Saturday, December 13, 2014

Day 9 back to the New Side

First I must start this evening's blog with an apology. I have been given to understand that my sense of humour (particularly in respect of lift closures) may have caused some offence in certain quarters. If I have caused any offence I am truly sorry as my purpose in life ( just like Lord Reith when he ran the BBC) is to inform and entertain, not to offend. That having been said, as far as I am aware there is no law requiring anyone to read my blog and if you don't like my sense of humour perhaps it is best not to read it - simples. Now, returning to the main theme of tonight's symposium.........

We started to feel the effect of the cooling trend this morning so that the temp on the deck was only +1 which is way warmer than you would expect at this time of year but cooler than of late. It rained all through the night and in certain conditions, rain falling into a +1 temp would come down as snow. Unfortunately as the precip was coming down from a warm air mass I think that even if temps had been zero or below we would still have got the rain.

On the way to the hill it was still +1 and the forecast for the upper mountain was around -2 which I think worked out about right. In normal circumstances you would be able to look up the hill and see the rain line but the cloud base was so low (about the top of Elk) that you just couldn't see the upper mountain and these overcast and foggy conditions came and went all day giving some very variable viz.

As I predicted the Timber Chair was open so we had access to the New Side for the first time in four days. The snow line started about half way up Timber so that by Timber top we had wet snow which came and went all day. My assessment of the conditions in White Pass was that the rain of the past few days had fallen all the way to the top beating the surface flat and then freezing but not that hard into quite a firm base. On top of that about 5 cms of fresh wet snow had fallen giving some ok conditions but some quite ribby conditions up high.

The rain on the lower mountain had taken it's toll so that there was no way out of Currie Bowl as all trails were without snow. The only ways off the New Side were Falling Star, one of the central cat tracks or down loading on Timber Chair. We spent the morning looping White Pass and taking runs out to Surprise Trees and Anaconda Glades where the skiing was surprisingly good. The downside was that the only way out of Anaconda was Trespass Trail back to White Pass which as I have often said is the only trail on the hill which is up hill in both directions.

The last run before lunch we hit out to Corner Pocket which was open even if the Concussion side of the bowl wasn't and had some great skiing in the chute and the soft untracked heavy powder underneath. The ski out along Dancer was very twiggy and with big bare patches.

In the afternoon it was back to the New Side for a few more loops through Surprise (very heavy down low) and Anaconda which was still a long slog back. I tried the traverse out to Decline which was good at first and then very heavy just before the Megasaurus  ski out. Corner Pocket was still good and we put a couple of runs down there but always hit left to get the best snow below the chute - the Dancer ski out still sucked.

Final run of the day and we took the Reverse Traverse all the way out to the top of Skydive and the traverse was in surprisingly good condition. At the top of Skydive we decided to drop over into the new gladed area above Window Chutes which were ok heavy twiggy skiing but will be great when the snow comes. We exited via the right of Easter bowl which was all a bit technical but again showed good prospects for when the snow comes.

All in all not a bad day made just about acceptable because of the upper mountain terrain that was available to us in White Pass. The lower mountain continues to deteriorate and it is now more a question of what is open, rather than what is closed when looking for ways off the hill. Nothing much promised in the forecast.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day 8 nothing really new to say

That about sums it up as with conditions just about the same as they have been all week and only the same runs open on the hill there is very little to say except everything has got just that bit worse as you would expect. Anyone who knows me knows that I wouldn't let a little matter like lack of material prevent me from having at least some kind of say on what is happening.

Once again overnight temps stayed high and it was +4 on the deck this morning and as we drove to the hill. During the day we had plus temps all day but a cooling trend set in and by last run I would have thought it was about +1 up the hill and the surfaces which have been melting for 5 days were starting to set up. As we drove away from the hill we had +2 in the valley which probably means minus temps at the top of the hill for the first time this week and it could be the start of the end of the Pineapple Express that has dominated the weather this week.

Overnight it rained and the rain once again had it's effect over all of the hill reducing the base to 85 cms. The hill is now in a sorry state with bare patches on most of the lower mountain and all the runs needing attention to navigate between the bare patches. Very little was open with the New Side closed again. On that subject I am told (surprise surprise) that the Timber Chair will be repaired in time for the weekend crowds, anyone want to bet a jug of beer that it will need to be taken out of service on Monday when they have gone ? At least we should get two days up in White Pass to see what conditions are like.

On the Old Side Lizard was open out to Dancer and Cedar to Trillum. This tells an artificially optimistic story as within those boundaries many (you might say most) runs were closed due to poor coverage and many that were open had bare patches and some very twiggy sections. During the day things got worse as it rained most of the morning and the marginal conditions on all the runs became more marginal as a combination of rain and warm temps eroded the skiing surface.

Just like yesterday I set up a loop of Bear Chair, Bow Trees and then alders, Bear Chair, chutes into Cedar and then the trees to the right of Cruiser, Haul Back, Lower Linda's (getting very sketchy but lots of moose tracks to be seen), Boom Chair and Sunny Side shoulder to Bear Load. It took about an hour and was very sketchy in places, particularly in Sunny Side where the lack of available terrain meant that I was more or less skiing a GS track of my own line as it was the only way through the alders.

We did a few variations via Bear main run and North Ridge/ Emily's but to be quite honest we were scratching around looking for something to do. As I said the final run down Bear showed conditions setting up in the colder temps.

No one seems to know what the future holds. There is general agreement that it will get colder and we will have some precip but apart from that there is no consensus. We may have a huge dump of snow on the back of this weather system (which we desperately need) or it may just get colder which would make for brutal icy and rocky conditions with no coverage. No need to say which I hope for.

A personal message to my next door neighbour who I know sometimes reads this blog. You have left your back deck light on which is starting to annoy us when we are in the hot tub. If you are not down this weekend I will remove the bulb and leave it on your deck to save you money and me aggravation. Good beers in the Griz tonight and hockey tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Day 7 at least it didn't rain much while we were skiing

When the best thing you can say about the day is that "at least it didn't rain much while we were skiing" then you get an idea that the conditions were not exactly champagne. Overnight temps stayed high and it was +4 on the way to the hill. During the day we had temps of  +7 all over the hill , or maybe more, and even as we drove away tonight it was +3 so everything was going to even more mush. We had some light drizzle around the middle of the day but that was the extent of the precip and hence our great delight.

During the night it rained, and I mean it really rained. This was confirmed by the damage that had been done to the hill and the fact that a rain line was just about discernible at the very top of the Lizard Headwall which was way higher than we were ever going to get today. On the official web site this morning it showed a base of 83 cms which would roughly accord with what I would expect to see after a night of rain on the hill. All the boards at the lifts showed 92 cms and when I asked why this was I was told that this was the number the lifties had been told to put down. Tonight when I got in I went the official web site and was surprised to see that the base was now recorded at 92 cms. So what happened ? a genuine error in this mornings recording, an accumulation of 9 cms on a day with no precip or someone trying to gerrymander the figures  - I leave it to you guys to make up your own minds.

As we rode the Elk ( Timber is in it's third day down for repair and so no New Side again) we noticed the reason for the crappy conditions. Someone has chopped down the underwear tree by the lift where we throw various under garments as an offering to the Griz. Crappy conditions will continue until such time as a new tree can be found and new offerings made. This is a bit of a young person's thing as no one wants to see old pairs of my Y fronts thrown onto a tree so come on guys and girls, agree a tree and get sacrificing.

There was a little more open today with the High Lizard Traverse on one side and the High Cedar Traverse on the other but only as far as the far side of Cruiser open. In between Boomerang, Linda's Bear Chutes etc. were still all closed for coverage. This was desperately limited terrain but the groomers were ok and the off piste we could get to was heavy spring skiing. The result of the rain was that we were through to bare earth in many places and the skiing could at best be described as poor.

We invented a loop which took us up Bear and then skied Bow Trees and the ungroomed areas of Bow off to the skiers right. Up Bear again and drop the chutes at the top into Cedar, cross Alpine Way and then in the trees down to Cedar Centre and Haul Back. Lower Linda's to Boom Chair and then track across to the Sunny Side shoulder and drop that to Bear and begin again. The loop took about and hour and with the only alternative skiing groomers (too horrible to contemplate) that is what we did all morning and I did all afternoon.

Never confuse the fact that because the terrain is limited you won't do much skiing. On today's limited terrain I had just over 6 hours of hard skiing, mostly off groomers. That what you can do with limited terrain if you put your mind to it. The skiing was actually soft spring skiing higher up and heavy slow mush lower down made all the more interesting by bushes, trees, twigs and alders making route decisions so much more interesting. This was particularly true on Sunny Side which I guess was technically closed for skiing but the signs were so far in you were committed by the time you saw them.

As I am typing this it is raining hard again at plus temps and the hill won't be able to take much more of this. The good news is that we are due a cool down tomorrow night with maybe some snow so fingers crossed. Tonight after beers with buddies in the bar we had our first hot tub of the season on the back deck which was just perfect. Time for a glass of wine and see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 6 not as bad as I expected

But before we all go off celebrating the wonderful ski conditions in Fernie it worth first understanding just how bad I expected things to be on the hill today.

As anticipated the temps stayed at about +5 in the valley overnight meaning that they probably stayed at plus temps all the way to the top of Polar Peak. During the day the temps rose a bit so that by mid afternoon we had +7 all over the hill and even as we were driving away tonight we were getting +4. In other words the warm up that was forecast hit us full on just as anticipated.

We had hoped that the rain would hold off, but that was not to be. During the night I woke a couple of times to hear rain beating down on the roof and in the morning it was still coming down pretty hard. Given the temps I had no doubt that it would be raining to the top of the hill and the evidence of our own eyes when we turned up to ski tended to confirm this. It was so bad that we delayed going to the hill for half an hour which proved to be a good move as the heavy rain stopped just about the time we arrived and as forecast and stayed away for the rest of the day.

Our fear was that the rain would mean a further loss of terrain (not that there was much to lose) and a massive deterioration in conditions. In the event we did have the loss of terrain but the conditions didn't deteriorate as much as I feared but were still pretty crappy.

When we got to the hill all that was open was Bear, some parts of Lizard below Tower 6 trail, North Ridge, Emily's (only access to Haul Back) and that was it apart from a few bits of the lower mountain below those areas. I reckon this to be less than 5% of the advertised terrain. In the afternoon The near side of Cedar bowl and Arrow opened giving some minor increases in skiable terrain but still only a tiny fraction of the ski hill.

In these circumstances there was very little skiing we could do and almost no ungroomed snow. The groomers (mostly Bear, North Ridge, Emily's, Lower Lynda's and Lower North Ridge) were soft rain affect mush on a hard base and some quite nice skiing. In places where the grooming had been done in warm temps and then frozen overnight there were some very uneven and rutted lines. In other places where the groomers had dug too deep we were down to rock and dirt so it would come as no surprise that today I was back on my rock skis.

The only ungroomed opportunities were soft mushy spring skiing which is better done with a 4 metre snow base in April than now in December with a sketchy covering. On that subject the overnight rain had reduced the official snow base to 93 cms but that was at the snow plot and in many places on runs today it was zero. We tried Lower Bow ( surprisingly ok) and Sunny Side shoulder (very soft and mushy and hard skiing in tight twiggy lines) Later in the day when Cedar opened we tried the skiers right of Cruiser which skied like good spring skiing and was ok on account of the good brush removal work that has been done in the summer on the lower section.

Honestly, that was it, a very repetitive day on limited terrain which produced ok groomers (what there were available) and some very heavy spring like off piste. Doesn't look like we will get Timber chair repaired in time for tomorrow so looks like much more of the same for the next 24 hours. After that we hopefully see a cooling trend with precip in the form of snow but we have had such a beating over the past few days I will believe it when I see it.

On a positive note the bank has finally come through with credit cards that appear to work and the hot tub is fired up although it won't be warm enough to use until tomorrow - party party.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Day 5 not very good but could be worse

Lets deal with the "could be worse" part of the title first. The west coast of BC is being hit by a Pineapple Express ( a warm wet whether event) which is dumping rain on the coast and moving inland. As of late afternoon today Fernie had experienced the warming trend but not the precip. So in that respect things could have been a lot worse. Looking at why things are not very good you have to look at three aspects of the current skiing, available terrain, current weather and ski conditions. dealing with them in order -
Available Terrain - As anticipated yesterday the Timber Chair is down for maintenance and will be for at least the next two days meaning that the whole of the New Side is Closed. On the Old side everything beyond Dancer in Lizard is closed as is everything beyond Trillium in Cedar. In the Old Side triangle Cedar Ridge, Boomerang, Bear Chutes, Linda's and all associated runs are closed. In effect we have less than 20% of the total terrain available, by my calculations, and an awful lot of that just groomers.
Current Weather - as stated we have a huge warm up with temps today on the way to the hill +3 and on the way back +4 with even up the mountain temps getting up to +5 or more during the day. The rain may have held off for the most part today (although it did drizzle a couple of time all over the hill) but this evening it is raining hard in the valley. Temps suggest that this will be the case all over the hill, or at least for the limit parts available to us.
Ski Conditions - as a result of all of the above the skiing could at best be described a spring skiing which is ok in April with a 4 metre snow base but in December with only one metre at the snow plot and less than half of that over most of the hill it leaves something to be desired. The groomers were ok soft snow but everything else was soft mush getting mushier as the day wore on or as you skied to lower elevations on any given run.

With so little to entertain or challenge I strapped on the DPS Wailers for the first time this season - say what you like about the limited skiing , there wasn't much chance of hitting rocks anywhere. With 112 under foot they felt like big stable charging platforms, and that was exactly how they were used all day.

Lynda decided to take a rain check on the grounds that "there would be better days to ski this season" and really who could argue with her. Actually anybody who has ever tried to argue with her about anything might say that but in this case she had a point. All day, all I could do was to loop Bear chair and Boom Chair taking what variations I could find. For the most part they were -
Bear - and all groomers like North Ridge, firm, taking and edge with slush on top, ok if you like that sort of thing.
Cedar - to the skier's right of Cruiser there seems to have been a lot of undergrowth work done during the summer and it is now a nice open piece of freeriding terrain all the way down from the chutes just off the Bear chair to the Cedar Centre trail.
Cedar Ridge - good untracked snow in the top but very heavy low down in all four of the routes I took down. By mid point the snow balls were sloughing hard and the turns were a real piece of heavy work in the melted snow.
Linda's - ok in the top but so heavy by the mid point that we bailed into Lower Boom Ridge and even that wasn't a stroll in the park with super heavy untracked snow.
Bow and Bow Trees - the trees appear to have been gladed and were ok but heavy. Below Tower 6 trail it all just became hard wet work with alders to make things just that bit more interesting.
Cascade and beyond - the few runs to the far side of Lizard just produced either twiggy soft groomers of super soft ( and closed) ungroomed runs.

Today was just about on the lower end of ok skiing even by early season standards. Tomorrow, assuming no new terrain is opened will probably be a lot worse. As I am typing this the rain is falling hard on my back deck and at +4 is probably falling all the way to the top of the hill. Even if the snow plot shows new snow tomorrow it will only be for the very uppermost parts of the available terrain and everything else is likely to be pretty crappy. I will go to the hill as I have a season's pass after all what else would I do but if I was going to have to pay for tomorrow I don't think that skiing would be high on my agenda - let's hope that by some miracle I am proved wrong.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 4 still pretty good but getting worried

Yes, we had another ok day but for a variety of reasons, some weather related, some more environmental I am getting worried that the next few days are not going to be exactly what you might describe as vintage.

Overnight they recorded another 3 cms of fresh snow raising the base to 101 cms - bear in mind that this is just at the mid mountain weather plot. On the way to the hill temps were about -1 and up the mountain temps a few degrees colder. During the day base temps got up to +1 but my take was for most of the hill it stayed at, or just below zero. Conditions were overcast with a very low cloud base (only about a quarter of the way up the hill) and even though this raised to almost White Pass top by the afternoon, just like yesterday, it dropped rapidly as temps cooled in the late afternoon.

We arrived to find that due to a misfire on the snow control explosive charge White Pass would not be opening until 10:15. This accords with the hill policy of leaving a charge for 1 hour to make sure that it really has failed to explode. We went to the Old Side which as I expected had no  exciting prospects away from the groomers and with much of it still closed (Boomerang, Cedar Ridge, Snake Ridge etc.) we just poked around the groomers and the side line soft snow until we could go to the New Side.

On the New Side things were much like yesterday with everything socked in and White Pass core providing some good soft if rather tracked skiing. Our runs all day down from Timber top to White Pass base were always through Puff and as the day wore on we pushed further towards Lift Line and got as much soft deep untracked skiing as could be got without obviously crashing the closed signs.

After a run through Surprise (ok but chunky) and Anaconda ( still soft in places) we went out to the Saddles to see if they were open and to our surprise they were. The rest of the morning was spent looping to base through Corner Pocket which was excellent, High Saddle which was a bit scraped out and Corner Pocket again before lunch. The skiing below the Saddles was a mix of avi debris and deep untracked snow and whether or not you could find the best stuff depended on the light as you dropped the chute. Last time before lunch in some super flat light I put my tips in the back of an invisible 3 ft culvert and had a bad case of premature ejection in both skis with a summersault to boot. Well it was my first fall of the season so I thought I should make it a good one.

After lunch I went back for more of the same (minus the double ejection) and skied Surprise Trees (still a bit crusty for the last few turns), Anaconda Glades second chute (chunky but good) and Corner Pocket in the best light of the day which made the stuff underneath visible so we could just ski awesome powder. After a few more runs back through White Pass which were all acceptable soft snow we finished on a Corner Pocket rip and again were not disappointed by the soft snow below. No one was skiing the Saddles today and this is such a change from high season when they are usually trashed by half way through the morning.

Of course we had a few beers in the Griz with friends.

The outlook is not good from a weather point of view as we have a Pineapple Express (a warm rain event) hitting the coast and moving inland. Our best hope over the next few days is that we get a warm up but with no significant precip, our worst fear is that we get warm rain top to bottom for a couple of days. All this is made worse because we have been told that the Timber Chair will be down for at least two days while they do vital work to it to keep it going which presumably they couldn't do in the 6 months of the summer when it wasn't in use. This means that the whole of the New Side will be shut down and the highest elevation skiing which sometimes gives us some good powder in the rain events will be unaccessible. If we do get rain we will have a couple of days splashing around on the Old Side in truly horrible conditions so lets keep our fingers crossed.

Watch this space for reports on just how bad (or not) it gets. For what it is worth we had zero degrees and wet snow as we drove on the way back from the hill tonight

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Day 3 and I call it dead right - I think

When we woke up this morning there were puzzling and to some extent contradictory signs about conditions on the hill. I am delighted to say that as far as I am concerned I called things dead right and had a great day's skiing from bell to bell on good powder snow with many untracked lines.

The first problem was that as far as I was aware we didn't have any precip in the valley last night although it may have happened when I wasn't looking as I did spend the evening in and had an early night. The snow report from the hill showed 9 cms of fresh bringing the base up to 101 cms and as we arrived at the hill there was a clear rain line (or snow line depending on how you look at these things) at about half mountain height. Temps were about zero on the drive to the hill and as predicted we were back in the standard pattern of an adiabatic lapse rate - there, that impressed you, it's just a fancy way of saying it gets colder as you go higher and the air gets thinner.

This told me that the Old Side would be pretty poor. I did get a report during the day that "the groomers were really nice" but those of you who know me know that this is an oxymoron as far as I am concerned and skiing groomers isn't nice, it isn't even skiing in  my view. A later report from people I trust said that everything off the groomers on the Old Side sucked and this sounds more like what I would have expected. We went to the New Side and stayed there all day and as a result had some fantastic skiing.

The temps up top were about -4 and probably stayed below zero just about all day. The conditions were overcast with a low cloud base which gave almost zero viz in White Pass and half way down the White Pass core. This lifted a bit during the day so that by mid afternoon the base was just about at White Pass top but this descended quickly late afternoon as temps dropped. We even had a little precip in the form of icy snow late afternoon but it was nothing to get excited about.

We spent the first session until elevenses skiing the White Pass core usually through the Gun bowl, Highline variations and Heartland or the line under the lift. The viz seemed to deter many skiers so we had lots of untracked lines in the new snow which on the previously untracked base seemed to ski a lot deeper than 9 cms. With Curry Bowl open we tracked out the Alpha Centauri and had great soft deep untracked skiing all the way down which was good until Gilmar Trail which was sketchy and got a lot more so as the day went on.

After a break we noticed that the sign line before Surprise Trees appeared to be down and went to investigate - it was and we could access Surprise Trees and Anaconda Glades. The first chute of Surprise was untracked and I laid down first tracks of the season in some awesome powder. Lower down there was a little rain crust and one track came in ahead of me from the right but with a lot of speed you could just push through - hard work though. I had noticed that Anaconda had been open on the way past and the next three times round we just did Anaconda to base loops going one chute further each time getting some great deep skiing even if it was a bit twiggy. Looks like some good glading work has been done in Anaconda which might make for some really good skiing later in the season. Loops down to White Pass were always through Puff which was also good deep powder but very twiggy.

Last run before a very late lunch was a trip out to Decline where there was only one track in front of me so lots of deep untracked powder. Like yesterday things got a bit heavy towards the Megasaurus Trail and as the run was closed below that I was happy to bail into lower Easter which confirmed all my worst fears of the Old Side being heavy elephant snot off the groomers.

After lunch Lynda took a break so I just went back to some Anaconda loops which were still very lightly tracked and very good skiing. Gilmar Trail was getting very sketchy by now but that's just the price you have to pay for enjoying the good stuff. Last run of the day I pushed out along the Reverse Traverse to Concussion and found lots of untracked snow by taking tight lines to the undergrowth and the lower sections which might have been crusty had enough traffic to have made them nice chopped up powder.

Met more buddies in the Griz Bar to celebrate the best day so far. This could be a high point as it is forecast to warm with no significant precip so things could go a bit pear shaped in the next few days. The real problem is that the big dump we had just before the hill opened came down at -24 so the snow was light and has not had any effect on the undergrowth, What we really need is a big dump of high moisture good old Sierra Cement to beat the bushes down and start to slide to bend the alders over. With the forecast warm up maybe that is what we will get, who knows.