Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day 66 a pretty tough day

I don't know if it's just me, or the conditions, or the fact that it's day 66 but today just seemed like hard work. A buddy of mine did say that he had never experienced such a variety of conditions (ice, refrozen crud, softened snow, sun crust, bumps, powder etc) all in the same day, sometimes all on the same run. In truth you could never be off your guard today, there was always something trying to catch you out.

The day started just like yesterday with no new snow and a base 278 cms. There was a low cloud base with a bluebird day on top so that temps at the base were starting at -10 whilst on top it was a spring like zero. During the day the cloud burned off giving some amazing upper mountain sights such as sun dogs and angel dust. By the end of the day the whole sky had cleared and the base had warmed to -3 whilst the top had cooled to -6. I guess this explains the weird mix of conditions we experienced.

We went the the New Side and had a couple of drops through Concussion which was just about being kept good under the cloud - at this stage Polar Peak was closed. Next time round Polar Peak was open and despite what I said last night about avoiding it I went up. It was hard bumps in the chutes but they were taking an edge and so far from ice, but if you fell you weren't going to stop any time soon. Cougar Glades were soft in the top but refrozen crud in the bottom and very hard work.

Next time round Polar Peak was closed and remained so for the rest of the day due to mechanical problems - I think Calgary will start to suspect a conspiracy theory about weekend closures. We just did Reverse Traverse loops -
Easter Bowl - Really very good shape if a bit tracked up low down.
Decline - Great skiing in the top, ok in the mid section and hard and cruchy in the bottom.
Lone Fir - tracked up a bit more than yesterday but still great soft snow all the way through the chute into Easter.

Crowds hadn't been as bad as I had expected considering it was a bluebird weekend. After lunch I decided to go back to the New Side but was frustrated by Timber Chair having a big break down so I headed for the Old Side. This turned out to be a lucky break as I hiked out into the Fish bowl and had an amazing untracked powder run along side the avi debris that had come down but staying to the safe side. A short hike out of Fish was an acceptable price to pay.

A return through Kangaroo got me thinking that all those hours spent skiing Kangaroo in it's ugly state were really paying off by making the icey bumps in Polar peak seem pretty tame stuff, what goes round comes round. The bumps in Boomerang were soft and after a couple of loops I got word that Timber had reopened.

Just time for a loop through Stag Leap which actually wasn't that good, a loop back under White Pass which was in great shape and the Skydive with the usual suspect. Skydive was actually the best of the big three with the soft snow in ok, if chunky shape most of the way down and only the very bottom section ugly.

No new snow forecast so things look set to get tougher if you want my opinion.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 65 the groundhogs were right

Yes, the groundhogs were right in that spring was supposed to come early, in fact it came today.

As we headed to the hill it was about -5 and despite the forecast of a bluebird day it was overcast and the cloud base hid the tops of the mountains. We decided to go to the Old Side as there didn't seem much point in going to the Peak until the viz improved. After a quick rip down Bear just for the hell of it we headed out to the Fish bowl.

I had been told by a buddy that Fish bowl was good yesterday and he was right. Although there were a few tracks we had deep untracked powder in the near chutes that we took all the way down. I didn't go in too far as the ridge lines were obscured so a risk assessment was difficult.
We looped back to the top of Bear via Kangaroo (surprisingly good shape even low down) and Boomerang (ok soft bumps) only to be told that Polar Peak was open and the whole of that area was above the clouds - we headed for the New Side.

The report was right and as we got to the top of White Pass we were just getting on top of the clouds and as we went up Polar Peak we had a bluebird day with a carpet of cloud below us. We took the opportunity to go left off the lift for a couple of loops in an area we hadn't tried before. This was not good news as the area was full of rocks and ice crust and not very good skiing. A check on the trail map later showed the name of this area was "Shale Slope" and they were not kidding.

Next loop we dropped Mamma Bear which was at least deep snow but becoming very soft and bumpy due to skier traffic. We went to the base vis Concussion which strangely had better snow than on top because of the low cloud protecting it from the effect of the sun. I don't know the exact temps but there certainly was an inversion and conditions on top were Spring (almost Summer) skiing.

We went up the Peak again and this time played with the chutes off Barely Legal which were getting very soft. Final run before lunch we pushed all the way out to Spirit Bear which because of it's distance to the left and tightness of entry was much less tracked and bumpy but still getting mushy. I had intended to drop Cougar Glades but was asked by a group of visitors to show them the way to the Big Three (note, had they asked me the way to the Fingers I would have told them I knew of no such run) and I did and had a rip down Stag Leap which was great in the top (at first protected by the cloud and by this time now out of the direct sunlight) and ok if a little chunky in the bottom section.

In the afternoon I ventured up Polar Peak for the sixth time today and number 37 for the season and this time hit Baby Bear which was getting almost liquid by then - the rest of the chutes were soggy soft bumps. Using spring skiing logic we crossed to Easter bowl which being north facing was in great shape and soft tracked powder.

We had intended one more trip through the Peak but it was closed due to some mechanical problems. As a consolation prize we hiked into Lone Fir and found it pretty well untouched today so some great steep and deep chute skiing all the way into Easter bowl.

I had bit of time to kill in White Pass at the end so a quick trip into the Knot Chutes (Tight Knot) was called for with a drop through Surprise Trees which were surpringly still full of quite fresh snow. Just time for one more rip down White Pass under the chair to link up with buddies and then out to Skydive for the final rip. Upper sections still in great shape and the lower part improving by the day but still not for the faint hearted.

Having been right about the crowds up Polar peak today in the bluebird conditions I make another prediction for tomorrow. The Peak will be ugly icey chicken heads all the way down, it will be bluebird conditions and most of Calgary will be lining up to get up there. The inevitable result will be ugly with injuries - me, I'll be over on the Old side, possible out in the Fish Bowl keeping as much distance as I can between me and the crowds.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Day 64 happy groundhog day

Yes, today is that strange piece of North Americana when rodents across the continent are dragged out of their burrows and stood up to see if they cast a shadow. If they do (as most did today) then spring is just around the corner but to look at the short term forecast it looks as if spring is going to be with us for the next 7 days with sunshine and plus temps called for no matter what the rodent population thinks.

Overnight the hill said we had 8 cms of fresh but I guess most of that fell during the day yesterday but there was still enough overnight to give good coverage and fresh tracks. The base was up to 283 cms but for those interested in history, or at least Lynda's diary, it is over 50 cms more than this time last year.

Temps were -1 all over the hill at the start but whilst they continued at that level on top for most of the day it warmed up to around +5 at the base. It was a sun/cloud mix day although the cloud socked in to the upper parts of the hill, particularly Polar Peak whilst the rest of the area appeared bluebird - strange.

We went to the New Side to be told that the Polar Peak chair was not open for "maintenance issues" not sure what this means but as I really don't want to stuck up on the chair if it breaks down so I am more than happy to let them get on with it.

We did a couple of loops down Concussion which were great untracked snow. One more loop was down through High Saddle which had really nice powder all the way down into Easter and then rather chunky snow in the lower part of Easter,

They then opened Polar Peak and we had 4 loops but only one back down to the chair itself. We came down all across the various Polar chutes and they were all good and deep. The three exits were High Saddle ( still good) Easter Bowl ( north facing stuff good just like spring skiing) and Cougar Glades ( the Glades, along with the Concussion faces were all turning to soft spring sun affected snow). This was getting crazy as we were all looking to find good north facing slopes, just like we have to in the Spring.

After lunch the sun had gone in so the Concussion faces were all setting up so we headed back to Polar Peak. We had four more trips down the Polar chutes which remained soft and deep but with some very variable viz conditions. Again only one lap back to the base and the other three through the far chutes and exits in Low Saddle (twice) and High Saddle (again). As before the snow under the Saddles was deep and in many places untracked, particularly on the right cut out under Low Saddle and the final exit was always through the chunky lower Easter Bowl.

Final lap was a hike into Mitchy Chutes which was smooth and deep and then a track out to Skydive for the last rip. Skydive was great all the way down to the final pitch which was the refrozen crud of a couple of days ago with just enough fresh snow on it to make it ok (just about).

I'm very aware that the openings of Polar Peak have diverted me from the Old Side and I have had conversations that convince me that Snake Ridge and Fish bowl aren't all bad. Tomorrow promises to be a blubird day when I have no doubt that dozens of skiers who have declined to go up Polar Peak over the past few days will be up there for the first time complaining that it is all tracked out - guys, that's what happens if you don't go for it in the marginal conditions.

Maybe Fish will be the way to go after the Polar photo op. A record today of 8 trips up Polar Peak and a total this year to date of 31 trips, much more than when we had to hike.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Day 63 where did that come from

With no real expectation that things were going to be much good we had a really good day. Overnight there had only been 1 cm of snow with the base coming up to 278 cms but when we got up there it seeemed to us that there had been rather more than just 1 cm as everything was filled in and if the surface was not great powder it was least nicely renewed on yesterday's tracked up soft snow.

A big plus was that it started to snow in flurries all morning and by the afternoon it was coming down hard with enough accumulation to make even to lower parts of the big three just about acceptable if tough work. As we left the hill tonight it was still coming down pretty hard and although it has stopped here in town, looking back at the hill it still seems to be snowing to me. Temps at the base were a couple of degrees above freezing and about -3 on top although by this evening the base temps were -1, and I assume everything else was accordingly cooler.

We had buddies with us, one of whom was trying out new skis having lost one in Surprise Trees a few days ago so the start was a bit slow. We went to the New Side on the basis that a Polar Peak opening was on the cards (good call) although the cloud base was socking conditions in at around the top of White Pass let alone the top of Polar Peak.

We had a run down White Pass followed by a run through Surprise Trees (no ski found) and then a loop out through Anaconda Glades/Bootleg Glades. All of this was untracked in the new snow but obviously well tracked up underneath. The skiing was quite tough on the chopped up snow but ok.

Next we went out to check out the Saddles and to our surprise Corner Pocket was in not too bad shape even 24 hours after opening. We all dropped through and found some great soft powder under the chute but unfortunately the light was so flat that it was hard to really let it rip. Exit through Easter bowl was a bit chunkier than yesterday.

On the next loop we learned from our experience and hit Cougar Glades so as to stay in the trees and help with the light. We were first tracks in today which was just about starting to count for something as the snow was starting to accumulate.

Then they opened Polar Peak and that was the rest of the day gone. To be fair it was totally socked in at the top but they seemed to have used so much blasting powder to clear the chutes that the surface was slightly dark and gave you viz down to the level that you could really see. We did 5 loops, 3 through the wider chutes and 2 through Baby Bear which is fast becoming my favourite chute on the hill.

Just a word to those who have been bad mouthing Polar Peak on the grounds that the light is bad, there are rocks, ice, wind crust etc. This is high mountain chute skiing and we are dealing with grown up terrain here - it isn't Disneyland. Of course all the obstructions mentioned exist but so does some of the best (actually forget some of) steep, deep untracked powder chutes on the hill. My advice is if you don't like the ugly stuff don't ski it, ski the powder instead, if you can't work out how to do that then leave it to those who can.

On three occasions after the Peak we exited through the steeper parts of Concussion which were just awesome soft powder getting deeper and more untracked as the afternoon went on. One exit was a hike up to Lone Fir which was good deep snow in the chute and even better snow below into Easter bowl. Final exit was Cougar Glades which were filled in enough for a top to bottom maximum speed rip and with the left hand exit chute now skiing ok on the new snow.

Final lap with time to kill demanded a hike up to Mitchy Chutes which by this stage were becoming quite deep and untracked. Last run of course was down Skydive which was awesome in the top and still very good in the middle. The final section which yesterday I described as bear ass ugly had improved. The refrozen crud was still there but with enough covering of relatively high moisture content new snow to provide a surface that would at least be described as almost acceptable for those willing to put in the effort - a big improvement on yesterday.

Still snowing as we left and a base temp of -1 so things may be pretty good for tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 62 time to Saddle up again

Yes, today was one of those days when the Saddles opened and you could just rock through them all day and we did - but I am getting ahead of myself.

The overnight report was of 3 cms of new snow raising the base to 283 cms. Arriving at the hill it was about +2 at the base and about -3 at the top and neither of these temps seemed to change much during the day. For some reason the plus temps at the base didn't seem to have any softening effect on the snow. During the day we had flurries on and off which produced some nice grappel fill in and this together with the wind sift produced new, untracked snow which was always challenging in the way it pulled at your skis.

When I got to the hill we were told by a ski host that everything off the groomers was boiler plate - this was obviously nonsense but we were happy to see this mis information being handed out as it kept wannabes out of the lines we were looking for. We figured that the Old Side would be a bit low and heavy yesterday and the lower parts of the big three would be similar so by today they would be refrozen crud and would be best avoided.

We went to the New Side and had a couple of runs back down White Pass to check the conditions which were a bit tougher than yesterday but ok windsift. We went out into Currie bowl where the traverse was only open below the Polar Sink and we went out to Concussion. We tested Concussion and found it was great and untracked in the top. We took it all the way down to see where it turned ugly but to be fair we got to the Gilmar Trail and everything was in ok shape.

At the top of White Pass next time a patrol buddy told me that the Saddles were open despite the fact that the high traverse was not. We took a long side step traverse up to Corner Pocket and were second tracks in with the chute in perfect condition and the powder underneath just awesome if the light was a little flat. We cut into Easter Bowl which had been closed yesterday and were amazed to find just how much untracked there still was in there even though it had been open all morning.

Next low loop we went out the Easter and found loads of more untracked snow. The nice thing about Easter is that it is such a wide open bowl that you can find fresh tracks in there long after the top of the bowl has been opened - we did, awesome.

On the next time round we found the Reverse Traverse had been opened and we were second track across. I passed on the chance to drop High Saddle just ahead of a board that had hiked up from the low traverse and hit Lone Fir which had a couple of tracks in but awesome powder under the chute and plenty of untracked lines.

After that it was -

High Saddle - great skiing in the chute itself for the first time this season and even better powder underneath with only a couple of tracks ahead.
One Step Beyond - the chute beyond Lone Fir. Amazingly there were a couple of tracks in there but by playing the side chutes there was lots of very deep untracked for me.
Low Saddle - the saddle had been tracked but a right cut into the chutes and yet again it was untracked powder. Even this late in the day the exit via Easter was still providing some fresh lines near the left side trees.
Secrect Chutes - great powder top to bottom in about 3 GS turns - over the head face shots all the way down through the trees as far as Freeway.
Tight Knot/Anaconda A1/Bootleg Glades near trees - a great run with deep tracked powder and a lot of untracked snow on the Anaconda shoulder
Tight Knot/Surprise Trees - a nice time filler at the end of the day with the days accumulation in Surprise, surprisingly good.

Final run of the day was a rip dow Skydive which was awesome on top, pretty good in the middle section and bear ass ugly refrozen crud for the final pitch - no guts no glory.

Maybe more snow and a cooling trend for at least one more day so perhaps we get Polar Peak tomorrow.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 61 similar to yesterday but different

The similarity to yesterday was in the sense that it was very good powder up on top and some very ugly heavy snow low down, but different in the way it came about.

It rained in town overnight and even in the small hours of the morning it was hardly coming down white. When we woke up we were surprised to find how low down the snow line was on the trees ( only a hundred metres or so above the base) and even more surprised to see the figures from the hill which were 39 cms of fresh at the snow plot (seemed true to us) and a base of 280 cms.

When we got to the hill we found everything was closed except the Deer and Mighty Moose lifts so as far as I am concerned that is the hill closed. We got the word that the first thing to open would be the Bear Chair which was right. Boom chair wasn't open and the one lap into Boom bowl proved that the snow there was heavy and strangely already tracked up - could it be that one of the pay for powder groups had been there before us ? We heard that the higher terrain on the New Side had opened so headed in that direction.

The New Side was a rolling opening so we had a couple of runs straight back down to the White Pass chair in very poor viz that was a problem all day. The snow was deep but quite heavy with a hero quality anywhere on top. After a while the Knot chutes opened so for the first time but not the last were traversed in to Tight Knot to get some amazing deep untracked skiing. We spent the next few loops tracking further into the Knot Chutes eventually geting as far as Jim all of which were lightly skied and very deep.

As we hoped they opened Anaconda Glades so the next couple of loops were Knot Chutes (various ways down) Anaconda Glades (untracked chutes) and then Bootleg Glades (trees to the left with only a couple of tracks ahead.) Then Currie bowl opened but with only the traverse at the Polar Sink open it was hard work to get across but some great skiing when you got to the far chutes.
Cougar Glades - Untracked, awesome 39 cms of fresh amd an exit above the rain line.
Stag leap - only three tracks ahead and great powder all the way down to the last section which was jusy heavy wet snow.
Decline - great again at the top but getting really ugly at the bottom.
Cougar Glades - one more time and just as good.

As the viz had improved I decided to hike the top of Knot Chutes. As I got to the top it started to sock in and by the time I had got to the tight entrance to the Tight Knot it was totally socked it. It was hard drop but great deep snow skiing. Turned left into A 4 (or was it 5) which is about the tightest Anaconda chute then the early chutes in Bootleg Glades - just about the toughest run off the hill you can get.

A final Knot chute traverse and the Surprise trees drop in some ok tracked powder to kill time before going out to Skydive for the final run. Skydive was just like all the big three runs ( note these are not and never will be called the fingers) fantastic on top and ugly soft melt down low. The last run was much enlivened by the soft snow starting to set up in the cooling conditions which may point the way to some rather tough conditions in the days to come.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 60 awesome on top, ugly down below

After yesterday's break it was time to get out on the hill and trash whatever we could find. As far as I can work out, despite various buddies trying to wind me up about yesterday's skiing, it was, as I predicted pretty poor with Polar Peak closed most of the time.

Today was supposed to be the peak warm up of a wet front moving through and to judge from conditions this was probably right. On the way to the hill it was +2 and got up to +4 during the day whilst on top it struggled to stay at or below zero. It was raining low down and during the morning the rain line rose to about one third of the way up the hill before the precip stopped around 1 0'clock. Late afternoon it restarted with rain on the very bottom but some ice pellets further up. Total overnight accumulation at the snow plot was 16 cms and the base was up at 250 cms.

The result was awsome if rather heavy untracked new snow on the top 75/80% of the hill and a rain line low down which gave some of the stickiest snow yet this year. A patrol buddy of mind emerged onto the lower hill in Fall Out only to find about 20 people face down in the snow from the effects of the rain glue.

For obvious reasons we decided to go high and stay high and in the upper reaches of the hill conditions were as good as I have ever seen them with this amount snow. The top of the hill was very socked in with hardly any viz at the top of White Pass (although it did get a bit better in the afternoon) and no chance of Polar Peak being opened today - all the more for us when it does.

We had a rolling opening so the first few runs were just back to White Pass through Quite Right and the trees around that area. As soon as they dropped the fence above the I bowl we traversed out towards Surprise Trees but the snow was so deep we couldn't make the traverse and had to drop into the I bowl for deep fresh tracks just to get down.

Next time round we hit the Knot chutes (tight knot) to get height and made it out on the traverse only to find that Anaconda Glades had opened. We hiked the hump and hit the first chute which was untouched deep powder. From there it was a drop into the untracked near chutes of Bootleg Glades which were equally awesome. It was after that we hit the glue pot at the bottom of Gilmar Trail which stayed that way until a little skier traffic chopped it up.

We did a repeat run Knot Chutes, Anaconda (one chute further) Bootleg Glades which was just as good as before. Each drop from Timber was an alternation of Lift Line and Mitchy Chutes and every time it was good wind sifted powder.

After that it was loops out into Currie bowl which had just opened and yet again an immediate opening of the Reverse Traverse which I now am sure is going to be open more often because of the stabalizing effect of skier traffic in the Polar Chutes.

We hit Cougar Glades (mostly untracked), Stag Leap (even less untracked), Decline top/Widow chutes (only two tracks but one a board that had side slipped, hanging is too good for them) The Brain (untracked on the right) Knot Chutes/Surprise, Knot chutes Anaconda (A3 mostly untracked).

Late in the afternoon I tracked across the top of the Knot chutes for the first time this year to get to Gotta Go and was amazed to find only one track in the great steep and deep chute in front of me. I later discovered that this was because patrol had forgotten to open Gotta Go after they had cleared 3's and as a result it had only been opened a few minutes before I got there - works for me.

A final Tight Knot/Surprise loop to kill time both of which were still good deep snow and then the final rip down Skydive. This rip was just like all the others, 75% awesome and 25% ugly wet snow, still an acceptable price to pay in my view.

It has ben raining all evening but as I am writing this the rain is changing to snow even down here in town so maybe tomorrow may be interesting.