Saturday, December 17, 2016

Day 16 Brass Monkeys Beware

Back in the UK we have an expression when things get really cold, we say "Its cold enough to freeze the b---ocks off a brass monkey. Well, today in Fernie there could well have been any number of brass monkeys talking in high pitched voices as it was seriously cold.

The starting temp even in the valley was -30 with no new snow so the base remained at about 115 cms. When I say starting temp of course I don't really mean that as everyone knows that they won't load lifts in those temps to protect customers so I gave it an hour before turning up at the hill. Even driving up Ski Hill Road at 10 o'clock it was still -28 and when I arrived no lifts were running.

By the time I had got my boots on a layered up (something that takes quite some time with the 6 layers needed today) Timber Chair was moving but not loading but the whole of the Old Side lift system was open for business. After a short time Timber stopped and attempts to open the New Side were abandoned for the day due to the cold temps on top. Usually a weekend with only the Old Side open would mean big line ups but the crowds stayed away in the cold and things were so quiet I didn't even share a chair with anyone all day - Lynda decided to have a rest day, and who could blame her.

During the day temps on the Old Side got up to about -22 and it clouded over and snowed. Well, when I say it snowed, we had some very light white powder floating down with almost zero moisture content and no accumulation and for once the forecast of "less than a centimeter" was a very accurate call. The groomers were smooth and hard as you can imagine and the cat tracks were about as slippery as sandpaper due the a condition I believe is technically called " interlocking dendritic crystals" or slow squeaky snow as we know it.

Off the groomers it was just like yesterday with a hard uneven base and highly variable tracked powder which became real hard pack in high traffic areas. Early season hazards were around and were most visible as alders if you were lucky or hidden as tree stumps and rocks if you were not - get well soon Gary. The snow was slow and hard work to move around so again it was a day when the skiing was very tiring on top of the tiredness which comes from skiing all day in such cold temps.

I spent the day in good Old Side Triangle loops mainly off Boomerang hitting Boom, Boom Ridge, Linda's, Cedar Ridge and the occasional dip into Lizard Bowl. About 6 or 7 returns were via Kangaroo which was more or less the run of the day with soft snow although you had to be a bit circumspect on the drop onto the cat track. For those who are not fans of the Roo I guess the choice was between Boom Ridge and Linda's. The traverse out to Snake was open but with the slow snow it would have been just a bit too much hard work for me but probably pretty good when you got there.

On the forecast front I was chatting to some people who should know a bit about this subject and their view is that in this cycle we are going to get early next week we are going to get way more snow than forecast and it is going to come down a heavy Sierra Cement in the warmer temps which is just what the hill needs to cover all the hazards. Heres hoping.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Day 15 Plan B

Yes, I know I said that I would stop posting every day but I have had so many requests to rethink that I am prepared to try Plan B. That is to post more frequently but post less. It seems that what people are interested in are conditions and I reckon I could get those across in very few words on a daily basis. The stuff about what I have skied which is only of limited interest even to my friends can be dumped with no great loss - lets see how it goes.

Today we had no new snow so the  base was down to about 112 cms. This would normally be pretty good at this time of year but the snow that has come down has been at very cold temps with almost no moisture content so it  has no real body to cover and beat down the early season hazards, particularly alders. The result is good coverage but a base that was good to ski when new but is now fading fast.

It was seriously cold, so cold  in fact that the Timber Chair didn't start running until gone 10. Most of the day it hung at around -23 in mid mountain locations and any slight wind pushed the chill factor way down into the -30s. It was a day for many layers and full skin coverage to avoid frost bite.

With the last new snow 6 days ago the hill is starting to take on a rather beat up look and skiing is very tough. The only good news is that the snow had no moisture content as if it had the cold weather since then would have made the tracked up powder even more hard than it is. Ignoring the groomers (which I do) which seem to be in great condition nothing on the hill is easy to ski. The surfaces are chopped up and uneven so try to throw you off balance all the time. There are many early season hazards which would be difficult enough to avoid if the skiing was easy but in what we have it makes for a very difficult time and almost impossible to link a nice run together without having to constantly check and rebalance to avoid the undergrowth.

I skied both sides and the only real difference was that the New Side was a bit colder than the Old Side. Run of the day on the Old Side was Boom Ridge and on the New Side Anaconda but neither were easy or relaxing.

No new snow tomorrow and temps forecast to drop even further so I guess the good news is no weekend crowds and the bad news is the tough skiing continues. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Days 11-14 Back to the freezer

Writing this blog in 3 or 4 day bursts was an exercise that I thought would be something of a challenge if only to the memory. In the event nature seems to be on my side by delivering the season in bite sized packages of similar conditions so that I have to do very little to remember the details of each burst. So here we go with another 4 days of the season in summary form.

Last Sunday night the storm which had been puking snow for 24 hours petered out and by the morning we had 47cms of fresh snow to trash out of that cycle. Monday dawned in beautiful bluebird conditions although the daytime high was only about -16 and as a result the snow stayed in great shape. As you can imagine Monday or not there were some crowds at the start of a perfect powder day - I guess a lot of grand mothers were being buried in Fernie that day. The White Pass core opened first with some great lines back in to Timber bowl deep and untracked. By mid morning as the crowds thinned Currie bowl came on tap and we had run of the year (perhaps the lifetime) by getting second tracks through Corner Pocket and having the whole slope in to Lizard to trash in almost half a meter of snow. Polar Peak opened late morning but with a huge line up we continued to loop the Saddles in untracked snow a few more times getting great untracked skiing.

The crowds died down on Polar and we found plenty of untracked snow in Grand Papa Bear, Papa bear and Barely legal. After lunch I continued to lap Polar but about 3 o'clock my day was cut short with my second heel binding breakage in two days which caused a major stack in Barely Legal resulting in a torn calf muscle. The guys at Straight Line promised me a working pair of skis by 6 that evening and were as good as their word, keeping one pair back for a warranty claim which they did the next day getting me back to a pair and a spare - as always great work guys. The torn calf muscle made walking a bit painful putting an end to running in the gym for the moment but strangely doesn't seem to affect skiing - go figure.

Tuesday was cold with highs not much warmer than -20 and a bit of an inversion. Everything was quiet with no new snow but what the stay aways hadn't worked out was that Snake Ridge would open for the first time this season. It was a long hike out as the snow wasn't running well in the cold, the cat track was up hill in places and the low traverse hadn't been cut - still hasn't as far as I know. The laps were obviously slow but it was worth it for the powder which was waist deep in places. Two runs down Snake Main and exit by the right shoulder were good but the real treat was Steep and Deep where a lot of good summer brush work has been done making the skiers right drop into Gorby wide open all the way to the cat track without an alder in sight. Even Kangaroo was open to complete my ideal Old Side loop. The afternoon was spent finding different routes off Polar Peak such as Crusty Chute or Shale Slope top and cut left under the cliffs into Grand Papa Bear, all deep and in many places untracked - a word of warning, the Coaster is like a rock garden and only use it if you are looking to get a new pair of skis for Christmas. Final Skydive was as always good.

Wednesday was spent exploring some of the areas of the Old Side which still are rather marginal such as Linda's, King Fir, Bear Chutes and similar runs. They all proved skiable with care and had some very deep snow but the hazards meant that linking a run together was not easy. I only had the energy for one trip out to Steep and Deep but it was well worth it with much of the area untracked and the newly cleared area skiing like a dream. The whole thing was made more interesting by meeting a Moose on the way out through Haul Back but she didn't seem interested and eventually wandered off. It was supposed to be another day for an inversion but it seemed to be about -20 all over to me and things only warmed a little in the afternoon up Polar Peak (still deep snow and good lines) much later in the afternoon. Skydive was as always a good way to finish.

Thursday we had been promised some more snow and although it clouded over in the morning and some white stuff fell briefly from the sky there was no accumulation and by the afternoon we were back to bluebird conditions. Things did warm up to about -13 although it didn't really feel much warmer. I decided to have a New Side Day just looping out to the Big Three and taking Skydive, Currie Creek, Decline, Stag Leap Window Chutes, Spinal Tap, Cougar Glades, Touque Chutes and all similar areas. As you would expect the runs had areas of seep untracked snow but loads of hidden hazards like covered tree stumps, dead fall and of course alders and devils club. I even ended up with a bloody face as a result of alder whip which left it's mark so I guess there goes the career in modelling. Deepest and most untracked snow was in Window Chute/ Spinal Tap and the areas between but then that was where the most hazards were as well. The bridge at the end of the Reverse Traverse is worth a mention as it is still exposed wood slats and some orange plastic which holds up under skis surprisingly well but does do your head in if you aren't ready for it. In the circumstances a Skydive finish was hardly surprising.

So that's the last few days in summary. We now look to be getting a couple of really cold days (Friday afternoon -32 with wind chill) before things warm up to minus single figures and we get more snow. They are only calling for 5-10 cms but that was what they were calling for last weekend when we got nearly half a meter. Current base is in at about 125 cms which is good for the time of year and if we get more snow at warmer temps we could get some good old Sierra Cement to beat down the alders and give us a really good base .Fingers crossed.

Finally a number of people had expressed disappointment at the blog going down to only twice a week. Sorry guys but it really is a time thing. A number of people have emailed me to ask specific questions and I am always happy to answer emails on specific points if that helps.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Days 8-10 From freezer to awesome in just three days

When I left you dear reader you will recall that we were in the middle of a serious freeze up with no new snow but the stuff we had was well preserved in the cold and we were getting new untracked skiing as new parts of the hill were opening up on a daily basis. The Old Side was a bust as the Boomerang chair and Haul back T bar were not running and despite some considerable pre season publicity Polar Peak was yet to open. Well in the 3 days since my last entry pretty well everything has changed and for the better in a big way.

On Friday the weather continued much as it had all week with daytime highs on the hill barely getting above -20 and night time lows much colder. Overnight Friday into Saturday we had about 5 cms of fresh snow but with the daytime highs still in the mid minus teens it was low density snow which did little more than make things look a bit prettier. The real story is of Sunday (today) where the snow started in the night and by morning we had 12 cms of rather more solid snow as temps had risen to around -10. During the day it just kept coming, puking down snow all day giving us an estimated 35 cms of snow out of the cycle so far with an estimated 15 cms more to come before it all peters out some time tomorrow morning. The result has been that the hill has been transformed into a thick covering of deep powder all over with any closures more likely to be due to avi risks rather than poor coverage.

Friday was a New Side day due to the lack of lifts running on the Old Side. Everything that had been open remained good and we spent most of our time out on the Reverse Traverse either hitting the Saddles, Easter Bowl and the Big 3 or Cougar Glades. With the lack of people there were still plenty of untracked lines to be had but you did have to cut quite close to the trees to get the good stuff.

Saturday they opened all the lifts on the Old Side and I had intended to try them out but after a New Side morning which was improved by the new snow but I was ambushed by a Polar Peak opening around mid day. There was a brief window when the snow in the chutes was mostly untracked and the light was good. We looped Grand Papa Bear, Barely Legal and Papa Bear getting some great steep and deep skiing. After a late lunch we went back but the light had gone although the skiing was just as good, just not as easy. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the new snow in the Saddles although last run down Skydive was made interesting by my heel binding breaking and me having to get down the final pitch on one ski - not recommended but it had to be done.

Sunday I was out on the new DPS Wailer Pures (I had no choice with the binding gone on the old skis) and we decided to try the Old Side. Cedar was only open to just short of Snake Ridge although that may have opened later in the day. The new 12 cms of fresh snow which was being added to all the time made for great skiing in Cedar Ridge, Boomerang, Sun Up, Bear, and even Kangaroo. After a while we decided to go back to the New Side to see what effect the new snow had there.

The New Side was getting better all the time although the Knot Chutes remained a bit sketchy. Surprise Trees, Anaconda Glades, Bootleg Trees, and Currie Chutes were all good and filling in faster than we could trash them. The run to lunch through Easter was really good with the snow filling in very deep on the skiers right. After a quick lunch we were surprised to find Polar Peak open in the poor light but spent the afternoon looping Grand Papa and Papa Bear which by now were well over knee deep in soft powder which got deeper each lap. Viz was poor but with non stop face shots you would not have been able to see anyway so what the hell.

I got out as far as Baby Bear for the run off the chutes and it was just spectacular, one of the top 10 runs of all time. I linked into Decline where the top section was now untracked and deep and then cut into Window Chutes which was more than thigh deep in the places where the old snow had not been skied - seriously deep awesome skiing. Final run was Skydive which was just spectacular with long untracked lines and most of the early season growth covered - much easier than yesterday as I had two skis this time. Everyone in the bar was so pumped up about the conditions it made for a great evening although the drive back to town was rather testing even in the truck in 4x4 with snow tires.

So there you have it, tomorrow looks like it will be a super deep powder Monday which is a good way to start the week. Looks like the gym will have to do without me for a day or two. It is forecast to go back to some serious minus temps this week so the snow should stay in good shape and the crowds (well people then) should stay away because of the cold. Wait for Thursday evening for an update.