Saturday, February 25, 2012

Day 87 awesome snow, pity it's a Saturday

The snow that started yesterday morning and was still falling last night as I wrote my blog continued throughout the night and for most of today. The early morning measure was 34 cms with the base now at 303 cms (just heading up to the hill for the three metre party) and this has obviously grown during the day as the snow has fallen.

Heading to the hill this morning in very white driving conditions it was about -5 and the snow was coming down hard. During the day the snow eased off a bit and temps at the base rose so that it was +1 as we drove away from the hill although it stayed at minus temps on top all day so the new deep powder stayed in great shape. Conditions were typical Fernie snowfall with the top of White Pass socked in and a cloud base that came well down White Pass during the afternoon before lifting back to the top. Needless to say Polar Peak was never going to be on the agenda today.

As it was Saturday we went to the New Side to avoid all the snow that had been trashed by the various pay for powder groups who seem to gather on the Old Side at weekends. Crowds of course were huge as it is the end of family week and in any event this snow cycle has been forecast for several days. We were standing in line at Timber with 20 minutes to go before the first chair and were nowhere near the front - it was at that point I abandoned and thought of getting genuine first tracks on a day like this.

Lift Line/Big Bang was closed so we dropped to White Pass via Puff Trees which were ok tracked up deep powder. We had a couple of runs up and down White Pass grabbing what fresh turns we could in the trees but really we were waiting for Knot chutes (or at least the Zigzag and the Idiot Traverse) to open so we could get out to Surprise Trees. Eventually the traverse opened and we got some very early tracks in Surprise which as you would expect was awesome and deep.

Knot Chutes opened and we spent the morning traversing into Knot Chutes hitting everything from the Tight Knot to the chutes opposite Gotta Go before cutting left into some part of Surprise Trees or the top section of Triple Trees. Many laps in deep powder were fun but we were always on the lookout for Anaconda Glades which always seemed to be on the point of opening.

Late morning Anconda opened and we were standing by the rope and were the first to hike the humps and put tracks in the next chute where the greatest danger was being taken out by your own slough. Bootleg Glades below had already been skied by people cutting back on Trespass Trail although the trees on the left were untouched so we took them with over the head face shots.

Next loop at the top of White Pass there had to be at least 500 people (no kidding) waiting for the fence to drop. When it did we just stood back as we did not want to get involved in the scrum that developed. We went out on the low traverse (only one open) and with a bit of work got as far as Currie Creek only to be told that the front three runs were closed - we dropped Currie Creek which was a little tracked up but super deep. Next loop we stayed low and dropped Concussion which everyone seemed to have missed as there were still some untracked lines to be had.

Lunch obviously wasn't going to be an option and I took a decision which on balance may not have been too smart. I decided to leave Currie bowl to the crowds and cycle Anaconda which had not been touched since the first fence drop. I had a great afternoon cycling the Anaconda Glades taking a different chute each time and always find a fresh turn or two. Perhaps I would have done better to join in the fight for the Big Three and similar runs although I suspect that after a first run they would have been mostly trashed out.

The only real mistake of the afternoon was crossing the Knot chutes to Gotta Go which turned out to be very scraped out and scratchy although the snow below the chute but above 3's was pretty awesome powder. Final run was Skydive which as I suspected had been very tracked up but still had enough soft snow to make it fun. In any event as I had been skiing then for 7 hours without a break I did't want anything to exciting.

Just getting ready to go back to the hill for the 3 metre party and the talk on snow conditions. As I am looking out at the deck the snow seems to have reduced to a very low fall rate but there is still plenty in the forecast - hope a few of the crowds have to go home tomorrow.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 86 Snowed all day

That just about sums up the total report for today - it snowed all day and things just got better and better.

Overnight there was no new snow and a base of 270 cms. Starting temps were -9 at the base but conditions dawned overcast. On the way to the hill it started to snow and that was it. It snowed all day, sometimes harder, sometimes not so hard but good solid snow. The type of snow ranged from low moisture champagne first thing to more solid high moisture content by the end of the day. Temps rose to around zero at the base by midday and around -5 at the top and despite the changing conditions the snow just kept on hosing down all day at what I would guess to be an average fall rate of 2 cms per hour.

We went to the Old Side and had a warm up down Sunny Side shoulder which was nice soft bumps taking an edge, but early on the snow had not started to accumulate to any great degree. We then looped out across Cedar High Traverse to Steep and Deep. There were two tracks in front of us which disappeared into Fish Bowl so we had Steep and Deep all the way down to the left hand exit chutes untracked and starting to get soft already in the new snow. The loop was completed by Kangaroo (tough and icey bumps even by Kangaroo standards) and Boomerang (nice crisp smooth bumps covered in increasing soft fresh snow) to get back to the Bear Chair.

Next loop was Gorby Bowl which was mostly untracked and getting deeper as is always the case as most people don't try the bowl because of the gnarly rock band. A left right shuffle to get through the rock band and then Kangaroo and Boom which were just as before even with more snow. So next loop we hit Snake Ridge top to bottom and then the ridge just below Snake which was tight and steep but great fun with big sloughs trying to take you out. Kangaroo (as before) and then Bear chutes which were much as Boom bowl.

Final loop before lunch we found Cedar High traverse had been closed and we had to take a lower line which with a bit of work got us into nearside Snake Ridge. This had been mostly untouched and was now deep with the new snow. KC chutes were also filled in and great skiing. Exit via Kangaroo (fourth time and just as ugly as the first) and then for a change Boomerang into Buckshot (hard bumps covered in new snow) and a long trail out to lunch down Cedar Trail.

After lunch we went to the New Side and following a suggestion by a buddy (thanks Dan) we went to Anaconda (just awesome deep snow in the second chute) and then Bootleg Glades which were mostly untracked in the left hand side trees. Probably the best deep snow on the hill all day. After that it was Currie loops -
Cougar Glades - Great deep untracked snow all through the mid section and even better and deeper in the exit to the left.
Stag leap - Top trees all filled in and soft snow all the way to the final section which was hard underneath but getting better.
The Brain - A couple of tracks had been there before me but there was still plenty of fresh in all the lines in the trees where you could just throw it down.
Decline/Window chutes - starting to get really deep by now. For a change I hit the chute from directly above the stream bed which was some good steep tree sking in untracked snow before it opened out into the chute.
Skydive - final rip in snow, now good and deep as we had 7 hours of new snow to play with. Even the lower section was deep enough to really throw it down and give it a good free ride.

The snow is still falling now as it was couple of hours ago as we sat in the hot tub drinking beer and getting excited about tomorrows skiing. Things looking good and another two days snow in the forecast.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Day 85 a day of 11 peaks

Not a title of the latest rather naff Warren Millar film but a statement of the fact that today was, for me, a personal best of 11 visits to the top of Polar Peak. Now I don't want to get involved with some bragging rights contest on who has skied the Peak the most as I have no doubt that out there somewhere is someone who has looped the Peak all day and could blow my total into the middle of next week. I'm just saying that I got up there for 11 great runs in the chutes today bringing my season total to 81.

The temps overnight dropped to -9 turning all the lower mountain which had been rather soft and slushy yesterday into some pretty hard, scratchy and ribby stuff low down. On top the snow remained in good shape and stayed that way all day. During the day it was mostly overcast. Yesterday's snow/grappel lifted the snow base to 272 cms and there was untracked, if not that deep, powder all over the hill.

We went to the New Side on the basis that Polar Peak was going to open for the first time in three days and that it should be the best skiing on the hill. When we got there the Peak was closed so we had a quick loop back through White Pass and Surprise Trees. There were no tracks into the trees as of today so whilst it would be hard to call them first tracks it was at least untracked snow on a soft base - very good skiing.

When we got back up Polar Peak was open. As is our (new) tradition we looped once back to the Polar Peak chair then took a chute before taking a drop to the bottom. First time we did Papa Bear which was great deep blow in, next Baby Bear which was ok in the skiers right but very scratchy on the left. We went to base via Concussion which had loads of blow in and was soft snow all the way down.

Next was another Papa Bear and then an attempt at Spirit Bear which we would have expected to have been soft - actually it was hard and icey which was a bit of a Surprise but it did get a little softer lower down. To base via Cougar Glades which were ok soft skiing all the way down but a little hard in the last couple of turns.

Last loop of the morning was taking Barely Legal lower than usual then looping back in the right of Papa Bear which was still soft and deep. Just for the crack we did the same again but took Papa Bear all the way down to the Reverse Traverse on the left shoulder which was great untracked skiing. To base this time via Lone Fir which was tracked but still soft all the way through the chute just like the Saddles used to be. Across Easter to Spinal Tap which was great with no new tracks since yesterday's grappel but a bit scratchy in the last couple of turns.

After a late lunch it was back up Polar Peak for a Barely Legal al the way through the lower chutes for the first time this season and then a next time a cut into Mama Bear in a tight little chute that starts lower down and doesn't seem to get skied. To base via Decline which was good soft bumps and Window chutes, this time dropping them straight from the top through the trees which were untracked. Exit of Window chutes was a bit scratchy.

Last time up Polar Peak was with two lift loops - Papa Bear and Barely Legal then a drop back into the Mama Bear tight chute which had filled in yet again with soft snow. To base via the Brain which had large untracked areas and only became difficult in the last couple of turns to get back out on to lower Skydive.

A quick time killing loop in White Pass was through Tight Knot and Surprise Trees both of which were surprisingly lightly tracked with good soft deep snow. Last rip was Skydive which was bumps in the top, great soft snow most of the way down and icey bumps just to finish - a great way to finish the day.

Snow in the outlook - here we go.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 84 all four seasons in just one day

First an advert which as everyone knows that I don't do them must mean that this is important so listen up. This event
is due Saturday night and when Steve gave a similar talk on the first Sunday of the season it was well worth it. It will be of particular interest to the weekend skiers who often find areas of the hill closed and wonder why, sometimes speculating it is something to do with saving the good snow for the locals. This talk will explain what closes, why and how the patrol assess the risks before opening and closing areas - a must for any recreational skier with a brain and an interest in real skiing issues.

Today was crazy - the only word for it. We had crazy weather, crazy snow conditions, crazy precip and in the end a crazy good day. It's hard to describe what happened but I'll have a go as best I can.

We arrived at the hill in rain/sleet and a temp of +2 and with the forecast of a continual warm up and rain we expected a day which at best would be rain at the base and snow up in White Pass. We were wrong and about th only thing we guessed right was that Polar Peak would remain closed due to the brutal conditions up there.

We went high on the New Side to get to the coldest part of the hill and get away from the rain. As it turned out we didn't need to as the rain stopped and we got on and off ice pellets all morning with some freezing rain hitting the goggles at around Timber Top which was just enough to make things interesting.

The hill only claimed 2 cms of fresh over night giving a base of around 268 cms but there clearly had been a huge amount of wind activity so there was stacks of powder (if a little wind packed) everywhere. The first three runs of the day went to plan in overcast conditions and were -
Skydive - we got first tracks anywhere we wanted beyond Currie Creek so hit this and had great first tracks. Around the bottom third things went soggy and we were pushing soft snow balls all the way down that section.
Cougar Glades - first tracks and just like Skydive, except that as Cougar finishes a bit higher up the lower parts were rather less soggy.
Stag Leap - thought I had first tracks but had to make do with second as some tracks cut in right from the trees. The first tracks were pretty neat so I had fresh snow all the way down, not first tracks but fresh tracks (not paid for) so still pretty good.

Then something strange happened, we had a snow storm of the like you rarely see where it must have fallen 5 cms in the first 10 minutes. We took the view that it was raining at the base ( we were later told it wasn't) so we stayed up looping White Pass, taking Knot Chutes when the viz wasn't too bad and Gun Bowl when it was and then through Surprise trees which were getting totally untracked in the deep new snow. By the end of the storm we had cycled White Pass several times and had great fresh tracks in the chutes.

The storm passed and we had sun. As a last run before lunch we headed out to the Brain which was untracked (of course it might have been tracked before the storm but it certainly wasn't after) the cut out into lower Skydive revealed that the lower part of that run was a lot less softer than for the first run.

After lunch things cleared for a while then clouded over for grappel storms to rip through with poor viz but great fill in snow. Runs were -
Knot chutes/Anaconda Glades/Bootleg Glades - still great untracked skiing in most parts if a bit heavy in the bottom section.
Easter/Spinal Tap - great skiing in the Easter trees which had tons of fill in, Spinal Tap was good but heavy low down
Decline/Window chutes - becoming very friendly as by this time the grappel was starting to cover the early melted surfaces.
Mitchy chutes - standing at the top for last run and looking up the valley I could see sun, cloud, ridge line sock in, valley fog and all the while I was standing in a snow storm - how crazy is that.
Last rip down Skydive which was great but with the bottom section starting to set up in the cooling temps.

In summary we got away with it. We were forecast precip which we got and valley temps of +6 which we also got. If this had gone against us we would have had an ugly rain day. As it was we got crazy mixed precip. wind blown coverage and heavy powder on the upper mountain. The worst that has happened has been the softening if the lower parts of the main runs which will now get very scratchy in the cooling conditions - not great but by no means the worst thing that could have happened.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Day 83 windy, and I mean windy

When we got up there were reports of 8 cms of new snow lifting the base to 272 cms and an outlook for a cloud sun mix. No one mentioned wind which was not apparent as we drove to the hill and even though the banners in the parking lot were flapping we were not really prepared for what was going to hit us.

We went to the Old Side really for no other reason than we had not been there for a couple of days. The wind was super strong and I was surprised to find the Bear Chair running at all. Temps were around zero at the base and cooler above although it was very hard to judge these things in the wind which gave a huge chill, kept the snow in good shape and pushed in windsift way above any call on new snow accumulations.

It seemed that there was ridge line cloud but actually the ridge lines were socked in by the blown snow coming off the top in the strong winds. We headed out across Cedar which was closed at the high traverse and evemtually dropped in just on the nearside shoulder of KC chutes. This was all deep windsift on soft as was all the snow we encountered during the morning.

The rest of the morning was spent looping off Boomerang Chair which was reckoned to be the most sheltered and coming back via Linda's, Boomerang, Boomerang Ridge, Cedar Ridge and King Fir. All the skiing was great filled in wind blown powder with the mid part of Boomerang almost becoming wind grooming.

Just before lunch we hit out on the traverse with a view to getting to Steep and Deep but were side tracked as we crossed Snake ridge which appeared untracked in the wind groomed snow so we dropped it and then KC chutes both of which were great soft snow. All four returns were through Kangaroo which was skiing a bit tougher than a few days ago as the bumps had been chopped up a bit. In summary the morning had been good skiing in wind sifted powder even if the surfaces were a little variable.

After lunch we went to the New Side and either the wind had dropped or it was just less windy over there. Interestingly White Pass lift was still only loading 3 at a time (as opposed to it's design of 4) but with the crowds much reduced it didn't cuase any line ups. The afternoon loops were into Currie and across the Reverse Traverse as Polar Peak had been closed for the day and who could blame them in those brutal wind conditions. We had -

Cougar Glades - tracked but not bad sifted in wind giving good soft skiing in the tight trees on the left.
Stag Leap - again great soft snow with tracks but becoming real hero snow in the lower sections now that the warming conditions were being felt.
Decline/Window chutes - good soft bump skiing down to the trail then some surprisingly good deep untracked snow in the Window Chutes themselves.
Secret Chutes/Spinal Tap - hardly touched deep snow, particularly good in the creek bed.
Knot chutes/Surprise Trees - the Tight Knot had a couple of icey turns in the middle but otherwise ok. Surprise Trees were still full of untracked blow in and well worth the late visit.
Final Skydive rip was just great. Bumps in the top, soft powder in the middle and softening blow in amounting to hero snow in the bottom - perfect.

An evening at the Northern for their fantstic value Tuesday offer of 10 bucks for a beer and a burger. A few more beers hence this late report and a nagging feeling that at least one run is missing off the New Side. Snow in the forecast.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day 82 pity it was a holiday

Yes, the problem today was that we had great conditions but as it was a mega holiday (family day in several Provinces and Presidents Day south of the boarder) the snow got trashed up just like a weekend. If it had been a normal Monday we would have had fresh snow right through to last bell - well actually we did but that's another story.

Overnight we had 17 cms of good light snow which qualified as awesome powder. The base was up at around 262 cms and temps started at -2 at the base and -7 on top. During the day they rose so that the base was plus figures but with no direct sunlight the snow stayed in great shape and on top single figure minus temps kept the snow looking and feeling good. The top of White Pass was well socked in and the cloud base only lifted late afternoon. We had light flurry activity on and off becoming heavier as we got towards evening.

We went to the New Side again. I was asked about my problems with the Old Side on holiday weekends and in a nutshell they are, families gather there causing large crowds and slow lift running and there is always a big bottle neck at Haul Back. With the Meat Hook no longer running it is hard to get out to Snake Ridge and particularly, as today, the top of the Cedar High Traverse is frequently closed due to avi risks. Finally the pay for powder groups are allowed first tracks there ahead of us mere mortals and I would rather go to the New Side where your access to fresh tracks is based on your skill, strength, knowledge, work ethic, and lets be honest luck which is what mountain culture is about and not simply how much you are prepared to pay.

We were on the fifth chair up on Timber and had great early tracks down Lift Line. From the top we hit out on the Idiot Traverse and got to the Anaconda/Surprise split and found both untracked. We hit Surprise on the grounds that Anaconda would keep and had awesome first tracks all the way down Surprise. Next time round (Currie was still closed) we went out into Knot chutes and had the Tight Knot which had loads of fresh deep powder. This time we hiked the hump into the Anaconda chutes some of which had been taken but still plenty of untracked where your only danger was being barrelled out by your own slough. Bootleg Glades were untracked in the nearside trees so we took them and even in the lower section there was still loads of untracked all the way down into the Gilmar trail.

After that Currie opened but Polar Peak remained closed due to poor viz and we just looped -
Cougar Glades - two tracks in the top that disappeared and then untracked all the way down with a massive slough in the left hand exit down the creek after one of the best runs in Cougar of the year.
The Brain - rather more tracked up than I expected but still great skiing in the tight trees.
Lone Fir/Easter/Spinal Tap - we had ridden the White Pass chair with patrollers who confirmed that the Saddles opened while we were on the chair. By the time we got to Corner Pocket it was trashed down to the tires, a record even for a holiday weekend. A hike up to Lone Fir revealed some ok skiing in the chute and great soft powder below. Spinal Tap was mostly untouch with great powder on top of yesterday's soft.
Siberia ridge - White Pass chair had broken down so we had a quick drop down Sib Ridge for the first time this year and it was ok. The gnarly mid section wasn't really gnarly and all the rough terrain below was like your own personal terrain park covered in soft and often untracked snow.
Decline/Window Chutes - Mostly soft but tracked and deep, good skiing.

After lunch we headed up the Polar Peak to find it open with terrible warnings of how bad the viz was but with confirmation of 20 cms of fresh on top of a load of blow in on top of yesterday's deep powder. Our view was that with a surface like that who needed to see where we were going.

Papa Bear back to the chair was great deep powder but with no viz for the first few turns. Then Baby Bear chute which was one of the most awesome drops of the season with fantastic deep untracked powder. Exit via Secret chutes which were tracked but still deep and then a cut into Spinal Tap which was just as good as it was in the morning.

Next loop was another Papa Bear cut back followed by a traverse into Spirit Bear which was mostly untracked and totally awesome all the way down. Exit via Stag Leap which although a little tracked up was great deep powder skiing. This brought the Polar Chute total trips for the year to 70 - not a bad total.

This gave us just enough time for a final Skydive rip which was just as great as you would have expected on a day like this. Far too many beers and a good evening with much more snow in the forecast - here we go.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Day 81 I should learn to keep my big mouth shut

I am of course talking about yesterdays report when I said that there were no real crowds on this holiday weekend. Well today they showed up big time and the lift lines were long, some of my usual quiet places had people in them and even the Griz Bar had a line up to get in it - a first on a Sunday this year.

We got to the hill about half an hour late due to having to sort out our Irish guests and get them on the shuttle bus back to Calgary for their return journey. Even allowing for our late arrival things were busy and we only just got in the back of parking lot 2.

We had 5 cms of fresh overnight added to the 4 of the day before and the 4 of the day before that to bring the base up to 254 cms, ok but nothing spectacular for this time of year. Temps were just below freezing at the base a and quite a few degrees below that on top. As the day wore on base temps got up to +3 but stayed around -4 on top. Initially conditions were overcast and socked in on the ridge lines but the cloud lifted during the day although we had flurries of grappel on and off which have continued into this evening.

For all the usual reasons we went to the New Side, avoiding the problems of the Old Side which are usually manifest on holiday weekends. Skiing was slowed down by long lift lines but the first drop from Timber top down Lift Line looked amazingly as if it would be first tracks until a girl jumped in from Puff Trees and I had to make do with second place.

Polar Peak was open but the chutes were shut so we just went out to Skydive and were just beaten into second place for tracks - this was becoming a habit. Skydive was great soft bumps at first followed by the 5 cms of powder for the rest. Next loop was Decline which started with a few tracks which dropped off into the trees giving an untracked lower portion.

The chutes were still closed so we hit Stag Leap which like yesterday was more tracked than expected but still good soft snow.

At last Polar Chutes were open and we did a cut back to the chair through Papa Bear and then had an awesome run through Baby Bear which was deep new and blow in snow which had the quality of being skied and still being untracked - no I can't work it out either. The run off was Decline/Window chutes where once again I was just beaten for first tracks and which was great deep soft snow.

A final loop through Polar Chutes was a return through Papa Bear and then this time a drop through Spirit Bear which I guess because it is a bit steep and tight was untracked. The exit for lunch was a hike up Cornice Ridge to Lone Fir which was tracked but good deep soft snow and then a traverse into Spinal tap which was in amazingly good shape.

A very late lunch to avoid crowds then straight back to Polar Peak for a Papa Bear/Baby Bear/Lone Fir/Spinal Tap, which was just as good as as it was in the last run before lunch.

With a bit of time to kill before close we went into Knot Chutes and found good snow in the Tight Knot. After that it was Surprise Trees which were far less tracked than I would have expected for the end of the day and in fact had a lot of untracked snow out on the left hand side. Final rip down Skydive was just as good as the first run of the day but with a few more tracks - a great finish.

A good powder day and more on the way.