, -12 at the top with few degrees warm up during the day. Morning conditions were overcast with some mountain snow (not really enough for a measurable accumulation) and in the afternoon it brightened up to hazy overcast conditions. The viz was totally socked in this morning and very white (particularly at the top of White Pass) getting rather better as the day went on.
Sking was again tough. A number of people have asked me why I dwell on how tough the conditions are off the groomers (off piste to you Europeans) when the conditions on the groomers are so good. There are two reasons - firstly I don't ski groomers except to get from A to B and I don't regard skiing groomers real skiing at all. Secondly, if you take a snow cat and smash the snow flat, compress it and then groom it you end up with flat compressed groomed snow - what else is there to report ? The groomers are great if you like that kind of thing, as they will be all season, every ski hill anywhere in the world, forever - groomer report over.
We went to the New Side and found things lightly dusted with the mountain snow and a bit of blow in mostly in the Currie chutes. Runs back through the Gun bowl were ok if very white and excursions into Surprise Trees found better light but very chunky conditions.
1-2-3s which are usually reliable on such days also proved hard work. The problem is that the surface is so varied that you either turn on what you think is hard and it's soft ( result skis don't come round, you find yourself in the fall line, accelerating in early season hazards etc) or it's hard when you think it soft and you accelerate out of the turn in the back seat having to fight to get back into control. Add to this chunky snow pushing the skis where you don't want them to go and roots catching your tails as you come round leaving you in the fall line in tight situations and you start to get a feel of what I mean.
Next had a look in Corner Pocket to see what the Saddles might be like. I use Corner Pocket as a sort of cypher for the other Saddles so (if as today) all the tires are showing you know that High Saddle will be an unskiable gouged trench thanks to boards and Low Saddle will be sheet ice peppered with rocks, in other words not worth trying. I did hike Cornice ridge up to Lone Fir on the grounds that as it was some work to get there and steeper than the other Saddles it might be better. It wasn't bad but pretty twiggy in the middle section and some serious edge to edge jumping was needed.
The rest of the day we just spent our time looping Currie bowl in chutes between Concussion and Currie Creek. There are only about a million different ways down through the chutes and trees but the conditions were very similar wherever you went with a hard base, some soft, some chunks and plenty of hazards. The only area to avoid was the middle of Currie Creek low down where there had obviously been a wet snow avalanch early in the season and this was now solid ice lumps - very challenging.
On the drop from Timber top to White Pass bottom it was mostly a fairly scratchy Lift Line route although a twiggy Puff trees was negotiated a couple of times. Also tried the Lazy Locals traverse (very rocky and twiggy) but leading to some good stuff in Big Bang and Mitchy Chutes but again very cautious skiing between hazards.
Final rip down Cougar Glades was still good soft and only lightly tracked snow. By the end of the day for the first time this season actually felt that I was in control of the skis and able to hold a tight line on the steep stuff.
Looks like more of the same tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 8 Hebrews 13:8

And for those of you who do not know the biblical text quoted in the title it is "Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, today and tomorrow" - this best sums up my feelings about sking here in Fernie at the moment.
As I predicted yesterday the conditions were no change with double figure minus temps over night, low single figure minus temps during the day, no new snow, no melt and no traffic. The only thing I got wrong was that it did not remain as overcast as I thought and we actually had a sun/cloud mix today but apart from that everything was as anticipated and is anticipated for quite a few days to come.
The resulting conditions were equally predicable, steadily deteriorating surfaces becoming tougher and more chunky. As with every night there had been upper mountain wind and the surfaces were wind affected either being swept down to ice or with some rather slabby grabby wind sift which tried to take control of your skis. All in all not conditions for the faint hearted.
We went to the Old Side and hit out across Snake ridge before dropping KC chutes with conditions as described. After that we just worked our way all over Cedar and Boomerang trying Boom ridge, Boom bowl, King Fir, Cedar Ridge, New Lift Line, Linda's, some more than once. Probably the best of the bunch was either Linda's or Boom ridge which had quite a lot of blow in which was not too slabby.
For the first time this year we managed Kangaroo a couple of times top to bottom. It was bushy, rocky, stumpy, icey and the drop onto the cat track half way down was pretty sparse but just about ok. Probably won't try it again until we get abit more snow but the roo has been christened for the season.
In the afternoon we went to the New Side and after a nice drop through Anaconda Glades spent the rest of the time just looping (many times) out into the Currie chutes through various tracks down to the top of Gilmar Trail. On one drop to White Pass from Timber top we decided to have another go at Mitchy Chutes as that was where I had my major stack a few days ago and I felt there was unfinished business. Good skiing and a some tight edge to edge jumping to get through the tight chutes half way down.
For the final run we decided to try Skydive for the first time this season. It was awsome at the top with deep untracked snow if a bit tight between the obstructions (rock, root and alder). About half way down it got so tight that we had to cut across to Stag Leap which was a bit more open but in all honesty the final pitch was just tough and only seemed to have been attempted by a couple of snow boards this season to date - yet another one to try after the next snow cycle but again the first Skydive finish has been recorded.
After 8 days of skiing the body is starting to feel the strain ( should start to get better some time after day 14) so a long hot tub under the stars was needed to soak away the pain. Early night.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 7 Same old, same old

This is the first (but certainly not the last) attempt to post an entry after having drunk far too much at the pub on wings night so apologies in advance for poor spelling and other assorted cock ups.
As often happens at this time of year a south westerly air flow sets in which brings moist overcast conditions which never get as far as snow but hangs around all day as overcast gloom with occasional mountain snow (not enough to be of interest) or ( as we had today) a little freezing drizzle out of the cloud base which hangs around at about the top of White Pass. This looks set to continue until the early part of next week when there at least looks like the possibility of some disturbed conditions bringing a change either for good or ill.
The effect is overnight temps in double figure minus' and day time highs of around -3. The ski conditions don't improve as there is no new snow but then on the other hand they don't get much worse as there is no warm up melt or skier traffic (if anything today was even quieter than yesterday) so we get the same old conditions which just deteriorate a little each day until the new snow arrives. The only hope of improvement is the chance of some blow in from wind sifted snow which did come in to play a little today.
Everything was tougher with the surface chunky and every turn requiring some sort of correction after it was made. We went to the New Side which was much the same as yesterday in the Timber bowl with even Surprise Trees and the surrounding chutes proving tough. Hoping to play the wind sift card we moved into Currie bowl trying Anaconda Glades, 1-2-3s and Concussion chutes all of which had got some wind sift but which proved a bit slabby and grabby but in places nice soft powder.
Moved out to Cougar Glades and the top of Stag Leap which was truely awesome untracked powder between the many early season hazards and obstructions. At one stage did cut back and try Morning Glory Trees in the hope that an up slope wind would have given some good snow but again it was rather tracked out and no better than ok.
In the afternoon we went to the Old Side and a first loop out the Snake Ridge followed by KC chutes showed that things over there were just like the New Side - rather tough with a variable surface and plenty of obstructions. We whiled away the time in King Fir (bushy at the top but nice and soft below) Linda's (some good wind sift) Cedar Ridge ( the good stuff starting to get elusive in there) Boom ridge ( seemed very nice perhaps because it had not deteriorated and was still ok chunky skiing) Boom Bowl ( actually the best on the hill with wind groomimg starting to build up).
A good couple of beers in the bar then a spectacular wing night at the pub. Quick up date on the Polar peak lift - the towers are in place but still seem to need final fixing and aligning. Both the cable and the chairs are sitting at the base station waiting for something to happen. I am not an expert at lift construction but to me an opening this year looks optimistic but I am willing to bow to anyone with superior engineering knowledge.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 6 my favourite day of the year

Yes, every year my favourite day of the year is always the Monday after opening weekend. Why - because there is no one, and I mean pretty well no one on the hill, plus the season is new and everyone is optimistic, Christmas songs are on the radio, Christmas lights are up in town and everything is just buzzing.
Today started with temps of -15 in the Elk Valley according to the radio but not in the part where I was where it stuck firmly to -10. A little colder at the top of the hill and a warm up at the base during the day to about -5 but not much on top. The base was still recorded as 123 cms which either means that with no snow there was no settlement in the last 24 hours or no one could be arsed to change the signs - make your own mind up.
The ridge line cloud spread into the valley during the day. This meant cold overcast conditions and strangely mountain snow pretty well all day which whilst never enough to give any accumulation was enough to make sure the base didn't start to fall away.
The under foot conditions were pretty tough with yesterday's tracked powder sitting fairly chunky on the uneven firm base. Overall with the exception of Cougar Glades (of which more later) the conditions were no better than ok. That having been said, when you see the reports from Europe fence to fence skiing looks pretty awesome so it's just as well to bear in mind the Fernie's ok is probably one hell of a lot better than some other places awesome.
Having been on the New Side for two days we decided to try the Old Side. After a quick rip down the Bear we headed out across Cedar bowl to try Steep and Deep out beyond Snake Ridge. The wind sift had pretty well covered the traverse so it was hard work and when we got there the conditions were no better than ok so in summary the juice didn't really justify the squeeze.
After that we spent the morning looping Cedar off the Boom chair with Linda's, Boom Ridge, Boom bowl, New lift line, Cedar ridge, King Fir, Cedar Centre Glades etc. Everything was ok if a bit chunky but where you had to do some bush whacking (King Fir and Bear Chutes to name but two) there was still some great soft powder in between for a few turns. Best of all we managed the first two runs down Kangaroo of the season (bottom half only ast the top half was closed) which was very twiggy, bushy, stumpy, rocky, etc in fact just the same as usual - great fun.
Lynda took the afternoon off and I headed to the New Side. Just like the Old Side it was hard chunky powder on a tough base. I looped Anaconda Glades, Concussion (twice) and Currie Creek, all of which were ok. For the record I had my first major stack of the season in the top of Mitchy Chutes when I hit a submerged "early season hazard" blowing both skis off and going head first into the chute. Lucky for me no real damage which condisering what could happen (and has happened) in there is another reason to consider it a good day.
Ended with two rips through Cougar Glades going in just under the sign lines. Still great soft mostly untracked powder and great tree skiing. Only down side on the day was to find Timber Chair down when I got there for a final run timed to get me to White Pass in time for last lift - not a happy bunny to miss out on a final run due to mechanical failure.
Beer, hot tub, more beer, time for bed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Day 5 fresh powder and more New Side

Overnight we had an unexpected 8 cms of fresh powder which as it came down well below -10 was champagne light with virtually no moisture content. The mid mountain base came up to 123 cms (still some way short of the 2 metres when we abandon our rock skies each year) but a very respectable base for this time of the season. We had hoped that the new snow would have sat on top of the old tracked up powder and given us a double whamy effect of increasing the powder depth but actually the base firmed up underneath so that what we ended up with was the new powder on a firm base, not quite so good but still pretty impressive.
It was -9 on the deck this morning and a few degrees colder on the top of the hill. Today there was no wind chill or ridgeline wind just a fantastic bluebird day to rip up the new powder. Temps did get up a bit in the sun but for the most part stayed down around the -10 mark on the upper New side. I was amused to see the number of skiers/riders with hot bags in the gloves and face masks - I wonder what they will do when the temps get down to something serious like -30 ! We hit the New side and stayed there all day.
Lift line has now become the standard drop from Timber to White Pass and it was in pretty good shape all day with just the usual hazards (rocks, stumps, etc) to avoid. Just once I took Lazy Locals out to Big Bang and found it cut a bit higher than usual and a little scratchy but ok - Big Bang was good between the hazards.
Gun bowl and Highline trees provided some good untracked powder mostly because of the lack of skier traffic. I'll say it again - I have never seen such a quiet opening weekend with no line ups at any stage over the three days. We moved out to Surprise Trees which weren't as good as we thought they would be, being a bit chunky under the powder.
Top of Triple Trees was still mostly untracked powder and just as good as yesterday afternoon. Moving into Currie bowl, Concussion was a bit skied out but Easter had great untracked snow all the way down. Corner Pocket had a couple more tires showing in the chute but there just seemed to be more room (perhaps I was getting better - no) so the edge to edge jumps down the chute seemed to come easy. The bowl underneath was great untracked deep powder ( what do you expect when the access is a bit tough) and when I cut into Easter nearside the powder was again deep and untracked.
Finished the morning with a traverse across the Reverse Traverse and then dropped into Currie Creek which was awesome powder in some places and rocks and avi derise in others - a real mixed bag. Oh, somewhere during the morning we hit out Anaconda lades which were not quite as spectacular as yesterday but still pretty good untracked steep tree skiing. And another thing, Lynda had rip down 1-2-3s while i was doing something else and said it was just downright enjoyable.
In the afternoon which due to a long morning was pretty short we hung out in Surprise Trees and Triple Trees (top only) finding new lines down having to cut the trees a bit closer each time and also having a few spectacular drops on to Trespass trail when navigation proved a bit faulty. We did try one run through Currie Glades taking us near to the loading area of the new Polar Peak lift which looks well on the way to being ready. The run through the glades left us both with the impression that the trees had been thinned but I will be looking for confirmation on that.
Last run of the day flirted with the illegal. I went out to Currie Creek and dropped in but after two turns hit left into the trees. I eneded up in Cougar Glades which were closed but as I came in well below the sign I think I was just on the sunny side of the law. As it was it was the most awesome run of the season so far - deep untracked gladed skiing all the way down with regular face shots. The ski out was a bit technical but well worth the effort.
So a great days powder skiing, beers in bar afterwards then back home to a hot tub under the stars drinking beer surrounded by snow covered trees that looked like something from a Hollywood set. Early night.