Saturday, February 20, 2016

Day 72 a perfect storm

When I say a perfect storm I don't mean the weather although that was a storm and pretty bloody perfect in my opinion, no, I mean the circumstances leading to the crowds this weekend. We had a coming together of the last Saturday of Alberta family week, the first good snow in many days, a ski racing event for the FAST kids and the junior free ski event. Actually although parking was way out to lot 4 before 10 in the morning things were surprisingly not too busy with the exception of a long wait to get in the Griz Bar this evening.

My threat to ski elsewhere obviously had it's effect and the Griz gave us 35 cms of snow overnight, It rained in the valley at first but by about 11 it was starting to come down white even on our deck and up the mountain it must have been snow all the time. The snow was bit heavy lower down but was real hero snow on top. On the way to the hill it was +1 and driving back tonight it was +3 so the lower mountain had softened during the day but only a bit. It was snowing for most of the morning but cleared up by mid afternoon and we even got some weak sunshine to soften the snow even further.

The snow base was shown on the boards as 295 cms and with today's snow fall we might even have got the 3 metre party under our belt but we will have to wait for the official figures to see. Play it anyway you like we had tons of snow to ski on and the skiing was fantastic even if it did get a little heavy in the bottom sections.

We went to the Old Side because Timber Chair wasn't loading and got up via Deer and Bear - the fastest combination to the top. I don't usually go to the Old Side on a powder day because the pay for powder groups will already have been there and this depresses me - see earlier rants against this iniquitous practice. We ran straight down a lightly tracked Boom Ridge which was great skiing in the 35 cms of fresh powder.

Next loop we were trying to decide what to do when they dropped the fence on Cedar Ridge and we had the most awesome descent of the ridge. it was just an huge untracked float all the way down a so mellow. Kangaroo skied soft and a bit mushy in the final turns. We then had another loop through King Fir which was still deep with many untracked lines. In fairness I think I have to say that the snow off Cedar was the deepest and most like hero snow anywhere on the hill and the runs were spectacular - particularly the first when we got first tracks after the fence drop.

Things were getting a bit warm on the Old Side so we headed for the New Side. We were a bit reluctant as Big Bang and Lift Line were closed for the Junior Free Ski and we assumed that Knot Chutes and the I bowl would be closed to preserve to surfaces for the competition just like yesterday. In the event there was a strange closure where you could hike the chutes but not traverse in so as to save the competitors from traverse lines.This meant that Surprise Trees was open with excellent deep skiing and we looped it many times in great deep lightly tacked snow.

We received word from Ski Patrol that Currie Bowl would not open today but Anaconda would open some time during the day. On the strength of this we went for a fairly late lunch through Triple Trees which skied really well ( we had taken the top section earlier in the day) and even the final pitch above Summer Road was very mellow.

After lunch we headed back up the New Side and were surprised to find Currie Bowl was open although the County Line was shut down all the way to well below the low Reverse Traverse. We skied the far fence line in Currie and had some very good lightly tracked lines all the way down, even through the Gilmar Gully.

After that I hit three laps of Anaconda Glades which were all a little tracked but with some great untracked lines and real hero snow that allowed you just to push your skis in the fall line. The same was true in the skiers left trees of Bootleg which gave great deep skiing and for the first time this year I was able to take a line all the way down through the trees.

Final run should have been Skydive but with the County Line closed I had to make do with side stepping all the way up the Megasaurus Trail and hitting Skydive from where the trail crossed. It was really good deep skiing with much untracked skiing to be had. The worrying this was the huge amount of tracks coming down from above all the way across the traverse which indicated to me that an enormous amount of poaching had gone on. I hope these poachers were caught and punished as if not there is not much incentive for us law abiding citizens to toe the line.

Tomorrow we should get all of Currie and maybe Polar Peak but the warm temps remain worrying. I would still be much happier if everything was about 5 degrees cooler. A great days skiing with a few closures in 35 cms of real hero snow and many untracked areas to exploit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 71 Variable

Now, when I say variable, I don't mean we had the full range of conditions up to and including awesome. No, what I mean is that we skied on a variety of surfaces that ranged from pretty ok to totally evil.

Yesterday things were setting up as I left the hill but with temps of +4 as we drove to the hill this morning I fully expected a general softening all over the hill as the day went on, boy, was I in for a surprise. On the hill temps were about zero at the base and a couple of degrees below up top. As the day wore on the base may have just about got to plus temps but there was no really significant softening of the lower surfaces. Up the hill everything that had been rained on and soft yesterday (which meant more or less everything on the Old Side and everything from half way down White Pass on the New Side) was hard refrozen crud and just the top few turns above the rain line were in the new snow as reported by the hill.

Overnight they claimed 10 cms of fresh snow and so I have to accept this figure. I can only think that this was the wet mush that came down yesterday during the day as there was no sign of any new snow other than a a light dusting on top and certainly nothing resembling 10 cms. The real problem was that because the crust line was so high you either had to ski groomers which smashed up the crust but groomed in any new snow on top or ski the fresh snow on ungroomed runs which turned to ugly crust after about five turns - not much fun either way.

We went to the Old Side which proved to be a big mistake. We spent the morning poking around various areas trying to find some good skiing but quite frankly drawing a blank in most places. The only skiing that qualified as ok was the Bear Cave Chutes and the ungroomed skiing along side Cruiser in Cedar Bowl which was alright until about half way down. The other side of the coin was ugly skiing in China Wall (hard ungroomed ice bumps) and Kangaroo (hard and very ugly even by the standards of Kangaroo) which made skiing very hard work. About 11 in the morning we decided that the Old Side sucked and headed to the New Side to try our luck.

On the New Side Big Bang and Lift Line were closed for the junior free ski competition and in truth I wasn't sorry as they both looked very icy and ugly. I dropped Puff which was very hard icy bumps and as such was very enjoyable - I don't think this view was shared by the girl I saw being dragged out of it on a toboggan in the afternoon.

White Pass actually skied very well although Knot Chutes and Anaconda were also closed for the competition. The Gun Bowl was actually nice soft snow although the viz came and went. The crunch line came about half way down and you just had to jump your turns and boss the snow/ice from that point on. Last run before lunch I pushed out to Easter Bowl and had a few good turns in the top before it became hard and icy and then eventually breakable crust. Tough but a good work out.

After lunch we had hoped for the Polar Peak chair but viz had socked in on top. We looped White Pass a few times just like this morning but just like then we had soft snow to begin with and crunch lower down. I decided that we needed to try the Big 3 and went out on my own a hit Decline which was ok down to the Megasaurus trail being some new snow on a hard base but after that it turned to ugly ice bumps and then crust.

After a few more White Pass loops it started to snow quite hard and continued to the end of the day. I dropped 1-2-3s and found them to be the best snow on the hill being very soft and mellow and getting crunchy only in the lower part of 3s. It was time for a Skydive finish and unsurprisingly I was on my own. Just like all of the other runs it was few turns of soft snow on a firm base followed by ever hardening bumps followed by breakable crust. Personally I thought that was great fun challenging finish to the day but I am sure there will those who disagree.

As we left the hill it was +1 with wet snow falling and a promise of some more to come overnight. I'll take whatever we get. We have our last guest leaving a week tomorrow and have put in plans for a road trip up to Kicking Horse. My pass is good at that hill, they seem to be having more winter like conditions which is what I am looking for and the hotels in Golden are cheap as chips with mid week deals. I hope conditions here improve but it is a clear indication of just how bad things are when I am thinking of driving 4 hours to get some better skiing.

What really happened

What really happened.
Skiing took place. Now its important to understand that we are Bill and Lynda's guests so up until tonight we were learning. However, being one part Irish and several other parts Irish we decided to launch a counter attack. In retaliation for 800 years of oppression.

Long story short, Bill fell out of bed and cut his foot after drinking copious amounts of Whiskey.

Guests 1 Bill 0

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Day 70 a quick report

There are two reasons tonight's report is going to be quick, Firstly we are about to head out with our guests to be treated to dinner at the ever excellent Bridge Bistro so we don't want to be late. Secondly. today was much the same as yesterday but rather worse so all anyone needs to do is to read yesterday's report for the fine detail.

Today dawned very wet with warm temps. It was +2 or +3 all over the hill and all the skiing surfaces were soft and mushy. In the afternoon it seemed like it was setting up to me but that may just have been the very strong winds. As we drove away it was +4 and everything was depressingly wet.

The big difference from yesterday was that it rained all day. From first thing this morning until late in the afternoon we had heavy precip and it only gave up for the last hour of the day. The precip was rain almost up to the White Pass load and very heavy wet elephant snot above that. Viz was very poor on top so we faced the classic dilemma of staying high and getting poor viz but being dryer or running to base and getting wet in better viz.

For the morning we stayed in White Pass which was only partially opened due to the avi risk. the snow was very heavy and we skied where we could in soft mush. As one of my guests said with the poetic qualities for which the Irish are noted - It didn't matter if you were on a groomer or not at it was all chopped up sh-t. With the high Reverse Traverse closed we ran to lunch in slow motion mush through Currie Bowl. 

In the afternoon I looped the lower traverse into Currie and did multiple laps of Alpha Centauri and Concussion. About 3 they closed Currie bowl as the wet snow had pushed up the avi risk. With nowhere to ski I ran off the hill early via Siberia Ridge which was untracked with blow in snow (the winds had really picked up by then) and very mushy low down.

In summary a pretty dreadful day's skiing in rain, wet snow and for the most part on elephant snot that held your skis up all the time. Things have to get better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Day 69 yet another warm wet day

I might have added to the heading that the conditions were marginal but I really didn't need to as ski patrol had done this for me on their notices to skiers which said that groomers were recommended but off the groomers conditions were challenging - official speak for pretty crap.

We had yet another day of wet warm conditions which would be more in place in April rather than February. On the way to the hill today it was +1 which meant everything had set up on the upper hill over night. Conditions were over cast and called for showers or flurries all day and that was pretty much what we got depending on the elevation. During the day base temps got up to +5 and the Timber Top was +3 and the White Pass Load +4 so everything was turning steadily to mush as the day went on.

We had another 5 cms of wet something at the snow plot overnight and it was warm at the base as we got to the hill. We went to the Old Side on the grounds that this had been reported as quite good yesterday. It was a mistake because yesterday's break down of Bear Chair meant that not all that much of the area had been skied. Where the surface had not been skied it was hard rain crust, where it had been it was refrozen crud - all in all not much fun.

We poked around and found the Sunny Side Shoulder just about skiable, Cedar Ridge was ok but difficult low down and Kangaroo was ugly crust even by Kangaroo's own standard. Everything else was really ugly as nothing had softened but I would imagine that by late afternoon everything was soft and mellow in the atmospheric warming. About 11 it started to rain so we hit the New Side with a view to getting above the rain line for the rest of the day.

Going back to my theme of a few days ago things have changed with the weather. Back in the day when we had rain at the base the snow line would start at about the top of the Deer Chair and by the White Pass load we would be getting full on winter conditions. Now (like today) the snow line doesn't start until the White Pass load so all the White Pass skiing is in wet heavy mushy non winter snow. This was the case today where we had this heavy wet snow in White Pass all day. Maybe things would have been great in Polar Peak but for obvious reasons we were never going to get an opening there.

We looped White Pass several times through Gun Bowl (hard and ugly) and Highline/Pillow Talk etc which was all ok in the new snow. It's worth talking about the new snow as it seemed to come down white and then melt softening the existing base very quickly - I am not quite sure what was going on but it meant that very quickly we had soft deep melted Sierra Cement at best and Elephant Snot at worst.

Just before lunch we ran down Alpha Centauri and found it very soft and mushy all the way down. It was raining at the base and snowing wet snow on top and with a few breaks that was the pattern for the rest of the day. After lunch it was back up the New Side to try the new wet snow and it panned out as -
Lift Line - wet heavy sloughs almost taking me out.
Decline - as was apparent from the traverse which was like a wet ploughed field it was apparent that crust which was the problem yesterday was not going to be a major problem today. It was ok at first but just got heavier and wetter as we went down and was pure elephant snot by the end.
Cougar Glades/Stag Leap - Good in the top but heavy and quite challenging trees skiing lower down. Stag Leap skiing soft and mushy but was ok in the final steep pitch due to earlier skier traffic
Concussion - by this time things were getting very wet and heavy and I had to undertake some serious slough management by moving about in the chutes to avoid being taken out by my own slough.

Avi risks were obviously increasing in the wet heavy snow and the Saddles were closed and then a sign line was erected below Knot Chutes preventing anyone skiing the I bowl or the Idiot Traverse, and also Anaconda and Surprise. Only to be expected in heavy wet snow conditions.

Last run of course was Skydive which was just starting to set up a little but was very heavy and wet and was only really skiable because of the bumps in the terrain which allowed me to get air to pull the skis round, a tough way to end the day.

So there you have it, a tough, not very good day's skiing. That having been said I bumped into some visiting groomer skiers who were having the time of their lives so I guess it all depends on what you are looking for. Hopefully this is the end of the really warm weather and we will now see more precip in cooling temps which should mean snow - fingers crossed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Day 68 pretty good snow in limited terrain

After my depression yesterday at the lack of full winter conditions, today continued in much the same trend but despite that it was a pretty good day's skiing. Overnight it rained in the valley but there were signs that it had come down white at some time in the night, The hill initially claimed another 6 cms in the ast 24 hours at snow plot level and later rather more than that. My own impression was that we may have got about 10 cms at the very top of the hill but from about half way down it had been rain and the conditions turned from snow to crust pretty quickly.

On the way to the hill it was +3 and by afternoon in the valley we had +8 - is this really winter in BC ? All over the hill it was plus temps of around +2 but much more in the direct sunlight. By evening everything was starting to set up after a very soft day and where there had been no skier traffic we had ugly rain crust over the mid to lower part of the hill. It was mixed cloud and sun all day getting a bit more sunny early afternoon before starting to cloud over in the evening,

We decided to head to the New Side as we guessed that the crap line would start somewhere around the White Pass load in in that respect we were not all wrong. The decision proved doubly good as the Bear Chair was down all day with a mechanical fault and Boom Chair opened only mid morning and was closed at 3 for maintenance - I don't think the Old Side with limited lift access and most of it below the fresh snow line would have proved to be much fun today.

We dropped Lift Line from Timber top and found good if rather slabby fresh snow in the top and Jersey Cream at the bottom. White Pass had just opened and we looped the core several times with the zig zag closed and got some very good soft and deep lines. The next opening was the Knot chutes and the Zig Zag. We had many laps hitting all of the Knot chutes from Reef Knot to Jim Chute several times and then dropping various parts of Surprise Trees while waiting for Currie bowl and Anaconda Glades to open/

With no obvious sign of a new opening we dropped Triple Trees (all 4 pitches, no I don't understand either) and had good skiing which got a bit crunchy in the lower pitch. we went back up and had a few more White Pass loops where the chewed up snow in Surprise was actually skiing very soft and nice. I was just about to go to lunch when they dropped the fence on Currie Bowl - sometimes I think ski patrol time these opening just to ruin my digestion. We had word that Currie was closed at the County Line so we just dropped 1-2-3s where the skiing was good and untracked. There were some avi debris trails but even these were skiing quite soft.

We looped back  through Trespass Trail - by we I mean a blog reader from the UK called Mark who joined me for some of the afternoon - there, said you would get a mention. We then went to Anaconda on the basis that everyone had hit Currie and we were well rewarded with fresh tracks in Anaconda 1. Another Trespass loop and we tried Gotta Go which only had one track in front of us but it was a snowboard that had decided to side slip the choke - thanks buddy. After negotiating the now icy chute the skiing was very good low down. We ran to base down Gilmar Trail having rejected the idea of Bootleg Glades on the basis that the crust was starting just as we got to the bottom of Anaconda so te Glades would be pretty crusty.

Next time up the Reverse Traverse had been opened and we tried Skydive which only had one track in it. It was great until half way down the first pitch when it became ugly breakable rain crust and with a view to the safety of my skiing companions I bailed into Easter Bowl via Magasaurus which was not exactly a stroll in the park. Next time up I bumped into more buddies and had a great run down Anaconda 2 which was soft and deep.

So it was time for the last run and common sense said to leave Skydive alone. Needless to say we hit it from top to bottom and just like before it turned to ugly ice crust very quickly. At each turn we hoped it would soften but we were stuck with hard jumping in breakable rain crust all the way down with maybe the last couple of turns showing signs of softening.

After a few beers we entertained friends and had a great evening. The outlook is still for temps more in line with a summer night and precip which I would describe as rain were it not for the fact that the official line is that it never rains of Fernie ski hill - let's see.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Day 67 and today was better

In the same way that yesterday was much worse than anticipated, today was much better, I guess that is all part of the ying and yang of skiing in Fernie in the winter.

On the subject of winter I have to put in my 10 cents worth here. Now, I don't want to be a boring old fart always going on about how things were much better in days gone by (who said too late for that) but what has happened to winter ? We used to have problems like a late start or early finish to the season and we even had a warm up for a day or two with rain (I know officially according to the hill web site it never rains in Fernie in the winter) but basically we had rock solid minus temps for many weeks at a time where all precip came down white and what came down stayed in pretty good shape. We now seem to get many weeks at a time in Jan and Feb where the temps are significantly plus during the day and even plus at night as was the case last night. Global warming ? El Nino ? I don't know but whatever it is it is starting to get to the point that winter in Fernie no longer means snow but rather means wet rainy days and conditions which are variable to put it mildly.

Overnight we had temps of +2 in the valley and it rained quite hard. On the way to the hill it remained + 2 but during the day temps rose to around +7 at the base and even up the hill we saw +2 in White Pass. Overnight they called 6 cms of new snow which I was skeptical about but to be fair we had at least that and it was thick Jersey cream in the upper parts but from half way down it was rain crust. As the day wore on the lower parts of the hill softened with atmospheric warming and some direct sunlight in places so the transition from powder on the upper slopes to soft snow lower down was more or less seamless. Of course by the end of the day the lower parts were setting up pretty firm giving some tough skiing.

We went to the New Side anticipating better skiing higher up and immediately found lift line was soft and mostly untracked. A strange feature of today was almost no crowds and particularly where we went to ski no one turned up and we got many first tracks that I didn't expect. I did ask a few people the reason for this and the consensus seemed to be that no one thought the skiing would be much good - wrong.

We looped White Pass a couple of  times and had untracked lines in various parts of the bowl. I headed out to Surprise Trees and put first tracks in the near chutes which were starting to sun ball even that early in the direct sunlight. Next time round I tried Tight Knot Chute which was ok but a bit scratchy in places. the further part of Surprise was good and untracked. We had noticed going past Anaconda that there didn't appear to be much activity so next time round we took a look. We were amazed to find just one track side stepping the hump and no tracks at all in Anaconda one. We had first tracks in the chute and then first tracks again in the Bootleg nearside trees which were both soft and smooth.

We the decided to loop out along the Reverse Traverse and found -
Skydive - we actually cut first tracks into the top despite it being half way through the morning and shared first tracks. Totally awesome with the lower sections forming up almost as corn snow on a firm base.
Decline - just like Skydive but with one track in front of us, still great fresh lines.
Cougar Glades/Stag Leap - a couple of tracks in front of us which soon disappeared and we had untracked chutes in the fresh snow all the way down. The Stag Leap exit was rather more tracked but nothing too bad so some great lines.
Lone Fir - The wind had sifted in loads of snow and it skied well with a couple of tracks in  front of me. The cushion was super soft and it skied well all the way down to freeway and beyond down to the cat track.

After a very late lunch I headed back to the New Side and decided to try Polar Peak which had been open in the morning but with only the Coaster side open and so much better skiing to be had I had just ignored it. I went out to the Clown Chutes and dropped Crusty but with the wind howling and the chair running slow the risks of trying it again didn't seem to stack up.

I ran down Toque Chutes (amazingly some untracked faces) and Spinal Tap which only had one track in front of me which bailed after one turn. It was rather rain crusted untracked skiing but a lot of fun on the creek bed shoulder. Next loop was Decline and then down into Widow Chutes. The top of Decline was starting to get a bit firmer as the sun went down and the Window Chutes in a complete reversal of normal were tough in the rain crusted open sections but great skiing in the chokes where the crust had been broken by skier traffic.

One more White Pass loop and it was time for Skydive and what a change fro the morning. The top was ok fresh tracked snow skiing but the bottom was ugly refrozen crud and ice which really gave the fillings a work out as you dropped them - I guess all the Big 3 would have been the same.

Some snow in the forecast but plus temps in the offing for tomorrow. That having been said today was all plus temps and we had some pretty good skiing so who knows.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Day 66 rather disappointing

In the same way that yesterday was much better than I expected today was a major disappointment. We had been promised 10-15 cms of fresh snow with cooling temps. Well. we got the cooling ok although nothing too severe but the new snow was recorded at 4 cms but quite frankly I didn't see anything like that and the best was bit of wind sift on a firm base. In other words in the new politically correct jargon we had champagne on ice and in the language that we all recognise we had dust on crust.

As stated we had a little precip over night that came down all over the hill as very light dusting.On the way to the hill it was +1 and gave the impression that we might be getting a bluebird day. In the event it clouded over and base temps may have got up to +2 but all over the mountain it remained about zero. The effect on the skiing was that everything that had softened yesterday came back today as rock hard boiler plate or icy bumps depending on how the surface had been left yesterday. There was always the wind sift to grab your tips and make the tricky skiing even more challenging.

It was very busy for a Sunday due to the coincidence of Alberta family week and Presidents weekend down south. We decided to stay on the New Side to avoid the huge lines usually around on the Old Side, particularly at Haul Back where the rule that you always have to ride in pairs appears to have lapsed with the resulting effect on the waiting times.

Everywhere on White Pass was a hard base with dust on top and we looped it for some time. We eventually tried an Alpha Centari run to  base which was dust on flatish crust and ok skiing. The gully off to the left of Gilmar Trail was a bit slick in the top but sift low down. We looped more through Tom's Run dust on crust, Easter Bowl ditto and few Currie chutes. Last run before lunch was Decline which totally sucked being rock hard refrozen bumps all the way down. I quite enjoyed it but I can't imagine anyone else would.

In the afternoon I was back to the New Side and did -
Currie Chutes - still dust on some very firm under base.
Lone Fire - the best snow on the hill with deep sift in the chute and some ok snow on an ice base all the way down to Freeway
Stag Leap - very tough through the trees but it sucked a lot less than Decline in the main part of the run but was still dust on an icy base.

After a couple of laps of White Pass we hit Skydive for the final run. Skydive sucked a lot less than Decline and Stag Leap and was almost good skiing in places. The final pitch was predictably hard and icy.

So overall a very hard day on an icy base which didn't soften lower down like yesterday. As I said, I enjoy that sort of stuff but I think that puts me in a pretty small minority.We either need more snow or some warmer weather to soften the base, Given the lack of winter conditions in the forecast I suspect it will be warmer weather rather than any good new snow that might get us out of the rather poor conditions that we currently have.