Saturday, January 26, 2013

Day 57 better than I expected

My fears were that we would get the weekend crowds and with all the snow concentrated up top it would turn into a zoo. In the event we had another 17 cms over night which fell all the way to base so the whole hill was available. Add to that the fact that the whole of the hill (including Polar Peak despite it being socked in) was open right off the bat and the crowds (such as they were spread out) and it was no busier than a normal weekend. What this meant was that once mid morning I had to wait about 4 minutes to get on Timber chair but apart from that it was plain sailing.

It was only -1 on the way to the hill with layered cloud all the way up to the top where it was more like -7. Temps at the base rose during the day to low plus temps but as we are now under the cold air mass on the tail of a weather system the flurries that fell all morning came down as snow, or at worse ice pelets.

Working on yesterday's plan I went high to the New Side and found White Pass socked in. Out on Skydive one pair of tracks had got in ahead of me but held a tight line on the right. This gave me the left untracked which was soft hero snow where you could point your skis anywhere and go.

Next loop I notice Polar Peak was open and so spent the morning going up the Peak and just taking one run down the chutes and then a trip to the base. These worked out as -
Mamma Bear, no viz but super smooth deep powder. The Brain, untracked and getting really soft and deep in the tight trees. I was able to cut the creek bed even closer than yesterday and it was a great run.
Baby Bear, not as good as Mamma but still pretty awesome. Hike up to Lone Fir and found a few tracks in it so I went on to the next chute and cut right into what I have been told is Easter Medow Chute. It was untracked and the only problem was to beat you own slough out of the narrow exit before it got you. I cut across Easter bowl and into Spinal Tap which had been skied a bit but was still deep with hero snow that allowed for some good fall line lines to be had.
Mamma Bear as before and then Decline/Window chutes where Decline was tracked but with plenty of untracked lines. The drop into Window Chute was real hero snow that allowed you to take the fall line again, the log drop was mellow and even the choke was skiing ok with snow holding in there.
Mamma Bear as before and Stag Leap. By now Stag Leap (like all the Big Three was tracked but the snow was holding up so well you could stay on top as long as you kept your speed up and just ski it like untracked powder. Lunch

After lunch I went back to the New Side and Polar Peak. As I got to the top the light suddenly improved and although not brilliant you could at least make out the terrain. I took the opportunity of skiing the chutes that I had missed in the morning due to poor viz. Grand Pappa Bear back to the chair was ok in the top and awesome untracked powder in the lower section. Barely Legal back to the chair was also great and the exit chutes are now filled in with soft powder. Spirit Bear hadn't been touched as far as I could make out although the snow was sifting in fast all the time, it was best deep untracked powder of the day.

I ran to base through Cougar Glades which were well skied but as always had good lines in the tight trees to the left. I had intended to stop on the lower trail and cut out to Stag Leap but the snow is now so deep I skied right across the trail without ever noticing it and found myself taking the left exit chute before I realised what was happening.

Another Polar Peak and another Grand Pappa Bear which was just as good as before with a few tracks this time. I just had time for one more loop and knowing I was tight on time I took Pappa Bear (still soft and deep low down), the steep left chute into Concussion (soft if a bit tracked) and Gilmar gully all the way down to Timber chair in one - Peak to base non stop.

Skydive was of course there for us at the end of the day and the top two sections although tracked skied soft and fast. The lower pitch had softened during the day and was just setting up as things cooled just to add interest to the last few turns of the day.
With Aussie Day and the Kokanee Dreams party there was no chance of getting in the bar so we skipped to the pub down town and had a couple before heading home.

We seem to have got away with the warm front as we have precip in the forecast on a cooling trend for the next few days, lets wait and see.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Day 56 Mixed conditions but good if you play it smart

Yes, today was a bit of a strange one which if you played it smart (which I guess we did) you had a pretty good powder day but if you didn't you would have had an ugly rain day.

There was no new snow overnight and on the way to the hill temps were -1. As we arrived it started to precip as wet snow at the base becoming quite ok snow higher up. It was clear that things were going to warm up with the diurnal effect so we went to the Old Side to get some low altitude skiing in before the temps rose and the lower hill turned to rain.

After a quick warm up on Sunny Side shoulder in poor light we looped out to Gorby Bowl/Steep and Deep and found deep untracked snow that was filling in with a combination of new snow and wind sift. The return from Haul Back top to Boom bottom was, as usual Kangaroo which was starting to get some very heavy wet snow in between the bumps but skied slow and mellow. We decided that going high was a decision that we needed to take rather earlier than anticipated so we had a rip down a very smooth Boom in big GS turns before heading over to the New Side.

Going up Timber in wet snow and poor viz we joked about Polar Peak being open in such conditions and we amazed to find that when we got to the top of White Pass that Polar was open and loading. I Can't think that very many of us went up today but those that did were rewarded by the best skiing on the hill. At the top it was totally socked in with howling wind and icey bumps which kept out the crowds and guaranteed great untracked skiing in the chutes. Pappa Bear was ok but a bit patchy but like yesterday Mamma and Baby Bear were awesome with deep untracked powder from top to bottom. We did three loops -

Loop 1 - Pappa Bear to he chair then Mamma Bear to the Traverse. Exit to base was via Cougar Glades which were really nice and filling in with the new snow. We were cutting out to Stag Leap and thinking about dropping into the trees when things strted to get really mushy so we cut out into the run an had a trip down in heavy snow, by the base it was just starting to rain.

Loop 2 - Pappa Bear/Baby Bear then a drop into Concussion which was flat and filled with untracked soft snow in the chutes to the left. I stopped by the tree I had hit yesterday and whacked it several times with my pole just like I did with trees I hit in Spinal Tap the other day. Let this be a warning to any tree that tries to hurt me , a few days later I will be back and beat the crap out of you so no more of this nonsense.

Loop 3 - Pappa Bear/Mamma Bear and then we intended Skydive and lunch. As we passed the entrance to the Brain we noticed it was untracked and dived in, after all we are only human. It was great untracked skiing in the new snow all the way down to the final pitch. After we cut out onto Skydive things changed pretty quickly and we found ourselves pushing pure elephant snot for the last few turns.

At the base over lunch it was raining hard and the rain line looked to be a fair way up the hill. The afternoon strategy was obvious, go high and stay high. I spent the whole afternoon Looping White Pass by cutting out into Knot Chutes (and Slim Thin and Jim) and then dropping Surprise Trees working my way out further each time. In the end I was dropping the top of Triple Trees and having to work my way back along Trespass Trail. No one (well actually one set of tracks) had been out as far as that and I spent all afternoon getting fresh tracks in heavy powder and staying dry as I didn't have to run to base below the rain line.

Last run was Skydive which skied smooth and heavy most of the way down and very heavy in the last few turns. It seemed to me that things were cooling, the precip was at least coming down as wet snow there and the skiing surface wasn't quite as bad as before.

So here we are hoping for a cool down but expect all the weekend warriors to be on the hill and going high tomorrow so things could be ugly - lets see.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Day 55 Yes

The heading of course is the answer to the question posed yesterday - would it ever snow again. It did overnight last night and gave us a pretty good day. The official figures were for 12 cms of fresh but it seemed to be quite a bit more in places and the base repaired to 193 cms. We were supposed to get sub zero temps but by midday with the cloud clearing base temps were +5 and only just below zero on top. Things have cooled down a bit now but it is still +1 on the deck as I am typing this.

The resulting snow was exactly what we needed. Dry champagne powder would have just blown away and the heavier high moisture content that we got was exactly what was needed to stick to the slick surface and provide something for the next round of snow (forecast for tomorrow) to stick to. Add to that the fact that it was real hero snow that held you up so well that you could just point your skies and go and you had a recipe for a pretty good day.

As this was the first fresh snow for two weeks we were in line 15 mins before the lifts started loading on the New Side - I left the Old Side alone as I didn't want my day to be spoilt by the potential of pay for powder groups getting in ahead of me. It was good call as after putting second tracks in Lift Line I actually cut the traverse out the Skydive having to side step across Currie Creek (and nearly giving way to the temptation to drop it as it looked so good) in order to get there. There is no feeling in the world so good as standing at the top of Skydive on a powder day having cut first tracks knowing that you can go anywhere on the Big 3 and get first tracks all the way down. I took Skydive, keeping to the left to leave something for those who came after me and just floated down on the hero untracked snow.

Next loop I tried Cougar Glades which only had a couple of tracks that disappeared off to the right. It was great untracked tree skiing on the left before cutting out into Stag Deep which was equally good with only 3 or 4 tracks in ahead of me. An obvious choice was the Brain for the next loop which unsurprisingly was totally untracked which allowed some super tight tree lines in the second section to be taken.

I went to Decline which was tracked but had some untracked parts before dropping left into the top of Window Chutes. The Chutes were untracked as two borders who were cutting in from the left had decided to stop to wait for a buddy - no friends on a powder day. It was good deep soft snow and I hit the log drop right off the centre to chalk up yet another first track score.

I had hoped that Secret Chutes and Spinal Tap would have been untracked and to be fair there were untracked lines in the chutes. Unbelievably two tracks were in Spinal Tap ahead of me, after all who else would be stupid enough to ski a gnarly line like that. Even with the tracks it was pretty ok skiing. As a final run before lunch I hiked Lone Fir and found about 4 tracks in the chute in front of me which still left some nice lines. Best news was that the fan below is now covered again in soft deep snow and now should just get better as the snow gets sloughed out of the chute. Easter bowl was soft and ok and a good easy way to go to lunch.

Polar Peak opened in the afternoon. The top was socked in with poor light and strong winds which kept most of the faint hearted away from what was the best skiing on the hill that I found. The first few turns in the chutes were icey, bumpy and with the poor viz you had to pay attention, after that the chutes just got better. As always my loops comprise one Pappa Bear back to the chair and then one of the far chutes with a run to base, you don't have to be genius to work out that three loops this afternoon resulted inn 6 trips up Polar Peak.

Loop 1 - Pappa Bear, a bit variable but better and deeper snow as you got lower. Mamma Bear awesome deep untracked powder all the way down to the Reverse Traverse. The run to base was through Cougar Glades which still had some untracked lines. This time in the lower area I hit the trees between the Cougar Glade exit and Stag Leap. I'm not sure these even have a name but they are steep and get super tight with some dead fall which means taking air in tight trees - great fun.

Loop 2 - Pappa Bear as before and Baby Bear, if possible even better than Mamma Bear. I know there had been tracks in before me but they were sifted in and it was great. Exit via Concussion which nearly proved to be an appropriate name as I misjudged a tree and managed to blow off a ski in the resulting confusion but no harm done.

Loop 3 - Pappa Bear and Baby Bear, see above. Of course we finished on Skydive which was surprisingly flat and still with some untracked patches - we hit it top to bottom without a break.

So a great end to the snow drought with more in the forecast to a greater or lesser degree over the next few days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 54 will it ever snow again

Today we had a confident forecast from all sources that it would be cloudy with flurries turning to snow overnight. This was to follow the collapse of the high pressure ridge that has dominated our weather for what seems like forever and the consequential loss of the temperature inversion. What happened was that the inversion hung on late into the afternoon and we skied in bluebird conditions for most of the day with some clouding over towards the end. With temps up at -2 and cloud cover far from heavy something has clearly changed and it must throw the supposed forecast snow cycle into some doubt.

It was -7 and as I said bluebird on the way to the hill and temps rose a bit during the day but at the top of White Pass it was almost spring like with the snow softening. It may have been even warmer up Polar Peak but as they were not allowing us into the chutes for the second day running I didn't go up as skiing an icey groomer off the top has little or no appeal.

We had a New Side day and as Lynda was heading back to the UK for 10 days to sort out family stuff it left me to play ski instructor with Simon who is visiting us from Ireland. The conditions were much as they have been for the past few days with everything smooth but hard with only the slightest sift. Where there had been skier traffic things had bumped up but whilst the bumps cold be hard they were taking and edge and not at all icey.

We went all over the New Side including Lift Line (many times) Knot Chutes (a couple of times) Skydive, Lone Fir, Stag Leap, Anaconda Glades, Bootleg Glades, The Brain, Cougar Glades/lower Stag Leap, Decline, Window Chutes, Secret Chutes, Spinal Tap, Skydive (in one top to bottom) and Skydive again (top to bottom in one again) as it was so good.

Highlights of the day in no particular order were -
Lone Fir Chute - although hard it took a nice edge and made the edge to edge jumping all the way through almost a pleasure. Pity was that the fan below which usually makes the hard work worth while was still icey and chunky.
Window Chutes - the snow in the trees as you drop from Decline was the only really soft snow I found all day.
Secret Chutes - I really expected these to be scratchy but there was a kind of uneven crinkly surface that took a great edge.
The Brain - more a low light really. The skiing was tough in the tight trees and all the debris blown down from the branches made it very difficult to work out what was a real obstruction and what could be ignored, super hard work but nice when you got a rhythm going.
Spinal Tap - my revenge. Having got hurt there a couple of days ago I went in super agressive and ripped down the chute to the choke. Got the line dead right through the trees that got me and even had time to whack one of the trees with my pole in revenge.
Skydive - having taken a run through early in the day and found the bumps quite soft in the upper section and the skier traffic having improved the lower it was an obvious choice to go back later. As a buddy was leaving the hill early (for me) I had a final run with him down top to bottom without stopping and it was so mellow. Looping back there were no takers for the final Skydive run so it was top to bottom without stopping again and it was just as much fun as before.

It was a much better day than I would have expected but we do need snow. In the answer to the many times I have been asked this question today - no I will not be at the hill at 4 tomorrow morning to see them filming for Canada AM - my bed looks pretty good at that hour and even the chance of a draw for cat skiing doesn't change that. Hoping for more snow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day 53 more lift problems, still no new snow but an end of the drought is in sight

Yes, today was much the same as the previous few days with no new snow, valley fog, a temperature inversion, and a lift problem. Today it was White Pass Chair which was supposed to open half an hour late, then at 11, then 12, then 1 and eventually opened about 1:30. This was on top of yesterday when we lost Timber Chair for more than half of the day. A buddy of mine pointed out that they use the same technology to move coal in the mine where he works and it never breaks down. He also made the point that if they stop shifting coal they don't get paid while at a ski hill they charge the customers  whether the lifts work or not - seems like a good point to me.

Temps were -8 0n the way to the hill and rose during the day a degree or two but always remained cold when you found yourself in valley fog. It seemed to warm a bit on top but my guess is that it reamained below zero all over the hill all day.

With no real choice we went to the Old Side and after a warm up down Sunny Side shoulder which was hard bumps we poked around on Boom, Linda's, Cedar Ridge all of which remained flat from old wind grooming but with the base packed in rock hard. We even looped out to Gorby Bowl which like everywhere else was hard but with rather greater penalties for getting it wrong on the way down to the cliff band.

With incorrect information that White Pass was open we headed up Timber only to find it wasn't and having to loop Siberia Ridge which remains in remarkably good shape, rather like a free riding terrain park.

We just had time for one more loop out to Snake Ridge on the Old Side before lunch and dropped Steep and Deep which had some patchy lines - ok to the right and very wind affected to the left. Of course there was always Kangaroo which we skied 3 or 4 times (I've rather lost count) and just like the past few days it was great icey bumpy skiing for those prepared to put in the effort.

After lunch we moved to the New Side and got to White Pass chair just about as it was loading. Polar Peak was loading but at the top we found the chutes shut and had to make do with running down the icey rocky chute just to lookers left of the lift. The official reason for the closure of the chutes was that they were slick which I don't doubt for one minute but I can't help but feel that those of us who would enjoy this kind of skiing were being penalized for the "experts" who stacked it on the chutes a few days ago and fell top to bottom.

We just looped the New Side with -

Cougar Glades/Stag Leap - the snow was firm but taking an edge in the trees and out on the run it was soft in the mid section and crisp in the lower parts.
Stag Leap - the run after Cougar had been so good we gave it a go and it was good. Through the trees was firm but ok and the mid section of the run was soft bumps taking an edge, the lower section was as before.
Decline/Window Chutes - great crisp bumps in Decline taking a nice edge with still some soft snow in the drop in through the trees to the chute itself. The log drop is a bit bigger, maybe 3 ft and the ski out scratchy but all in all a nice pitch.

With time to kill I looped White Pass through Knot Chutes (hard packed but smooth) and Surprise Trees (quite crisp but easy skiing taking an edge) before heading out to Skydive. The final run down Skydive was really good with the big bumps in the top skiing well and the undualtions lower down providing great free riding terrain. Even the bottom section is hard but ok.

So there we have it. The high pressure ridge that has dominated our weather system for the last week or so is falling apart and wet pacific coastal systems are moving in over the next few days, Timing and amounts of precip are uncertain but then aren't they always. Thursday morning at 4 am Canada AM are broadcasting live from the hill and we are all invited to attend. I think I will give this a miss, partly because my bed is warm and cosy at that hour and partly because the chances of me being let anywhere near a live mike are about the same as me becoming the next Pope - I think the interviwees that day will be giving the party line on all matters skiing so there goes my chance in show biz.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Day 52 - a short one

That of course is the report and not the day which was of usual 9-4 length. The reason for the short report is that we have necked down a totally unreasonable amount of beer after skiing and I can hear my buddies Rob and Katie arriving downstairs for even more beer.

No new snow and we went to the Old Side because Timber chair wasn't going to run until 11. It actually shut down again at 2:30 because of "multiple problems" so watch this space to see if we actually get any New Side skiing at all.

It was overcast but with bluebird times and some valley fog. Temps were -15 on the way to the hill  but came up to -6 during the day. There was an inversion but with the ridge line winds the wind chill meant that it just felt cold everywhere.

We ripped around the Old Side and just like yesterday it was hard packed but smooth. The exception was Kangaroo which of course was hard bumpy and ugly and to my mind the best skiing on the hill. As Timber opened we went to the New Side and found hard packed snow everywhere with little or no sift and Polar Peak closed due to high winds. We had several runs down the Currie Chutes and Stag Leap which was just as described.

After lunch I went to the New Side for more loops but only managed a Cougar Glades/Stag Leap, Decline/Window chutes (all these hard and tough hard pack) and a loop on Siberia Ridge which was a bit softer. Then Timber Chair shut down and it was back to the Old Side.

I decide to hit out to the the area fence and dropped Gorby Bowl for the first time this year which was firm but nice sking, a bit slick above the cliff band so you didn't want to make a mistake then the left right shuffle to avoid the worst of the cliff was pretty ok. I exited with the fourth run the through Kangaroo of the day and I can only say what I have said before - if your technique is good it's fun and if not then it's your own problem.

With New Side access to Skydive denied the only way to get in for our traditional finish was side step up from Easter bowl, just like the Old Days. I got in just in time to link up with my buddies for the final rip.

It's a pity that space and alcohol prevents me giving full vent to my feelings on the over grooming of runs that is taking place at the moment. Today they groomed Boom Ridge which is crazy - that should be a tough icey bump run all year. There is a serious side to this in that the ridge is designated double black diamond in several places and my granny could have skied it today - and she's dead. People skiing that will go to Polar Peak tomorrow, see the signs saying "Double black runs only" think they can ski them and the result is inevitable.

That's it - off to drink beer.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Day 51 trees always win

The reason I am repeating the most popular slogan on Fernie T shirts in today's title is because today I gave living proof that it is true. Late afternoon in Spinal Tap I decided to cut a tight tree line on the edge of the creek bed and made a slight error of judgement. I hit the first tree hard with my left hip, pinballed off the tree and hit the second tree with my right hip - the fact that I made the line I intended as I popped out wasn't a lot of consolation. You can't take trees down like slalom gates and two big grazes and bruises on each hip (even through my ski pants) prove the point. Looks like I will sleeping on my back for a day or two but it shouldn't affect the skiing.

At least I was better off than some of the guys who decided to ski Polar Peak today with the chutes in very slick conditions. Expert only signs don't seem to mean anything to some people. Having seen a skier crash top to bottom of the Peak rolling over a couple of cliff bands one of my buddies asked a patroller friend of ours at the end of the day how was the guy who had the top to bottom fall, the patroller replied "which one". I gather we had five casualties today. I guess some people have to learn the hard way that Fernie may be a quirky little ski hill but it stll has the tougest skiing around when it decides to bite back.

It was bluebird day again which is so rare for January. Temps on the way to the hill were -9 and got up to around -3 during the day before falling back to -5 tonight. Still no new snow and the base is down to 185 cms but some blow in was sifting around during the day as winds increased. The problem was that in the direct sunlight there was a softening of the surface so I guess we could be working with a crust in those area tomorrow.

We went to the New Side and tried Lift Line which showed straight off the bat that it was going to be hard and firm underfoot with any old snow getting very chunky. Quite a lot of what was soft sift yesterday and looked like it should be today turned out the be hard pack that was just about taking and edge.

We looped White Pass a couple of time before heading up Polar Peak. We did two loops of Pappa Bear which had very little soft sift and was very hard pack only just taking an edge. The view from the top was spectacular but we have seen it lots of times and skiing wasn't great so the only thing we were getting was a long fall potential - we moved on and tried -

Concussion - hard base but flat.
Stag Leap - ok through the trees and in the upper sections. Skier traffic has beat the lower crud into submission so even that skied ok.
Easter Bowl - very smooth and flat with the beginning of some wind sift. The exit via Freeway was a big mistake with some super slick ice surfaces to be negotiated.
Currie chutes - not sure exactly which run we skied but it was all smooth and flat if a bit hard.
Anaconda Glades/Bootleg Glades - as with everywhere else it was hard snow but flat becoming bumpy in Bootleg.
Skydive - last run before lunch and the bumps in the top were getting bigger but ok, the mid section was firm but ok free riding and the lower section improving just as per Stag Leap.

Lunch was quite late so the afternoon wasn't that long. I tried Cougar Glades which now need a bit of caution in the tight trees but we ok skiing. I cut left into lower Stag Leap and had a run down there just like the morning. Polar Peak was calling so I went up again and the view was just as spectacular as before. This time in Pappa Bear the wind had started to sift snow in but as I have said, if you missed a turn you weren't going to stop any time soon.

I cut out to Secret Chutes which were firm but ok and then Spinal Tap which was very tough heavy snow in the top and highly tecnical lower down, hence my "incident" with the trees as described above. Timing wasn't quite right so we had a Knot Chutes (firm but ok) and Surprise Trees (surprisingly good) loop off White Pass followed by a rip back more or less under the lift until it was time to head out to Skydive for the final run.

There were three of the regulars plus one new comer ( a female kiwi ski instructor) for the final run but by the first break we were joined by Randy coming in from the Old Side and getting his timing dead right, how lucky is that ? Skydive remained firm most of the way down with the final section just a bit crunchy.

The forecast is calling for snow a boy do we need it. Skiing is ok but there are only so many way you rip round the hill on this firm base looking for wind sift which is getting harder to find all the time.