Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 18 warm, wild and windy, but still pretty good fun

Let's deal with the warm first - as I suggested yesterday a warm up was on the way. For some reason the forecasters can never get a warm up in the Elk valley right. A few days off they call for temps of about -2, then about a day before they raise their sights to +1, and when it arrives as it did today the temps hit at about +5. I have no idea why their computer models should be so far off that this error margin is always the case but, it always is - it's about time those guys got their asses in gear or at the least just added about 4 degrees to whatever their computer tells them is going to be the temperature.
The wild and windy was just what it says. We arrived at the hill and found no lifts moving. The problem was the wind which was a major event prevented any lifts from working plus the fact that a dozen or so mature trees were down all over the hill and a lot of chain saw work had to be done just to make things safe. About 10:30 the New Side opened and we went up to find that whilst White Pass was open Currie bowl remained closed - do I need to say it was socked in at the top !
The New Side snow was a kind of thick Jersey cream powder as a result of hard wind pack and warming conditions, this was feature over most of the hill most of the day. Lift Line down from Timber top to White Pass was particularly thick and almost heavy but without being wet. We had several loops back through Surprise Trees which were in pretty good shape as they had been protected from the worst of the wind effect but still had plenty of ( not sure what to call the thick cream we were skiing on.)
Currie opened and we hit out in Concussion but found the snow very slabby in the up slope winds so that the only safe way to ride was fairly fast GS turns to keep you on top. Logic said that the snow must have blown into Easter bowl and logic was right - we had two loops through Easter from the top which were very much go where you please in wind sifted deep powder.
Lynda tried 1-2-3s and reported them as chunky whilst I dropped Ananconda Glades and found very nice soft cream in the first chute with all previous tracks filled in. To finish for a late lunch I dropped Bootleg glades for the first time and found them in ok shape but with many traps for the unwary between the boot deep pitches of heavy powder.
After Lunch we went to the Old side and found two things, firstly because of the lower elevation the snow was a little heavier with the melt effect and the destruction caused by the wind was much greater - like about 10 times greater. All pitches were much enlivened by finding branches or whole trees down just where you were least expecting them.
The snow had a great breaking quality so it was possible to fall line ski pretty well anywhere you wanted and we did off Cedar Ridge, Boom Ridge, Linda's, Bear chutes and all points in between several times. Some said the slightly melted powder was tough but I found it ideal slow motion snow to push around. Only downside was being stuck at the bottom of Haul Back for 25 minutes due to a break down but as I got a little end of the day timing latitude on the next two runs down Boom ridge I guess it was ok.
The only real problem with a warm up is precip. If it comes down cold it comes down white and if it comes down warm it comes down wet. In this cycle we seem to have got away with it as the base has held at 134 cms and the precip has held off. We now seem to be moving into a cooling cycle although temps on the deck are still +2 and if/when the precip arrives tomorrow evening it should be cold enough to come down white - watch this space.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 17 what we don't get with new snow we get with wind sift

So, we got to the hill and found that yesterday we had another 5 cms of new snow since yesterday's measure and the base was 128 cms, about 2 cms less than my estimate in yesterday's report so not a bad guess. Everyone seems to be a bit twitchy about the snow base but the figure for this time last year was 130 cms and Boxing Day was 128 so we are well up on last year and should just chill out a little while waiting for the big dumps that will come.
With no overnight snow all we had had was what we left there last night but with a bonus. The boards showed that the forecast in terms of wind was calm, so obviously we had strong ridge line winds generally blowing snow from East to West and giving a nice accumulation on the down wind slopes with smooth if heavy powder. The only worry was the temp which got up to just plus figures at the base during the day and about -5 on top. with more precip in the forecast this nearness to zero is a little worrying.
We went to the Old Side and after a quick rip down Bear we moved out into Cedar Bowl via new lift line enjoying the blown in powder. I guess because there had not actually been new snow the skier numbers we way down and we just looped of Cedar Ridge about 10 different ways always finding fresh wind sift and always able to go a little further than previous days, slowly expanding the ski range.
On the occasions we headed back to Bear we went via Bear chutes which as a lee slope was also deep windsift. Heading out across Cedar Bowl we got to Steep and Deep and found plenty of untracked powder still there but best of all the exit gullys are starting to fill in so with very little bushwhacking you can get down pretty well any way you want.
A few more trips through Boomerang, Boom Ridge and Linda's were all in a mixture of yesterday's powder and today's wind sift which counted as powder. We even tried Buckshot for the first time and although it was a bit twiggy it wouldn't take much more snow to make it a pretty nice ride.
As a result of such great powder/wind sift skiing we had a very late lunch and this only left a very short time available for afternoon skiing on the New Side.
Concussion was great with soft snow having filled in the far Currie chute entrances. Next I decided to try and hike up to Corner Pocket to check out the Saddles. Corner Pocket was wall to wall tires with the only way in I could see down a clingon rope. I took this as a sign that all the other Saddles would have been pretty crap and dropped back through Toms which was lightly skied and good powder.
Next was a hike into Lone Fir which was a bit twiggy so we skied the right shoulder before dropping into the chute and still had some pretty tight stuff to negotiate in order to get out but the chute below was awesome deep snow.
In response to a request in the bar tonight here is a detailed description of how to get to Easter bowl which has great blow in all the way down. Drop into Down Right in Currie bowl off the top of White Pass. At the first hump cut left across Currie Glades and Currie Powder and just keep traversing until your eyeballs bleed. Hold the reverse traverse out to Skydive Traverse and then continue over the bridge on the shoulder above Currie Creek and out to the closed signs. Side step up to the left for about a minute and there you are at the top of Easter Bowl - simples.
A final run in the top of Decline and then a drop off to the left into Secret Chutes found only one track ( perhaps for the whole of the season) and the snow was so deep and soft that it was face shots all the way down into the top of Freeway.
Beers with buddies who will not let me forget that Free Press has designated me as athlete of the week following my first ski column that appeared yesterday. Off to the Ghostrider game - go riders go.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 16 Powder - and hero snow to boot

We had flurries forecast but in the event it was fairly solid snow from sometime just after midnight to around lunch time. The boards said 7 cms of fresh and a base of 125 cms but my guess is that thes figures were taken pretty early, maybe before 6 in the morning so the actual snowfall may have been double that figure by the time it finished and the base was nearer 130 cms.
Best of all was that the snow came down at around -4 with a good moisture content so that it was real hero snow - heavy enough to hold you up in the tight stuff and make you float but not so heavy that it was hard work.
I can only think that because of the down beat forecast no one was really pumped up for a maximum powder day which is what it turned out to be. As a result there were no crowds around for the powder chase first thing. We got first tracks in Boomerang and cut out onto Boom ridge and it was face shots all the way down. As we rode the Boom chair up it looked like we were going to put second tracks along side our first but a couple of guys jumped in just as we got to the top. Plenty on untracked left in Boom and this time we tracked far left to get into Linda's. Only one track in Linda's which disappeared half way down and after that it was deep and untracked.
The hill got the grooming dead right so that they had it all done by the time the snow started and the powder fell on the groomed slopes. With nothing groomed and maybe because of early season legs people seemed to be sticking to the groomers with powder on rather than head off into to real off piste. Great as far as we were concerned as we could hit Cedar Ridge about half a dozen different ways, always untracked, deep and the biggest problem being getting wiped out by your own slough. For the first time this year you could just hit the rollers on the terrain and take air with the brain switched off in the knowledge that however you landed you would be able to make the next turn, the definition of awesome.
We spent the whole morning on Cedar Ridge, Boomerang and Bear Chutes with a few trips out to Snake Ridge and Steep and Deep. Those far loops were great but the exits still required a bit of attention as I discovered by hitting a hidden hazard for a great header down KC chutes. Even Kangaroo was starting to ski ok but still needs a bit more snow before it becomes fun, or even safe.
In the afternoon we went to the New Side and found if anything even more snow. Lift line down from Timber seemed to have a load of new snow plus some blow in. White Pass was socked in (an expression that is going to be used frequently this season) but snow in the Gun bowl was untracked and deep.
Our first trip out the Surprise trees didn't really work as we got too low. Next time round we stayed high and found that as no one else had managed to we had first tracks in the Anaconda chutes where again the only issue was being hit by an express train in the form of your own slough.
The rest of the afternoon was spent putting in a bit of work to get out in to Currie Bowl and then enjoying untracked hero snow into Concussion, Tom's, and several other chutes - all untracked hero snow. By late afternoon we had worked our way out to Cougar Glades which had a few tracks but as has often been said, you can have quite a lot of tracks in ther and still find fresh lines. I did look at side stepping up to Corner Pocket and High Saddle but there was just so much good stuff to be had without that work that I took the lazy option.
Final rip was the top of Decline followed by the left cut out into Easter bowl half way down. The best way to describe this was a thigh deep terrain park which you could straight line off huge rollers with 50:50 split of skis on the ground to skis in the air - a great finish.
In summary the first proper Fernie powder day of the season but we certainly hope not the last given tonight's forecast.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 15 still pretty good

Not really much you can say about today. As a result of yesterday's snow things were a bit better but no huge change in the way they have been for sometime.
It was -7 when we arrived at the hill and temps got up to -3 by the afternoon but stayed a bit cooler on top. Conditions were overcast with the top of White Pass totally socked in and a forecast of afternoon flurries which never really materialisied.
We went to the Old Side and tried several loops out to Red Tree, Steep and Deep and Snake Ridge all of which had fresh untracked powder on the upper parts. The ski outs had improved a bit with new snow but not that much and getting to the very bottom was always hard work through alders, roots, stumps and rocks.
Cedar ridge probably showed the most improvement with sections opening up in the new snow giving access to previously unskied areas. As always Boomerang, Boomerang Ridge and Bear chutes were good ways back either to Boom or Bear chairs to complete a loop but there remain a lot of logs and other early season hazards that need a bit dealing with when skiing the tree sections.
The afternoon was back to the New Side with loop after loop out into Currie bowl under the new Polar Peak loading station. Just like yesterday no one was really prepared to put the effort in to side step traverse into Currie so for the few of us who were prepared to make the effort we had great untracked powder anywhere we wanted to go in the chutes all the way across to Currie Creek.
I understand that the Saddles remained pretty poor but that the snow below was very good. On balance I decided to give it one more day before I put the extra effort in to get back in the Saddles. Last rip was through Cougar Glades which had again filled in and was great untracked powder all the way down to the bottom trail. I decided to try the final exit by going left into the creek bed that I usually use but found it very woody with a couple of fallen trees and very much a hop and pop experience.
The hill did seem a bit busier today but I suspect if you took away the off duty staff members then those of us fare paying customers would still be in very small numbers. A couple of groups today appeared to be tour reps getting to know the hill so they can guide their guests when they show up in a week or two. This always amuses me to see those who today know nothing of Fernie guiding guests in a weeks time with all the confidence and authority that only comes with true ignorance.
Snow in the forecast for the next 6 days although mostly only flurries - of course anyone who knows Fernie knows that a flurrie can be anything from 2 to 22 cms.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 14 New snow New side day

Well the severe overnight temps never materialised so we had a -10 start with upper mountain temps staying there or thereabouts all day and the base warming by a few degrees. Conditions were overcast all day with mountain snow starting at the base and getting heavier as you got higher. As a result viz became very poor from about half way up White Pass and the top was totally socked in.
We decided to go to the New Side and for no real reason stayed there all day so I really can't say what the Old Side was like except to say that the locker room talk was of good powder in Cedar Bowl. The reports were calling 3 cms of fresh in the past 24 hours with a base of 119 cms. Clearly this was mountain snow which we never saw in the valley and it continued to fall all day probably adding at least another 3 cms during that time plus a fair amount of wind sift.
The result was that everything was in much better shape than yesterday and better than expected. All over parts of the hill that had been marginal no go areas became marginally ok and the stuff that had been ok was getting down right nice.
We spent some time alternating the loops between Surprise Trees ( much better and softer than of late) and Anaconda Glades (still steep and deep and mostly untracked but still rather bushy) to very good effect. On one trip to the bottom we did try Diamond Back which was great soft powder most of the way down but just a bit too aldery in the final pitch.
Just like yesterday (and I suspect several days to come) the far side of Currie bowl remained closed for Polar Peak lift construction although it was hard to see the closed signs in the very poor viz. Also like yesterday no one was making the effort to get out to the far side of Currie bowl because a little polling and side step traversing was required. We made the effort and it was really worth while.
A combination of new snow, wind sift and no skier traffic meant that all across Currie chutes was untracked boot high powder which had generally filled in by the time you looped back next time. All the entrances to Concussion (particularly Severe Concussion) were just great untracked powder chutes. Easter bowl had a few more tracks but there was plenty to go round.
We simply spent most of the day looping out into Concussion for untracked skiing, it rather reminded me of our first vacation here when the New Side lifts first went in back in 1999. Cougar Glades had also repaired to the point that we were back to soft untracked tree skiing. I know I keep going on about how few people are here but today, as often as not, we could not see anyone on the chairs in front of us on any of the lifts.
A final run was planned on the right side of Easter bowl but we got pushed further right than we wanted by the terrain and ended up in what turned out to be the top of Decline. This was awesome deep first of the season tracks in powder although a few small bushes got in the way all the way down to the first trail across. At that point we exited back to Easter along the trail which had been our intention all along but with some amazing powder experiences to relate at wings night in the pub.
Best news today was that I was able to get back on my rock skis having reconstructed a heal binding from the parts of three broken heal bindings in my closet - amazing that it all held together. Perhaps rock skis won't be needed much longer as we have some snow at least in the forecast for each of the next 8 days and this bearing in mind what we got today when no snow was forecast at all - here's hoping.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Day 13 free skiing from now to the end of the season

No, not a fantastic deal offered by RCR to customers but my take on the season pass situation. If you take the price I paid in the early bird sale and then compare it with the daily ticket price you will find that the pass paid for itself yesterday - as far as I am concerned everything from now to the end of the season is free. Of course there are other key points like when the average cost drops below 10 bucks a day (around day 85 this year) and getting the cost below 7 bucks a day which should just about be possible by the season end.
When we got to the hill today they were claiming 9 cms of fresh which seemed a bit optimistic but bearing in mind this was in the last 24 hours so quite a lot got skied in yesterday I guess it was about right, particularly when we got up higher in the bowls. Big surprise was at the base of Elk where the board claimed a base of 150 cms up from 109 yesterday. Now we all know that hills over claim the snow base early season and use the first big falls of the season the even things out (oh yes you do guys) but even by these standards it seemed a bit excessive. During the day all over the hill the other boards were only claiming 115 cms so false alarm and a case of someone obviously having had a hard night last night.
Forecast was for cloudy this morning becoming sunny so it was no surprise that we had a bluebird day right from the off with a bit of ridge line cloud forming in the afternoon. The temp started at -12 and stayed there all day with perhaps a little warming in the direct sunlight. By evening temps were dropping and we may yet have our first -20 start tomorrow.
The new snow must have come down at around -7 as it was light dry powder. On the one hand it was nice to ski but on the other it didn't do much to help the base, you were for the most part skiing on yesterdays surface with a light covering. Of course everything looked a lot better with new snow and in truth did ski quite a lot better except that surface obstructions were covered and quite a few of us got tripped up on something unseen.
We went to the Old Side and took a few trips across Cedar bowl to Snake, Steep and Deep and similar areas . The new snow on top was nice and soft and untracked but the exits remained challenging. KC chutes seemed to have a bit more space between the bushes but poor light did make it all a bit interesting. We spent the rest of the morning dropping Cedar Ridge which as I have said before you could ski all day and still find new ways down. The ridge was starting to open up a bit in the new snow so we had several new routes.
The rest of the morning was filled in on Boomerang and Linda's. Bear chutes provided a real treat being mostly fresh snow because of the bushy entrance from Bear keeping most skiers out.
After lunch we went to the New Side and spent the afternoon looping out a long the Idiot Traverse and then either dropping Surprise Trees (going further into Triple Trees each time round) and back to White Pass or turning left into Anaconda Glades and working our way along the chutes each time on the way to the bottom. The new snow made everything really soft and powdery but there was still plenty of alders and other undergrowth to prevent easy flowing sking, in fact typical early season stuff made a bit better by some snow.
Finished with a rip out to Easter bowl on the low Currie Traverse and then another final loop through Cougar Glades. Because of the hard traverse (far side of Currie still closed due to work on Polar Peak lift) there had been very little traffic so we were back to nice, unskied powder on yesterdays lightly tracked surface. I did look at the side steps up to the Saddles but decided that with only a light covering they would not have improved and the juice would not be worth the squeeze.
A few beers in the excellent Griz Bar followed by more beers in the hot tub under the stars in temps of -15 on the back deck. Some disturbed weather in the outlook but no precip called for until Wednesday.

Day 12 Whats this white stuff falling from the sky

The forecast had been for snow today, starting in the morning and continuing all day. I guess that pretty much is what we had although the fall rate was not great. As I type this (rather late due to a good session after seeing the Christmas train in town) it is still snowing after a sort and should continue into the night. We have probably had about 5 cms on the hill by now but how much more we get is anyone's guess - these convecitive systems can produce strange local conditions.
On the bright side I did discover in the pub tonight that patrol have called for and early start for tomorrow for bombing so at least someone thinks we are getting a good covering.
Today was Community Appreciation day on the hill when locals can ski free and get free lessons. As I have been saying every day, the crowds were not great, rather less than a normal Sunday and again we did not have to line up or share a chair lift with anyone all day.
We went to the Old Side and found the usual conditions. Far side of Cedar was ok on top but very twiggy lower down. Conversely Cedar Ridge and King Fir were scrubby to get into but nice tracked powder once you got going. Just for a change we tried several ways down Cedar ridge and found good skiing all over.
Also as usual Linda's Boom Ridge, Boom Bowl and Bear chutes provided the best open skiing with not too many early season hazards on a fairly hard skier packed base. With temps holding at -5 and the snow starting to set in we headed to the New Side.
Just like yesterday the far side of Currie Bowl was closed to allow work on the new Polar Peak lift, viz was so poor at the top of White Pass I am unable to comment on how the lift is coming along. We restricted ourselves to looping back to White Pass through either Surprise Trees or Triple trees both of which were ok and got better as the snow fell. Trips to the base were via Anaconda Glades which also improved as the day went on.
By late afternoon we were cutting out to the far side of Currie by crossing below the closure signs and then traversing as hard as we could to get into Currie chutes. As this traverse was proving too hard work for most skiers and impossible for boarders the new snow was accumulating nicely out there to give some nice boot deep untracked powder. Last run was cut into Cougar Glades which was much improved by the new snow.
Only one quick beer after skiing and then a trip down town to see the CP Christmas Train pull into town and listen to the band. The first time I have ever done this while it was actually snowning so quite a treat for me.
And so to bed to see if the morning brings a powder day.