Saturday, January 3, 2015

Day 30 a cause to celebrate

The reason to celebrate today is that when I was working (over 10 years ago now) 29 was the most number of days I ever managed to ski in a year by way of vacation. Today I have passed that number with about 6 good powder days (more than I ever got in a year when working) under my belt to boot. By my estimate there is well over 100 days of skiing yet to come - I love being retired.

Overnight the reports said that we had 4 cms of fresh which seemed about right but there was some increased build up in the wind affected areas. Forecasts were calling for some form of Armageddon with mercury temps of -15, a wind chill of -32 which could only mean a massive wind storm and a winter storm warning for the whole of the Elk Valley, in the event it was cold but nowhere near the conflagration forecast for the day.

On the way to the hill it was -14 as it was on the way back and up the top of Bear during the day I noticed a temp of -17. It was light snow/flurries all day which at that temp didn't give any great accumulation but the wind remained low so that the forecast wind chills never really came about. The exception to this was Polar Peak where the conditions were predictably brutal with no viz, howling wind, crusty icy snow and wind chill that did probably get to around -30.

We went to the Old Side and found that yesterday's wind had packed the snow in to a nice firm flatish base and the new 4 cms gave a pretty nice skiing surface everywhere went. We toured around New Lift Line and then for the first time this season dropped into the Gulch which was technically closed but we entered from the side and it was tight and technical with a very interesting exit where the stream wasn't covered. I did the obligatory lower Kangaroo which was the best deep soft snow on the hill but very very twiggy and not for the faint hearted.

We spent the rest of the morning in Cedar Ridge, King Fir, Linda's, Boom Ridge and Boomerang guts. In fact we were all over and it was all good light soft snow on a firm base with remarkably little traffic considering it was a Saturday.

This took us through to a late lunch after which it was a New Side afternoon.
Decline - just as good as ever getting even better in the lower section as the snow filled in.
Polar Peak - see earlier remarks, brutal, poor viz, icy and one good powder turn just above the Reverse Traverse.
Lone Fir - not bad soft snow in the chute but surprisingly hard pack in the fan with just a thin covering of fluff.
Spinal Tap - good, tough creek bed skiing in some nice accumulating soft snow but with early season hazards as they say.
Cougar Glades - really nice soft snow starting to accumulate.
Stag Leap - more good soft snow but the new fall in the lower section was just enough to cover the alder roots but were not enough to give you protection, result - a quick trip up, roll over and ski on.
Siberia Ridge - as before, wind affected in the top, sketchy in the choke and great soft free riding below.

It's worth mentioning the Reverse Traverse out to Skydive which has had some work done on it so it is way better than a few days ago but still no stroll in the park. So we got to 4 for the Skydive rip and with 4 of us there, it was great skiing in the top two sections but a bit twiggy in the last. Snow was still accumulating and on the upper sections of the run which were starting to give the effect of powder (sort of) skiing.

It's still snowing and we are still being threatened with all sorts of extreme weather. Temps are now -16 so who knows what tomorrow will hold.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Day 29 warmer but still pretty brutal

Yes, today the long awaited warm up started (and lets be honest we are not actually talking that warm) but conditions on the hill remained brutal due to the very high winds which close a lot of the hill for a considerable part of the day.

We got to the hill on time today but were delayed because Lynda needed to go to Quest to discuss a problem with the heel bindings on her skis that she bought there at the close of the season last year. They were fantastic, they replaced the binding straight away with no fuss and we were heading for the hill within 20 minutes of walking in the door. This is an outstanding example of excellent customer service and needless to say we will be buying loads more gear there as a result - judge for yourselves.

On the way to the hill it had warmed up to -8 and on the way home tonight it was -7 so it looks like the big freeze is over. We noticed that the Elk Chair was not running as we went to Quest and found out that the whole of the Old Side was closed due to 80 kph winds. The surprising thing was that the New Side was open as there is usually more wind over there and both Timber and White Pass chairs were running albeit in some very high winds.

During the day we had flurries off and on although it was difficult to tell what was coming down from above and what was coming in sideways on the wind. Viz was challenging to put it mildly and sometimes off White Pass you could hardly see the track into Currie bowl which didn't matter much as the wind held you back to not much more than a walking pace - get the picture ?

With only the New Side open we just did Currie loops -
Decline - wind affected but some ok sift in between the bumps on top but getting very soft in the lower section.
Skydive - as the wind had been left to right on Decline we figured that it would be better in Skydive and we were right, rather more sift in the run.
Stag Leap - using the same logic as before we tried Stag Leap and scored a bulls eye in the top with some great soft snow. Lower down it was just as twiggy and sketchy as it has been all season but then that's the price you pay for good skiing.
Cougar Glades - loads of sift dropped in between the trees as anticipated. Because we didn't need to shred close to the trees to get fresh snow we tried the more open right hand lines for the first time this season which were soft and mellow. For the first time this year I dropped the bottom section which was twiggy and just about on the right side of ok.

It is worth mentioning that even though only half of the hill was open this morning and there were some minor hold ups at the lifts, the places we were skiing were deserted. I may have seen a couple of people on the Reverse Traverse but on the actual runs I didn't see a sole all day except the buddies that I was skiing with.

In the afternoon we got word that some, and then all of the Old Side was open but we decided to stick with the New Side -
Decline/Window Chutes - Decline was filling in even more. Window chutes are now best accessed from the drop off down Megasaurus  trail and then a cut right into the creek bed, some great soft blow in snow.
Not so Secret Chutes/Spinal Tap - a straight drop off the top of Skydive into some great soft snow which got a bit tighter and a bit steeper as you went down. The right cut into Spinal Tap is still hard to find but worth it as the chute is getting more filled in with soft snow every day. even the creek bed is almost full of snow.
Siberia Ridge - just like before, wind affected in the top, crappy in the choke and wonderful soft terrain free skiing lower down.

The final rip was Skydive with 4 of us showing up for the party. Even more snow had blown in and it was predictably good in the top two sections but distinctly twiggy in the bottom third. One of the best rips of the season followed by beer.

On the way back from the hill it had started to snow quite hard and it is still coming down on the deck as I type this - a sign of things to come I hope.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Day 28 big freeze up 1 weather forecasters 0

Yes, the weather forecasters said that today would be the end of the freeze up and temps would warm up a bit. They were wrong, it was -18 on the way to the hill and -17 on the way back. Around mid day it got up to -14 at the base and all day it was a few degrees colder up the hill so all in all the big freeze up continued. All day the cloud came and went so light was bit challenging and of course with no new snow things remained hard, bumpy, tracked up all over the hill.

I haven't mentioned the base for a few days which is currently standing at 147 cms - as I have said before except in the very general sense this has little to do with the actual ski conditions but by this time of year I would usually hope for one metre more which would make things all a bit easier on the hill. There is some snow in the forecast but given the forecasters track record at the moment I am not exactly holding my breath.

With the weather this cold we stuck to our policy of three sessions with a hot choccy break and a late lunch break, it's the only way we can ski a full day in these temps.

Session 1 - We went to the Old Side and just like yesterday warmed up with runs down Bear in the bumps to warm us up. After a couple of runs we dropped new lift line in Cedar which was hard and bumpy and then worked our way back through lower Kangaroo which just like yesterday was soft deep snow but twiggy. The rest of the time was spent in Cedar Ridge, Boomerang, Boom Ridge and similar places which were very varied but mostly hard and bumpy with some vegetation.

Session 2 - We went back to the Old Side and tried some of the places we hadn't been yet. Sunny Side shoulder, Cedar Ridge Right, Linda's run, King Fir etc. All great skiing but just like everywhere else it was tough hard snow and ice with some technical skiing. It was nice to get back into some of these places and know that they were at least skiable albeit with care.

Session 3 - The looping of the Old Side took quite some time so we had a very late lunch and Lynda headed for home. I went out to the New Side and hit Decline which was bumpy in the top and good free riding all the way down to the bottom. The Reverse Traverse out to the big three (please don't call them the fingers) was still very sketchy with ice and some big drops to keep you on your toes, suits me as it keeps the crowds away. On a whim I tried Siberia Ridge and just like before found it wind affected in the top, a bit technical in choke and really good soft terrain related free riding in the lower section. So it was 4 o'clock and time for Skydive which was a mix of icy bumps, soft freeriding and technical twigs.

So in summary it remains cold with hard bumpy technical skiing being the order of the day but still with some soft snow stashes. We must hope for some of the promised new snow.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day 27 happy new years eve to everyone

Before I start today I have to make further point of clarification. After I posted yesterday how the conditions on the hill were much better for groomer skiers than my reports might suggest I have been asked by a number of buddies if I had been leaned on to make that statement. I can honestly say that the things I said were entirely off my own bat and in the interests of being fair which you all know is something that is very important to me. Furthermore any attempt to influence my opinion would be greeted with my standard response to such actions, i.e. F- off. so I hope that deals with any such speculation.

It warmed a bit today but not much so it was -18 on the way to the hill and -17 on the way back. During the day it warmed a bit on the hill and I noticed at the Polar Peak load at about noon it was -15 so it stayed pretty cold all day. It was another bluebird Arctic outflow giving hard cold freezing conditions. Like all these "sunny" days the light was great in the sun but as soon as you got in the shadow you got defused white light which gave very patchy viz during the day.

Again because of the very cold conditions with a good chance of frost bite we divide our day into three with a choccy break around 11 and a late lunch -

Part 1 - we went to the Old Side and noticed that skiers right of Bear hadn't been groomed and as a result was bumped up with hard challenging bumps. We took about three runs down in a straight line which was enough to get us warm. The rest of the time we looped Cedar Ridge, Boom Ridge and Boomerang which were hard, bumpy and tricky. The only soft snow was in the lower part of Kangaroo which was super soft but very twiggy.

Part 2 - after the choccy break we headed up the New Side. Polar Peak was open and we hit it twice coming down through the clown chutes (Crusty's) which was actually very crusty. The skiing was pretty crap being very wind affected but the views were spectacular. By some phenomenon I don't fully understand we were looking at mirages and the surrounding mountains with inverted images of those mountains imposed on the real thing - just awesome.  It was then a loop through Decline and that followed by a loop through Cougar Glades/ Stag Leap which was hard bumpy cold snow and just like yesterday.

Part 3 - Lynda went home and I did three New Side loops. New Chute off Skydive/Spinal Tap which was very good hard chunky skiing and very technical in the lower creek bed. Decline/Window chutes great skiing on top and very good deep snow in the chute and a bit technical after the choke.

Last run was Skydive and as usual it was very good in the first two sections and twiggy low down. I even had company for the first time in days (thanks Kevin) and it was pretty good. The only downside was on the ski out at the end which I was taking at speed when I lost the light and hit some newly made snow and stacked it big big time. Worst crash in years and bruises everywhere but nothing that will slow down the skiing, I hope.

Beers to celebrated New Year and a hot tub to soak away the pain. Like many locals I avoid the public places on holidays because of the crowds and will have a quiet New Year, emerging from the shadows in a day or two.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Day 26 a point of clarification

I think in fairness to all concerned that when I talk about conditions being tough and brutal (and I will certainly be doing that a little later on ) I am referring to the skiing off the groomers. As everyone knows I don't ski groomers, I don't even consider skiing groomers as skiing. That having been said I appreciate that a lot of people get pleasure out of this and to many it is the only "skiing" that they do. For those I would say that the groomers in Fernie at the moment are great from the limited experience I have of them getting from one place to another and if that is your thing don't be put off by what I say. If on the other hand your view of skiing is like mine, pin your ears back and listen.

On the way to the hill today it was -28 and a bluebird day. This is typical of an Arctic outflow as no moisture, visible or otherwise, can exist in air at that temperature. Up top it was probably only a couple of degrees colder but thankfully no wind at first. We were promised a warm up but when Lynda got to the hill at around 1 she had temps in the truck of -20 in the parking lot. By this time wind was starting to pick up particularly in White Pass and my guess would be that we had a wind affected temp of -30 before we headed off the hill at 4.

A special mention has to go to the lifties and the ticket checkers today. It was bad enough for those of us who were moving around in these temps. They had to stand around all day and even at the end of the day had a smile and a cheerful word for us nutters. Great work guys and girls, you are real stars.

I had decided that the day would be three modules with an early hot chocy break, a late lunch break and then beers afterwards. Each session was only going to give me time for a couple of runs in White Pass and a couple of loops to base before some of my most personal possessions (not going to mention them here) would be frozen forever.

Module 1 - drops from Timber to White Pass were always by Lift Line and always hard bumpy snow. A couple of runs up and down Gun Bowl and Highline confirmed that like yesterday the cold had given us hard ugly challenging conditions with some wind sift/ wind slab to surprise you from time to time. The first loop to base was via Decline which was ok hard chunky snow. The Reverse Traverse going out is getting very sketchy and whilst this doesn't bother me I would imagine it would be carnage if an intermediate group tried it. Next loop was Anaconda Glades which were really very soft and Bootleg Glades which were hard and bumpy with loads of alders on the exit.

Module 2 - After a break in Lost Boys CafĂ© it was up and down White Pass a couple of times with the same conditions. Loop one was down via Currie Creek which was good soft lightly tracked snow but very twiggy and technical on the exit. Next loop Stag Leap ( please note the singular) which was soft but very tight in the trees, great soft snow in the top but hard bumpy technical skiing where traffic (self included) had cut in from Cougar Glades.

Module 3 - After lunch Lynda joined me for the obligatory couple of runs down White Pass which were no better or worst than before. Next loop I went out to the new chute (name ?) at the top of Skydive and hit it all the way down to Freeway in some very variable conditions and tight bushes. I would like to say that this was me exploring but the truth was I just missed the traverse to Spinal Tap. On the off chance I dropped Siberia Ridge off Timber and found it wind affected in the top, ugly in the choke (as usual) but the best soft deep lightly tracked snow in the lower section even allowing for some new dead fall left there just to surprise you.

Last run of course was Skydive via the traverse which wasn't getting any better. Icy bumps in the top, good snow on freeriding terrain in the middle and some pretty twiggy stuff in the lower section. All in all a very tough days skiing in some pretty brutal conditions but actually these are the days when your skiing gets better, either that or you hurt yourself.

Loads of beers with buddies and then home to more beers and a hot tub. Temps driving back from the hill were up to -17 so maybe we are in for a warm up - lets see.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Day 25 very cold, hard skiing and brutal conditions - but great fun

As forecast we had no new snow and the Arctic high slipped in from Alberta with some strong winds giving some very cold conditions, made all the colder by wind chill. On the way to the hill this morning it was -14 and on the way back -19 never having got warm during the day. Temps tonight are due to go down to -25. The problem was the wind which was strong, particularly on the New Side and may have pushed the real temps to a further 10 degrees below the mercury. The other problem was that there had obviously been a big wind event on the hill and conditions were either scoured to a hard base, or wind sift, or (and this was the most common) ugly wind slab.

It was quite sunny off and on but the effect was to give defused white light in the areas not in direct sunlight making viz very difficult. The overnight freeze had made the snow hard and unforgiving and on terrain subject to a lot of skier traffic this just gave brutal skiing conditions. Add to this the fact that none of us ski well in these very cold conditions for three reasons - Firstly, we are so bundled up we can't move - Secondly, our muscles don't move as normal - Thirdly the body seems to burn energy just to keep warm so energy levels foe skiing are low. Finally poor and variable light made us all ski a bit back seat making for less controlled skiing and more strain on the legs.

Against the cold it was two pairs of thermal long johns, 5 layers under the ski jacket, woollen gloves in the powder mits with hot shots and a fleece balaclava showing no skin - I always find it funny how many people ignore the warnings and head up with exposed skin and are so surprised when they come down with frost bite - you can't fix stupid.  I was nice and toastie all day but still stopped for two breaks to thaw out.

We went to the Old Side and toured round Cedar Ridge, Boom Ridge, Boomerang and similar areas. As anticipated it was all hard chunky bumpy skiing which took a lot of effort. Lower Kangaroo was the only nice soft untracked snow and that was rather bushy. After a couple of hours of this we hit the New Side and got to understand the real meaning of cold as a mixture of greater altitude and stronger winds hit us. One loop down Decline confirmed that the Reverse Traverse had become a tough hard ice track and not a lot of fun. Decline itself was ok but much tougher than the last few days with the bumps and terrain very hard indeed.

After a hot chocy break I looped -
Cougar Glades/ Stag Leap - less slab in the glades due to tree cover but very hard bumpy chunky skiing in Stag Leap.
Decline - top to bottom again still very hard.
Skydive - ditto

After a late lunch there wasn't much time but I hit Decline/Window Chutes where the skiing in the chutes remains quite soft but everything else hard. Next was trip down the new gladed area off Skydive cutting right into Secret Chutes which aren't so secret any more. Spinal Tap was good challenge jumping in and out of the stream bed in the lower section. By that time it was 4 o'clock and time for the Skydive rip which I completed alone as no one else seemed to be around. It was pretty good but the lower section is now getting a bit technical in the hard snow.

I had intended to go to the hockey tonight but I just felt so beat up by the hill that I had a couple of beers and went home - couldn't even get out to the hot tub. The forecast is for even colder more brutal conditions tomorrow before a warming trend with some snow comes in towards the end of the week. Looks like a few early nights for me with most of the body complaining.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 24 not qute awesome but still very very good

Yesterday we were hoping for a big dump over night but it didn't quite happen. We had some snow overnight and the 24 hour fall figure was given as 37 cms of which I would estimate about 5 was fresh overnight. This still gave very good powder on yesterday's deep base and a mid mountain base figure of around 170 cms.

On the way to the hill today it was -6 and on the way back -9 with temps a good few degrees lower up the mountain. There was some wind adding to the chill and obviously there had been wind last night judging by the wind affected snow in places and the wind slab on the ridge lines at the top of most runs. Polar Peak chair remained closed due to  the wind chill and given the fact that conditions up there were brutal over the past couple of days and an arctic outflow is forecast I don't see us getting the Peak for several days.

As first full day of the winter break it was very busy and we only just managed to get parked in lot 2 at 8:30. Just like yesterday most of the crowds seemed to gather in the core areas or in the day lodge so that where we wanted to ski was not much busier than a normal weekend. The day lodge was ugly busy but then this is just a week when we have to suck it up and look forward to a quiet January. Lift lines were pretty big but by riding single you could keep delays at the loads down to reasonable numbers.

We went to the New Side where once again I figured the big waves would be. Don't panic Old Side fans, we intend to have at least a morning there tomorrow and will report. Riding singles to get up quicker we got to the top of White Pass in time to have early tracks back down Gun Bowl and Highline which were good deep snow and all that was available as everything else was closed. Next time Knot Chutes opened and I put first tracks in a soft and deep Tight Knot before heading over to Anaconda where the fence dropped and we had super deep powder in the second chute. The return to base was via Bootleg Glades which had deep powder in the near trees and was a bit twiggy lower down.

The rest of the morning was spent looping Currie with some very good results -
Cougar Glades - third track in which meant untracked skiing in the trees to the left. An exit into Stag Leap where there were a couple of tracks gave some really good powder as well.
Lone Fir/ Spinal Tap - a bit scrappy in the lower chute but good soft snow other than that and the fan was just awesome. Traversed Easter and hit Spinal tap which was very good in the creek bed and nice technical skiing on the shoulder of the creek lower down.
Decline/Window Chutes - Nice tracked powder in Decline and loads of untracked stuff in the Window Chutes, almost got taken out by my own slough in the choke.
Decline - great skiing with very few tracks in the lower section which is now pretty treeless.
The Brain - a few tracks in the top section and some places that needed big jumps into soft snow to get through. The lower section had some great pitches of deep untracked snow but after about 8 turns you had to stop and pick your way out of the deadfall before starting again.
Skydive - a last rip before a late lunch and it was very icy bumps at the top but becoming awesome soft snow freeriding for the most part and some rather technical jumping through alders in the lower section.

After lunch I skied with a buddy who wanted to try Lone Fir/Spinal Tap so we did again and it was just as good as before with very few additional tracks. We then dashed back from the top of White Pass when we got there to the top of Timber and then hit Siberia Ridge. The skiing was surprisingly good with a slightly sketchy area in the choke but no worse than usual and then some great terrain driven free riding in the lower section in soft deep tracked powder.

We got back up just in time for the final rip down Skydive. Things were just a bit more tracked but it was still really nice soft deep snow until the final section when it all became rather technical. That was one good day on the hill skiing fresh snow on a soft base with first tracks in many areas. The forecast is for maybe a little more snow then an arctic freeze down below -25. This will make the skiing very chunky and tough but with any luck will keep the crowds off the hill. More snow called for at the end of the week.

So some very good skiing in rather less crowded conditions than I anticipated.