Monday, April 17, 2017

Season Summary 2016-17

Looking back at the season just gone there were some real high points and one or two lows. For the season as a whole it has been a good season, not an awesome one or an outstanding one but a good one which as this is Fernie means it was way better than 90% of other ski resorts could even dream of (ending a sentence with a preposition are my standard slipping). The trouble is that after the season two years ago which was the worst for 40 years, and last year which was nothing to write home about people are tending rave over this season as if it was one of the great vintages, which it was not, it was however good.

First lets look at the statistics. We had just shy of 11 meters of snow fall and that is good by any definition. What was particularly good was that when the snow came it fell from top to bottom of the hill so we got great coverage all over and not what usually happens with good snow at the plot near the top of Bear and then rain affected surface below that. You only have to look at the pictures of last years Slope Soaker where the bottom of the hill was bare and this year where we still had great coverage. On closing day the base as measured at the plot was about 330 cms and the whole hill was totally skiable.

We had a season of 137 days which makes it one of the longest I can remember. Unfortunately due to family circumstances I had to return to the UK for 7 days at the beginning of February so I only got 130 but with the seniors discount (this was my first season as a senior) I reckon I got the daily average cost down to about $5.50 which I think represents fair value. Of course the hill could continue to stay open for several weeks but given the very low number of skiers seen in the final week we have to accept the financial inevitability of closing down after Easter.

The season started in the first week in December and conditions were so sketchy with no real snow fall that for some time it looked as if we might not open on time. After a few days of not very good skiing on our rock skies the snow machine switched on and the temps dropped to highs in the mid minus teens and lows in the mid minus 20s or colder. The result was that the snow that came down had about a zero moisture content so although it was awesome blower powder we didn't really get that base of good old wet Sierra Cement that we usually do to cover the rocks and beat down the alders. These conditions continued right through Christmas and the New year holidays and gave us one of the best pre Christmases I can remember.

January came and so did the usual January snow drought. It seems to me we always get a period of about three weeks from early January when we don't get any snow at all and this year was no exception. The problem this year was that despite good snow falls we hadn't had the solid base and skiing during the snow drought involved a lot of dodging obstructions, particularly alders that were sticking up for much longer than usual this season.

In Early Feb the drought broke in spectacular style with one of the biggest blizzards to hit Fernie for years. The problem was that we had too much snow in too short a time so that most of the hill was closed for several days and the number of really good awesome powder days that we got out of that cycle was fewer than you might have expected. The real issue occurred right on the tail of the final part of the storm when for one evening and into the night it rained from top to bottom of the hill and then froze - everywhere off the groomers became ugly rain crust and some of the toughest skiing I have ever done.

Things slowly improved with the odd flurry starting to repair the hill but for several days the only tracks on Skydive were mine, along side the ones I had left in the rain crust the previous night.  Mid February the snow machine turned back on again and ran through to the third week in March. This time the snow kept coming in manageable amount of 10/20 cms (sometime a bit more) night after night so that most of the hill was open most of the time. A special mention here has to go to Pro Patrol who did a fantastic job of getting Currie Bowl and the Reverse Traverse open quicker than I can ever remember giving us great deep untracked powder skiing every day. This was the truly awesome part of the season. This was the time when I seemed to spend all my time in the trees of The Brain, Nameless Trees, Diamond Leg Trees, Triple Trees and White Rabbit, a run I had only skied once before this season

Late March we started to get spring skiing but not in the usual way. We didn't get sunny days ( in fact I think we only sat out on the deck three times after skiing. What we did get was loads of precip usually coming as snow from the White Pass load and above, and rain below that although we did have a few days of rain all over the hill. This meant we did get some pretty horrible days of skiing pure elephant snot although on the days between the precip we had some good soft skiing on the wet surfaces which softened with atmospheric warming. We also had some dreadful experiences when the crud refroze overnight and was almost unskiable until it softened later in the day.

Towards the end of the season it was the North Facing slopes that stayed in the best condition and more than usual we spent days looping the Saddles, Corner Pocket, Lone Fir and Gotta Go. We also seemed to spend a lot of time in the Knot Chutes as they softened in the sun. The Currie Head Wall opened just before the end of the season for two days only (plus closing day of course) and I managed to get some drops of the Wimp Chutes just to show everyone that the old man can still ski a headwall once in while.

The final weekend summed up the crazy end of season conditions that we were having. On the Saturday we had full on winter conditions with snow or graupel showers all day all over the hill and some great untracked powder although it was on a hard refrozen base. On the Sunday it was bluebird conditions with all surfaces softening in the sun for spring skiing and a perfect end to the season sitting out on the deck of the Griz Bar drink beer and listening to BC/DC.

So that's it folks a good season which finished on a high. For us it was good mainly because Lynda's new hip is now fully functional and she was back skiing all the stuff she used to (Polar Peak, Saddles, Big Three etc) with no pain or problems. I think her new Volkl 108s helped and despite having to go back to the UK for 28 days she still got in 95 on the hill.

We are now heading back to the UK for a summer of sailing and running marathons but not before we swing by the Galapagos Islands on the way home, well ok it's a bit of a detour but it's somewhere we have both always wanted to go. Watch out for the fall report in September and see everyone next year.

PS a reminder to get your seasons pass for next year at early bird prices when they go on sale in May. Ski passes are the strangest purchase any of us make, we pay 100% up front months in advance for something where we have no idea of the quantity (number of days) or quality (conditions) of what we are buying. That having been said the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.


  1. Thanks for doing this blog! I wish I could ski as much as you do. I found your descriptions of the conditions to be accurate the days that I skied this season. You really help those of us who don't live in Fernie to get a feel for the conditions on the mountain. Maybe one day Fernie will give a real snow report and leave the webcams on all night instead of keeping us in the dark. Have a great summer and I look forward to reading your blog next season!

    1. Thanks, glad you liked it. Fingers crossed for an even better year next year

  2. Thanks Bill for your fantastic blog! We skied Fernie 12th - 14th March and were lucky to meet you during one of our first runs (the couple that lost a Ski just above idiot traverse...). Even now, a month later and back in Switzerland, I have Fernie in mind as if it was just yesterday we skied there. Great to be reminded of the fantastic skiing possibilities in Fernie through your daily report. We will close the season next weekend at the Arlberg in Austria - with over a meter of new snow reported just this week :-) let us know if you once happen to ski in Switzerland or Austria, else we will surely return to Fernie and already look forward to reading your blog to get the best snow report available. Enjoy the summer, safe sailing and all the best! Chrissi & Konstantin, Switzerland

  3. I remember you well, sorry you lost your ski up in the Knot Chutes. I used to ski St Anton a lot and that would be fantastic with a meter of snow. Hope to see you again in Fernie

  4. Awesome work Bill, thanks for the blog once again.
    I "only" got 35 Fernie days myself, but a fairly good season I thought. Managed to put in quite a few miles over the weekends and even burned through some binding parts in a disagreement with a tree. Many good pow days and some icy/ rainy days too, take the good with the bad I suppose.
    You can even call yourself an inspiration Bill. After reading that you had skied the Currie head wall I managed to do it myself the next weekend. Certainly a memorable event and one I will surely repeat as I work up my confidence.
    Looking forward to next season! I’ll try to buy you a beer (or juice!) for all the years of service you do the community.
    -Crazy snowboarder in a jumpsuit.

    1. Glad to have "inspired" you to try the Currie Head Wall, next season I am aiming for the Lizard.

  5. Your time commitment is well appreciated once again this season Bill. I even managed to ski a run or two with you this season which was quite cool, almost like skiing with a celebrity.
    It is always interesting reading the blogs when you mention a run that is not on the map, you certainly do know the hill inside and out!
    We look forward to seeing you again next season!

  6. Hope to get a few runs in together next year on some of those unmarked runs.

  7. Thanks for continuing to write the blog bill, it is very useful and is much appreciated.