Saturday, January 14, 2017

Day 44 Enjoying it while we can

What I mean by enjoying it while we can is that there is a warm up on the way and in the middle of next week even the hill's own forecast is calling for rain. Of course the forecast doesn't actually use the R word but that's what it means.

Perhaps it is time for a refresher course on interpreting information provided by ski hills. Any "information" on a ski hill web site is in fact advertising and as such whilst they would never actually tell a lie, sometimes they are economical with the truth - Fernie is certainly no worse and no better than any ski hill in this respect. The forecast for next week calls for snow Wed/Thurs, but with the snow line up to 1500 meters. Of course another way of saying that is that the rain line is at 1500 meters (over half way up the hill) but I guess that doesn't sound so good. For future reference just bear in mind whenever your read the words snow line think rain line.

No new snow was called for but over night we had 3 cms of dryish fluff and in overcast conditions it continued to snow off and on all day and I would imagine that 3 to 5 cms more accumulated but the time we finished. The base was down at 165 cms and as it has not been warm and the light snow shouldn't have settled I can only assume that the strong winds have scoured the snow plot and carried away some of the base - in any event that depth at the snow plot doesn't have much to do with the snow over the whole hill. Interestingly the base is about 30 cms behind where we were last year at this time and only 20 cms ahead of two years ago which was the worst season for 40 years - not that this proves anything but just saying.

Temps were a lot warmer at -16 on the way to the hill, and -14 on the way back. During the day the temps all over the hill hovered in the low minus teens and the wind was much less than of late. The viz was not great with fog and flat light that was sufficiently bad to prevent Polar Peak being opened.

We went to the Old Side on the basis that with the new snow and warmer temps the skate out along the Cedar High Traverse would be much easier and quicker and we were right. We also felt that as it had been so difficult to get out to Snake Ridge for the past few days on the slow snow and with the wind sift the snow out there would be deep and untracked snow and we were right again. We looped Snake Main, Steep and Deep and 3xGorby Bowls and had some fantastic deep powder skiing. Gorby was open all the way down for the first time this season so the sking just above and below the cliff band (which took a bit navigating) was thigh deep. Loops back were always through Kangaroo and Boomerang/Bear Chutes which were all soft and skied well.

After a late lunch I went to the New Side and took the Nameless Trees slightly to the right and found good untracked snow. I then dropped into the open space and creek bed between Skydive and Stag Leap and had some great tight deep turns between the alders before having to bail out just before the choke. Next was a climb up to Lone Fir which was filling in with the new snow and wind sift and skied well particularly in the fan. I cut into Spinal Tap and found that had filled in ok as well. I just had time for a very soft and deep loop through the top of Triple Trees and a skate back round Trespass Trail to get the last White Pass chair up.

The last rip was down Skydive which was starting to fill in quite nicely - the bottom section is getting particularly mellow if still a little twiggy. There was a line up for the Griz Bar so we just headed home for a quiet Saturday night in. I am just getting notice of between 2 and 4 buddies who intend to come and stay very soon so the quiet nights are likely to be coming to an end.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Day 43 Billygoating

On a day like today when there is no new snow and not much happening and Lynda has taken the day off so I am on my own, it's always a good day to try some billygoating of which more later.

As I said there was no significant new snow overnight but things had warmed up a little as it was only -22 on the way to the hill. This trend continued during the day as on the way back it was -16. Just like yesterday the mercury temp up the hill warmed a bit during the day but this was cancelled out but some brutal winds at the top of Timber Chair and White Pass Chair which were there for most of the day.

The conditions were overcast with some mountain snow which had accumulated about 1 cm before we started and maybe another cm during the day. This really only had the effect of making things look pretty and speed up the skiing surface but in the absence on anything else I'll take it. Of course in the brutal winds the Polar Peak chair was a non starter. With strong winds came windsift which gave smooth soft skiing on the leeward slopes and particularly in the Gun Bowl, the I Bowl and the Currie Chutes.

I went for a New Side day and no one I knew went to the Old Side so I have no idea of conditions over there. After a loop through the Gun Bowl, Anaconda Glades and Bootleg Glades all of which had wind sift and flat light I hit out on the Reverse Traverse which was pretty brutal and windy. At that point I had the idea of trying some billygoating.

Billygoating is where you poke around in some unusual places looking for lines that more or less no one ever skis. The plus to this is that you go to some interesting places, the downside is that you can find yourself in some pretty tight situations with limited exit options. I hiked up Cornice Ridge and dropped Lone Fir just to get in the mood and it was soft and deep. After that I did 3 more loops always hiking the ridge and dropping the face above Currie Creek and the Big 3 which is an almost unskied area full of steep deep chutes and rock bands. I was surprised just how much hill there was up there and just how technical some of the lines were but it was great way to spend the morning. Exits were through Decline, Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap or Cougar Glades where sifted wind improved the conditions.

In the afternoon I just did some New Side loops of Anaconda, Decline, Surprise Trees and Cougar Glades. all of which were improving with the wind blown snow. Cougar is getting almost ok on the left hand lower exit although it's still a bit twiggy. Last run of course was Skydive which was the usual rip with the lower section starting to fill in with some soft stuff to give the best run down since the last dump.

Having finally shaken this cold I had my first hot tub in about a week and it was good. Time for a nice early night to get a good start and beat the weekend crowds tomorrow. The forecast is still calling for a warm up and snow starting Sunday evening so fingers crossed it doesn't get too warm.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Day 42 Stagnant Airmass

Yes, stagnant airmass were the words used today by the forecasters on the radio to describe today's conditions. As near as I can make out this means that things were the same as yesterday which was more or less true.

On the way to the hill the temp on the truck showed -31 which was even colder than yesterday and driving away tonight it was -22 and didn't get much warmer during the day. Things got a little warmer on the mercury further up the hill but this was cancelled out plus some by the ridge line winds which gave a severe wind chill which at one time closed White Pass chair and eliminated any chance of getting Polar Peak open. There was no new snow but conditions were overcast giving some light mountain flurries during the day but with no accumulation. The cloud seemed to be hanging about the hill (I guess that's what they mean by stagnant) and looking out into the valley it appeared that we were an island of grey in a sea of blue. So it was another very cold day on hard chunky snow with nothing fresh to be found.

I am always surprised by how many people cut short their ski days, or worse still don't ski at all because of the cold. I have news for them, they have invented stuff called "warm clothes" and if you put these on and cover your head, feet and face you can ski all day while staying nice and warm. I am no hero and if I was getting cold I certainly wouldn't be skiing all day but by just wrapping up and covering up I can still ski through to 4 o'clock without any discomfort. The most common complaint is "my goggles keep on freezing up" which can easily be cured by making sure that your face covering does not push your breath up into your goggles. Strangely the same people go out day after day with the same equipment and suffer the same problem and wonder why - a working definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, but if they can't work that out I guess nothing I say will have any effect.

It was a day of break downs and closures. We arrived at the hill and found the heating in the day lodge not working and even by lunch time the eating area was far from warm. Elk  Chair was down for the second day running and showed no signs of having been repaired by this evening. Both Timber Chair and White Pass Chair were not loading first thing so the only skiing was to take the Deer Chair and ski across the connector to the Bear and Boom Chairs. Timber and White Pass opened after about half an hour although White Pass was shut down again late morning for a couple of hours due to the wind (chill not strength) at the top.

I flitted from the Old Side to the New Side and back all morning. Anaconda Glades were nice and full of wind sift as were Bootleg Glades. The reverse traverse was just brutal in the wind although in the afternoon patrol did a great job of shovelling everything super flat around the Currie Creek area. Decline was chunky on top  but soft lower down and Currie Creek and Alpha Centauri skied well in the new wind sift. On the Old Side Steep and Deep had some good untracked lines, as did Linda's. Boomerang and Kangaroo were hard and bumpy but then that's to be expected.

In the afternoon we did more New Side loops and found Anaconda, Cougar Glades and all the Currie Chutes particularly nice in the wind sift although it was brutally cold and the light was pretty flat. Last rip down Skydive was just as always, hard bumps in the top, soft in the mid section and twiggy in the bottom.

Home for yet another  quiet night in as it's just too cold to go out for anything but a hot tub. They promise a warm up tomorrow - maybe.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Day 41 Back to the Freezer

I thought that our days of Arctic conditions were over an we would be moving to a more normal Fernie winter, I was wrong. This morning it dawned pure bluebird without a cloud in the sky and stayed that way all day. On the way to the hill it was -30 but with a wind chill warning of temps down to -40, although fortunately there didn't appear to be any wind I could detect. Around the middle of the day I noticed that the Boom load was reading -22 and on the drive home it was -26 so a cold day in the valley. Up the hill things were a bit better in the direct sun light and with an inversion so that things got as warm as -12 at the Polar load which is still not exactly toastie  but way better than the valley temps.

There was no new snow overnight and with the Elk chair down the obvious thing to was to go to the New Side. The other obvious thing to do was to avoid the groomers like the plague although a few people seemed to disagree. On the groomers you do the least work to keep warm and ski the fastest to increase the wind chill so it seems obvious to me that on one of the coldest days of the year you avoid them and go somewhere that is hard work and slow skiing.

After poking around White Pass for a bit in chunky tracked up snow I dropped Decline which was predictably tougher than it had been as the very cold temps hardened up the recent snow despite it's low moisture content. Following my own advice I cut the first boot pack of the day up Knot Chutes, not because I thought the skiing would be particularly good (actually it was soft and untracked in the first chute all the way down to the Cheese Grater) but because the boot pack would warm me up - it certainly did.

Polar opened and I took several runs in the chutes and found pretty well what I expected. Crusty was good, Papa Bear was ok if a bit hard packed half way down, Shale Slope was actually very good in the top and the hard pack was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be, Mamma Bear was great firm but taking a nice edge skiing getting softer as you went down and Grand Papa Bear was variable in the top, ok in the chute as long as you stayed left and then totally sucked on windswept ice for the rest of the run. The view from the top of Polar was just spectacular and I can only repeat that I think it's the best 360 degree view anywhere I have ever skied.

In the sun Polar was probably the warmest place on the hill but in keeping with my plan after the last drop of Mamma Bear I traversed and then hiked into Lone Fir which was still in good shape in the chute and the fan underneath was sensational untracked skiing due to wind sift. The hike up was also nice and warming.

After that it was trip to Bear Chair and then out on the Cedar High Traverse which was running slowly in the cold conditions and provided another warming work out. The objective was Gorby Bowl which I hit on the Curve Ball shoulder and had deep untracked snow between tight alders for quite a long way down before cutting out into Steep and Deep which was tracked and chunky but ok. The return for lunch through Kangaroo and Boomerang was firm bump skiing but taking an ok edge.

After lunch it was back up the New Side for more of the same with Polar still the warmest place on the hill. A loop through Touque Chutes/Secret Chutes showed there was still some soft snow to be found in places if you knew where to look. After a quick Surprise Trees it was time for the final Skydive rip which went ok and convinced me that maybe this cold and runny nose is on the way out and at least some of my energy is starting to flow back and I should be back to normal soon - good news for me even if others may not be so convinced.

They are not calling for such cold temps tonight but then they weren't calling for them last night either. One way or another I will be back on the hill tomorrow enjoying whatever conditions nature decides to throw at us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day 40 Leftovers

Just like with food, when you have feast there are always leftovers. Whether these are any good or not can be very variable and can range of unappetizing cold cuts to a delicious meal. Skiing is a bit like that so when we have a great day like yesterday and no more snow we get leftovers which may or may not be any good, today the leftovers were very good and in some places almost as good as the original feast.

We had a dusting of snow overnight nothing to get excited about. Temps that had been rising dropped back and on the way to the hill we had -12. During the day things didn't get much warmer as it was -14 as we drove away but during the day there was bit of a warm up and an inversion so that at the Polar Peak load we were seeing -10 by early afternoon. The weather started overcast with some minor flurries but during the day the cloud broke up to give sunny periods although we were back to overcast with some non accumulating flurries by the end of the day.

Despite what I said about the Old Side yesterday (and got some stick from die hard Old Side fans for my trouble) I decided to give it a try as I had skied pretty well everywhere I wanted to go on the New Side and Polar Peak was only on standby. We went out on the Cedar High Traverse which was reasonably slick and easy to use and hit Snake Ridge which was ok but a little tracked up and chunky. Our return was through Kangaroo (ok and soft) and Boomerang (soft bumps) so although loops did take a long time the two drops involved were good skiing.

After that we just kept looping out to Gorby bowl which was super deep with many untracked lines and each time round we dropped that little bit lower to get more deep untracked snow. This involved traversing out into Steep and Deep which we managed each time although it was bit bushy at times and of course the exit through Steep and Deep (right chute) was very good indeed. Returns were always the same as before and after three loops that completed a great morning of skiing deep soft snow.

After lunch we headed to the New Side and found that Polar Peak had opened but had not been skied much. Papa Bear was soft and deep as was Mamma Bear and Crusty the Clown chute although all had a lot of variations in the skiing surface and you had to stay on your game at all times. The one big mistake was trying Grand Papa Bear which was ok in the chute but below was wind swept ice, crud, wind slab and a whole other selection of ugly surfaces - we only tried it once.

The afternoon comprised of a few loops of Polar as described above and then a drop to base and then repeat. The drops were through Decline which skied really well all the way down with lots of soft snow, Touque Chutes (still ok) and Spinal Tap which was rather more skied out than I anticipated.

Last run of course was Skydive which was the usual rip and if anything the snow was holding up even better than yesterday although obviously rather more tracked up. A few non alcoholic drinks in the bar and home for an early night to see if I can shake this cold that has been draining my energy for the past few days. Looks like we have few days of cold dry conditions before the next precip cycle starts at the weekend.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Day 39 Awesome Powder

It snowed overnight and when I checked the official web site while having my morning coffee it said that we had 5 cms of fresh. This seemed a bit odd as there was already more than double that in my drive and before I left for the hill the figure had been upped to 12 cms. On the way to the hill it was snowing really hard (some of the heaviest snowfall I have seen this winter) and although it did not last long I would imagine that by the time things eased up mid morning we probably had about 20 cms of snow out of this cycle.

Temps were -12 on the way to the hill and they rose steadily during the day so that by the end we had -5 up the hill and -4 on the valley floor. The cloud cover was pretty heavy giving some poor viz at the top of the hill and killing off any chance we might have had of getting Polar Peak. We had light flurries all day but nothing that amounted to much and the view is that we have seen most of the precip out of the current cycle.

The snow could not have come at a better time for as I pointed out yesterday the hill really needed it. Furthermore it came on a Monday when the weekend crowds had all gone (sorry guys but there are no friends on a powder day) and was just below the threshold for triggering the 20 cm rule in town so there was hardly anyone on the hill. A big dump of snow and the hill all to ourselves made for a very special day.

As always on a big powder day I went to the New Side. I accept that the skiing out on Snake Ridge was good today but having to ride 3 lifts and do 2 drops, not to mention the skate out on Cedar High Traverse just to get back to your starting position means that you can get almost twice as much awesome skiing on the New Side in the same amount of time. This is my personal view and I am aware that other views are available.

My day could not have started better as I headed out to try Surprise Trees only to find the fence being dropped on Anaconda and no one there. I hit the chute just over the hump and had a fantastic race with my own slough in totally untracked snow. I continued the drop in Bootleg trees with the same effect and found myself standing on the Gilmar Trail looking back at a totally deserted Currie bowl with only my tracks showing. I then went back and hit Surprise Trees left which were totally untracked and when I looped back the fence had dropped on Currie Bowl. I raced out to the Big 3 but noticed that Cougar Glades were totally untracked so I had a super deep powder run through the trees. I cut left into Stag Leap and found only two tracks there so there was an untracked line for me to take. Next loop I hit the top of the Brain which was (you guessed it) super deep and totally untracked. I then cut into Window chutes and found my first tracked run of the day - not a bad start.

The rest of the day was so good I just looped the New Side with no break for lunch. I left the Saddles alone as they were rather scrapped and in any event the light was not that good. I spent my time in Spinal Tap (3 times) Touque chutes (twice) Lone Fir, Easter Meadow (the tight chute beyond Lone Fir) Decline, Nameless Trees, The Brain to name but a few. Everything was soft and deep and there were still many untracked lines to be found even at the end of the day. Special mention must go to Triple Trees which I hit late afternoon from the top and were spectacularly deep. The final pitch still had some dead fall that you needed to skip over but that apart it was very mellow.

Final run of course was Skydive which amazingly enough I managed to rip in one despite having skied 7 hours straight with no food. We had a good crowd on Skydive including Lynda who had skied all day (she did have lunch) and earlier actually managed the hike up to Lone Fir for the first time since she got her new hip - the wonders of modern science.

In the Griz Bar there was also a good crowd but as I had rather spectacularly fallen off the waggon last night I was back on the OJ and soda as designated driver. Discussion revolved around whether of not we had more snow to come out of this cycle, opinions varied but as the Patrol have not called an AC start tomorrow the odds are probably against more snow. The Outlook is for it to get cold and stay sunny until next Sunday when there should be another big dump coming our way - sorry weekenders, that's just how it's working out this year. Here's hoping.

A special mention for the two pine martens that I saw in Cougar Glades and who let me get very close. I have never seen two together before and it really made my day.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Day 38 On the edge of a change

Woke up this morning - this is getting more and more like a Leadbelly (younger readers please Google) song every day. And when I woke up this morning I found it had just started snowing and temps were -15 on the way to the hill. During the day we had very light flurries off and on and although it didn't feel like it should be accumulating it did give us a covering on top of the old snow which did improve things. In truth the new snow speeded up the ski/snow reaction so that the tendency was to always push you into the back seat but if you were aware of this and got well over the skis the effect was to give you some very responsive turns all day.

Temps kind of warmed all day so that all over the hill we saw -15 rising to -11 during the day and even as we drove away from the hill it was only -14. Conditions were over cast giving some socked in conditions on top but from time to time we had breaks and in the afternoon we even had sun on the top of Polar Peak but cloud in the valley.

The base was down to 174cms which as a matter of interest is few cms below the level at this time last year despite the apparent good start to the season that we have had. It has to be said that everywhere now is in pretty bad need of new snow with rocks and twigs coming through in many places.

We went to the New Side and spent the day just looping the New Side by going up Polar Peak a couple of times each lap and then dropping through one of the many options available. We hit Polar 8 or 9 times and had runs which ranged from great viz in deep snow to complete white stick jobs in no viz at all. Papa Bear was very good and even Mama Bear had some nice soft lines.

The runs down were fun in the new snow covering which despite being light had a good effect on softening the surface. Touque Chutes/Secret Chutes (soft and deep) Decline (soft and much better than yesterday) Nameless trees (super deep but with dead fall and a cut out into Skydive the only way down) Lone Fir (ok in the chute and awesome in the fan) Stag Leap (ok in the trees, soft in the top but twiggy in the exit) Easter Meadow (soft but steep and tight as usual and good in the fan) The Brain (just the top section which was good) Window Chutes (surprisingly good even in the chokes) and maybe more besides.

My memory of  the runs may be affected by this being a drinking night for me - my first in 12 days. It was worth it as the snow was really very good and taking an edge despite there being very little new stuff. Overall it was  a very good day.

My concern tonight is that we are supposed to be getting some new snow but skis just don't look like it. I can only hope that things change over night and the 15 cms of more promised materialises before the morning.