Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Season Summary 2015-16

To encapsulate things in very few words I would summarise this season as being just about ok but slightly below average. Now, I know this isn't the official line which is that this season was very good, maybe even awesome but as far as I am concerned that just isn't the case and I call things as I see them.

When I got less than enthusiastic about the season someone always said "at least it's better than last year" this became such a mantra that by the end of the season I was threatening to punch out the next person to say it. Last year was the worst season for 40 years if you can believe some of the long term locals or maybe 60 years if you believe others. To use last year a a yardstick is setting the bar pretty low and I prefer to use my last 12 years of skiing Fernie more or less every day (all day) as my measure and by those standards this season was below average.

The reason for the less than good conditions can be summed up in two words "El Nino". To massively over simplify the El Nino (the little boy) is a cyclical warming of the waters of the eastern Pacific which is where most of our weather comes from. It's counter part is a cooling of the waters known as La Nina (the little girl) which affects our weather in a very different way. Last year was an El Nino year and initial forecasts which were for the El Nino to subside proved wrong and it did in fact strengthen giving the warmest water temperatures since records began. The result was that from the time of the year when the Pacific systems really start to come in (around mid to late January) temperatures were way above normal with February coming in at 5 degrees on average above seasonal norms.

Of course certain commercial interests are doing their best to talk up the season and they quote the hard numbers to show that the season was pretty good. We had 800 cms of snowfall, a base which reached above 3 meters in January and a finishing base of 270 cms, falling below 3 meters only in the last couple of weeks. So looking at the numbers, on paper the season seems quite good, the problem is that we don't ski on paper we ski on snow. If I were one of those commercial interests I would also ponder the wisdom of describing a below average season such as this as "great". Anyone who skied the season and reads that will never ski here again if they think that is our definition of great. Much better to tell the truth so that they know that in even a good year Fernie is way better than we saw this season - that will keep them coming back.

With the El Nino effect much stronger than last year there was every likelihood that this year would be even worse which it certainly wasn't. It is worth examining why the season was actually better than last year and despite the hard numbers why it was nowhere near as good as average.

Why the season was better can mostly be explained by the early season conditions. After a slightly disappointing wet and warm start we had spectacular winter conditions day after day with good if not super deep powder and nice cold temps. These conditions held all the way through to the end of January. The result was that we had a snow base well over 3 meters (last year it never reached 2 meters) and good coverage all the way down to the day lodge. Cold temps allowed significant snow making to take place giving good coverage and plenty of reserve snow piles that could be used to repair the lower hill later in the season. Put simply we had a much bigger safety margin at the end of January than we had last year so when things started to go wrong (and they did go wrong) they were not as bad as last year.

From the start of February things really did start to go wrong and we had many days (including a full week) when temps in the valley never dropped below zero even at night. The reason for this is that the El Nino effect doesn't cut in until the jet stream starts to drive the Pacific systems into the interior and this year that was about the start of February. On the hill we had spring skiing with soft daytime snow freezing hard at night and softening during the day - I am not the worlds greatest fan of spring skiing at any time but in February when we have known temps of -30 before it was pretty awful. As I said before February average temps were 5 degrees warmer than the norm.

As we moved into March everyone talked about how we often get some of the best snow in March - wrong. Things just became more spring like day by day with the snow becoming very soft in the afternoon and significant closures having to be made because of wet snow avalanche danger. The only success stories at this time were Kangaroo (newly cleaned out and skiing soft bumps instead of the usual icy terrain) and the Polar Chutes which benefited from the hard ice early season base in that it kept the skiing surfaces flat. The chutes are usually hard and cold but in the warm soft conditions they skied about as mellow as I can remember them.

For the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season I abandoned  ski gear and skied in my cotton pants and a fleece - sometime I even discarded the fleece in favour of a T shirt in the afternoon. We were regularly skiing in temps of over +20 and outside of summer skiing on the glaciers this was a new experience for me. Perhaps this was the inspiration for me hitting my first ever slope soaker on closing day.

We did have some snow in the second half of the season and hence the 800 cms of snow fall. The problem was that with things so warm the rain line (snow line if you prefer) was not down on the lower mountain as usual but just about up at (and some times above) White Pass Load. In simple terms this meant that at the very top (as measured by the official snow plot) we did get snow but a couple of turns below it was rain all the way to the base, The effect was that whilst the snow increased the base for a very small part of the upper hill, for the most part it reduced the base as the rain fell on the snow all over the rest of the hill.

To make matter worse because of the warm conditions even where the snow came down it was soft and heavy mush frequently getting rained on later as the rain line moved up the hill during the day. This meant that rather than our usual experience where a snow cycle gave us several days of good winter snow to ski on we were in fact lucky to get a whole day of good skiing on the soft snow out of each cycle. At best after the first day the temps stayed high and we ended up with elephant snot and at worst it refroze over night giving icy conditions so bad that patrol had to close large areas of the hill for safety reasons.

So there you have it my view of the season with explanations of why the skiing didn't feel too good despite figures that might have indicated something better. We have to hope that the El Nino actually does subside as it is forecast this year but we must bear in mind that last year they forecast a subsiding El Nino and look at what we got. We must live in hope.

Have a great summer and see everyone for the Fall report sometime in September.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Captain's log supplemental

By popular request here are two pics, one just before disaster struck in the Slope Soaker and one just after.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Day 122 closing day

So the season came to an end with the final day. In normal circumstances I would have spent that day rather like my buddies did by skiing Polar Chutes (which I understand were quite good) and finishing on Skydive which I also understand was some ok skiing. Today was different for me in that I had entered the Slope Soaker ( a competition to straight line it from a start mound and see how far you can get across a specially constructed pond after taking a bit of a jump) so I had to build my last day round that. In the event I totally miscalculated how far to get forward on the skis when I jumped and managed a spectacular back flip very shortly after I landed but it was huge fun.

It was +6 on the way to the hill and got up to about +11 during the day so though it was yet another blue bird day it was just a little cooler than yesterday. Everything in the sun started to soften quite quickly and in the shaded areas it stayed very crisp at least until the late afternoon.

We went to the Old Side for a few loops of Cedar Ridge, Kangaroo, Boom Ridge and Boom Guts all of which were firm bases with some soft on top and great skiing. We had to drop to base for me to register for the Soaker at 10:30 and I took the opportunity of a few runs off the start area to get a feel of what would be required,

After registration which gave me a start number of 55 (about 1 hour into the event) we went back up the Old Side and put in more loops just like this morning where Boom Ridge in particular was great soft bump skiing. Everything was getting softer and Kangaroo was getting very marginal with the twigs, stumps and rocks starting to show through.

I had a safety briefing at 12:30 which in the Fernie way of things meant that it was held at about 1 and the event started almost straight away. I went to the locker room to put on my costume - my rain gear as I didn't want to get wet. By the time I had done that I only had time to watch the early competitors before it was my turn, As the many videos show I hit it full on but was just not prepared for how fast the skis were going to accelerate on water and my back flip was very spectacular.

I had the fore thought to bring a full change of clothing including boots but it took a while to get back to the locker room and get dried and changed. It was more or less 3 o'clock before we got back on the hill and I had to get to the Mighty Moose to pick up my poles which were not allowed in the Soaker as they might damage the pool - which incidentally was f---ing freezing. We did think about going to the New Side for the classic Skydive finish but today had been so off the wall that we just stayed on the Old Side.

We had a couple more loops of the KC Chutes which just like yesterday were mostly untracked and just getting soft. Boom Ridge and Boom Guts were good with surfaces which were just starting to reset the mush on firm bumps. The final run was a trip out to Dancer and then a drop down the Freeway gully and Freeway itself all of which were ungroomed and very soft easy bumps on a firm base. An unusual final day but reflecting the strange day I had planned for myself.

Great beers in the Griz made all the better by picking up a spot prize for being the oldest guy ever to compete in the Soaker. Lynda loves her new white H/H jacket. Of course in the bar there were the usual Monday Morning Quarterbacks telling me exactly where I went wrong on the Soaker. As far as I could make out, the only thing they all had in common was that none of them had ever attempted the Soaker themselves and so didn't have the slightest idea what they were talking about. Well, it wouldn't be Fernie if I didn't encounter lots of people who hold strong view on subjects of which they are totally ignorant.

It was a great evening and a great end to a really good few days skiing at the end of the season. I will need to gather my thoughts before putting together the full seasons report which will appear here in a day or two. Lets face it, the season was good but not all that good so I have to find a way of expressing that fairly reflecting what it was we have had this season.

Day 121 Furnival

Today was the final Saturday of the season and as such was officially Furnival. This is our end of season where we get  a well known band to play in the plaza and we all get fairly drunk while listening. This year the band was Platinum Blond which I have to confess is a band with who's work I am not over familiar. They were actually very good and everyone enjoyed themselves.

The reason for tonight's indecently late report is that after staying too long at Fernival we biked to the Pub for some food and drink with good buddies and things got a bit out of hand. Only one more day to go.

Overnight things didn't really get cold and it was +3 on the deck when we woke up this morning and as we drove to the hill it was actually +13 as we arrived. Temps at the Timber load were +15 and up the hill it still was +12 at Timber top and +8 at Polar Peak load. These of course were temps in the shade and in the direct sunlight (it was yest another blue bird day) it was a good 10 degrees warmer than the mercury in the shade. In other words we had another day of summer skiing where the slopes in the sun got soft quick and those in the shade warmed eventually late afternoon.

We went to the New Side as this had become too soft very early yesterday. We had several loops through White Pass where it was soft in the Gun Bowl (particularly under the lift tower) Pillow Talk (the chutes were very soft and easy edge to edge jumping) and Morgans Dilemma which was soft and untracked. Polar Peak was open and although the chutes were not open (which means that we can't really say we skied Polar Peak) Crusty Clown Chute was soft and easy bump skiing. The run to base was via Currie Glades as the Reverse Traverse was closed and we went to the Old Side.

On the Old Side things were very soft and we hit Bear Cave chutes which were still icy out of the sun and then New Lift line which was just taking an edge. Cedar Centre was soft as was Kangaroo which needed some serious navigation considerations in the melting snow. We did a few more loops of Cedar Bowl and also Boom Ridge which was still skiing as soft easy bumps. Part of my intention in skiing Boom Ridge was to hit the 20 ft water splash to skiers left of the lift. I was only partly successful in this as all day about half the times I was approaching the splash a skier or boarder emerged from Lower North Ridge and cut me off. What ever happened to etiquette ? A few years ago skiers/boarders approaching a splash would look to see if anyone was going to hit it and hold back if they were. Now they just seem to stop on the ski in, cutting off anyone attempting the splash totally oblivious of anything else going on - sign of the times ?

It was time for lunch and after lunch I was back up the Old Side.  I discovered that the right hand side KC Chutes were open in Cedar Bowl and untracked so I skied them up to the sign line all afternoon and had great untracked skiing on a soft snow surface with a firm under base. Kangaroo skied ok all afternoon although it was getting very marginal towards the end. I also hit Boom Ridge several times over which remained good soft bump skiing on a firm base. The splash at the Boom Load was getting very big and was great water skiing - of course last run a boarder cut me off and I had to bail but that was how things were today.

Last run was Boom Guts which were soft even in the shadows of the setting sun. Beers in the Griz were good and although the deck was very nice we had just too much sun during the day and went for a quiet inside table. The beer was still good. We biked to the pub and had more beer so here we are ready for last day - let's hope it;s a good one.