Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day 51 spring skiing in January ?

Yes, today was full on spring skiing day of the type we usually get late March or early April and certainly not in January. The only problem is that when this usually happens we have a snow base of at least 3 metres so the hill can take it but now with a base of only 140 cms there has to be questions as to how long the hill can hold out. So what happened ......

Well. last nights rain continued in the valley for most of the night finishing just before dawn. The hill claimed this gave 10 cms of new snow on top although they did have the decency not to call it powder or to claim any increase in the snow base from 140 cms. When we got there we found that there was a new covering of some heavy snow although not all that deep and certainly on top covered with a hard rain crust.

On the way to the hill it was +2 and driving back tonight +4. For most of the day as we looped White Pass load it was showing +3 so the clear message was that temps were in the plus zone all day over the hill hence the spring skiing conditions. We had no precip and for a time it looked like it would go bluebird but in the event the ridge line cloud kept things socked in so we did have some sun related softening and then setting up again, but not quite as much as you might have expected.

We went to the New Side on the grounds that going high and staying high might be the way to go but I suspect that skiing low on the Old Side would have given us much the same results. Currie was closed so we just looped White Pass. Knot chutes were full of super wet snow to the point that I was almost taken out by my own slough a couple of times. Surprise Trees was mushy spring skiing and we looped it three times. The Gun bowl was soft but a firmer base than in most places and Highline was just breakable rain crust. Then they dropped the fence on Currie Bowl........

We cut the first tracks out to the top of Skydive and found ugly breakable rain crust in the top becoming softer light crust taking an edge lower down. We debated whether or not this counted as first tracks given the crusty surface but by a majority vote decided that it was and we had had them. Next loop down Decline was very similar with crust in the top getting crustier for some reason in the mid section before softening in the final pitch.

We then dropped Stag Leap through the trees and as a buddy of mine said, " we had 10 turns through there and no two were the same." When we got in the run it was at least consistent rain crust becoming softer in the mid section and below. Last loop before lunch was Concussion which had softened in the sun but was setting up as the cloud rolled in but took a good edge and was actually the run of the day as far as I was concerned.

After lunch the weekend crowds which had been very big started to drift away because as I have said before most weekend warriors just don't have 7 hours skiing in their legs. We did a Concussion loop which skied just as well as before lunch - still run of the day. Next I tried Decline again and it skied just a bit worse than the morning as everything was starting to set up. Having had a late lunch I just had time one more quick loop which was Anaconda Glades which were still lightly tracked spring mush and skiing pretty well but in typical spring slow motion skiing.

And so we came to Skydive at 4 which, with a bit of skier traffic was skiing rather better than before but still no stroll in the park being a mix of crust on top and mush below. It was good rip and a good end to a day's full on spring skiing. As long as things stay warm and the hill holds up we will be ok nut when (and it is when and not if) the cold weather reasserts itself we are in for some super ugly frozen crud skiing. Before that they are talking about valley temps of +15 on Monday so it looks like I will be skiing in  my spring fleece any day now.

Today was Kokanee Snow Dreams weekend. At the risk of sounding like a real misery this is the worst weekend of the year for me. Huge crowds, a massive line up to get in the bar, a load of strangers taking my usual seats, music so loud that you can only talk to the guy right next to you and that conversation is mostly "what?". I passed and spent a very pleasant evening in the Rusty Edge with a big table of like minded buddies talking about skiing and drinking 4 pint jugs of beer for $12.50 - yes, I know they are only 16 oz pints but this is still a fantastic deal. Back to normal in the Griz tomorrow but this won't be the last busy Saturday I drink in the Rusty Edge.

No clue as to what tomorrow holds but what ever it is I will be there.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 50 still a pretty good day and some advice

First of all the advice on how to read weather reports produced by ski hills and here I mean all ski hills not just Fernie. You must understand that the forecast is not an independent forecast such as that produced by Environment Canada but rather a piece of corporate advertising and in advertising as in war truth is the first casualty. When a report says that we will get 10 cms of snow with a snow line at 1700 metres it does not mean that we are going to get 10 cms of snow. Everything below the snow line (and some people might call it the rain line) will come down as rain. Given that 1700 metres is well up the mountain the report is actually saying that for most of the hill it's going to rain with some snow on the very top - it just doesn't come across that way. This explanation is prompted by the number of people who expressed disappointment to me late afternoon as it started to rain when they had been expecting new snow - what actually happened was exactly what the forecast said, it's just that people didn't really understand the meaning of the forecast.

It was warm on the way to the hill at about zero degrees and was the same in wet snow/rain as we drove away. During the day the upper mountain temps hung in at around zero and at the base it was maybe a degree or two warmer. It was overcast in anticipation of the precip which finally came mid afternoon. We had everything from wet snow to rain to freezing rain to ice and a lot in between. Not a huge accumulation but by the end of the day it had consolidated as freezing rain on top and wet snow below. We have to hope that if things cool overnight then we may actually get some much needed new snow on our very thin base of 142 cms.

There had obviously been another wind event overnight and for about the third time this week the wind produced some good snow which the general weather has failed to do. We  went to the Old Side and had a great time skiing Cedar Ridge from New Lift Line on the left to King Fir on the right many times over. The wind had sifted in nicely giving smooth flat soft snow to ski on. Linda's was bit harder than the rest but Boomerang Ridge was as flat and soft as I have every known it and Boom bowl was wind groomed most of the way down the skiers right. Run of the day was the upper section of Kangaroo (from the sides of course) which was soft deep and untracked all the way through but rather twiggy and overgrown in the middle section - I hit it 4 times it was so good. The lower section was very crunchy but getting better with skier traffic.

After an Old Side morning we had lunch in Big Bang Bagel (excellent) and as I was putting on my skis I noticed the base plate on the heel binding of one of the skis was in several pieces. I did a quick switch back to my Shoguns for the afternoon while Lynda took the DPS Wailers back to Straight Line. They fixed everything under warranty and I was able to pick the skis up this evening ready for use tomorrow - great job guys and a fine example of how these things should work.

The afternoon was spent on the New Side where the viz in the top of White Pass was non existent and we were starting to be hit by some very mixed precip as described above. Decline skied very easily with the bumps soft and some new snow on top. Next lap we went to Cougar Glades/Stag Leap and had another very good run on a firm base but with a soft covering of some sift and wet new snow. Next was Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap both of which were filled with great wind sift and soft snow and skied as well as I can remember this season. I filled in a short loop on Siberia Ridge and just like yesterday it was firm on top, ugly in the choke (as always) and very nice terrain skiing down to the groomer.

And so we came to Skydive where I found myself alone for the first time in ages. It was raining freezing rain giving the surface a light crusty feel which was ok and lower down it turned to rain and a mushy surface - naturally it was a non stop top to bottom run.

The bar was busy but we found space and drank beer. Picked up my skis on the way home and decided on another quiet night in. As we sat in the bar the precip was coming down as anything from snow to rain and all stations in between. Around town we had zero degrees and wet snow. As I look out of the window it is coming down as very wet snow/ rain, so only the Griz knows what we will get when we get to the hill tomorrow.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day 49 skiing for less than 20 bucks a day

No, don't get excited this isn't some fabulous offer from the hill, it's just a recognition of the fact that if you divide the early bird price cost of my season's pass by the number of days skied so far the cost of skiing drops to just under 20 bucks a day as of today. By the end of the season I hope to get it down to just under 7 bucks a day but at least this constitutes a good start. Please don't feel sorry for the hill. they don't incur one cent of extra cost for the days I ski but do get about 35 bucks a day income from me every day I ski so they are on track to take well over 4000 bucks from me this year which has to make me somewhere near their best customer although I bet they don't see it that way.

It was cold overnight (-12) but by morning temps had warmed up so that on the way to the hill it was about -4 at the base. We had no new snow but we do have some forecast and the weather reflected this. It was overcast with sunny spells and the cloud cover built during the day. There had obviously been a major wind event over night with some ridge lines swept clean and big deposits of wind sift in other places. The winds continued during the day and were quite brutal up in White Pass and the game was to try and avoid where the wind had been swept from and to ski where it had been swept to. By the end of the day the winds had moderated a bit and base temps were up to about zero with a degree or two cooler evident on top.

We went to the New Side hoping for Polar Peak but it soon became evident that in these winds we were not going to get it. We just lapped the New Side all day looking for wind sift and having some great successes and some equally great failures. First lap we dropped Gun Bowl which was great sift and then went out to Anaconda which was crunchy on top and then great deep sift after a couple of turns. Bootleg Glades were equally soft sift and skiing very mellow. After that the runs worked out as -

Concussion - Very wind swept in the top but taking a good edge and then some deep soft sift after the steep chutes.
Currie Creek - At last I found where the sift had blown to and it was deep and soft all the way down the chute if a bit twiggy on the exit.
Cougar Glades/Stag Leap - good, but not as good as I had hoped for in the glades, the sift was not that deep. In Stag itself the snow was much better and deeper.
Decline - nice blow in although not that deep but very easy mellow skiing on soft bumps
Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap - great up draft wind groomed powder in the chutes and the Tap was surprisingly deep and lightly tracked with the stream bed starting to fill in nicely.
Gotta Go - the traverse across the Knot Chutes was really gnarly but worth it. The run was deep and soft and lower sown smooth from wind grooming. Looked up into Google Earth and it looked pretty good so that may be on the menu tomorrow. Exit through Bootleg Glades which were skiing even better than before.
Stag Leap - decided to hit it from the top and it was great through the trees and in the top section with very deep soft sift. Lower down it was more packed in but still a very mellow ski. I think a lot of people are taking my lead and tracking left at the bottom of Cougar Glades to hit this part of the run.
Siberia Ridge - hadn't been in there for some time so thought I would give it a go. Rather wind affected in the top section and of course sketchy in the choke but lower down there was some great soft snow terrain skiing.
Mitchy Chutes - great soft blow in but a bit sketch in the chokes, I thing the skiers right is looking the best bet at the moment.
Skydive - last run and with only two of us there we decided to take one for the team and do some bush whacking on the right side of the final section rather than take the skied in left side. It was ok deep snow but in terms of twigs it was a bit like winding the clock back two weeks.

And so we ended with a few beers and a quiet night in. Before I go I must make a special mention of two people, the one who dropped their empty Tim Hortons cup from the lift into Lift Line and the one who left their empty water bottle on Skydive right - I picked up both. Throwing garbage on  the hill is so uncool and it pisses off the Griz to the point that he will not give us new snow - sort yourselves out. Please follow this link to find out what I really think of you - The Asshole Song

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 48 three for the price of one

No, not some special offer from the hill (you would have to be joking) but a comment on the fact that we had three totally different weather conditions on the hill today depending on where you were. On the Old Side we had overcast winter conditions with temps of about -5 and some wind towards the afternoon. At the base we had bluebird conditions most of the day and temps went from a starting point of -10 to about -2 during the course of the day. On the New Side we had brutal conditions which kept Polar Peak closed and gave us socked in conditions on White Pass with temps of -8 (probably double that with the wind chill) and driving ice mist that formed all the time on clothing and equipment. In the afternoon things eased a bit but it was still pretty chilly.

With a new buddy in town we went to the Old Side for a gentle start and found the bumps on the sides of Bear firm but taking an edge. We then poked around the Old Side for a couple of hours trying a number of runs several times and finding - New Lift Line (nice firm bumps taking an edge), the Gulch (now officially open and good tight gully skiing but with a big hole on the exit) Lower Kangaroo (crusty and ugly) Boom Ridge (great wind sift giving soft skiing between the bumps) Cedar Ridge (just like Boom Ridge) and Boom ( just like the rest) soft wind sift. After a couple of hours playing on this stuff we headed to the New Side.

The change was staggering and we looped Timber and White Pass in brutal wind chill conditions with ice forming on us and viz down to seeing the two chairs in front of you on the lift. We took a quick drop down the severe Concussion chutes which were skiing firm but taking a good edge and the workout helped to keep us warm. We had a late morning break to have soup and put on and extra layer and some better gloves.

After that we had two more New Side Currie loops through Decline (soft sift blowing in and skiing very easy) and then Touque Chutes. Just to make it clear, last night in the bar I was asking some patroller buddies what they called the new gladed chutes off Skydive. We have been calling them Not so Secret Chutes because they give better access to Secret Chutes but my buddies decided to call them Touque Chutes because a patroller buddy we know once lost a touque (wooley hat to you Europeans) in there - so Touque Chutes it is. We dropped them in some great sift with a firm base before cutting right into Spinal Tap which was still skiing deep and soft all the way down the stream bed which is starting to get filled in.

In the afternoon I had appeared to have worn out my ski company so I just went back and did New Side loops -
Cougar Glades/ Stag Leap - still some clean lines through the tress and Stag Leap still skiing good if a bit stiff in the lower section.
The chute beyond Lone Fir - everyone has their own name for this but I call it One Step Beyond. Great early turns and after the jump through the trees to the right the chute (very steep and tight) was untracked wind sift. The ski out through the fan was totally awesome soft sift and even lower Easter was pretty good and filling in.
A White Pass loop of the Gun Bowl and Highline which proved that in the improving viz this gave some great untracked sift skiing.

And so we came to Skydive with just 4 of us - me, Rod, Brad and Steve. A great rip down without stopping in soft blow in and even the lower sections were not that stiff. Beers of course and a great hot tub to take away the pains. A quiet night in with an Irish buddy - what could possibly go wrong.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Day 47 and a quick report

I have to go to Cranbrook to pick up and Irish buddy from the airport and it will be too late to do anything by the time I get back so this will have to be a super quick report.

No new snow and temps back down to -9 as we drove to the hill. During the day they got up to around -5 on the hill and the valley temps were -1 as we drove away from the hill tonight. For the most part the conditions were bluebird with a bit of ridge line cloud and getting a bit more overcast towards the evening.

We had another New Side day (sorry Old Side fans) as we had been promised Polar Peak which sure enough we got. I understand the Old Side was very good in places. Everything was much harder than yesterday with less wind sift. The underlying snow was firm but taking a good edge in most places. My fear was that lower down yesterday's softer snow would have become ugly in the overnight freeze but that was not the case. The lower parts of the runs were a little harder and chunkier but in no way crunchy and the upper parts were a firm base but still with some sift on top.

Polar was open and we hit it three times returning by the Clown Chutes (super soft all day so that was always our route down) and the Grand Pappa fence which was ok wind pack if a little slabby in places. After 3 loops we ran to base through Concussion which was just about run of the day taking a great edge especially in the tight chute on the skiers left - great technical skiing. Then 2 more loops of Polar and a run down Skydive which confirmed the bumps in the top were big, the mid sections had some good blow in and the lower section wasn't too stiff. Time for 2 more Polar loops and then lunch with a non stop run from Polar Peak to Big Bang Bagels via Decline - the first non stop Peak to base run of the year - Decline was just like Skydive.

After lunch it was up Polar Peak again then a run down through Concussion which was just as good as this morning. Two more laps of Polar and I linked up with my buddy Rob for yet another run down Concussion which was still taking a great edge in the tight chutes. Polar Peak again and then this time Cougar Glades (still untracked in places if you looked hard enough) and Stag Leap (great skiing in tracked up powder).

Our quick White Pass loop was Knot Chutes (Tight Knot) which was taking a good edge and Surprise Trees which still had some great soft lines. So we came to Skydive and had a great rip top to bottom without stopping and then beers. It was 11 Polar Peaks, some great skiing on hard but edgeable  snow and even some quite challenging chutes - not a bad day's work - must dash.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Day 46 and I simply can't believe how good today was

We didn't have high hopes for today as overnight there was no real accumulation and on the deck this morning the temps was +2 suggesting to me that it had been above zero all night in the valley. On the way to the hill it was confirmed as +2 and with temps up the hill forecast to start at about -3 and get up to around zero during the day (which they did) things didn't looked good. Against that background we fully expected chopped up crud on top and hard refrozen crust lower down. In the event we got some awesome wind groomed snow all over the hill with the freeze line below all the major run outs so the crust was groomed in.

So what happened - well. there was obviously a major wind event up the hill overnight but strangely it seemed to have blown in fantastic deep, untracked wind sift everywhere with no icy places from where the snow had been blown. Can't quite work out how this could have happened but it did. The result was that all over the upper mountain we had untracked wind sift which skied so smooth, mellow and easy it was almost embarrassing to ski it as it requires so little effort. The weekend crowds had gone and there was hardly anyone on the hill and when you looked at the sort of places we wanted to ski you could almost say there was no one.

We went to the New Side looking for Polar Peak (it didn't open) and the Saddles (more later) and my view was that the Old Side would be too low to get much good skiing. From reports from buddies I was totally wrong and there was some fantastic wind sift all over the Old Side. White Pass was fully open but Currie Bowl was closed so after a fantastic smooth Lift Line we just looped Knot Chutes, Surprise Chutes and back to the load while we waited. It was immediately obvious that the deep wind sift was providing great untracked skiing everywhere.

I was traversing out to try Surprise Trees when they dropped the fence on Anaconda Glades just as I arrived and I grabbed first tracks in the chute over the hump, just awesome. The run to base was through Bootleg which was deep in the trees if a bit twiggy on the ski out. I next took a Surprise Trees loop to link back up with Lynda and was amazed how mellow and easy the trees were skiing in deep sift.

At this point Currie Bowl opened and we went out the High Saddle which was a bit scraped out but just about skiable. The snow under the Saddle was awesome deep powder and I cut right into lower Easter Bowl which was full of soft sift. Next loop we took the Reverse Traverse out all the way and I was staggered to find only one set of tracks in front of me in Cougar Glades. These soon disappeared so I had first tracks in Cougar and then cut left the Stag Leap to get first tracks there - not a bad run.

We then did a simple Decline loop and found Decline skiing as mellow as I have ever known it in the sift, it was so easy to push through the hero conditions. Next loop I hiked up to Lone Fir and found the chute filled in with fantastic sift. I took the whole thing in about 6 turns which is only possible in conditions like today - at least for me. The fan underneath was deep and untracked and gave face shots all the way down. I traversed Easter Bowl and dropped into Spinal Tap which was also very soft and even at the bottom where I thought we might encounter crunch the mild temps kept the surface soft.

After lunch I had the idea that Gotta Go would be the best snow as it had the same aspect as Anaconda and the gnarly approach through the Knot Chutes would have prevented skier traffic. I had one abortive attempt to get across which ended up with me dropping the Tight Knot and Surprise Trees which was no bad second prize. Next time I got the line right and snaked my way across the chutes with some pretty testing drop offs. Gotta Go was all I had hoped for and more. It was untracked and deep (there may have been traffic in before but the sift had filled in) and smooth. I didn't even notice the choke which I hit at speed with GS turns, something I have never been able to do before - totally run of the day by a huge margin. The run to base was via Bootleg Glades which skied just as well as they had in the morning.

With just time for one more loop I repeated the Cougar Glades/Stag Leap run of the morning and found only a few more tracks. Things were so good I took a few turns down into the lower parts of Cougar but after a few turns found that there was just too much deadfall so I cut into Stag. And so we came to 4 o'clock and Skydive. After yesterday's big group it was just the three of us today, Dan, Rob and me, just like the old days. The sift was still untracked in most of the run and you could just point the skis in the fall line and let them go - so we did.

A really fantastic day from what looked like they would be not very promising conditions. Temps are falling and I am worried that all my fears of yesterday may yet come home to roost but who knows, tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Day 45 right on the edge of disaster but we dodged the bullet

Today we had more precip forecast but with a temperature rise which easily could have meant that we ended up with a huge rain event. Actually we got some good snow overnight, a warm a day and precip that came on and off during the day but only came down as rain at the base for a couple of hours mid day. This gave some really great skiing all over the mountain but just on the edge of conditions which could have turned very ugly even with a temp variation of as little as 1 degree.

On the way to the hill it was -2 and snowing having snowed about 10 cms overnight. During the day temps got up to about +3 at the base and even a little above zero on the upper hill. The precip continued off and on all day giving a wide variety of conditions ranging from good snow to hard ice pellets. For some time on the lower hill it rained (bet you won't find any official reports using that word) but later in the day it went back to a snow/ice mix and even some driving ice/snow on the upper hill. The wind was a major feature blowing all day and providing wind sift in most runs which renewed as the day went on. The result was good new snow on the upper hill and some very hard rubbery bumpy skiing low down on the ski outs. As we drove away from the hill it was +1 in the valley with some really wet snow so conditions up the hill may be getting pretty ok.

It was a major powder day and obviously the place to go was the New Side. The Old Side would have been tracked up by the pay for powder groups (don't get me started) and being lower down would be affected first by the warming conditions. Later reports in the bar confirmed this was a sound call and the New Side was where the big waves were. It was another day when I skied from first chair to last bell without any break and as a result this report may be a bit distorted by the effects of exhaustion, not to mention the beers we drank to try and remedy the problem.

White Pass was open but the chair broke down on the way up for at least 10 minutes - it seems that following Timber's break down two days ago (15 mins) a delay of at least 10 minutes is now to be expected before you are to be allowed to get to the white stuff. When we got there all of White Pass was open but Currie was closed.

We had several loops in White Pass through Knot Chutes and Surprise Trees which were awesome skiing in some very variable visibility. About third time out we found Anaconda Glades open and had a drop through the second chute in amazing deep snow mostly untracked. Bootleg Glades skied very nice and was deep and untracked in the trees but twiggy low down. The Gilmar ski out was just hard ugly bumps and remained so all day.

After that we just looped Currie all day. Only the low Reverse Traverse was open but it was opened a little higher up than usual so the ski out to the big three was easier than usual in those circumstances -
Cougar Glades/ Stag leap - Untracked lines all the way down the glades and some tracked up powder in the leap itself.
Not so secret chutes/Spinal Tap - really great deep untracked skiing in the trees and only one track in front of us in the Creek bed.
The Brain - it needs about another metre of snow to make it ok but there were plenty of untracked lines and some very interesting deadfall to produce some challenges.
Lone Fir - a long hike up but well worth it for the best deep untracked snow on the hill with the chute filled in with wind sift and the fan underneath just awesome. Even the ski out through Easter bowl was pretty good.
Currie Chutes - I am lumping these together as we did a large number of loops through all the chutes between Tom's run and Currie Creek where the wind had sifted the powder as flat as a billiard table and the skiing was awesome and mellow - any line you wanted to the bottom.
Decline/Window Chutes - by this time the vacation skiers and the weekend warriors were off the hill with their leg muscles shot so we had the hill to ourselves and hit a very repaired Decline and some very deep soft turns in Window chutes although there were places where it was scraped down to the deadfall below.
Knot Chutes/Anaconda/Bootleg - the chutes were smooth wind groomed powder and the rest was like before but well filled in with soft snow.

And of course we finished on Skydive which was skiing better than at any time this year with maybe a few hard chunky turns in the lower section. A great rip in ever improving conditions. Loads of beers a with the biggest group of ski buddies so far this year and now a well deserved early night after 7 hours of really hard skiing. In summary the day was great on top with the transition to ugly conditions occurring at about the point where you finished skiing the proper stuff and took to the lower mountain groomers, ideal for me.

Maybe some more overnight which would be very welcome.