Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 53 heavy snow and ugly crowds

I suppose it we hadn't had the awesome conditions of the last week I would be a bit more enthusiastic about the conditions but as it is I would rate today as just about being on the positive side of ok.

First to deal with the crowds, they were about the worst I have ever seen. I suppose this is inevitable as the weekend warriors have been watching and waiting all week for their chance to get to the hill and experience the awesome powder. I heard that we had 6700 0n the hill today and that was with significant closures for avi risk ( most of Cedar bowl and Snake, most of Lizard bowl and Currie only open as far as Currie creek on the low traverse). I believe that the record is 7000 but with the limited terrain available it was quite possibly the busiest day. Riding up with some guys on a chair they said that they had tried to get a room in Fernie and there were no rooms of any kind available this weekend.

We had about 15 cms of snow overnight and it was still snowing as I got to the hill. Temps were around -4 to start with but during the day they rose to +3 at the base and about zero on top. The inevitable result was that at the base the precip changed to rain/drizzle and even on top the snow was very heavy and wet. The conditions became heavy wet snow which could not really be described as powder and whilst it was fun to ski it was a big come down from what we had earlier in the week, the light was also very socked in. I blame all the whingers who were whining after Tues and Wed about how cold it was and how they wanted things to warm up - beware of what your wish for, you may just get it !

I didn't think the Old Side would be much good with the warming conditions and a couple of buddies I met during the day who had tried it confirmed that view. I spent all morning looping White Pass through Surprise Trees several different ways. This was partly because of the poor light so the trees helped and partly because it took me past Anaconda Glades which I thought would be the first major opening. I was right late morning, the fence on Anaconda dropped and we had a great rip in heavy snow down the second chute. The near trees of Bootleg Glades were also untouched so we had some good heavy skiing in there.

Next time round they were about to drop the fence on Currie bowl so we waited and joined in the huge charge into 1-2-3s when the fence came down. Once again the snow was heavy and the sloughs from yourself and others were a real danger to stability. Due to avi risks Currie was a strange opening with the traverse closed so you were forced down Down Right and then a hard traverse under the Polar Peak loading station taking you to the low traverse out towards Skydive Traverse. A sign line was in place preventing you getting any further than Currie Creek not because the front runs were dangerous but because they would be used as access to Lizard bowl which was.

I just spent the rest of the day looping out into some part of Currie chutes, Concussion, Tom's etc and enjoying heavy creamy snow still untracked in a lot of places even at the end of the day. The bar was busy, but not as busy as I feared gived the crowds so we had a couple of beers and headed home after an ok day.

The snow was a little disappointing after this week but it was the crowds that really made the day tough. Firstly I only just made parking lot 2 despite arriving at 8:30, secondly I had to wait a long time at each lift even though I was riding single which reduced the amount of skiing to almost half what it would have been on a normal day and finally as I didn't want to risk the facilities at lunch time which I guessed (correctly) would be a complete zoo I skied through without a break which was very tiring in the conditions.

The forecast is calling for a cooling trend with more snow but quite honestly the rate of the warm up today caught the forecasters with their pants down so I am not sure at all how things are going to go.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 52 a peek at the Peak

Today for the first time we rode the new chair to Polar Peak a couple of times and although the viz was totally socked in and the skiing wasn't great it was so cool to be up there in reasonable physical shape not just having boot packed for 35 minutes to get there, but more of that later.

The hill called 2 cms of new snow overnight but this was added to during the day with flurries. We have had 10 cms of new snow since the big dump but the base has shrunk from 230 cms to 220. This says everything, the snow is compressing and as a result feeling a bit heavier to ski although still way lighter than some of the wet dumps we have had at this time of year.

The temp on the way to the hill was -14 with an inversion of a few degrees as you got to the top. As we left it was -10 so things are starting to warm. The most challenging aspect of the day was that first thing and last thing (but strangly not for most of the day) we had a kind of freezing mist/drizzle that stuck to your goggles and meant that after a very short time on each run your viz reduced to zero with an ice sheet covering every part of your clothing. As luck would have it for the major part of the day this problem went away.

We went to the New Side and found that Lift Line which is an easy drop from Timber to White Pass is not quite so easy when your vision is totally iced up. The run out along the Reverse Traverse was delayed a couple of minutes as Patrol finished ski cutting which we took as an encouraging sign. Cougar Glades was the first run and there seemed to be a fair bit of new snow in there repairing the powder pretty well - rather more than the 2 cms reported.

Next loop I hit the top of Decline which was pretty good at the top followed by a drop into Window Chutes which were still deep powder but with some dead fall to avoid. The log drop is hardly there and the exit was bit scratchy but the chute itself was soft and deep. Any further New Side activity was curtailed by a break down of Timber Chair.

The journey to the Old Side was as usual slow via the Elk and Bear Chairs. There followed three loops through Steep and Deep (it was ) Gorby Bowl (even better) and Redtree (great deep powder if you were prepared to bushwhack in the mid section. The crowds were building partly because of the New Side problems but mostly because Calgary had decided to take the Friday off and come to the hill to try the powder. All returns were through Kangaroo which is still skiing well if a bit twiggy in the top.

After lunch we went to the New Side and first stop was the Brain. It skied better than last week but still needs a bit of traffic to beat in the current dump and then more snow on top to cover the dead fall which is still a big hazard all the way down. I was just looping out next time round to try something as yet undecided when I noticed Polar Peak chair was open for the frst time since it's 11 minute debute last Saturday. The conditions were not ideal with the top totally socked in but the thought of getting up there without hiking proved too greater temptation and I went up.

They seem to have done a great job up the top. The exit from the chair is now very user friendly and the cat track off the top is pretty uncomplicated skiing. With no viz I dropped the face of the old boot pack and had some ok blind turns in powder before having to ski out. I completed the run down through Stag Leap which was still deep in the trees at the top and in good shape all the way down.

I had decided not to bother with the Peak again but bumped into my buddy Rob who had already run it twice and he twisted my arm to give it another go. This time we hit hard left off the cat track quite high up and after getting over a couple of rocky shoulders found ourselves in a chute above the Reverse Traverse ( could have been Polar Bear but it was hard to see in the poor viz). This time we hiked into Easter bowl and had a great rip down in deep tracked powder.

When we got back to White Pass things were starting to ice up but we had a quick loop through Surprise Trees which were still good soft tracked powder. Last run of course was Skydive which was a great rip and even the bottom section through the alders is starting to get not too bad.

Tomorrow is going to be ugly. The weekend crowds that started today were bad enough and tomorow everyone who fancies themselves as a powder skier in a 500 km radius will be here to prove the point. My hopes of a big dump this afternoon to close Crowsnest Pass has not materialised so I guess we are just going to have to suck it up for the next two days. To be fair we have had three of the best days skiing ever this week plus a day today that in normal circumstances we would have called awesome but in the light of the previous days we just described as good - I guess we can let the weekend warriors have our left overs and be phlegmatic about the crowds we are going to see.

More snow in the forecast so fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 51 I just love rolling openings

Yes, today we had our third consecutive day of deep untracked powder due to the rolling openings of the hill that today saw the whole of the Snake Ridge area and the Saddles opened for the first time since the latest huge dump. A word of appreciation must be given to all of the hill staff for getting the whole of the hill with the exception of Polar Peak (to be fair this is still work in progress) open only two days after one of the biggest snow dumps to hit us in recent year - fantastic work guys.

The day was not as cold as yesterday with temps showing -14 on the way to the hill and the same number on the way home, not full on frost bite conditions like yesterday but cold enough to make you careful. The boards showed another 6 cms in the last 24 hours but with the base dropping by 10 cms from 230 to 220. This makes sense as the snow came down so light it was bound to settle and this was confirmed by the feel of the skiing which was in much heavier snow than the past two days but still super light in comparison with the higher moisture snow that we usually get.

Things didn't start well as having got confirmation that Snake ridge hadn't opened we headed off to hit the runs on the New Side that were on my to do list from yesterday. As we loaded we were told that Snake had opened so we planned to hit Easter and then get to Bear as quick as possible. We dropped from Timber top to White Pass bottom via Lift Line wich was quite tracked up but at any other time would be described as great powder. When we arrived at the Reverse Traverse there was a sign saying it was closed due to an unexploded bomb so we hit Currie Glades (actually still quite deep) and then headed across on the Bear connector.

Although we got to the top of Bear later than we would have wanted it didn't really matter. The hike out across Cedar to Snake was slow on the cold snow (bring back the meat hook) so not too many people had gone out and those that had seemed to have dropped Snake Ridge. The first run down Steep and Deep was totally awesome with over a metre of snow mostly untracked to rip, actually if you took the bottom face left and the left gully exit it was totally untracked and in the gully itself chest deep.

We spent the rest of the morning looping out to Snake and every thing was deep and awesome, Steep and Deep, Redtree, and all those areas were fantastic. Deepest snow was on the Gorby bowl shoulder with a left cut into Steep and Deep which because of the steep pitch gets left alone and the only danger was being taken out by your own slough. Fish bowl deserves a special mention as it was even deeper than usual as you would expect out for of bounds skiing and we got suckered into taking a turn too many and had to cut a trail out in waist deep snow.

Lost count of the number of loops we did but each time came back through Kangaroo which is still skiing like a dream if a little twiggy in the top. For the first time is year we hit the trees skiers right of Haul Back and had some really steep and deep tree skiing. Also each return to Bear was through Boomerang and more than once we remarked that on any other day we would have called the conditions in Boom awesome whilst today we just thought they were ok.

After a late lunch we went to the New Side for a short afternoon having heard that the Saddles were open. A quick check in Corner Pocket showed that it had been scraped down to the tires in a morning ( this side slipping is getting worse) so we figured Low Saddle was better bet. In the end we had a pretty sctratchy experience getting through the ice and rocks in the top of Low but the chutes to the right were awesome and untracked and Easter was still good tracked powder.

Cougar Glades looked to be mostly skied out at the top but once in the trees on the left still had some deep untracked snow. Anaconda Glades was the only part of the hill on my to do list that I actually got to and I am glad I did. Usual turning points in the chutes could be ignored and it was more or less fall line skiing with a few turns and over the head face shots in deep powder all the way down.

Last run of the day was of course Skydive which although a bit tracked up is still deep and well worth a rip. Even the bottom section is becoming ok with the previously unskied right hand side providing some deep splashes off big terrain rollers.

Another great day with beers and then a hot tub and more beer at home. Tomorrow I really must get onto those things to do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 50 Debate, debate, debate

Yes the awesome conditions that we have had over the last few days have given rise to loads of debate as you would expect from opinionated and for the most part beer fuelled hard core skiers. The first question is, was yesterday better than Champagne Tuesday. For those who don't know Champagne Tuesday was a day in 1996 of confirmed awesomeness. The other topic of debate is. was today better than yesterday ?

My view ( and the advantage of having your own blog is that your view is the one that gets published) is, who cares. If we are debating if yesterday's skiing was better or worse than a day 16 years ago then by implication it is better than any day in the intervening 16 years and that's good enough for me. As for today v yesterday I think that yesterday's conditions were better with the fresh snow but today there was much more terrain opened, most of it untracked as it was closed yesterday so as far as I am concerned it was a tie.

It was colder today with my deck temp showing -29 and the car on the way to the hill -26. This confirmed the official figure which also gave an inversion with temps at the top -16 which felt about right. There was a wind chill warning down to -40 and whilst this may have happened in the valley the wind was about as light as it has been all season. Officiall we had 39 cms in the last 24 hours and the base was up to a reassuring 230 cms. Very light snow started around mid day and continued but without any significant accumulations.

Having spent all yesterday on the Old Side I (Lynda caught the bus at 5 am to go back to the UK for 10 days) went to the New Side. The reasoning was that the Old Side at best would open Lizard and Cedar bowl neither of which would have been steep enough to provide great skiing in the powder. There was an outside chance that Snake Ridge would have opened but it seemed unlikely and in the event it didn't and even if it did it would be hard work to get out there. On the other hand the New Side promised Currie bowl which looked to be (and in the event was) totally awesome.

I had to drift around for a couple of hours waiting to get Currie bowl open but filled in the time looping through Gun bowl (nice and soft) Knot chutes (still really steep and deep) and Surprise Trees which still had some fairly deep powder in places. Having hear that Siberia Ridge was open I dropped Triple Trees to the base ( great untracked powder but a pretty big air drop off on to Trespass Trail) with a view to giving it a go. I found it was still closed so looped back through some very deep tracked powder in Mitchy's chutes. It was getting on for lunch time and I was getting ready for a quick break when they dropped the fence on Currie bowl.

As usual the herd dropped straight into 1-2-3s and the rest of us held back and took the Reverse Traverse out to try the front runs which had been closed and were just sitting there with about 1 metre of untracked powder waiting to be trashed. The results were -

Skydive - a small group had got there before me but still awesome untracked powder from top to bottom. I have developed a technique of stopping breathing as you hit the troughs and get total over the head face shots and then look out for (if you can) a bump to spring your head clear of the snow and grab a breath before going down again. I have never heard of this technique being taught anywhere but it is high on my list of things to do to survive a powder day in Fernie so perhaps it ought to be.
Cougar glades - tracked in the entrance but large untracked areas as you moved lower down. The left hand ski out in the creek bed was some of the deepest untracked snow on the hill, breathing a real difficulty.
Stag Leap - mostly untracked through the trees at the top and then still plenty of fresh in the run itself. Still a bit twiggy on the ski out but face shots at every stage of the run.
Easter Bowl - great deep powder but tracked up a bit in places, still would be called awesome in any other circumstances.
Decline - Great skiing in the top section which got better as tracks dropped off to the left leaving loads of untracked (still a metre deep - just a reminder) all the way down. Almost all of the small trees in the bottom section are now covered.
Surprise Trees - with some time to kill we did a loop in Surprise and still found lots of deep soft snow in the top getting a bit tracked out lower down.

Final run was Skydive as usual which whilst a little more tracked up was still great deep awesome tracked powder all the way down. Beers then home, no hot tub until I can have enough energy left after a days skiing to spend about a half hour shovelling off the tub and deck.

Runs I didn't do but will probably try tomorrow include The Brain, Window chutes, Spinal Tap, Lone Fir, Gotta Go, to name but a few so it looks like tomorrow morning is taken care of.

More snow in the out look.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 49 possibly the most awesome ski day ever

I say possibly because it's hard to remember over the (many) years every awesome ski day but sitting here looking back on today I can't immediately think of a better one and I have had lots of ski days.

The facts - it snowed over night and the official site claimed about 45 cms. Temps were down at -25 in the Elk Valley with a wind chill of -35 and a frostbite warning. To prove the point Crowsnest Pass closed last night and has not yet opened. When we arrived at the hill after a hairy drive it was -22 with no apparent signs of wind. What was apparent was tons of new snow and the fact that it was heaving down snow as hard as I have seen it as it continued to do all day.

The reasons why today was so great were -
1. Tons of snow, by lunch time they had revised the 24 hour snowfall to 75 cms and I have heard unofficial figures in the bar of 113 by the close as it puked snow all day. This was the deepest fresh snow I have ever skied.
2. The highway was closed so no one on the hill meaning fresh tracks were available all day if you were prepared to look. Furthermore there were no lift lines of any kind, in fact we skied straight onto the chairs as we arrived at every lift.
3. A fantastic job by ski patrol to get terrain open so we had the whole Old side triangle and Timber bowl on the New Side. A double plus in that about half the hill remains untouched and may be opening tomorrow with over a metre of fresh snow.
4. The snow came down at around -20 so it was dry champagne powder but there was so much of it you could float easily and it held you up well.

We went to the Old Side and as I have said we skied fresh champagne powder in temps of around -20 and in heavy snowfall all day. First rip down Boomerang and then a left cut into Boom Ridge set the tone. Huge over the head face shots all the time so you were skiing blind quite a lot of the time. We had to stop 3 times on the way down, not because we couldn't see (that didn't matter) but because we couldn't breath and just had continual facefulls of snow smothering us.

That was the morning all over Boomerang, Bear chutes, Buckshot, Boom Ridge, Linda's and all the areas in between. They had put a sign line down North Ridge preventing us getting into Cedar Ridge and we were just on the point of deciding to give the New Side a try when they dropped the signs.

If we thought the snow had been deep before it was just unreal in Cedar Ridge. By that time we must have had over 70 cms of fresh on yesterdays soft base. Add to that the ridge topography and some terrain issue and in places the snow actually reached my chest as I bounced a landing in some of the dips - what is the word beyond awesome I am looking for, epic was one that I heard repeated often even by the old Fernie crowd.

I have often said that you could spend all day dropping Cedar Ridge/King Fir and not cross your own tracks and today we put that to the test. With only a short half hour for lunch we just spent out time cycling the ridge through trees and always finding deeper snow as the snowfall continued. No point in giving details of each run as everything was the same, totally awesome and totally deep. Actually Kangaroo does deserve a quick mention as it was about the best I have seen it for years and we must have run through it about 8 times.

Towards the end of the afternoon the snow became a bit more grippy and harder to slide on and the light got worse. The conditions tended to make things a little tougher but by that stage we were all on fire and nothing was going to slow us down. Just managed a last chair up Boom before final bell for a great finishing rip down Boom bowl which had been filling in all day and even if it wasn't fresh it was one metre deep tracked powder which is pretty good in anyone's book.

We never got to the New Side but I am told that whilst only Timber bowl was open the skiing was just as spectacular as the Old Side. No Currie bowl so maybe that's something to look forward to. Unsurprisingly the odd beer was taken in the Griz bar by a bunch of very pumped up locals.

Looks like we may be getting a break in the snow for tomorrow but with temps remaining cool. If you can believe the forecast we should be hit by another precip cycle towards the end of the week - bring it on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Day 48 near enough a perfect ski day in my view

Of course my view will be a minority as so many people where whinging about how cold it was. It always amazes me that so many people fail to appreciate that skiing is winter sport and that involves cold weather. I am sometimes tempted to suggest that if you don't like the cold perhaps you should consider the possibility that skiing just may not be the sport for you.

On the way to the hill it was -18 and they were calling -20 on top. Things did warm a bit during the day but even late in the afternoon the mercury at the White Pass base was around -15. The boards showed 22 cms of fresh during the last 24 hours and although a lot of that came during the day yesterday we had a good covering of fresh powder to start with. Of course all these figures are averages and I am told that probes used by patrol to test the new snow did get up to 50 cms in certain pockets. The base was up to 184cms which is now getting on towards the 2 metre level at which everyone starts to relax for the season.

We went to the Old side hoping that the Cedar High Traverse would be open and we could get out to Snake Ridge which was closed early yesterday and must have some great powder. We were disappointed as the traverse was closed all the way down the Alpine Way which meant that the far side of Cedar was out of our reach.

We spent the morning dropping off Cedar Ridge a few ways, King Fir twice, Linda's Run, Bear chutes, Buckshot, Boom Ridge and generally the whole Boom area. The snow was good with plenty of soft snow (even some untracked near the trees) although you did still hit the base from time to time which given the start to the season was only to be expected. Conditions were a little tricky as the new snow had come down so cold and dry it offered no resistance when compared with the hero snow of the past few days and we all found ourselves blasting through what we had supposed to be some slowing deep snow at high speed and having to bang out a couple of turns to get things back under control.

We did four returns through Kangaroo which was officially open for the first time today and to celebrate I managed to blow a ski off in the top section for the first time this season - funny old game. In summary when asked for my opinion in the locker room at lunch time I summed it up as saying "nothing on the the Old Side sucked".

In the afternoon we headed to the New Side and if anything found the snow a little heavier and easier to ski. We looped off White Pass and found good powder everwhere in the following order -
Cougar Glades - great powder, for some reason getting better as we got lower down, maybe something to do with all the tracks spreading out. Did the final left hitch at the bottom which for the first time this season proved ok.
Stag Leap - really great untracked powder through the trees and just as good in the run itself.
Anaconda Glades - Deepest snow on the hill with amazing untracked chutes that just threw powder over your head.
Bootleg Glades - getting nicer and deeper all the time.
Knot chutes - still managed to scrape my bases jumping in to the first chute but no real damage. Best snow was in the tight knot which for obvious reasons people tend to leave alone and as such is in great shape.
1-2-3s - just really nice skiing all the way down as reported by Lynda.

We were thinking of the Saddles but they were closed but I am told Lone Fir wasn't, may be a good place to look to tomorrow. We had some time to spare at the end of the day and put a loop in Surprise Trees and were amazed to find it mostly untracked, if you were prepared to cut close to the trees, even at the end of the day. Last run of the day was Skydive which as always was great soft snow only lightly tracked.

Some angst was caused by the Polar Peak lift being run while it was not open. I know of a few unhappy bunnies who dipped down to check it out only to find it was closed and they were then too low to cut back and get any good skiing. I suppose that as the current record is that it has only been open for 18 minutes in 3 days and during that time it has notched up one broken ankle then maybe some thought is going into how it might be best used.

Finally today was the first day I skied on my new boots following their final adjustment. I strapped myself in first thing, didn't make any adjustments during the day and felt like I was wearing a pair of (high performance) carpet slippers - result.

Forecasts call for maybe another 20 cms tonight then 10 cms a day for the next 7 days. Bearing in mind this is a valley forecast and we normally get double on the hill this could be one quite acceptable weeks skiing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 47 Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

And it did snow - big time. Once again apologies for a late report but beer and hot tubs do prove to be a fair distraction.

It snowed overnight but it didn't seem that much to us, hardly worth clearing the drive. As we got to the hill in temps of -10 it was apparent that there had been more snow with the boards recording 9 cms but up the hill it felt a lot more. Most interesting was that the base had fallen to 164 cms which was the second consecutive fall on the second consecutive day of snow. For anyone confused see my earlier remarks about how hills over call their base in sketchy times and adjust back to the truth as they get some more snow.

We went to the Old Side and as we walked up the steps from the plaza it started to snow. It continued to snow ranging from light snow to just dumping all day. I think this is the first time I have ever skied a day when it has snowed without a break from bell to bell. Of course with conditions improving all day I declined to take any kind of break and put in a 9-4 day without interuption - you have to take advantage of the conditions when you get them.

We took our first run out across Cedar high traverse which had been closed for a lot of yesterday and which closed again shortly after we got across. Steep and Deep was our chosen ground and it certainly was - steep and deep all the way down with large untracked areas. Lynda and Lee hit the right exit chute and I took the left and both were seriously deep amd untracked. Finding the traverse closed next time we dropped Cedar Centre glades and then hit right into the KC shoulder - all good and getting deeper as the snow came down.

We then killed some time dropping Cedar Ridge and King Fir which were both deep and soft with untracked areas, each time returning through Kangaroo which was in pretty good shape (for Kangaroo) giving 4 runs through the roo and inculding a drop to the halfway trail from the left hand side for the first time this year. A final run through Linda's which was getting quite deep and we decided to try our luck on the New Side.

Most of the rest of the day was spent looping out into Currie via the high traverse which amazingly stayed open right up until the final run when we had to sidestep the low traverse to get across. Just like yesterday it is hardly worth recording all the runs as they were all great powder getting deeper as the day went on and quieter (deserted by the end of the day) as the weekend worriors headed for home. Those runs that only qualified as awesome were, Decline, Skydive, Stag Leap, Cougar Glades, Easter bowl and Concussion. Those that deserve a special mention over and above awesome were Anaconda Glades, Bootleg Glades and Secret chutes all due to the amazing deep soft powder we found.

All the runs from timber top (Lift Line, Big Bang, Puff Trees and Mitchy chutes were all good deep soft snow. The Saddles were open but we didn't have ago partly because they would still be pretty worn, partly because the light would have been poor below, partly because there was better stuff to be had and partly because they will still be there later this week when we get more snow.

The temps fell towards the end of the day and the snow actually stopped falling as I was laying in my hot tub drinking beer in temps of -14 and soon after that the stars came out. Temps overnight and into tomorrow are supposed to be -20 so it looks like a cold few days. Best of all is the outlook which is calling for snow and plenty of it on most of the next 7 days. Not great news for Lynda who has to head back to the UK for 7 days on Wednesday but good for the rest of us. Looking forward to some cold clear conditions before the next snow cycle, who knows, they might even open Polar Peak again.