Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Season Summary 2013-14

This has been a strange season for us and compared with most a very short one. I got 46 days which compared with my usual 120-130 days is low although I have to appreciate that it is way better than most vacation skiers and weekenders, and our timing was such that there were some pretty spectacular days in there. The reason for the short season was having to stay in the UK while Lynda received chemotherapy for her lymphoma and she was not given the all clear until mid February. The good news on that front is that she remains clear and getting stronger every day, eventually getting in 35 days and even skiing whole days by the end of the season. Thanks to everyone for all the good wishes we have had for Lynda's health - these things do make a difference.
It follows that I don't have much input on the early season stuff although I have had a number of conversations with my buddies on the subject. It seems that the season started really well with good coverage and up to the end of December we were getting loads of fresh snow and looked on course for a stellar season. In January things suddenly changed and we had a snow drought through until mid Feb with virtually no snow falling in that period. To make matter worse there were repeated cold periods where daytime temps peaked in the mid 20s and although this kept the coverage good it did nothing to encourage anyone to go skiing.
Just before we arrived in early Feb the snow machine turned back on and there was a spectacular week of deep powder. We arrived just on the back of this cycle and then enjoyed the conditions through to the end of the season. What we had was good but also fairly mixed.
Through late Feb and March we got some big snow cycles and the base that had only been just over 2 metres when we got here went to over 4 and a half metres by the end of March. In true Fernie fashion these cycles came always with the threat of warm temps and therefore rain although with the exception of a couple of days we managed to dodge the bullet. We had several days when it was raining at the base but stayed snowing up in White Pass and I love these as no one comes to the hill and although the terrain is limited you have your own private powder ski hill. Just before the end of March we had a butt ugly top to bottom rain event which closed everything and when it reopened it was destroyed icy crud and we thought the season was over. Of course Fernie isn't like that and two weeks later we were skiing around all over the hill in deep powder with everything repaired.
April was mostly good spring skiing waiting for the slopes to soften and then skiing them as they did but before they turned to mush. Closing day just about summed it up where we spent the day skiing the Polar Peak Chutes in bluebird conditions as they just got softer and then retiring to the deck of the Grizz to drink beer in the sun.
So overall a fantastic season with the highlights for me -
Getting caught in a cat 2 avi and only getting buried up to my neck and getting away with just a lost ski, hopefully to be found in the spring melt.
Seeing the Monster Enemy Lines event actually run from the Lizard Head Wall.
Skiing something new (Sean's Chute) only to be tried with a 4 metre plus base to mellow the choke.
Getting my new pair of DPS 112 Wailers (my first full rocker skis) and having to learn new skiing techniques to get the best from them.
The hill staying in such great shape even though the season snowfall of just over 10 metres was no more than average.
Just being here when we thought we wouldn't be.
Lowlights were few and far between but -
More people than ever throwing garbage (particularly beer cans) on the hill. I guess it won't stop until they start pulling the passes from these morons.
The new habit of people skiing round with music blaring out of their clothing. I have no problem if they listen to their I players but why should the rest of us be forced to listen to their music. Here I use the term music in it's widest sense as it usually seems to be rap, a music form where I think in the name the C is silent.
So as always it's a big thanks to everyone on the hill who works to make my time so enjoyable but a particular thanks to Patrol for risking your lives to keep us safe and all the girls serving in the Griz bar who look after us so well.
Finally I have received a number of emails telling me that my site is often used as a reference point by European skiers (particularly British) thinking of skiing Canada/Fernie for the first time. A word of warning - if you are looking to have a European ski experience in Canada Fernie isn't really the place for you, Whistler as an international resort is a much better bet but if you are looking for a uniquely Canadian skiing experience you might just have the time of your life. Fernie isn't a ski resort, it's a mining town with real people doing real jobs but it has a great ski hill which in the right conditions produces the best skiing (particularly steep tree skiing) in the world. The reason we get fantastic snow is that we are on the edge of two weather systems, the cold Arctic highs of the north and the warm wet winds from the Pacific, when they bump into each other over the East Kootenays the results can be spectacular. Equally it is quite possible for one or other of the systems to dominate giving us either cold days when the high barely gets above -30 or rain which can got all the way to the top of the hill at any time of the season. You could have the best week skiing of your life at Fernie or the worst. Also they don't groom powder here so if you can't ski deep powder and you are here in a snow cycle you will be spending a pretty miserable time floundering around on your back - good groomer skiing doesn't count for much in Fernie.
Anyone wanting further information please email me and I will be more than happy to exchange it for a pitcher of Kokanee in the Griz bar when you get here.
Have a great summer and watch for the fall update late September.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 46 Closing Day

As I forecast on Saturday night the closing day report has been delayed due circumstances beyond my capacity to drink beer. We really did tie one on yesterday to end the season in style.
Closing day dawned quite nippy at about -5 but was pure bluebird all day. This meant that we would be on icy groomers until things softened and then we would work the south facing slopes, staying well away from the north facing and the shadows which were going to stay hard and ugly all day. In the event that is exactly how it worked out so that is exactly what we did.
During the day temps rose so that in the direct sunlight they were in double figures but in the shade the up the mountain temps never got above +5. South facing slopes became soft and then mush and the whole lower mountain was pretty mushy. Luckily we still had a snow base of over 330 cms which has to be a near record for closing day so coverage was good and bare patches were only just starting to appear in the Meadow round the lift towers. One exception to this was the Bear Connector which did have some exposed rocks and as luck would have it I took a core shot in the new DPS Wailers just at the end of the day - annoying but repairable and as a buddy of mine says about skis "they are tools bot jewels".
Our attempt to go to the New Side was frustrated by a lift break down on Timber so we went to the Old Side. Even the groomers were pretty hard so we ran around Bear, Arrow, Dancer and into Cedar bowl just to cruise round and enjoy the spectacular sunny day. As things showed some signs of softening we went to the New Side where Puff was very hard and justified the decision not to try Lift Line and Big Bang which are much the same aspect. We arrived at the top of White Pass to find Polar Peak chair running but with a sign saying that only the Polar Coaster was open. When we got to the top of Polar Peak we found that the chutes has just that minute opened so in we went.
The first half dozen turns in the chutes made me think I had made a big mistake as they were icy, hard and badly rutted. As I moved to skiers left of Papa Bear I suddenly found things softening and had a great run back to the chair. After that things improved very fast with the quick softening and I ran Papa Bear again, Grand Papa (first tracks) and then Papa and too the base via Currie Powder and Gilmar Trail - everything was just nicely soft.
Next time up I tried Lift Line and Big Bang and wished I hadn't, they were hard, icy and uneven and probably stayed that way all day. We went back up Polar and ran Barely Legal (smooth and no problem with the rock band) Grand Papa and then Papa Bear and back to base and lunch as before. After lunch we took some time to watch the Slope Soaker which this year was held just by the deck of Corner Pocket. In my view the jump at the start had been built up to make sure that everyone got a lot of air and there was not much chance of making it across the water when you landed - all great fun with everyone in fancy dress and getting wet.
In the afternoon we were back up Polar for some more loops but by this time is was really mushy and in some places the snow was starting to run in streams. We  skied all the chutes several times and even took a run down the Coaster when they temporarily closed to chutes to get the toboggan to a skier who had injured herself by rag dolling down Papa Bear - a timely reminder that just because we treat these double black diamond chutes as a playground doesn't mean that they can't bite back sometimes.
We ran to base through a rather scratchy Diamond Back (particularly in the final pitch) before going back up for a couple more Polar loops including Mama Bear via my chute which by this time was super soft. We just had time to get across the Bear Connector (ouch) and up Bear in order to side step traverse across Easter and up into Skydive for the final run of the season. The sign line prevented us from taking the Reverse Traverse and although we might have got away with it on closing day I want to keep my boast that I have never ever knowingly skied a hard closure in my life. Skydive was a bit ribby and technical at first but from about the mid pitch down the skiers left side which had been in the sun softened and it was pretty mellow skiing all the way down for a great finish.
Closing days don't come much better with great skiing on Polar Peak and then hot sunshine to sit in on the deck and drink far too much beer with loads of buddies. Won't be long before we are doing it all over again. Watch this space for the season summary in the next few days, oh and somewhere overnight I passed the 100,000 hit mark on this blog since I started so thanks for the interest.