Saturday, December 6, 2014

Day 2 A reversal of fortunes between the Old and New sides

As the heading implies whist yesterday it was the Old Side that had the best condition, today, with a total reversal of fortunes the conditions on the Old Side deteriorated and the New Side threw down some pretty good skiing. The reasons for this have a lot of relevance to the current and future conditions on the hill and are worth exploring in a little more depth later.

Before that it's worth saying that today was opening weekend and in normal circumstances I would have expected it to be much busier than yesterday's Friday opening but in truth I didn't see it that way. The parking lots were a bit busier and the day lodge had more people in there but out on the hill if anything things were slightly quieter. I think this may have something to do with the fact that the weekend crowd comprised a lot of families and the kids racing teams whilst the rest of the hill was at or below business as usual. In any event there were no line ups and by the afternoon you could get pretty lonely on some parts of the hill.

Last night as we left the hill it was -7 but with an inversion. Overnight we had snow in the valley and they were claiming 4 cms of fresh at the snow plot in the last 24 hours which kind of backs up my estimates of yesterday's snowfall during the day. By morning the temps were -4 on the way to the hill and we soon found out that the inversion was still in place with just about plus temps at mid mountain. What this meant was our valley snow last night came down as drizzle and froze on the existing surfaces at mid mountain with colder conditions both above and below, or at least that's my interpretation of what happened.

The result on the Old Side was that yesterday groomers were regroomed as crunchy icy snow, where the snow hadn't been groomed yesterday but was groomed overnight you had some rather mellow soft grooming but where the snow had been soft and untouched yesterday and hadn't been groomed it was hard going with a stiff icy surface on heavy untracked snow - real hard work. The New Side being much higher was above the drizzle line and continued to have good soft snow although in warming temps later in the day this got quite heavy. My view of the New Side was much enhanced by some significant new openings but more of those later.

We went to the Old Side and just like yesterday found closures for Boomerang, Cedar Ridge, Snake Ridge and Easter Bowl although this was opened later. Of course lots of the lower mountain runs such as Kangaroo and Linda's were closed due to lack of coverage. We poked around Lizard, Bear, North Ridge and Cedar bowl for a couple of hours and found the conditions exactly as described above, icy groomers and what had yesterday been nice soft powder turned to ice crust on soft snow.

We went to the New Side and found things much improved although running back off White Pass was mostly restricted to the main core but snow there remained soft with no real icing on the surface. Currie bowl was open for the first time with a warning (promise to my way of thinking) that there was no grooming in the bowl. The promise was good and we had few nice runs through Currie Powder, Down Right and 1-2-3s which were all super soft fun and way better that the way they ski later in the season when they have had the hell groomed out of them. We went to  a late lunch.

It is worth mentioning the weather conditions here, It had been overcast all day and we had flurries. drizzle off and on all day. With the inversion this meant skiing in rain at mid mountain and then being frozen as you dropped into the colder air - this all made for some pretty frustrating conditions. Late afternoon conditions socked in really hard so that the whole of the upper mountain and particularly White Pass was in zero viz and the precip came and went anything from snow to rain depending on elevation.

In the afternoon session I poked around White Pass and particularly tested the extent of the area by getting to the closure lines such as taking the Idiot Traverse out to try for Surprise Trees but having to drop just after Fiery Hornet. The skiing was very good, particularly in the ungroomed areas of Highline even if the viz was a bit challenging.

At the end of the day we had the opening we were looking for on the far side of Currie bowl and took the Reverse Traverse out to Skydive for the closing run. The traverse was in ok shape for early season and even if the bridge on the way appears to have collapsed it was still ok. From the top of Skydive it looks like loads of glading had been done in the trees going over towards Easter/Lizard and this looks like there will some great lines in there when we get just a bit more snow. We tried Skydive and had some great skiing in the top section although it was a bit bushy. As we got down the run the snow got super heavy in the warming temps and we were quite relieved to see the closure signs at the Megasarus trail to give us the excuse to bail into Easter, I really wouldn't have fancied trying what would have been tight bush whacking in snow that heavy.

We finished and had a few beers with buddies. On the way back from the hill temps were about zero in the valley and at last the inversion seems to be going and we will back to the good old 2 degree temp loss per 1000 ft gained. A fair amount of precip is called for tonight which if things go well could be 10-15 cms of snow but it could come as rain or not at all, everything is very confused at the moment.

Whatever happens we will be skiing it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Day 1 and we have lift off

Ok, so that's the last reference to space talk this season, from now on it's pure skiing. And for those who don't want to spend their time reading a long ski report the summary is that we had a pretty good, no make that very good opening day. Of course other more official sources may talk about "awesome" and "fantastic" skiing but the truth is was that it was just very good, but Fernie's very good is way better than the superlatives of other ski hills so I am one happy bunny after day 1.

It was a nice -7 on the way to the hill today and it probably stayed at about that all day and was exactly the same temp driving back from the hill this evening, of course this just could mean that the gauge on the truck is broken but I suspect not. During the day we had a warming inversion which pushed up the mountain temps to around -3 which made for some very mellow skiing.

All day we had flurries of varying intensity which probably put down about 4 cms of snow, at least that was what the accumulation on the truck looked like at the end of the day. As it was overcast light was very flat but one of the few advantages of early season conditions with alders, bushes, logs and small trees pushing through the snow is that there are plenty of landmarks to see (and avoid if possible) so depth perception is not the problem it might be later in the season/

A lot of the hill was open with all of Lizard bowl and Cedar bowl open on the Old Side although Easter bowl, Boomerang Ridge, Cedar Ridge and Snake Ridge were all closed due to coverage issues. On the New Side Currie bowl was closed and the only real skiing was the White Pass core and the runs below to base. I guess about only 40% of the terrain was open but for opening day that isn't all that surprising and we should see rolling openings as the season progresses.

We hit the Old Side and skied all over Bear, North Ridge and Cedar Bowl. There was a hard ice base from last weeks rain where there had been grooming but mercifully a lot of the area hadn't been groomed and in those areas it was deep soft snow, enough for me to rate this as a full on powder day. Of course the first few runs were tough on the legs and it seemed as if we had forgotten how to ski but as we got our ski legs back we ripped around all over the Old Side and particularly on the margins of Cedar bowl. There were rather less crowds than I had expected and the upshot of that was that there were plenty of untracked lines to be had.

After lunch we tried the New Side and it was a little disappointing. Up in the Gun Bowl the snow was very good but lower down the ice base was pretty firm and the bushes in places like Highline Trees were a bit tight. Back on the Old Side we had to look harder for fresh lines and found them on the Sunny Side shoulder and by dropping the cutes off Bear into the top of Cedar and then cutting right into lower Cedar Ridge. By this stage of the day the legs were struggling to react fast enough to the undergrowth that was evident.

We ended the day by taking a few runs up and down Lizard bowl and finding fresh powder on the edge of Easter bowl. By that stage the legs were gone and a top to bottom run from Bear top to the locker room on groomers (which were pretty chopped up and more like free riding terrain) was about all I could manage non stop. After that it was a great evening in the Griz Bar meeting old friends and swapping stories of the summer and the days skiing. Now home and ready for an early night. I can't remember many opening days when I didn't even see a rock, let alone hit one.

The outlook is for a warming trend with a possibility of some snow/freezing rain tomorrow. After that temps hang around zero and we may get a rather big snow event Sunday night if forecasts can be believed. Looking beyond that there is quite a lot of snow in the forecast but as I always remind people "forecast" is the word they use to describe the numbers you choose on your lottery ticket and we know how often that turns out to be right.

Day 2 here we come.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

T minus 1 and exciting

Yes, only one day to go and this is what it is like to be a kid on the night before Christmas. We have taken all our gear to the hill (eventually) and stowed it in our lockers which is kind of the equivalent of hanging up your stockings and writing an note for Santa  and now it's just one more sleep and we will be there. No matter how many seasons I ski this feeling is always the same and always fantastic.

On the subject of Christmas we have got ourselves ready on that front - after all you don't want to miss out on skiing doing stuff that can be dome outside of the ski season. When it comes to Christmas I have strong opinions which is just another way of saying I am a grumpy old man. Actually Lynda says I have been a grumpy old man for the last 35 years that she has known me and the only difference now is that I look the part. I am of the firm opinion that no Christmas decorations, lights, parades, adverts, markets, fairs (and don't even get me on the subject of organisations that spell it with a "y") etc should take place before December 1st. So we now have the lights and decorations up and are ready for the festivities and doing it at the proper time.

Of course with no skiing we have had to amuse ourselves and it makes you realise just how boring life would be if you couldn't get out and do something in the open summer and winter. Most days we get to the Aquatic Centre for a swim otherwise it is to the Pub to see buddies or have a meal, hockey to watch the Riders or to the movie house - saw the latest Madagascar Penguins movie this week in 3D which should tell you all you need to know about our intellectual pretentions.

At home we have done all the odd jobs and of course there is always snow shovelling. The hot tub would usually be a source of entertainment but it still awaiting some warmer conditions to allow it to be fired up. There is the TV but with only TCM showing classic movies worth watching we don't watch much. The public library lends DVDs at one buck for 7 days which has to be the best value ever and most of their stuff is quality movies or TV so we do use that facility. I have managed to link an old lap top of mine up to the TV and arranged for it to access my UK Netflix account so I can get good quality TV and movies up to a point. Because of the age of the lap top I had to do this by way of a VGA cable and audio link rather than HDMI still it's ok and not a bad effort for an old luddite like me.

So what are the prospects for opening day. Well when I last reported we were in the middle of a big freeze up but with a warming trend in the forecast. Whilst it is true to say that things have got a bit warmer than the -30 temps of a few days ago (it was -13 as I drove back from the hill this afternoon) it is nowhere near as warm as it was forecast to get. They are now calling for temps of around zero daytime highs for the next 7 days with night time temps down to about -8 which allowing for the fact that it will be a degree or two colder at the hill will make for pretty much ideal skiing conditions.

We haven't had any real snow but to be fair none was forecast. That having been said when I look out on my decks which were cleared after the last big storm there appears to be about 3 or 4 cms of new snow laying about which has had the effect of making everything look really nice and Christmasy. This was particularly needed as, although we had a big dump of snow in the last storm the wind swept all the soft snow away and things looked pretty bare.

Today we went to the hill for a final look round before kick off and to put the last of our gear in the lockers. We are running a day behind schedule on this as the roads out of town were shut two days ago due to some very serious accidents on the highway which cut the hill off for most of Tuesday. On the way to the hill we could see a mist drifting in the air which could only mean one thing, pretty well every snow making machine was running full blast on the lower hill. The -13 temps were ideal for this as warmer than -4 makes snow making difficult and lower than -20 and it comes out so light it just blows away.

The hill looked in good shape for early season so I think we will have an ok opening day. A lot of the hill seems to have coverage although the whole of Snake Ridge seems to be swept clean. Most of the runs look like they have coverage and even the big three look as if they might be skiable with a bit of bush whacking if we are allowed out that far across Currie bowl. The web site says all the lifts except Polar Peak will be running but then the same web site is giving a count down to opening which ends at midnight tonight, wonder what would happen if I turned up at midnight and demanded that they open the hill. We just hung out, met a few buddies and played hunt the transceivers in the snow. I am always amazed at how many people strap on their transceivers each year without testing them or indeed testing themselves to see if they know how to undertake a transceiver search in the event of a burial.

So now it's just a case of have a few beers at the pub and pick up any gossip about opening day before coming home for an early night and an early start. No need to set the alarm as just like kids on Christmas morning we will be up early and ready to go. First report due tomorrow evening.

Monday, December 1, 2014

T minus 4 and freezing

Yes, opening day is getting nearer and full on winter is now with us. Today the forecast was for -10 and sunny but as I drove back from town a few minute ago I noticed it was -20 and snowing and as I look out on the back deck it is showing no sign of it letting up.

Things are moving slowly on the home front to get everything in place for the rest of the season.  The outstanding matters now are - getting the hot tub fired up (should have happened today but because of the temps it was a non starter and will probably have to be put back a week) get credit cards from the bank (just awaiting the cards to be delivered to the branch this week) and take our newly tuned and serviced skis to the hill to put in our lockers (along with helmets, powder traces, water proofs etc and everything you need for a season at Fernie). The way these last few things are going we should have them all done by the end of next week - nothing happens very quickly in Fernie.

During the rain last week I checked my waterproof gear and found it was looking a bit leaky. I took a trip to Canadian Tire and invested 20 bucks in a yellow plastic rain suit. I always hope that I won't have to use this stuff but every season we have a couple of days at least when it rains all over the hill and on those days forget you expensive ski gear and go for a cheap plastic jacket - there is nothing more waterproof than plastic. I am now ready for the inevitable downpour when it happens.

When I last reported we were in the middle of a huge rain event and temps were well above zero but with predictions of a cool down. When the weather changed no one really expect the dramatic weather event that hit us on Friday night. When we entered the Pub at about 6 o'clock it was +3 and raining just like it had done for the previous 48 hours. When we left after only a couple of pints (ok so it might have been 3) it was -16, snowing hard and blowing about 70 klicks so the conditions were total white out. Those condition held all night and temps dropped to -25 (-35 on the wind chill) so that by morning we had 40 cms of snow with much more in the drifts. The very wet roads froze to sheet ice which is still there and for 24 hours the highways were closed and Fernie was cut off.

Since that time it has been brutally cold with the mercury getting down to -31 with no wind chill. Today was forecast to be the start of a warming trend with no precip and as I have already said it has stayed down at -20 and has been snowing all afternoon. The forecast remains as a warming trend between now and opening, with maybe some more snow to come.

The hill is reporting about a metre snow base which should give us ok early season coverage although I will be staying on my rock skis until I have been over every inch of the hill without any major damage. I would imagine that there would be some quite deep stuff in the bowls but on the runs where there are alders I suspect we will be bushwhacking for a while yet. The web cams are showing an ok picture for this time of the year and always worth checking out if only because the one from Bear load is titled Great Bear Bottom and no one else seems to find this funny like I do. All this is speculation and the real report on conditions will follow the first day's actual skiing.

Entertainment has comprised going to the hockey (Riders won 6-3) and going to the pub to chat with ski buddies. I am also spending some time sitting around at home in my ski boots (as I am now) to get ready for the season. I know some boot fitters don't agree with using the boots around the house like this but my view is that it is more to get your summer feet into winter shape and not a lot to do with the boots so it's worth the effort.

Finally the number of hits on the blog is rising daily and I am even getting a few emails. The most common question I get asked is a variation on "I am coming to Fernie, when should I come to be guaranteed powder snow". Of course there is no answer to this question but with 4 years of blogs under my belt I am now just suggesting that people go back into the archives and read my reports for the time they intend coming. This still won't help as they will be contradictory and past weather is no good in predicting the future but at least it means I don't have to stick my neck out and it sounds as if I know what I'm talking about.

Be ready for a final report on the day before opening and then after that we will be in to the real thing.