Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day 37 a little powder goes a long way

We had no new snow overnight but were promised flurries today which did turn up. It was -12 on the way to the hill and -6 on the way back. Things warmed up steadily during the day although I don't remember seeing anything much above -8 anywhere on the hill at any time during the day. As we got to the hill it started snowing and continued with light snow all day up until mid afternoon during which time I estimate we got about 3 cms of snow although it could have been a couple more. It was still pretty chilly and needless to say conditions remained overcast all day.

We went to the Old Side to se what it was like and had a couple of runs down the bumps on the side of Bear just to get the legs going and these were quite hard but taking and edge. We poked around Boomerang (hard ugly icy bumps) New Lift Line (some ok skiing on top but hard bumps below) Boom Ridge (lots of breakable crust which made me glad I had skied so much crust yesterday to tighten up the technique) and Boomerang again (just like before) before I decided to try my luck on the New Side. In fairness this was early in the day before the snow had started to accumulate so maybe later on all these Old Side Runs were much better.

A White Pass loop on the New Side confirmed that Lift Line, Gun Bowl and Highline were all skiing a little better in the accumulating snow. Polar Peak was open so we went up and found the viz pretty desperate and the only good skiing by the sign line under Grand Pappa Bear. As usual the Chutes were closed and only the Coaster was open which was now reduced to hard ice with some little wind sift. We ran to Base via Alph Centauri and found the crust all but gone in the new snow and some really nice soft skiing.

Next White Pass loop was much as before and we dropped Concussion which like Alpha Centauri was getting soft in the new snow. Last run before a pretty late lunch and we took another trip up Polar Peak - big mistake. The light had now totally socked in and the first break in the light was about where you hit the Reverse Traverse which rather takes away the point of going up Polar Peak in first place. I ran to base through Decline which was of course breakable crust but now with about 3 cms of snow on. Whether it was the new snow or my last 4 days practice on the crust but it just skied very easy with a breakable, hardly tracked crust on top.

After lunch it was back up the New Side and a drop into Stag Leap. I had intended Cougar Glades but two turns showed that under the trees the rain affected snow that had fallen from the branches 3 days ago had reformed into refrozen crud on a breakable crust layer and made for some very technical skiing - I bailed into Stag Leap which was good untracked snow covered crust all the way down with some twigs in the lower section as always. Next was Decline which if anything skied a little better than before lunch. We just had time for a couple of White Pass loops in all the usual places which by now had become rather mellow in the new snow.

Last run of course was Skydive and all of those who I would have expected to see there were in attendance. It was nice snow covered crusty rip which we skied not much slower than usual. The Griz was crowded but a good apr├Ęs ski atmosphere so we had quite had quite a few beers. Now for a quiet night in with our guests and Jameson's Whiskey that they brought so tomorrow could be a slow start. maybe more snow in the forecast, who knows.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Day 36 and things are getting just a little easier - but not much

Today we had to start sorting out our guests which involved getting the Rocky Cards collected and the demo skis collected. My buddy Dave is buying his daughter new skis and so she is looking at some demos from Quest and we had to go there to get them sorted. What with one thing and another we didn't get skiing until around 10 which all things considered wasn't all that bad.

There was no new snow overnight so the conditions were not all that different from yesterday and the previous three days. On the way to the hill it was -17 and on the way back -12 which was well below what was being forecast a few days ago. There was an inversion that gave us about -8 up the hill by midday but it was nowhere near as pronounced as in the previous couple of days. We had some low cloud but it was bluebird on top and we even had some angel dust as we came out of the cloud tops giving some sun dogs and lots of general swirling glitter.

We had heard that Polar Peak may be opening with a possibility of the Polar chutes coming on stream this was partially right in that we did get Polar Peak for the first time in several days but the chutes remained shut. With this possibility we obviously went to the New Side.

We dropped Lift Line and found it much harder and bumpier than in previous days. A run back through the Gun bowl and Highline confirmed that these tougher conditions were evident throughout the White Pass core all day which was no mean feat considering how tough they were before. The only thing to do was to go to Polar Peak.

In the bluebird conditions on top Polar afforded the best 360 degree view of mountains in the world in my opinion. It was cold (I guess below -20 with the wind chill) so we didn't hang around too long. The chutes were closed as were the Clown chutes so the only option was to drop the coaster (hard and slick but with some blow in which got swept off as the day went on) and then cut across to the Grand Pappa/Pappa Bear chutes which were wind affected crud in the top but hard smooth wind groomed packed snow below with some wind sift on top. We looped three times by various routes which were all ok skiing.

We ran to base through High Saddle which was still ok but yesterday's soft snow had become the hard wind packed snow we had seen in Polar chutes and the jumps through the chute were particularly hard with a super firm landing each time. The skiing underneath was ok but in the poor light you had to take care.

We headed back up to White Pass and had another White Pass loop which was exactly as before. So it was up Polar Peak for another 3 loops which were also just as before but with maybe a bit more wind sift. In any event the conditions seem to have got rid of the breakable crust in that area. The run to lunch was via Skydive which was still breakable rain crust all the way down and very interesting skiing.

After lunch it was another White Pass loop and a Polar loop which again were just like before. We dropped to base via Concussion/Alpha Centauri which at last seem to have benefitted from skier traffic and become skiable broken crust. Another couple of White Pass Loops and Polar Loops (still the same but again with maybe a bit more wind sift) and it was time for last run of the day.

We headed out the Skydive and the first pitch was much as before with breakable rain crust. We managed to pick up some speed in the mid section and even more in the lower part taking advantage of some broken crust skiing. I think the truth of the matter is that we are finally starting to benefit from the effects of skier traffic in Skydive, the problem being that we are the ones who have been the skier traffic.

Maybe some new snow in the outlook otherwise we will have to look to the good folk of Calgary up for the weekend to do their bit in smashing up the crust with weekend skier traffic.

Day 35 Saddle up and head for Calgary

Today' s heading is a pun which works on so many levels. As you may recall I was only going to be able to ski a short day today because I was going down to Calgary Airport to pick up some buddies who are coming to stay for about 10 days. So in that sense I had to saddle up and get going and with Calgary being the number 1 cowboy town this seemed an appropriate expression. Add to that the fact that  I was able to ski the Saddles for the first time in ages three times before I had to go and you can see the full hilarious value of the pun - no ? ok. suit yourselves.

No new snow overnight so I guessed that conditions would remain hard and bumpy at best and hard and crusty at worst. For the most part I was right but there was a very nice twist to come. It was -4 on the way to the hill and -5 on the way back with overcast conditions but no sign of precip. With only very limited skiing time (we had to be getting off the hill around 11:30) we headed to the New Side on the basis that we could cram in more good skiing there in the time available.
Lift Line was hard and bumpy in the top becoming broken crust lower down and was the fastest route from Timber Top to White Pass load. We did a loop of White Pass through the Gun Bowl and Highline which had enough skier traffic to make them just hard and bumpy. I had intended an easy mornings skiing but next time up I bumped into my buddy Brad who had just heard that the Saddles had opened and as an old school report of mine once said "he is easily led"
We did 3 loops of the  Saddles, one through Corner Pocket and two through High Saddle. The results were just the same in that the Saddles were skiing about as good as I can remember them with the crusty ice/snow having been broken up into a great smooth skiing surface. High Saddle was firm in the chute but holding and edge for about 10 good edge to edge jumps to get you through. Corner Pocket had that pesky rope in there for not very good skiers to use and it was anchored at the bottom and couldn't be moved. This meant we only had about half the width of the chute to ski in and made for some very tight jumps with the final one rather icy before emerging from the chute.
Below we skied the avi trails cause by control work which were smooth and firm. Lower down we encountered the debris which was still ok and in fact the only difficult stuff was the untracked crust which we tried to avoid - a complete reversal of the usual situation where we try and avoid the avi debris and ski in the untracked snow. Great skiing which was over all to soon and I had to head to Calgary.
Some people have asked me to explain why I don't regard skiing on groomers as skiing so here goes. Skiing is much more to me than just sliding around on snow, it is a very special relationship I have with the mountain. At first you think the mountain is trying to hurt you with all the difficult conditions and obstructions but soon you realise that  she (a mountain will always be female to me) is throwing down these challenges but at the same time providing potential solutions with terrain, jumps, rolls etc if you can just take advantage of them. This means when I free ride it is a symbiotic, almost spiritual experience which can most be likened to making love with the mountain. When you take a 3 ton snow cat and smash the snow flat you kill any life that the snow may have had and so it removes any of that spiritual element of that experience.

I am typing this await arrivals at Calgary Airport and driving on the Deerfoot trail was enough to remind me why I can't wait to get back to Fernie.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Day 34 when quite lot of people discover there is more to the sport of skiing than they first imagined

No new snow overnight and temps of -13 on the way to the hill. When we got there we discovered that the unusual temp layers were there just as yesterday but at least with none of them seeming to be above zero. On the way back from the hill it was -10 which meant that base temps had been cold all day even if some pretty strange things had happened up the hill.

I went to the Old Side on the grounds that it might be different from the New Side conditions I skied yesterday but it wasn't really. Obviously it was cold going up Bear but just at the top it seemed to get a lot warmer. I took a run down Boom and it was ugly refrozen crud all the way down. Next time up I encountered the upper warm layer again and on that basis went to the New Side on the grounds that more of this would be above the warming layer and the snow up there may not be so brutal and icy.

On the New Side we encountered the warming layer on the Timber Chair at about the level of the White Pass load but it was nowhere near as warm as yesterday and so even on the upper hill the snow remained hard and refrozen. We dropped to White Pass through Lift Line which was hard icy and ugly and remained that way all day and as a result was the route we always chose to take the drop.

I had a few warm ups through White Pass via the Gun Bowl, Highline, Heartland, the I bowl, etc. They were all hard bumpy and to some extent icy skiing but good practice for the tests to come. It was then a case of looping Currie Bowl to base -
1-2-3s - very poor light but ok skiing in the top which became crust just before 3's and made for some very testing ice crust skiing.
Alpha Centauri - Just like yesterday it was unskied  breakable ice crust which could only be skied with your very best ice crust skiing techniques. Conditions were rather more testing than yesterday as the crust had frozen more firmly and you just had to ski better (not other word for it) to negotiate the breakable crust. Saw a pileated woodpecker while I was in there which is quite rare and very interesting.
Decline - on the way to Decline I noticed that the Saddles were open and decided to come back next time round after lunch and give them a go. Decline was much tougher than Skydive had been yesterday with only one track in front on hard breakable ice crust. It was so bad that I bailed into Easter half way down, not because of the run where I was but because I know the ski out is very flat and ice crust in those circumstances is all but unskiable on the flats.

After lunch we went back to the New Side for some more punishment. As before it was a couple of runs back through White Pass to warm up and then 1-2-3s which skied just like the morning but with a bit better light . After that we found that the high Reverse Traverse was open and headed out to the Saddles only to find them closed. That was a pity as I guessed that the Saddles after a bit of light traffic might actually have been the only place on the hill to have actually have been improved by the recent conditions.

From the higher vantage point we dropped an untracked Concussion which was just as challenging as you might expect with the ice crust if anything getting thicker. We pushed out to Tom's run next time and found it equally untracked but again slightly more technical as a result. Last run of the day was of course  Skydive where I was joined by my buddy Brad who is just about the only other guy stupid enough to be skiing this stuff at the moment. There had been a couple of new tracks since I skied it last night but it remained mostly untracked, Very difficult technical breakable crust skiing all the way down, a great challenge.

So another very tough day although to be fair I have to say that if you are one of those people who counts skiing groomers as skiing then the conditions today would have been very good. For the rest of us it was hard ugly challenging skiing which personally I find to be the most enjoyable skiing after deep powder.

There is nothing in the forecast so it looks like we are stuck with these conditions for a few days. The only way it looks like the crusty conditions are going to be improved is by skier traffic but because of the sort of places we ski in skier traffic is likely to be pretty thin on the ground. Just a half day from me tomorrow as I have to pick up buddies from Calgary Airport and I don't really think I will be missing that much.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day 33 the weirdest weather I have ever experienced

I am almost lost for words to describe the weird weather and the even weirder conditions that this has given rise to over past 24 hours - and as anyone will tell you I am rarely lost for words. How a hill can go from hero to zero in 24 hours is a mystery but Fernie managed it. To say "zero" is a bit unfair as it was only a case of very tough conditions. Some people may say "bad conditions" but as I have said so often there is really no such thing as bad conditions, only inappropriate equipment and inadequate skill levels.

Avid followers of this blog may remember that yesterday I was puzzled by the conditions that were temps of -14 and snow which felt more like it came from zero/-1. These conditions continued into today where the valley temps were -7 but the snow did not reflect this. Overnight it snowed in the valley and the hill reported 10 cms of fresh which may well have been true but this gave the impression we were all skiing around on 10 cms of fresh powder which is so very far from the truth.

On the way to the hill it was -7 but it was raining a light drizzle that froze on contact with the ground. Lynda showed me about half a cm thick slab of ice sitting on top of the snow in the drive and we knew things were going to be a bit odd. The reason was that we have had a super warm air mass just above us dropping warm moisture which is not sufficiently cooled by the relatively thin cold layer below to produce snow. The overall result in the lower parts of the hill was that we got 10 cms of last nights snow on yesterdays soft base but with a hard rain crust on top.

As if this wasn't bad enough at about half mountain height we suddenly got an inversion with temps up to may be +4 so that above this layer which was situated below the White Pass load it was spring skiing in overcast conditions with all of the snow going to mush pretty quick. Below that layer as stated it was thick rain crust on some new snow fall. Just to make things really interesting as the day wore on the transition layer rose so that the whole mountain was back to the usual format of cold at the bottom (-7) and colder on top (-9). Obviously everything that had mushed during the day refroze so that the whole hill by the end was a mass of refrozen crud in the top and hard breakable crust lower down - not exactly stellar conditions.

Sorry to take so long in explaining the conditions but they were so strange, and very ugly in places , that some explanation was necessary. We got to the hill in freezing conditions and decided to go to the New Side so the morning was spent spring skiing. Initially White Pass was closed as was Lift Line and Big Bang so we just had a run down Puff and then to base in soft snow,

As soon as White Pass opened we spent the morning looping in soft spring heavy snow including Knot Chutes, Surprise Trees, Heartland, I bowl, Gun Bowl etc. All of these were soft deep wet new snow in pretty poor viz. Just after mid day they dropped the fence on Currie telling us that the Reverse Traverse was closed so we hit 1-2-3s. It was poor light and soft and heavy in the top but quickly became breakable crust from half way down 3s and was very tough skiing. Gilmar Trail was ok as all the crust had been broken up by skier traffic so actually skied like an icy groomer.

After lunch we did another couple of loops of Currie bowl, once through Powder and once through 1-2-3s which as before were soft on top but the amount of soft was getting less as the freeze line was getting higher and the viz on top getting very white. Next time we found the Reverse Traverse was open so we hit out to Alpha Centauri and skied it in hard breakable crust which had very few tracks and was fun but very challenging.

So it came to last run of the day and despite the fact that the traverse out had only been opened for a short time and our one trip out had shown the whole area to be breakable crust I decided in the name of tradition to hit Skydive. It was a side step traverse and when I got to the top of Skydive I was amazed to find one track in there in front of me, how many of us lunatics are there on this hill ? Earlier in the day I had said that I thought the top of Skydive would be awesome but the lower section ugly - I was wrong it was ugly, untracked, breakable rain crust all the way down which took real concentration to ski.

So that was it. Hard to summarise the day as I guess most people would call it ugly and horrible skiing. I found it very challenging (particularly in the breakable crust) but that's the type of skiing I like so for me it was a most enjoyable day although I realise that I might be in a pretty small minority on that one. More snow called for tonight and in my view it would take a minimum of 5 cms to get it to something that may be considered acceptable by most of the skiing public.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Day 32 Awesome, awesome

Yes, today gets two awesomes on the Bill Handley scale of awesomness. The first awesome is for 14 cms of fresh overnight and maybe a bit more during the day, of reasonably heavy hero powder. The second awesome is for the fact that all the crowds have gone and we have this great snow all to ourselves. I know I have a lot of followers in Calgary and the surrounding areas who live their skiing lives vicariously through this blog but sorry guys, today was an awesome day and you missed it, no way I can sugar that pill - better luck next week.

There might have been a third awesome if it had continued to snow all day as forecast but it didn't and all we got was overcast conditions with socked in conditions on top and the odd flurry from time to time. Temps when we arrived were -12 and as we drove away tonight it was -10. During the day I saw temps on the hill of around -6 so a big warm up over recent conditions. Things were rather odd in that there seemed to be a slight inversion of temp and a particularly warm band on Timber Chair around the White Pass load each time we went up which fogged everyone's goggles. The snow itself felt more like the stuff you get at around zero with a high moisture content and high density and yet it must have come down at -10 or less. I can't really understand this but for better or worse these were the conditions.

We went to the New Side. Everyone knows I find it just too distressing to go to the Old Side on a powder day and after getting the first chair up find that much of the powder has been trashed by people who were prepared to shell out a few bucks to be allowed on the hill early - don't get me started.

I had a New Side day and skied from first chair to last bell with no breaks at all so in the end had 7 hours of great skiing. Only the White Pass core was open at first and we had several great runs down through Gun bowl, High line, the hump under the lift, Little Trees etc. Then they opened the zig zag and the I bowl.

For many more runs it was Knot Chutes and then Surprise trees waiting for Currie to open. Got first track in Tight Knot which was a good case of surfing your slough. For the rest of the morning I worked my way across Slim, Thin and Jim which were all good and deep although the drop into the third Knot chute was very rocky and sketchy.

I did swing out by Siberia Ridge which was better than ever and even though just as sketchy in the choke the lower section was soft deep, lightly tracked free riding. Currie bowl opened and we were on for the remainder of the day although the traverse was only opened very low down out to the big 3 - this was not all together a bad thing as it kept the crowds down - not everyone fancies a hard side step traverse.

Decline - we had intended to ski Skydive but saw Decline was untracked and hit it. I had the left and Lynda had the right and it was awesome powder skiing although a few more tracks appeared lower down.
Cougar Glades/Stag Leap - as always the tracks in Cougar soon disappeared and we had un tracked lines before cutting into Stag which was surprisingly tracked up but ok.
Skydive - a good old rip from top to bottom with the first two sections just awesome in lightly tracked snow and the bottom skiing better with better coverage,
Not so Secret Chutes/Spinal Tap - a great rip in untracked lines off the top of Skydive and then some super deep stuff in the creek bed all the way down, only a few tracks in front.
Lone Fir/ Easter - with a side step just to get to the big 3 a sidestep up to Lone Fir was a bridge too far for most people particularly when there was a chance it might be shut. It wasn't and I had the run of the season through the chute and the fan followed by Easter bowl and Freeway. Memorable.
Decline/ Window Chutes - Decline was tracked but Window chutes still had lots of deep fresh snow although it was still worth entering from skiers left rather than a straight drop.
Anaconda - we did two quick loops of Anaconda which was awesome and only lightly skied as the fence had dropped at the same time as Currie - it was even worth the return skate round Trespass Trail.
Skydive - where else at 4. A low key rip as my legs were 7 hours into the day but still great skiing in soft snow and even the lower section is starting to look a bit less twiggy.

Met lots of buddies in the bar for a beer and more snow is forecast overnight although no one seems to be able to agree exactly how much - a perfect day

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Day 31 and a surprisingly good day

Overnight the hill claimed 10 cms of fresh and a reduced base of 137 cms - lets be charitable and say that a lot of it blew away. There didn't seem to be much new stuff down in the town but when we got to the hill the boards were claiming 7 cms and looking around this seemed about right for the upper mountain.

It was -17 as we pulled up in the parking lot and -15 as we drove away in the evening and half way through the day a temp of -20 was reported at the top of the Elk - in other words it was another very cold day. As a result the new snow came down very light with about a zero moisture content and no resistance as you skied it. I have always found that this means that no matter how hard you try not to pull back a little out of the turns (assuming some resistance from the snow) you always do. This  means that you get back seated rather more than you want (at least for the first couple of runs) and have to spend your time dragging your sorry ass into the front seat - today was no exception.

The forecast called for occasional flurries increasing from time to time which is weather forecaster speak for  - we don't really have much of a clue. As it was  it snowed off and on all day, always harder up on top so that we must have had about another 4 cms of light fresh during the day. It was snowing as we left this evening and as we drank beers in the hot tub and at the moment looks like we could get a pretty good accumulation over night, maybe up to 20 cms.

I was trying out my new boot gloves today (purchased by Lynda yesterday from Ski Base) as my feet had been getting cold. They were awesome, not only did they keep my feet nice and toastie they stopped any snow getting into the boots keeping them dry. As a result I could ski all day with only one half hour break and with 5 layers under the jacket, two pairs of thermals. woollen gloves inside the mits and a cotton balaclava I was just the right temp all day and could have gone on for hours more.

This is how the day went from first bell to last and it was all New Side -

Decline - third track in on soft fluff but the tracks went off left so I had first tracks in the bottom section. Good fluff skiing on a hard base.
Skydive - Top two sections just great with the new stuff covering the sort deep snow that was there. Icy bumps in the top and twiggy in the bottom but great.
Knot Chutes/Anaconda/ Bootleg Glades - a bit firm under foot in the Tight Knot and a big slough. An even bigger slough in the first chute over the hump in Anaconda but by pulling the trigger I just beat my own slough out in nice deep untracked snow. Bootleg was soft in the trees but very twiggy down low.
Stag Leap - very nice and deep in the trees at the top and the top two sections which were great free riding, Last pitch was very twiggy.
Cougar Glades/ Stag Leap - the glades were really filling in by this time and I chickened out on the last pitch which looked very full of dead fall and cut out into Stag Leap for the lower part again.
White Pass loop - we just had to try this through the Gun Bowl and Pillow talk which by this time was getting quite deep in the new snow.
Decline/Window Chutes - special mention to Deb and Annie my trail crew buddies who were doing some great shovelling on the traverse into Skydive which is now much improved but still tough enough to keep the crowds away. Decline was as before and Window Chutes were starting to fill up with new snow.
Lone Fir sort of/Spinal Tap - I hiked to Lone Fir but took the chute further on that I call One Step Beyond but I think is officially Easter Meadow. First time this year the adrenaline got going in the very steep tight chute with a rock band waiting for you if you made a mistake. An awesome rip through with soft snow on the fan underneath. Cut right across Easter bowl to Spinal Tap and had another good deep snow filled in creek bed run down, which got a bit tight and technical in the bottom.
The Brain - had to be done but still not really worth it because of all the dead fall, I couldn't manage more than about 8 turns (albeit in deep untracked powder) before I had to hop out into a new pitch and start again.
Skydive - where else would we be a 4 o'clock. The snow in the top two sections was by now good new stuff on old powder and on the DPS Wailers I could just rip it with big GS turns. In the final section I took one for the team and tried to ski the less skied and alder cover right side to beat them down. It was mostly successful but I did get a bit aldered out at one point so lets call it a draw. The very last bit was big GS turns on soft snow.

So in the Griz tonight it was back to a normal Sunday i.e. us and ski patrol. It is still puking snow on the deck as I type this and with all the crowds gone home tomorrow could be a great day for those prepared to spend 7 hours in the cold to get their fun.