Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day119 first fresh tracks for weeks - sort of

It rained hard again all night and was raining on the way to the hill although the temperature was a rather more encouraging +3 as we drove up Ski Hill Road. On their web site the hill claimed 1 cm of fresh ovenight which seemed strange as with the precip we had I would have expected it would either be much more or nothing at all.

We kitted ourselves out in full rain gear and for only the second time this season I found myself dressed head to foot in Canadian Tire's finest yellow plastic suit. I have to say that I don't really see the challenge on a rain day as any different from any other type of day. In cold weather you have people coming off the hill complaining about cold hands and feet because they haven't worn the right gear, in really cold weather you have people coming off the the hill with frost bite because they haven't covered up and so with rain it is just a case of wearing the right gear (as I was) and you are dry and toastie all day with no problems.

We went to the New Side and found that the rain line reached up as far as White Pass load. Above that it was wet heavy cream snow for the most part getting lighter as you got higher and snowing most of the time. It would have been ideal for a good old White Pass loop day except that most of White Pass was closed. It fact it is easier to say what was open (from the fence on the skiers left of Highline to the fence on the skiers right of Puff) than to say what was closed which was everything, and I do mean everything else.

No one else seemed to have woken up to the fact that we had untracked wet snow (you couldn't really call it powder but I bet they do) all across Highline and the trees to the skiers right. The nature of the snow was such that even the two of us trying to cut quite tight lines still left a real mess everywhere we went and by late morning we had trashed eveything in Highline and in the trees but the extraorinary thing was that there appeared to bo only our tracks in there. The only bad decision of the morning was to get too greedy in the Toilet Bowl and have to side step up in wet snow to get out at the bottom.

We went down to lunch through Currie which had warning signs at the top saying that only Currie Powder was open (correct as we found 1-2-3s and Down Right closed) and that the Gilmar Trail was subject to "bare spots". The top was poor viz as had the top of White Pass been all morning but the surface soon became ok wet snow skiing although someone got out the glue pot for the section just above Gilmar Trail. On the trail itself I was prepared for the worst but actually it wasn't that bad. There were a few bare patches that were easy to avoid and I have seen it much worse at either end of the season in the past with no warnings.

After lunch we poked around the Old Side and found that the rain was falling all the way to the top. Where there had been past grooming or high skier traffic the wet snow on a firm base was ok but again anywhere there had been soft snow it was now super deep mush. They were setting up the course for the Monster event so we ran the course just to see what it was like and found ourselves hardly moving in the mushy top section. I guess the racers would have some special soft snow wax (I have been told WD40 works quite well) that would hold good for just one run and allow them to run at something like normal speed.

There is only so much fun you can have on limited terrain in pouring rain and by mid afternoon we abandoned skiing and headed for the bar. Things were starting to hot up after we had our couple of beers as the hype for the Monster race and Plazza Party was starting. With the Head Wall not on the course I couldn't get that excited about the race and the size of the speakers being set up in the Griz convinced me that maybe the party was being aimed at a different age group from ours. We headed home for hot drinks and some comforting whiskey.

I have no doubt that tomorrow everyone will fill me in on what I have missed. It looks like we may have a cooler dryer day and could possibly get back to something more like normal skiing to start the last week of the season.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Day 118 a bit of a wash out

Yes, today was a bit of a wash out in every sense of the word. It rained hard all night and stayed warm so that temps on the way to the hill were +6. It was raining off and on when we got to the hill and the ridge lines were socked in and Polar Peak chair wasn't running due to high winds. You didn't have to be a genius to work out that the Monster Enemy Lines Chinese Downhill simply wasn't going to happen in those conditions and it didn't - but more of that later.

We went to the Old Side and found the actual skiing surface in surprisingly good shape as long as you stayed on the previously groomed or high traffic packed in areas. Bear, Arrow, North Ridge etc were all nice easy skiing with soft on firm and we looped them. Best skiing was China Wall which is now soft bumps although you do have to avoid some big bare patches and lower Kangaroo which is still soft bumps on the firm underbase.

Of course where there had previously been soft off piste the snow was mush all the way to base and to all intents and purposes unskiable. We didn't have much choice as everything beyond Arrow in Lizard was closed as was everything right off North Ridge. I did take a speculative drop into Cedar Ridge just to test how bad it was and it was very bad - I would have done better with scuba gear rather than ski gear.

We spent most of the morning looping what little was open on the Old Side with occasional dashes into the Bears Den to get out of the worst of the showers which did have some graupel in them but were mostly rain all the way to the top. We had a very soggy lunch with just a few other around who were stupid enough to be skiing on a day like this.

After lunch we continued much as the morning but by 2:30 the rain had set in as unbroken from top to base and getting heavier and we took this as sign to call it a day. The most amazing thing was there were still about a dozen people out on the hill as we came off which must go to prove something but I can't think what.

We went to the Griz Bar where for just over an hour only one other set of customers came in, at all times the staff outnumbered the customers by a margin. It was in the Griz we read the press release from Monster confirming that the main event had been cancelled "on Fernies 45 degree + headwall.." and instead they were running a scaled down event tomorrow from the High Lizard Traverse to base for the reduced prize of $5000. Whilst that is a big step down from $20,000 it still seems pretty ok to me to be racing for 5000 bucks just for straightlining lower Lizard.

More rain is in the forecast and it looks like tomorrow may be another short day decked out in my yellow plastic rain suit - $9.99 from Canadian Tire. After that forecasters are calling for a cool down with actual minus daytime temps on Monday and Tuesday with white precip to come. Whether or not we get these conditions and if we do how they will affect the hill are two very interesting questions. Meanwhile today was the biggest washoutof the season.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Day 117 the hill is getting even more tired than me

Yes, the whole season is winding down with conditions slowly dribbling away to spring, our bodies suffering the cumulative effect of 100+ days skiing and nothing new for the last two weeks even beginning to tempt me to try something out of the ordinary. Today we didn't even have the sun of the bluebird days that we have been having, it was overcast but warm (starting temps of +1 going to +12 by the end of the day) so the everything just warmed up and mushed without having frozen overnight to give us a firm base to work on.

We went to the Old Side and found everything softening in the warming conditions so we had a few runs in Lizard bowl, some on what had been groomers (Bear) and some on ungroomed lines (Arrow). About the best skiing was China Wall which has now turned to big bumps but you do have to watch out for the bare patches.

By way of experiment I dropped off the chutes between Bear top and Alpine Way and found them becoming rather soft even early in the day. We cut into Cedar Centre which at least had the advantage of having been ice and so skied soft on a firm base. Kangaroo was still closed in the top so we cut in at the Cedar Trail level and found it pretty soft but ok in the bumps. After that we just poked around Cedar Ridge (soft) King Fir (softer) always returning via lower Kangaroo. Everything off skiers right of North Ridge (Boom, Boom Ridge, Linda's etc) remained closed so with so few options we headed for the New Side just before mid day.

We found Puff was soft and taking an edge on a firm base. Up Polar Peak yet again the only way down was Polar Coaster which had been groomed in the top but from the bumps and the rocks you would neve have guessed it. We had a couple of ok loops while looking out at the weather which was gathering somewhere out to the west and then ran for base and lunch through Currie Powder which was just about ok and Gilmar Gully which was soft bumps and great slow motion bump skiing.

After lunch I took a trip up to Lizard with the intention of taking the high traverse and then traversing Easter bowl and side stepping up into the Big Three. I didn't really expect the conditions to be much good but it was something to do and somewhere different to go. In the event it didn't matter as the high traverse was closed. As luck would have it I got tangled up with the professional ski circus that is in town for the Monster Head Wall Chinese Down Hill scheduled for the next few days starting in Richrds run tomorrow

No one seemed to be that impressed by the conditions any more than they were when I tangled with them at the top of Polar Peak where I next encountered them looking into the top of Richards. I looped Polar Peak several times waiting to see what was going to happen and when nothing did I ran to base via Currie Powder and Gilmar Gully which was just as before.

I went back up Polar Peak for the last three loops of the day making 8 times in all I had been up there without ever really intending to and found it soft in the Coaster as always. I had hoped for some action on the Peak at closing time but when I found myself alone up there after last chair I did a non stop (actually I did rip through a Non Stop Group) run through Currie Powder and Gilmar Gully to Timber.

This all just gave me time to get up Timber and down Puff, making the last White Pass chair with 40 seconds to spare. It was apparent that some serious heli bombing was about to take place but as it was choice of hanging about to watch this or drink beer I had another non stop run to base.

In the bar tonight I asked about the plans for tomorrows Monster event but was told that it was secret - well guys, as it has been announced on the radio I am prepared to guess that it will be on Richards if conditions allow which they won't due to ice in the choke, debrise in the bottom and the fact that the top will be socked in by cloud tomorrow. This means the time trial will take place in the Polar chutes and down Currie Powder assuming the sock in allows even that - or so the radio says, so I guess it must be true.

Outlook is for minus temps and snow by Monday, could the Griz have one last treat for us ?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Day 116 Happy Hot Dog Day

For those who don't know, we hold Hot Dog day every year (usually on the first Wednesday in April) to celebrate the movie Hot Dog. If you have never seen this movie it is a dreadful 1980's offering which is a mixture of skiing and soft porn. We celebrate by dressing in 1980's ski gear, skiing round the hill pulling some pretty stupid tricks (the one day of the year that we don't wear helmets) and getting unbelievably drunk despite the official line that no alcohol is allowed up the hill.

Today was overcast in the morning and stayed cloudy off and on all day with the occasional rain drops coing out of the clouds. Day time temps got to +12 so the chances of any precip coming down white was pretty remote.

I was amazed putting on my old Killy one piece ski suit which must have been bought in the late 1980's just how warm it was and it did cross my mind that if we do get cold weather next year maybe the red one piece could make a guest appearance to keep me warm - who knows.

I had a few trips round Bear, Arrow and other parts of Lizard to check the conditions and found that despite coditions being overcast things were softer than during the past few days. I went to the New Side and took two trips up Polar Peak before they closed it - I was told that only 6 of us had been up all morning, 4 had down loaded and I was the only one who took a double loop. The truth was that although it was socked in at the top and the only advertised way down was Polar Coaster the skiing was ok soft bumps. At the top of the Polar Coaster there was a sign saying "Marginal Conditions, Skiing not recomended" which gave me a laugh as in the words of the movie I thought " Ok,where to Butch". The warning was fair as the first few turns of the Coaster were quite rocky but after that things were ok - second time up I was told they were closing.

I went to the Old Side and had few runs down North Ridge and the lower part of Kangaroo - the closed signs were only in the top and the second section skied nicely, I can't help but think that the top section woud have been just as good had we been allowed to ski it. I did check out Wallaby which was starting to get rowdy as the crowds were gathering - lunch.

After lunch we just looped Wallaby/ North Ridge/ Cruiser/ Cedar Centre/ Emily's etc which were all in pretty good shape as the cloud cover was preventing the snow from softening too much. Skiing wasn't really the business of the day and we all ended up on Wallaby each loop to watch/take part in the crazy stunts and jumps. After several loops we headed to base ratherv early to guarantee a place in the Griz Bar - actually about 3:30.

Things worked out well and we got seats in the bar, met up with friends, all in Hot Dog gear, and drunk far too much beer and Jagermeisters to celebrate the day. I have decided not to head to the Pub for a showing of Hot Dog the movie as I am not sure I would make it so it will be a quiet night in and then hope for normal service to be resumed tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day 115 weather forecasters know nothing and more strange stuff

The confident forecast for today was that we would have showers becoming heavy in the afternoon. In the event it was bluebird all morning and although we got a bit of cloud later in the day there was nothing that looked like a shower even when I took a look at the weather from the top of Polar Peak late morning when I could see about a million miles in all directions.

As for the last (God knows how long) we had -1 on the way to the hill and a base of 260 cms. Just for the record Lynda got out her journal for this time last year and found that our base at that time was 425 cms - just saying. It was another bluebird day when temps came up and by the afternoon we were seeing +15 in the shade and I would imagine at least another 10 degrees in the direct sunlight  - what I am saying is that it was seriously hot.

We went to the Old Side where of course quite a lot (Snake Ridge, everything right off North Ridge and few other places ) were closed. We did the usual trips down Bear and across Lizard bowl only to find that everything was softening in an inversion ! My only explanation is that a warm wet system is on the way and we are seeing is the front end of that system high up and added to the recent warm conditions - actually I have no idea why things are working out as they are.

We looped back down Boom Ridge and found the bumps already soft so we looped three times and had some great skiing before it got too mushy. I took one trip down Cedar Ridge in the hope that it would be soft but it was in fact hard boiler plate and not worth further investigation except for later events.

We went to the New Side and up Polar Peak which was only open at the Polar Coaster due to the snow instability every where else. After a couple of trips up the fairly slushy Coaster we dropped to base and to lunch via Currie Powder which was soft with bumps. Best bit of the drop like yesterday was Gilmar Gully which was soft big bumps and great fun to drop the fall line in almost slow motion. Lunch.

After lunch I went back up the New Side only to find that Currie Bowl was closed  as was the Zig Zag so all we had off the White Pass chair was the Highline/Heartland guts and these were pretty mushy. At this point I did something that I rarely do and which in the past has cost me dear - I used my brain. This time it paid out big time. I reasoned that if the north facing Cedar Ridge on the Old Side had been ugly boiler plate in the morning and that the sun would not have had a direct effect on it but the atmospheric warming would then it could be pretty good skiing.

I went to Old Side via Deep Sea and other runs that I never do which were surprisingly good mush on a groomed surface. When I got to the top of Bear on the Old Side I put my theory to the test and found (more to my amazement than anyone else's) that I had got it spot on. Cedar Ridge (in any one of it's one hundred or so incantations)  was firm underneath but taking a soft edge on the top. To be fair it was bit variable in places but light years ahead of anything else I had experienced on the hill.

It was so good that I loope the ridge 4 times, each time getting to Boom Chair via the traverse (Lynda says it's the Monkey Trail) into the bottom section of Lynda's which was a bit scratchy but the run itself was almost corn snow. I just managed to get the last Boom Chair up and then after that it was just a few beers in the Griz.

In anticipation of tomorrow's Hot Dog Day (retro) signs have appeared on the hill saying that drinking alcohol while skiing is not allowed. I would just make three points on this -
1) A great let off for the boarders who seem to be allowed to do whatever they want from the wording of this sign.
2) A very good rule anyway, you might spill some alcohol if you try and drink it while you are skiing. I am sure we will wait until we are on the lifts or just standing around.
3) There are a group of people breaking this rule who I am prepared to offer up to security who distribute alcohol to anyone on the hill who wants it, they are the serving staff of the Lost Boys Cafe - I am sure security will be dealing with them (at $6.50 a pint) tomorrow - not.

Have great Hot Dog Day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Day 114 yet another bluebird day

I have to say first of all that this is no April Fools Day gag and yes, we had yet another bluebird day breaking some kind of record for sunny skiing in Fernie. Over night temps were only -1 and again things got hot fast in the direct sunlight. By mid afternoon I noticed it was + 10 at the Polat load and that was in the shade. On the way back from the hill it was +17 and against this background I am amazed to see that the base is still holding at just above 250 cms.

The effect on the hill was just as before, in the morning significant area were closed due to ugly icey conditions. During the day some areas were open but as the day wore on even more significant areas were closed due to the snow becoming isothermic - the snow temp below the surface rising to zero all the way to the base so that the snow structure had no integrety to support skier traffic or hold itself together.

We went to the Old Side a poked around the Bear, Arrow and in fact all of Lizard bowl across to Dancer. Arrow hadn't been groomed so acted as good indicator as to when the rest of the hill would become skiable. It took about half a dozen runs in increasing mush before we became adventurous.

I decided to drop the chutes off the top of Bear into Alpine Way to test north facing slopes and found it as hard and ugly as I could have possibly imagined it.We diverted into Cruiser which was soft and groomed and then into Cedar Centre which was by no means so soft and certainly not groomed but ok challenging skiing. Kangaroo remained closed so the best route to Boom load was through Lower Linda's.

Boom and Boom Ridge were closed but looking in we felt that they had to be opened soon. After one abortive run down North Ridge that was still pretty hard they dropped the signs on Boom Ridge and we had three loops down it, first a little firm, second just perfect bumps and third starting to get to soft. The bumps were getting pretty rutted and coming at you at irregular intervals but I guess that's skiing.

It was time to go to the New Side so we did. Getting to Polar Peak we found that everything except Polar Coaster was closed due to the isothermic conditions. We looped the Coaster 3 times taking different lines left or right where we could and it was getting mushy and bumpy even then. The route to base for lunch was Currie Powder as the County Line was closed and it skied as soft bumped up snow on a firm base. Best part was Gilmar Gully which had become steep soft bumps and was great fall line bumps skiing.

After Lunch it was just a replay, we were up Polar for 3 Coasters and then the Currie Powder Gilmar Gully bumps which were all just as before. The rest of the afternoon was spent looping Polar Coaster in a light fleece, thin gloves and all in all rather less than I would wear on a typical summers day back in the UK. Final run was Currie Powder and Gilmar Gully where the bumps had got even bigger and softer and as result much more fun to ski fall line.

After a couple of beers I headed off the Ski Base to bindings put on my new Shoguns which I bought there in September. I have no intention of using the skis with the rocks starting to poke through but with bindings 30% off now is the time to have them mounted up. Still more sun in the forecast for tomorrow- now I am getting used to it this spring routine is not as bad as I thought it was a couple of days ago but still nowhere near what real skiing should be like.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Day 113 seven sunny days

Well, some of you my remember that 7 sunny days was the title of a Matchstick snow porn DVD a few years back. Of course in that they spent all winter to get 7 sunny days one at a time in which to film some awesome skiing. We have just had 7 sunny days straight off which is more than anyone on the ski hill can remember us getting in a row during the ski season. Unfortunately the result is not awesome skiing but the whole hill going to mush and most of it having to be closed down by afternoon.

This morning it was only -1 on the way to the hill and in direct sunlight Bear was already very soft when we arrived. We ripped around The Old Side trying Bear, Arrow and Dancer several times and found that only Dancer was staying firm at it lay in part away from the sun.

Skiing was going to be very limited as we were booked in at Lizard Creek Lodge for their awesome Easter brunch at 11. We took a trip down North Ridge only to find that it was hard and icey as expected but all the runs that might have softened early (Boom, Boom Ridge, Linda's and Kangaroo) were closed presumably for conditions. We cut back to Bear and had one more loop across the Lizard runs as far as Dancer and then it was time for Brunch.

I have to say that the all you could eat buffet at Lizard Creek was just awesome with some of the biggest crab legs I have ever seen. As we were pacing ourselves beers appeared and what with one thing and another it was gone 2 before we got back to skiing.

Being bloated and having drunk beer we had decided just to take one run down the Elk and then home but it was so nice in the sun that we went to the top of Bear and found that things weren't much slushier than this morning. We tracked around for about an hour enjoying the sun and putting up with the skiing. One good thing was that Boom Ridge had opened and it was soft snow in big bumps and so quite hard and hot work to get down.

It strikes me that the skill in skiing this afternoon elephant snot in direct sunlight (the temp on leaving the hill was +15) is to go fast enough to create a cooling breeze but not so fast that you hve to put in effort and create body heat. The result is that you ski a bit slower than usual and only use minimum effort GS turns if possible - ok I know that's what I do usually to preserve the legs for 9-4 skiing.

We were going to go to the New Side but got to the bottom to find out that White Pass chair had shut down so there was only very limited skiing available on that side from the Timber chair. We knew when we had had enough and the effects of too much food and beer were starting to take their toll. We came home, leaving the hill just after 3.

I really don't know where we are going from here or just how much more of this hot weather the hill can take before the season will be over. If nothing changes in the next two weeks then from the point of view of good skiing the season is already over. There seems to be some mixed precip in the forecast which may go either way, the problem is that it is forecast for Wednesday (Hot Dog Day) which is the one time when we wouldn't mind a sunny day - our old gear wasn't waterproof when new and certainly isn't now. A quiet evening in.