Saturday, February 14, 2015

Day 72 and an even more surprisingly better day than you would have suspected from the conditions

Oh, yes, todays conditions were just as bad as you might have suspected but we still managed to squeeze a rather good days skiing out of them. As has been the norm pretty well since the beginning of February the starting temps on the deck were +4 which yet again confirmed that temps in the valley had not dropped below zero in the last 24 hours. It occurs to me that we may be on track for a February when the valley temps don't ever drop below zero at any time of the day or night, and if this happens it will be something of a record for the Elk Valley.

So, on the way to the hill it was +4 and all over the hill during the day we saw plus temps such as +6 at the White Pass load, +9 at the Bear load and + 5 at the Polar Peak load. In summary we had major plus temps all over the hill all day giving conditions so much warmer than the normal conditions it is almost impossible to find words to describe them. Early on it looked like we might be getting a bluebird day which would have been a disaster given the condition of the lower hill but by mid day it was clouding over so even if we had a warm day it was at least away from the direct sunlight for the most part.

It was Alberta Family Weekend and although things were a bit busier than normal they were nowhere as busy as on a normal Saturday, let alone a holiday weekend. Even after skiing it was no busier in the Griz bar than a normal weekend, and actually maybe a little quieter.

We went to the Old Side to see what looked good. After a run down Bear just to get our new guests legs in position. We pushed out to Dancer for a look at the avi debris but found that there was no grooming out that far across the bowl and it was very hard bumpy tracked up crud. After that it was drop into Cedar bowl where we found Cedar centre ungroomed but also soft so the first good result of the day.

After that we spent the whole morning poking around the Old Side and found -
Boom Bowl - several times getting softer every time especially on the skiers left drop to the Goat Trail. By the end of the morning it was skiing as mellow as it ever does.
Boom Ridge - very nice skiing surface on top but some serious navigation problems in the lower section. I feel quite guilty about the couple of guys who followed me in and were warned by Simon "he's mad", can't help but think from the time it took them to get down that they didn't have such a good time as I did.
Linda's - some of the best skiing on the hill on untracked melted snow on a hard frozen base, about as near to corn snow as you ever get in Fernie.
Cedar Ridge - probably went in about an hour early and as result had some very crusty turns until about half way down where it softened, Not great but ok challenging skiing.
Cruiser/ Cedar Centre - ungroomed but by mid morning had softened to taking an edge on an uneven surface,

Last run before lunch we pushed out to Easter which a bit like Cedar Ridge was very crusty in the top but good for the last few turns and just like yesterday Freeway was skiing very soft and mellow in melted snow. We went to lunch and then went to the New Side.

On the New Side Puff skied soft on top of a hard bump base so that was the drop every time from Timber Top to White Pass load. Polar Peak was open so we did 3 loops with good skiing in the windrow bumps on the ridge, easy skiing in the Coaster which was made better if you stayed right on the untracked shoulder. After that it was Currie Glades which were firm but ok and then an exit through the seriously unrecommended  Gilmar Trail which was ok in the top but very very sketchy in the mid section.

We went back up for a couple more Polar loops as the snow in the top and under the lift was arguably the best soft semi tracked snow on the hill and then via Currie Glades again to Trespass  Trail back to White Pass just in time for a White Pass loop in soft snow on hard pack conditions.

Last run was another Currie Glades where we found a very interesting line through the top cliff in arather steep chute. Once again we ignored the warnings and hit Gilmar Trail which remained good for 80% of the trail out and total crap for the other 20%.

Far too many beers with buddies in a surprisingly quiet Griz Bar and then home. Still no signs of precip or even cool conditions - watch this space.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Day 71 a surprisingly good half day

Let's first deal with why it was a half day. I had to go to Calgary to pick up Lynda who has been back in the UK for a couple of weeks and in fact I am typing this sitting in arrivals waiting for her and my Irish buddy Fiachra - if they are anything like on time I will have to finish this off when I get home so be prepared.

The drive to Calgary was quite an eye opener and showed that the snow drought is not just confined to Fernie. It was warm temps all the way with highs of +15 all the way along Highway 22. Needless to say there was no snow to be seen by the road (predictably high winds) but more worryingly as I looked to the mountains on my left which are usually very snow covered and white there were significant bare patches - looks like my assessment of just how bad the conditions were yesterday may have been a bit of an understatement.

We had no precip over night and temps on the way to the hill were +4 suggesting yet another 24 hour period when temps at no time fell below zero. During the morning I noticed temps at the Bear load of +5 and as a result everything was turning soft and mushing even at the top of Bear.  More to the point as I was leaving the hill to drive down the valley in temps of +10 we had some clear sunshine which if it persisted into the afternoon would have had a devastating effect.

I didn't get a chance to go to the New Side but reports suggest it was nothing special and the Gilmar Trail had deteriorated to the point where it was closed. Getting off the New Side could become a real issue over the next few days particularly with the high holiday (Alberta Family Weekend) traffic expected. We went to the Old Side and stayed there all morning as I had to off the hill by midday.

My fears yesterday that the new terrain that the heli bombing opened up would not be worth it proved to be unfounded. Cedar was still closed just beyond Cruiser but Lizard High Traverse was open all the way across to Easter and gave us some spectacular views of the biggest, wettest and ugliest avalanches I have ever seen there, We jumped into Bow Trees which had been closed for days and managed 3 loops back to Bear in untracked soft snow, always nice to get first tracks.

On the Bear Chair we looked across to see if the sign line in Easter was down but it did not appear to be. When we skied across there we found this to be right but for some reason no one was skiing in to lower Easter to take advantage of the untracked snow. It was great and crisp most of the way down becoming mushy just above Freeway which skied remarkably well, perhaps it was the ice base of a few days ago giving almost corn snow.. There only appeared to be one other set of tracks coming out with us so that is how we spent the morning up until noon just laying our new tracks just beyond the old. By noon it was time to leave and in any event the snow was starting to get very mushy and people were beginning to find out that Easter was open and good.

So all today goes to show is that it is quite possible to have a great days skiing (well ok a half day anyway) even in the worst of conditions, you just have to poke around and stay positive. The precip forecast for the weekend has been revised to rain turning to snow on Monday but as I said, it's just one day at a time for me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Day 70 are these the worst ski conditions in living memory

Now, before I put anything down on todays blog I want to make it absolutely clear that nothing I write here is any negative reflection of the guys and girls (Patrol, Trail Crew, Cat Drivers etc.) who are doing a fantastic job in just keeping the hill open in the current dreadful conditions. That having been said, you have to accept that the conditions are dreadful and as my granny used to say " you can't make bricks without straw" - mind you she was barmy and we had to have her locked up.

Skiers and riders are great ones for debating how current conditions compare with the past. Yes, I do include riders as despite appearances to the contrary I am not one of these old time skiers who have a problem with boarders - as far as I am concerned we are all free to enjoy the snow any way that works for us as long as we respect the hill and each other. Usually our debates are around how good things are, I remember a few years back when we had 100 cms overnight at -22 and having debates as to whether that was the best or second best day in 25 years - quite frankly who gives a s--t when it is that good. Well now the boot is on the other foot and the debate is whether or not this is the worst year anyone can remember.

With a snow base that has never exceeded 2 metres, 5 pineapple expresses hitting us and bring rain, temps so warm that I have been skiing in my fleece and the lower mountain looking more like a mountain bike park than a ski hill this certainly has to be by far the worst I have experience in the 10 years that I have skied all season and the previous 6 when I was a vacation skier. To help me I consulted two long term skiers both of whom have runs named after them so they certainly have right to an opinion - Richard and Linda. The general consensus is that this is the worst winter since 1975 and even there it has been suggested that 1975 only seemed worse because we didn't have groomers back then. So there you have it, certainly the worst conditions in 40 years and maybe longer.

On the way to the way to the hill the temp was +6 and during the day I noticed temps of +10 at the base and as we drove away tonight things were still +7. Up the mountain things were a little cooler but only by a degree or two and this gave us the seventh day in a row where temps at the base never dropped below zero at any time of the day or night. The effect on the hill was predictable, the lower mountain runs are all significantly bare with any run to base requiring and exercise in navigation through grass, rocks, twigs and other spring like features. Even up the mountain in high traffic areas we are through to the bare hill and things got steadily worse as the warm day progressed. The only good news was that we had overcast conditions so there was no direct sunlight which would have made things worse.

We went to the New Side as the Old Side was closed due to active heli bombing and found that in White Pass we had soft mush in the lower parts but set up hard chunky crud in the upper parts. The melt line move further up the hill all day. We poked around a few challenging runs in Highline, Milky Way Trees, Quite Right etc. and had a couple of runs to base via Curried Powder which was firm and icy in the top but softened on the way down and actually was skiing quite well by Gilmar Trail. The trail was just plain ugly bare patches and needed careful navigation and the lower mountain was as described very bare. We went to try the Old Side.

There was a little more open on the Old Side with Lizard Bowl open below Tower 6 Trail and Cedar open but only as far as the far side of Cruiser. Unfortunately Boom, Boom Ridge, Linda's and all those areas were closed but for the first time in several days we had the untracked Cedar Ridge and King Fir open. We hit Cruiser and ran the ungroomed gully on the far side which was deep lightly crusted snow in the top turning a bit mushy lower down. We did loops via Haul Back and Boom Chair and just ran down the mostly untracked Cedar Ridge which was crust covered powder until about half way down where it became quite soft. We went to lunch.

After lunch it was back to the Old Side for more Loops of the Cruiser ungroomed against the sign line and Cedar Ridge/King Fir which remained lightly tracked but by this stage had become soft in the top and seriously mushy low down. This was probably the best skiing on the hill as it was the only untracked off piste to be had as far as we could make out. The runs to Boom like Lower North Ridge and Lower Linda's were getting very bare by the end of the day. We went back to the New Side for the finish.

Puff still skied as soft mushy snow on top of hard bumps and was very good. The melt line was right up to the top so Gun Bowl was just about ok and even the avi debris could be traversed if not actively skied. We finished with a run through Currie Glades from the Polar Peak load - needless to say Polar was closed all day today and the sign line along side Currie Powder excluded any chance of traversing out into Currie Chutes. The cat debris by the load was super ugly but after we had side stepped through it the glades skied very soft and mellow. On the ski out we hit lower Barracuda rather than the top of Gilmar trail and it skied very mellow and soft. Lower Gilmar Trail and the lower mountain was as anticipated an ugly mess.

As we were skiing off we saw the helicopter heading up which was good hurry up for us and before we reached the bottom the heli bombing had started again. The results were even more huge wet snow avalanches all along the Head Walls from Currie to Cedar, a very entertaining sight from the bar. We have to hope that the bombing allows more terrain to be opened but a combination of avi debris and refrozen crud or mush may mean that we still don't get much good skiing as a result - might be interesting to try Skydive if they get it open.

So there you have it ugly conditions on top and huge bare patches down below. Tomorrow will be a half day as I have to drive to Calgary to pick up Lynda who is flying back from the UK and as it was raining light drizzle as I left the hill I don't think I will be missing much. My DPS Wailers are in for repair and a tune so I am on my rock skis for a few days and I think that will be a good call - says all that needs saying about the conditions. There is a hint of snow in the forecast for the next few days but given what we have had so far I will believe it when I see it, on the other hand I did stop yesterday and help a lady get her skis back on at the bottom of Down Right and what goes round tends to come round.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Day 69 an explanation

Ok, so here is the explanation of the strange events with the blog over the last 48 hours. Yesterday evening at about 6 I started to get emails and messages via social media asking what had happened to the blog - at that time as far as I was concerned the answer was nothing. When I checked I found that the site had been taken down by Google because the annual renewal (and modest payment) hadn't been made. This is handled by my Irish buddies who set the site up and at 6 in the evening it was 1 in the morning in Ireland so I was not going to be able to speak to anyone who could help, or to be more accurate be in a fit state to help at that hour. We sent texts to get things sorted.

I took the opportunity of an evening off to take a taxi down to wings night at the Park Place Pub and get unbelievably pissed with my buddies - job done. In the morning the site was still not up so a few more texts sorted things and the site was restored just as we were going out of the door to drive to the hill. I did the quick post just to let everyone know what was going on with the promise of a further explanation tonight.

I would like to thank everyone for all the concerned emails and messages because of the temporary disappearance of the site. Nature abhors a vacuum and of course all sorts of wild rumours started to explain my absence. Just for the record I was not injured in a car crash on a road trip, or buried in an avalanche, or taken to hospital having hurt myself on the hill. Best of all I can dismiss the most popular conspiracy theory explanation i.e. that my site was taken down by the hill because they didn't like what I was writing. Like all internet conspiracy theories (particularly those about disappearing planes and planes crashing into buildings) this is barmy nonsense but it doesn't stop people believing and I am afraid to say the truth is that it was just a cock up.

Yesterday was just like most of the days that went before. Light drizzle over most of the hill with snow forming soft mush and the base become less as the day went on. By the end of the day conditions were spring like and decidedly sketchy.

Today the rain stopped at last and we had our first precip free day for almost a week. Temps were high at +3 on the way to the hill, +3 at the White Pass load and +6 as we drove away in the evening. The only saving grace was that the top of the hill was socked in and it was overcast over most of the hill so although we had some atmospheric warming we had no direct sunlight which really would have destroyed the hill.

We went to the Old Side and found Lizard closed above Tower 6 road and only open as far as Arrow in the top. Cedar was closed as was Boom, Boom Ridge, Linda's, Cedar Ridge and all associated areas. In effect we had Bear, North Ridge, Emily's, Lower Linda's and Lizard below Tower 6. I heard in the afternoon that some parts of Cedar opened but didn't see it for myself. The conditions were pretty desperate. On the groomers the coverage was sketchy with some runs closed due to huge bare patches and even where there was snow it was mushy and thin. I put a core shot in my base in the middle of Bear and I guess that says it all.

The only off groomer skiing we could find was China Wall which like yesterday skied ok just taking and edge but mushy and about 30% of the run was down to dirt. After a few more runs of mushy groomers we headed for the New Side.

The conditions on the New Side were very varied. In some places the chopped up snow had reformed to very hard chunky skiing - not quite ice crust but not far off. In other places the surface had mushed and we were skiing good old spring mashed potato snow and in yet other places there was hard bump skiing but with the surfaces becoming soft on the old icy bumps, probably the best skiing surface anywhere. Currie bowl was open only from 1-2-3s on the right to Currie Powder on the left. In White Pass we had the Zig Zag open but the I bowl and Idiot Traverse closed. Everything off Falling Star was open.

We dropped Timber top to White Pass load through Puff which was hard bumps and soft on top which made it run of the day for me. The rest of our time was spent looping various parts of White Pass such as the Gun Bowl, Highline, Milky Way Trees, Quite Right etc which had the above described variety of condition. There didn't seem to be any logic of altitude, aspect, pitch etc to determine if they were soft, hard or something in between. We ran to base a couple of times through Currie Powder which was skiing ok in very poor light. Nothing was groomed in the Gilmar Trail probably because it was too thin. The surface was soft but it was very sketchy with many bare patches,

After Lunch we returned to the New Side and just repeated the mornings exercise. It seemed to us that the warming had softened a bit more of the area and even the Gun Bowl by the Knot Chute fence was skiing ok whilst in the morning it had been just plain ugly. The light improved as the cloud lifted and we had another couple of runs to base via Currie Powder and the ungroomed Gilmar Trail which has to be getting close to unskiable in certain areas with so much brown showing.

And that's it for another day. Wait for tomorrow for the result of my poll among some long term Fernie skies as to the last time things were this bad.

Day 68 a bit of a cock up

Apologies to all followers for the absence of a Day 68 report. Due to a cock up in the admin department (my Irish buddies who set this up) the blog was not renewed this year and was suspended last night.

It's just come back now after much texting back and forth but we are heading to the hill so no time to write anything - wait for a double dose tonight.

Only posting this to quash the rumours that I was hacked and taken down by forces unfriendly to the Blog.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Day 67 another day and another set of challenges

Yes, after fighting rain and mush over the past few days, today we had some of that but also soft snow set up to hard icy chunks in skied areas and totally socked in viz in the whole of White Pass so that you had to grope your way around in all areas that were above the rain line. If I didn't know better I would think that I had done something terrible in a past life and am being made to pay for it now - come to think of it perhaps that is the logical (?) explanation for why skiing is proving so tough at the moment.

It stopped raining over night but started again as we arrived at the hill and continued off and on all day. By the close of play the precip had stopped and if the forecast is to be believed we may be facing some drier weather after a possible light snow fall tonight. Temps on the way to the hill were +1 and I noticed it was +1 at the White Pass load during the afternoon and +3 as we drove away from the hill. What this meant was rain at the base and a snow line around the Bear's Den on the Old Side. This line drifted up the hill during the day but on the New Side at any rate what came down came down white in White Pass although it was wet snow and not very much of it - maybe a couple of cms.

I had an idea that with the cooler temps maybe the ungroomed closed areas would have formed to a hard smooth surface with a dusting of wet snow. My hopes rested with Boom and Cedar Ridge and that's where we went from the kick off. My idea was a complete bust for as I discovered later the low temps had lasted less than an hour and the crust on the wet snow was too thin to take weight. Having established this and the fact that the rain line was above the Bear load the only thing to do was to decamp to the New Side where we thought (correctly as it turned out) that we would be above the rain line.

Seemed like everyone had the same idea, and that together with the fact that today was BC family day meant that White Pass was quite busy by Fernie standards i.e. there were people around even if we didn't have to line up for the lift or anything like that. There was slightly more open on White Pass as we were able to drop off Falling Star earlier into Highline and the Toilet Bowl (got stuck in there once today getting greedy for one more turn) but apart from that all we had was the same as yesterday. The fact that some poachers hit Quite Right and ran along side some massive avi debris just goes to show that what Albert Einstein said was true - "The only things that are infinite are the universe and human stupidity and I am not that sure about the universe".

Where we hadn't skied yesterday the snow was soft and chunky but ok so we looped in Highline and Toilet Bowl often. Where we had skied it depended on just how much skier traffic had taken place yesterday. If the traffic was high and the bumps had been worn smooth (High Line, Puff) then we had hard smooth bumps to ski today which were ok. If all that was left from yesterday was chopped up soft snow (Milky Way Trees, High Line Trees) then we had hard refrozen chopped up crud which was whole different level of challenge. As with yesterday we just kept looping White Pass poking around to find new and varied lines.

In the afternoon the cloud which had been a problem all morning really descended and we had very white, very socked in conditions which didn't improve until you were almost back at the White Pass load. This added an extra dimension and made hard bump skiing on my full rocker DPS Wailers even more fun as I tried to up the pace in the tough conditions and failing viz. By the end of the day I felt I had been challenged enough and headed back down Summer Road for a fairly sketchy ski out followed by a couple of beers.

There is talk of some snow tonight but to be honest I'll believe it when I see it. Lets see tomorrow.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Day 66 more rain but things get better later

Last night it rained big time. I was woken up by the sound of rain beating down on the roof which is something that has never happened before and when I got up to look out of the window it was coming down in stair rods, as they say in my part of the world.

In the morning it was still raining hard as we headed for the hill and with temps in the valley at +4 we were not optimistic that conditions would be anything but ugly - we were right not to be optimistic. Reports suggested that the rain line was higher up the hill than yesterday and that pretty well all of the Old Side was beneath the rain base. With this information you didn't have to be a genius to work out that the best bet was to go to the New Side and go as high as possible.

We were amused when we checked to official mobile web site on conditions to see that they were claiming 135 runs open - not just the conditions page where they state the total runs but the actual status page which clearly stated 135 runs open. I even had my buddy Simon to check this as it seemed so improbable and he confirmed that was what the site said, we even pointed it out to a ski host who agreed that was what it said. I can only assume that 125 runs were open on the Old Side where we didn't ski as at best you could count about 10 on the New Side.

The rain line was indeed higher than yesterday with snow starting at around the White Pass load. In White Pass the snow was heavy wet and mushy and quite hard going off the groomers which of course is where we were skiing. Light was pretty poor at the top and got better as you came down. Temps were just about plus all day but the precip fell white all the time albeit rather wet towards the White Pass load.

The available terrain was very limited, just like yesterday with the Gun bowl and the Zig Zag closed so that the only skiing was Falling Star and the drop offs from High Line to Puff including Milky Way Trees and the associated terrain. We devised three loops - Highline/the hump under the lift/ski out - Falling Star until we ran out of steam and then drop the bowl to the left/Right side Milky Way Trees/various chutes through Puff Trees left - hike all the way up to the top of Milky Way trees and then drop them to the cat track/Puff to the White Pass load. With minor variations we kept hitting these all morning in very heavy wet chopped up snow.

The run to base at lunch was via Summer Road which was a bit bare in places but probably the best way off the hill then the lower ski out which was an exercise in navigation between various hazards such a water, bare patches, ice, etc. Over lunch an amazing thing happened, it stopped raining for the first time in three days, or at least it slowed down and stopped shortly afterwards.

In the afternoon we did a repeat of the morning by just rolling through our three available optional loops on the New Side. The good news was that although the viz had really socked in on top the wind had sprung up with a drying effect and the chopped up ungroomed started to ski really well. It was still soft but becoming drier and firming up as it started to set up later in the day. In normal circumstance we would call it pretty cruddy but in the light of what we have been skiing over the past few days it was a great relief and skied very well all the way up to the end of the day.

Last run was Summer Road again and it was just as sketchy as lunch time as was the ski out. A couple of beers in the bar before driving away in temps of +4 and listening to a forecast of more rain to come over the next 24 hours. We are seriously considering a road trip up North to get some better snow so watch this space for a relocated blog later this week.