Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Season summary 2011-12

Where do you start on a summary for a season like the one we have just had. It wasn't just the awesome conditions, the almost record snowfall and number of powder days but the incredible variation in the conditions from day to day and when you throw in the opening of the new Polar Peak lift and all the terrain that opened up then you have one very special season.

The snowfall throughout Oct/Nov had been so good that we got a bonus weekend opening for the last weekend in November - Old Side only. The base was over 110 cms and there was fresh powder but in a warning of things to come temps remained quite warm starting the days just below zero and end well into plus figures, still any skiing in November has to be good.

December - We opened first week in December with a base of 113 cms which was way better than some years. Of course a lot of early season obstructions were to be seen in the form of tree stumps, rocks and young alders. Probably for longer than I can remember sections of the hill (mostly the big three in the lower sections were close for poor coverage and didn't really come on stream even on a marginal basis until after Christmas.

Up to mid December we had a typical start to the season with temps in the -4/12 range, a bit of new snow (base 123 cms) and the hill staying in good shape with no one around. We then had our first wind event of a season that was marked by repeated wind events and strangely they were worse on the Old Side than on the New which is an exact reversal of the usual situation. The month ended with temps barely dropping below zero and the snow coming down as a rain/snow mix. The base rose to 160 cms but this was mid mountain and lower down below the rain line we had much less.

January - It's easy to forget in an awesome season just how sketchy things were early on. For the first 10 days of January temps stayed in the low plus figures, such snow as we had came at best as a rain/snow mix, the base drifted down below 150 cms (much less at the bottom) the view of the valley showed it was snow free and all the talk was of a poor season - then things started to change.

Temperatures dropped into the minus teens and then into the minus 20s. Snow started to fall first a few cms a day then double figures. January 17th came and gave us 98 cms of champagne powder in 24 hours followed by 4 days of rolling openings in minus 20s, the most awsome few days of skiing most of us could remember. After that January just continued cool with more snow so we ended with a base of 280 cms.

The other big event in January was the opening of the new (well relocated from Nakiska) Polar Peak chair. There had been a race to get this open for Christmas but it just could not be done. In the event it opened mid Jan giving lift access to all the Polar Chutes and one of the most spectacular 360 degree views of mountains anywhere in the lift accessable world. I had my doubts about this lift, but I was wrong - it has been one of the best things to happen to Fernie since the installation of the New Side lifts and provided great skiing as well better avi control for patrol and more stable snow in the Polar Chutes allowing Currie bowl to be open much more quickly than usual.

February - We just continued where January had left off. Temps dipped occasionally into the minus teens but for the most part stayed in minus single figures - this year we somehow managed to miss the usual February freeze up where we get at least one week where the temps drop to about -30 and stay there all day. As the month went on the snowfall increased so that in the final week we had 130 cms in 7 days, one overnight dump of 66 cms and the base now up over 350 cms.

The best thing about February was the lack of crowds even in the Alberta holiday weeks and with the snow coming mid week we were able to ski days of untracked powder as long as you knew where to go, could ski steep tight trees and were prepared to do a little traversing to get there.

We also had several more wind events which kept Polar Peak shut particularly at weekends adding to the paranoia of the Calgarians who remain convinced that we keep sections of the hill closed at weekends so we get fresh powder for ourselves during the week - not true, only wish it was.

March - This was a month that kept us on the edge of our seats due to the marginal temperatures. Day after day we would go to the hill in plus temps with reports of double digit snowfall on top. Temps on top kept everything up there in great shape but down below it was heavy and wet, sometimes even getting like mushy spring skiing. The snow plot is above the usual snow line so official figures kept recording record snowfall ( closing base for month of 440 cms) although this didn't tell the whole story.

Overall in March we had some awesome skiing but you did have to be ready for some pretty heavy (sometimes pure elephant snot) on the run to base. During this time the avi risk rose so that closures were inevitable but a view of the avi that let go from top to bottom in Cedar bowl destroying mature trees on the way down should have convinced any potential poachers of the foolishness of their ways, but they are so dunb perhaps not.

April - For the first time in a couple of years we had some real spring skiing with many bluebird days and temps getting up to +20. Of course overnight freezing meant you had to be a little careful first thing but the melt gave the first real corn snow I have seen in Fernie for over 7 years.

All that having been said there were several days of minus temps and fresh snow so we were ripping untracked powder the second week in April, that has to be good and finishing with a very respectable base of 390 cms - many ski resorts don't get anywhere near a base of that figure at any time of any season. As usual there were the whinges about closing with this much snow but on the Thursday before closing they only checked 54 tickets so the economics are unanswerable. In any event on closing day I saw what looked like bear tracks in the trees by the big three and that is a sure sign it's time to get off the hill.

Summary - It was and awesome season and I would estimate at least 50 really good powder days counting powder days as those when you ski significant untracked powder deep enough to get face shots. Inevitably the question has been asked - Was this better than last season ? my personal view is that it is a draw, last year had more consistant days of good powder while this year had a few more totally specacular days, a nice decision to have to make. This assumes as a given that how good a days skiing is can be measured in terms of deep untracked powder skiing in tight trees, if this isn't your thing don't come to Fernie.

Highlights - the way the Blog has taken off with over 6000 hits a month and numerous people stopping me on the hill to say how much they enjoy it - even had a few who wanted to ski with me so they could tell their friends. The bi-weekly articles for the Fernie Free Press have also been fun. Great powder days including the best set of my life. Great friends and good partying particularly Hotdog Day, Furnival and the 3 and 4 metre parties. The best most awesome tight steep tree skiing in the world. And of course Polar Peak an awesome piece of new terrain.

Low lights - the rain days at the base (not too many). Over grooming of the hill particularly when there hasn't been snow for a while and the pay for powder groups who are allowed to trash the slopes ahead of everyone just because they are prepared to pay more - I view this as something rather pathetic in that you don't have the determination to get your first tracks any other way, rather akin to paying for sex. For my full rants on these and related issues please read the daily blog.

Finally some personal statistics -
Days Skied - 129. It was 9 days missed while I was away. Bear in mind this are full 9-4 days and not just a couple of runs to get my ticket scanned and of course no groomers.
Polar Chutes - 164 times, I decided to keep count. This ignores the times that closures forced us to drop the Polar Coaster as skiing a groomer off Polar Peak simply doesn't count.
Vertical Feet - Circa 4 million. I don't keep count of this but at the suggestion of a friend I did for a few days and found an average of 35k ft on an average day. Maths does the rest.
Average cost of ticket - about 6 and a half bucks a day.
Amount spent in Griz Bar - you don't want to know.

That's it folks, off now on our world tour, San Fran, LA, Fiji, Sydney (ski buddies Rob and Katie's wedding) Gt Barrier Reef, Bangkok, London. Have a great summer, see everyone next year and in the mean time remember - keep your stick on the ice.


  1. top job Bill - Read every post and met you and your wife on timber chair - almost tempted me to put the skis back on after 20 years - Have a great summer and look forward to next seasons blogs with the english wit that only the english get - first class

  2. Thanks again - look forward to seeing you on skis next year