Saturday, January 14, 2012

Day 46 a nice eventful powder day

Overnight we had 5 cms of fresh pushing the base back up to 166 cms and the forecast is for more snow over the next few days. During the day it continued to snow off and on so that the snowfall was about doubled and we had some good fill in snow plus a load of wind fill in the ever continuing windy conditions.

We went to the New side partly to be ready for the opening of the new Polar Peak chair at 11 and mostly because on the Old Side at the weekends when we have powder the fresh tracks will have been trashed by some pay for powder group (first tracks, breakfast club etc) who are allowed on the hill before all of the rest of us fare paying customers. My views on this practice are well known and for the most part unprintable. In a nutshell I believe that first tracks are there for those who are prepared to get to the hill early, stand in line and then work for those first turns. I think the idea that certain groups just by paying even more cash than the rest of us should be entitled to a free run at the hill is totally out of order and goes against the whole mountain culture of skiing.

It was put to me yesterday that pay for powder was acceptable on the grounds that every hill does it and all sports/social clubs grant periods of exclusivity to groups who are prepared to pay. My thoughts are that just because everyone does it doesn't make it right, it just makes all of them wrong. Further more the comparison with other organisations doesn't hold water. If a group uses a golf course or a gym, when the usual members are allowed back in, the course/kit is in pristine condition. With first tracks the hill has been trashed and what is available to the rest of us are the left overs. It is as if the exclusive golfers ripped up the greens and took the turf with them leaving the members to play on dirt, it's just wrong, end of story - rant over.

The new snow on top of the wind sift from yesterday had a great effect. Everywhere you went on the New side there was untracked snow to be had or at least well sifted in new stuff. For the most part it was slightly heavy hero snow where you only touched the bottom in places. We drifted around White Pass with some particularly nice runs back through Surprise until Currie Bowl opened.

Just before Currie had opened we had a trip through Anaconda Glades and Bootleg Glades which were either first or early tracks and even at that early stage were probably some of the best steep and deep tracks to be had all day. After the Currie opening the traverse at the County Line was only open from low down but it did enable us to hit the far Concussion chutes and Cougar Glades both for awesome deep fresh powder on windsift first tracks.

We went towards the opening of Polar Chair at about 11 and saw the chair stopped and huge line ups. My understanding is that the lift ran for 16 minutes before closing down due to 90 km winds at the top and the chair was stopped for a considerable time while the close down was effected. So Polar Peak opened but so what - I have skied the peak in those kind of conditions when I have been weathered in after boot packing up there. It isn't much fun, there is no view and the skiing is pretty crap. I took the view that as both the peak and the chair are not going anywhere there will be better days to go up there and so headed out to Easter for a most awesome rip in wind sifted powder via the high traverse which had now been opened.

We spent all the rest of the day over the New side skiing in no particular order and several times, Cougar Glades, Easter bowl, Skydive, Stag leap, Concussion, Tom's run, Decline and Secret chutes. No real point in describing them or differentiating between them as they were all great with filling in powder as the day went on. Perhaps a special mention to Secret chute is due as this does seem to be the deepest powder we found.

After skiing we ended up in the Griz bar at the Polar Peak/ Avi awareness party drinking far too much beer and dancing to the awesome Shred Kelly. The temps are much higher than predicted (zero) and we still have some precip so we can't work out if what we had was the forecast dump or whether that is still to come - we shall see.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 45 wind affected - big time

First of all sorry this is a bit late. We had intended to get away from the hill early and post the blog before heading out to a hockey game. In the event we drank too many beers in the Griz bar, had some more while soaking in the hot tub under the stars at -8 and now find ourselves having some difficulty trying to remember what exactly happened today but here goes.

On the way to the hill it was -10 and a bluebird day as it remained all day. There was no indication that there had been a major wind event but as we arrived we were told that the Bear Chair had been stopped due to wind and that persuaded us that the New Side was the best place to go. We heard reports of 70km winds on the Old Side and noticed that the Bear Chair was not running for quite a lot of the morning. As a result we missed out on the Old Side which may have been a pity as reports in the afternoon indicated that the wind grooming in Boomerang was something special.

It was evident straight away that the winds had been strong with wind damaged surfaces everywhere. In a nutshell where the snow had been blown away it was either lunar lanscape which looked ugly but surprisingly took an ok edge or swept blue ice which was ready to slide you out when you least expected it. Where the snow had been deposited it was either slab which was very grabby or packed in sift which was also pretty grabby but a little better to ski. The real fun thing was that as you skied you had no idea eaxctly which surface you were landing on until you did at which time fast reactions were required.

An additional problem was the light. Many people think that on a bluebird day the light is great but not so. Where the sun shines of course it is great but on the sun/shadow tree slopes it can get very difficult to work out the terrain and on the shaded slopes the light just turns white and flat giving some real problems - just so you know that bluebird isn't all beer and skittles.

Lift Line immediately established things weren't going to be easy with some grabby wind sift. A few runs back through White Pass via the Gun bowl, Quite Right, Surprise trees and other such places showed that things had toughened up considerably.

We next tried the Concussion chutes which proved to be the template for the day with us encountering all of the snow/no snow conditions described above on any one chute, and often in the course of four turns. We hit the chutes several times with no better results.

Anaconda Glades proved better with some great blow in over the hump. Bootleg was surprisingly slabby in the top but got better lower down. Cougar Glades (first time of three) proved ok but with less wind sift than I had hope for. Easter bowl was ok but still a little slabby between the bumps.

Last run before lunch we hit the top of Decline which was ok blow in. On the way out to Easter down the trail I was tempted to give Spinal Tap a try for the first time this year - big mistake. The top section was ok with some edge to edge jumping in soft snow but with a very scratchy base. Biggest problem of all was that the stream bed had not really filled in so you had to dance on the right shoulder to get down. A complete surprise was Freeway which up until now had been the ugliest ice face on the hill but today was covered with great wind grooming.

In the afternoon Lynda went to the hair dressers and I just kicked around with a good ski buddy (hi Jay) seeing what was there. I had hit Cougar Glades myself and found the blow in improved so a third time in company was on the agenda and this proved that the improvement was continuing.

Somewhere in there I had done Easter (I think on my own) so we went out to Secret Chutes and probably found the best snow of the day cutting right into to top of Freeway - see earlier remarks.

Last loop we hiked Mitchy chutes which had filled in very nicely. Due to timing we needed a short White Pass loop so we hit Surprise trees which also seemed to have filled in but was bit varied. Last run of course was Skydive which was starting to firm up a bit but still very good skiing - see my comments for yesterday and about the last 14 days.

So tomorrow Polar Peak Chair opens even though the forecast suggests we might have some fairly socked in conditions - watch this space for and early and unbiased report. Tons of snow in the forecast if (and that is a very big if) you can believe the Weather Channel.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 44 an experimental day

The experimental day was due to the fact that I was trying out my new boots for the first time today. Actually after a couple of runs I realised that they were 95% ok, particularly pleased that the right foot which is the one that is always a problem was totally comfortable, so the experiment ended and we just had a blast round the hill for the rest of the day.

It was a cold start at about -15 and only 1 cm of fresh snow so the base hung in at 168 cms. During the day temps came up and it was -8 as we drove away from the hill tonight. Although clouds seemed to be about in the valley we had some reasonable sun for most of the day but towards the end it did weather in at the top and the light faded suggesting maybe some weather was on the way.

We went to the Old Side for an experimental trip down Bear which was well groomed and nice for GS turns. The Sunny Side shoulder was quite hard bumps but with enough soft snow on top to be easy bump skiing. We then headed out for two further trips down Steep and Deep which was lightly tracked and you were only just touching the bottom in places. The exit chutes from Steep and Deep have now filled in and you can more or less pick the gully you want to use to get back to the Haul Back with only a little interference from the alders.

We took several runs off Cedar Ridge/King Fir which were all in quite deep tracked powder and very acceptable. We used Boomerang to loop back to Bear when we were doing Cedar bowl loops and it was ok but pretty hard bumps underneath. Four drops through Kangaroo were enough to get the new boots well bedded in - it was actually soft on an ice bump base with a few twigs. Boom ridge remained vandalised by the effect of yesterdays grooming, it will take another good dump to undo the damage that has been done.

After lunch I headed off to the New Side and Lynda headed to the gym. I bumped into some buddies who all ski about the same as me and we had a great afternoon pushing each other.

Lift line had some blow in which was a bit grabby but otherwisw ok. First stop was Cougar Glades which skied just as nice as yesterday with a bit of base scraping in the lower parts with the trail now almost obliterated by the snow we have pushed down from above.

Easter bowl was great windsift in the top and ok tracked powder in the middle with a soft covering on bumps in the lower ski out. Freeway as a route onto the trail back to Timber has been much improved by the new snow but still has a few icey patches to ambush you.

I was reminded today that in yesterday's report I didn't make mention of the fact that we had traversed into the Knot chutes and got into the second Tight Knot chute which had been ok soft snow if a bit varied. We thought about it today but rejected it due to the poor light.

Anaconda Glades remain the best snow on the hill with deep soft, windsifted and still in many places untracked snow - first chute over the hump still seems the best to me but everyone has their favourite. We dropped straight into Bootleg Glades which is getting a little tracked up but there is still fresh to be found if you are prepared to take the trees close.

Finding ourselves at the top of Decline we dropped into Secret chutes which obviously aren't that secret as they had been skiied but the snow was still pretty good and soft. Final run of course was Skydive which remains just as it has for the past couple of days.

The hill is staying in remarkably good shape following the snow earlier in the week partly because of the low temps and partly because of the low skier numbers - at times today I felt quite lonely out there. I dare say this will change at the weekend but as we have 4 days snow forecast from Saturday night I am not too worried, looks like winter is here at last.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 43 No new snow but still pretty good

There was no new snow over night but the figures showed that we got 25/30 cms out of the last cycle and the base had risen to 167 cms. Temps dropped as forecast to around -12 at the base at the start and a few degrees lower at the top. Whilst temps rose a little on the Old Side during the day they stayed well down in minus double digits on the New Side. It wasn't quite a bluebird day but there was plenty of sunshine and we had all the cold weather/sun reactions you would expect such as sun dogs, angel dust, clear ski snow and all those other sights which make skiing such a wonderful experience.

We went to the Old Side and it turned out to be a great idea. As we traversed across the top of Cedar bowl we noticed that the sign line on the far side was red. As I understand it Snake Ridge was open early yesterday but was closed around midday so the tracks were all filled in by yesterday's day time snow. As we approached the line we noticed patrollers dropping the signs from above and even though when we reached the line it was still red we shouted up and got the all clear so headed off on the traverse.

We got as far as Snake main before we were just overcome with the awesomeness of what was on offer and dropped. Great powder all the way down and even the hop into lower Gorby bowl wasn't too scratchy and became good powder the further down you went. We did a quick loop via Boomerang which was soft snow on some quite hard bumps and then went out again to Steep and Deep which was every bit as good as Snake. All loops were returned via Kangaroo which was skiing well except for the drop onto the cat track which had been cut back about a metre into the hill.

The only disappointment on the Old Side was Boomerang Ridge on account of the fact of it having been groomed. Now, I understand that groomers have to exist for those who want to ski them. I even accept that when a slope is icey bumps then grooming can be a good idea ahead of a weather cycle to improve the powder experience. What you don't need to do is groom in powder as happened today and reduce the powder options on that part of the hill. It's not as if there are any shortage of groomed runs down from Boom top to Boom base, You can take North Ridge, Bear/Kodiak, Cruiser/Cedar Trail or any permutation. Grooming Boom ridge is an act of out and out vandalism - perhaps they should change the strap line on the advertising to Fernie - Legendary Groomers.

We heard that the Saddles had opened so having had some great Old Side skiing we headed off to the New Side. Unfortunately we didn't arrive at the Saddles until late morning and they were mostly scraped out. Corner Pocket had all tires exposed and we left it alone. High Saddle could be negotiated with some edge to edge jumping and a little slithering and low Saddle was icey and you had to manage your jump turns between the exposed rocks. In both cases the skiing under the Saddles was awesome mostly untracked powder particularly in the chutes below the right cut in low Saddle.

After that it was just adventuring all over the New Side some of which worked out well and some not so -
Anaconda Glades - awesome deep powder, jumped the high shoulder for the first time and was almost taked out but my own slough.
Bootleg Glades - great powder with a hard base.
Concussion - Very good powder chutes.
Easter bowl - Really awesome deep snow at the top and still pretty good snow even in the bottom.
Cougar Glades - Great tree skiing but still touching the base as you got low down.
Window Chutes - Very challenging untracked in the top with lots of ground obstructions inculding the log jump with a 90 degree turn. Icey in the lower parts but great fun.
The Brain - Ok in the top but a big mistake to take it to the bottom because of the uncovered timber obstructions. Still a lot of fun to meet the challenges and jump round those obstructions.
Decline top - before dropping into Window chutes this was just as good as it has been for the past few days.
Skydive - last run. The club was bit reduced in numbers and below the trail it was down to just two. The mid section is now some of the best powder on the hill only lightly tracked because of closures but the lower section remains a twiggy challenge but still very interesting.

Looks like a cooling cycle on the way with not much snow for a few days then a nice little precip cycle next week - maybe.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 42 what an awesome surprise

The first thing to say is that at day 42 the average cost of skiing drops below 20 bucks a day subject to tax) and today we certainly had our 20 bucks worth. Missed the first couple of runs of the day because I was having the foam blown in the new custom boots so some of this is second hand from Lynda - the boots should be ready for a final fit tomorrow.

It snowed overnight but it didn't look anything special and arriving at the hill there seemed to be a few cms of hard crusty ice affected snow. It was obvious to go high and we were very skeptical of the claim of 17 cms of fresh but to our amazement the snow was there and whilst it had fairly high moister content giving it the quality of hero snow it was great.

Better still around 11 it started to puke a mix of grappel and snow and this continued throughout the day, hard at times, and only stopped at about 3 in the afternoon. It snowed so hard that your tracks were filling in as fast as you skied them and often later in the day you arrived at slopes which you knew had been skied but which appeared untracked.

The first few runs were back through White Pass which Lynda tells me were great as was Surprise Trees and the 1-2-3s when Currie bowl opened about 10:30. All runs had stacks of untracked snow which was at least 20 cms deep and getting deeper all the day so that in places you couldn't even feel the base.

The rest of the day was spent looping out across Currie bowl on the reverse traverse having first found that the Saddles were closed - will be a great opening tomorrow or whenever they get opened. The runs are hardly worth mentioning as they were all awesome deep powder but in any event here goes -
Concussion - great powder, just occasionally touching the base on some turns.
Anaconda Glades - just bottomless over the head face shots
Bootleg Glades - great skiing in the trees to skier left of the glades and powder on a firm base on the way out.
Cougar Glades - twice, awesome powder in the top and just hitting the base on the last few turns above the trail
Stag Leap - awesome skiing through the trees and in the top section but keep left on the lower ski out to avoid alders.
Decline - twice, wonderful powder on the domed section on top just jumping from side to side and the lower sections had filled in nicely between the small trees so that you could really lay down some powder S's through the lower section.
Easter bowl - great deep powder in the top section.
Skydive - Fantastic powder all the way down and a little twiggy in the last section but good if you worked hard.

End of the day we put a quick loop in Surprise Trees which semed to have been left alone most of the day so we just floated down on powder turning where we wanted to. Last run was of course Skydive and it was amazing to so how many of the Skydive club had gathered for a final rip so special mentions to Rob, Randy, Rod, Fred, Dougie, Stinger, Dan,Lynda and of course me - awesome rip from top to bottom.

Loads of beers to celebrate Annie 's birthday (happy birthday Annie) and an early night. Temps due to fall to -17 tonight and stay low for several days before rising on the front of some unreal forecast snowfall figures next week - lets see.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 41 no change but a few thoughts

When I say there was no change this was not strictly true as we had yet another warm up - is this the warmest winter anyone can remember so far, I suspect. The facts are that the warming conditions did not have much effect on the snow so that things were much the same as yesterday. I have taken the opportunity to set down some of my thoughts on the season so far which since (as I guess) most readers would have no interest in this subject you can all ignore.

On the way to the hill it was +4 and driving back +6 so I guess it was there or there abouts all day at the base. On top it started as -1 but as the day went on it rose to slightly plus temps however the underlying snow base kept the snow down to freezing levels. Some wet precip started early in the day but kind of gave up early morning and for the rest of the day it just remained overcast but fo a change the cloud base was above the White Pass top.

My own day was disrupted by boot fitting vists to Top Shelf (still the best boot fitters in town) so I probably missed about an hour of skiing during the day. We did try the Old Side early on in the hope that rising temperatures would have softened up the lower mountain. Having found that the Sunny Side shoulder and Boomerang were still hard icey bumps we headed to the New Side.

We spent all day ( in between boot fittings) doing just what we did yesterday, looping out into Currie and then back round. Lift Line was still good with the blow in at the top giving some soft skiing. Best snow was in Anaconda Glades but a short pitch even allowing for the ok stuff in Bootleg Glades. Worst was in the Currie chutes which were varied to put it mildly. Best runs were Decline and Skydive exiting into Easter bowl as the snow was only slightly less good than Anaconda and the pitches were much longer.

Now to some reflections on the season which you can fast forward past if you are not interested - and who could blame you.

We seem to be obsessed with how bad things are but look at the rest of North America. Squaw Valley (the snow capital) has 12 inches of man made snow on the lower runs and so little snow on the upper mountain that they can't measure a base - look at the web cams. If Squaw is that bad then so is the whole Tahoe basin (Heavenly, Sierra, Kirkwood, Alpine Meadows, North Star etc). Vail is only one third open and my buddies who have just visited from out East tell me that Jay Peak is just one ice run. Perhaps we should be grateful for what we have.

Of course there is always Austria. On facebook I am friends with the Hotel Hintertuxerhof where I stay to summer ski the glaciers from time to time, I don't know how I am friends with a hotel but WTF. They have had unreal amounts of snow up to the roof of the entrance porch and the lifts have been closed for two days due to too much snow.

Buddies have asked me would I go back to Europe to ski and if it was just for the next two weeks to trash their powder while waiting for ours the answer would obviously be yes. On a longer term basis would I go back and start spending winters in Europe? the answer is no way. My reason is best summed up in a story -
European skirrs and particularly Brits make a great play of talking about "off piste skiing". About 90% of European skiers never ski off the groomers and the ones that do make a great play of talking about "off piste skiing" as if it is another sport presumably to distinguish themselves from the vast majority who never do it. One night in the Griz bar after a great day of ripping powder a buddy of mine asked "Bill, what is this off piste skiing that the Europeans are always talking about". I explained it was free riding over the mountain away from the marked runs in open terrain hoping to get some fresh tracks. He thought for a minute and said "Oh, so it's just skiing then" - that's why I will stay in Fernie.

Another reason to be cheerful is that it will be a little quiter next year as we lose the snow chasers. There is a strange bunch of people who each year book their vacations or their seasons skiing based on how good it was in a location last year and as a result of our awesome last season they are all here. This logic is obviously flawed as for it to work you would have to get two awesome seasons in a row which rarely happens. I guess next year they will be off in Austria and we will have a bit more elbow room.

Last and by no means least it is only day 41 so the season is not even a third over. Those of us who can remember the dreadful season of 2004 when in January they were dragging snow from one side of Bear to the other just to keep a track open will remain hopeful. That year in the second week in March when everyone had given up on the season it puked snow for four weeks and those of us who stuck it out had thigh deep powder and fresh tracks all day for the rest of the season.

All I am say is that things could be worse and there are reasons to be cheerful.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 40 Lost for words

Of course anyone who knows me knows that I am never lost for words but with yet another day much the same as the last few it's getting hard to think up anything new to say about the current conditions on the hill.

No new snow overnight but instead of temps dropping to around -6 as forecast they rose during the night so that arriving at the hill it was +1 at the base and about -6 on top. During the day they rose further so that at the base it got up to about +4 and barely minus temps at the top. The base was claimed to be unchanged at 152 cms which might be true.

The feature as we started up the hill was the wind yet again. The wind has been different this year for three reasons, firstly there has been so much of it (nearly every day), secondly it has seemed so cold ( today on mercury temps of around -2 I was dressed for -12 and didn't feel any too warm and thirdly it has been stronger on the Old Side than the New which is most unusual - today the Bear chair was stopped for a short while due to that wind.

For all the reasons mentioned over the past few days we went to the New Side concluding that the Old Side would be pretty scratchy, a view confirmed by buddies coming over from that side and saying the only good thing was that the grooming on Lower North Ridge was ok - damned by faint praise.

We dropped Lift Line and cut into Big Bang and found that the blow in on top was a bit better than yesterday but lower down the ice was just as hard. Funnily enough things seemed to get better there all day and the couple of drops we did through Puff Trees were actually quite nice down to the last few turns which were ice.

The top of White Pass was socked in as badly as I have seen it this season so that the first drop through the Gun bowl was braille skiing of the worst kind on wind swept ice bumps, I don't think I am over selling it. The return through Surprise trees wasn't much better as the blow in had gone elswhere.

The rest of the day was spent trying to chase down some blown in snow on the hard ice base in poor viz. I have been asked to explain a bit about wind affected snow and how we describe it so here goes. As a general rule (and there are many exceptions) downslope wind produces good conditions through windsift (snow blown in between bumps and other features) and wind grooming ( the windsift blown flat so that it resembles a groomer). Upslope wind produced either wind crust ( a breakable crust on a softer base) or wind slab ( solid snow packed in that breaks away in large slabby chunks). As I said this is a vast simplification but I hope it helps to explain what is happening.

As the day went on it became more overcast and we started to get a kind of drizzle that froze to the goggles at upper elevations and just settled on them as water as you went down - either way it didn't have much effect on the skiing surface which remained variable to put it politely.

Just like yesterday here is a summary of the remaining runs some of which were skied several times -
Anaconda Glades - Problably the best snow on the hill with deep blow in on a firm base.
1-2-3s - ok once you could see where you were going in 2s
Bootleg Glades - still ok with a bit of blow in on a hard ice base
Concussion chutes - vary variable ranging from sheet ice with potential death falls to some blow in - not to be trusted.
Alpha Centauri - Probably the deepest blow in on the hill and the only thing preventing it being the best run is the relative lack of steepness in there.
Easter bowl - nice blow in on top but really ugly icey bumps from half way down with the light even flatter than yesterday.

Patrol had made a very sensible decision with the front three runs to open the top sections (albeit with warnings) and close the lower parts. Cougar Glades remained closed and after yesterday's adventure there we didn't really feel like testing this decision.
Stag Leap - Crunchy through the trees then ok down to the trail out. Best way out to take a long right traverse into the bottom of Cougar Glades.
Skydive - The surface has firmed up a little but great skiing. Cut left early and head for Easter.
Decline - Best of the lot and done three times. Very soft surface with not too many hazards down to the trail and sections where you could just take air and fly the humps.

Another ok day where despite all the whining ( and there was some) about the cold and the tough conditions there was still a good day to be had if you were just prepared to put yourself about a bit.