Saturday, January 21, 2017

Day 51 I was right all along

For the past couple of days I have been saying that I have been ignoring the Old Side on the grounds that the skiing over there sucked although because I wasn't skiing it then this was an assumption on my part. Well, today we went over to try it and I am pleased (well not that pleased) to say I was right, it sucked, but more of that later.

There was no new snow and on the way to the hill it was -10 and sunny but with a slight high misty cloud. The cloud cover continued all day and increased so that as we drove away in temps of -5 we were actually getting some light snow which is continuing this evening but without much evidence of accumulation. The cloud remained high enough for us to have good viz for the most part but with some patches of flat light away from the direct sunlight. During the day temps rose a little but at every point on the hill it was several degrees sub zero so everything stayed bullet hard and frozen.

As I said in the interests of journalistic accuracy we went to the Old Side to see what conditions were like. The first few turns in Cedar Ridge were actually ok but then it became breakable crust all the way down. Kangaroo was ugly even by Kangaroo's own standards with hard icy bumps in the top, about a 1 metre drop on to the cat track due to some random grooming and the lower section refrozen tracked crud which was mixture of a rock hard ploughed field and rail road tracks. Boomerang was only a bit better and this was enough to convince me that my conclusions had been correct and it was time to head to the New Side.

Polar Peak was open and this time we had both sides, the Chutes and the Coaster side. This opened up Shale Slope and the Clown Chutes to add to yesterday options not to mention the mixture of cutting from Shale towards Grand Papa, skiing the shoulder and then dropping into the Grand Papa Chute - run of the day for me. With so many options I had no trouble in amusing myself all the way through to a late lunch just looping the Peak. Unfortunately a lot of people had the same idea and it wasn't long before the poor old generator on the chair started to overheat and we had to go to only loading every other chair - not a problem if you were riding single as I was but a pain otherwise. Final run before a late lunch was to hit the near untracked chute between Papa Bear and Mama Bear and then traverse across almost into the top of Spirit Bear which was the first time I had hit that line this season and it was great. The run to base was through Concussion which was still skiing very nicely in the chutes.

After lunch I intended to continue on Polar Peak but found the chair broken down for the rest of the day with people on the chair - as I didn't hear about an evac I assume they at least managed to run those stuck through to the top. I spent the afternoon looping the Currie Chutes from Concussion to Barracuda all of which skied well taking and edge even if they were a bit crusty low down. Gilmar Trail had turned to sheet ice where no matter how you pointed your skies you just slid down the fall line and this seemed to disconcert quite a few people.

Last run was Skydive where I had no great expectations and fully expected it to be just as bad as yesterday and perhaps because of this only two of us turned up to ski it. Actually it was good in the top and the mid section of crust seemed easier than of late although this may just be us getting used to the conditions. The final pitch was hard refrozen crud so overall the run was marginally better today but that may just have been our perception.

It was Kokanee Snow Dreams Party this weekend which in my opinion is an event well worth missing unless you enjoy crowds of strangers, a long line up to get in the bar and music too loud to allow conversation. We went to the Kodiak Lounge (cheapest beer in Fernie) for a quiet drink and then on to the pub to eat - a much better option in my opinion. The good news is that it is still snowing, not hard but anything is better than nothing and we must keep our fingers crossed for an accumulation by morning.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day 50 I had a good day

Why I specifically place the heading of today's post in the first person is because in my personal (and some might say quite narrow) world of skiing I skied in good conditions most of today. That is not to say that conditions on the hill were good, in fact I would say that ignoring the groomers (which we do) 80% of the skiing was pretty crappy. The moral of this for me is not to whine about the conditions and possibly quit the hill early but to actually ski on the 20% of the hill that is really good and have a good day. Seems rather obvious to me but apparently less so to others.

They were calling about 4 cms of new snow on the hill overnight which I guess was last nights graupel and which only really fell to about half way down the hill. Temps on the way to the hill were -1 and -2 while driving back tonight, and I even noticed it was about -4 on the deck a moment ago - we do seem to be getting the promised cooling trend. On the hill temps at the base may have just about got above zero during the day but not enough to soften the snow very far up the hill. With a sun/cloud mix tending towards the cloud the surfaces were generally colder than yesterday and the conditions reflected it. For 5/10 minutes we did get some ok snow but that was our ration for today.

We went to the New Side concluding that everything on the Old Side was so low it would suck. Currie Bowl was closed so we did a few loops of White Pass where the snow was in a slightly better state than yesterday and the viz was way better. We managed to get all the way across the High IT for the first time this season although we still had to air it over some rocks and the Knot Chutes were skiing ok. Currie opened and we kicked out to Concussion which just like yesterday was about the best way down the hill with soft snow on top and skier trashed crust lower down which skied ok.

On our next loop we tried Decline which was a big mistake. It was actually really nice down to just above the Megasauraus Trail but the rest of the run was breakable crust which the thin covering of new snow did nothing to improve. It was super hard work with every turn having to be jumped and unsurprisingly we were the first (and I suspect possibly the last) tracks in there today.

Then they opened Polar Peak and we were in the right place at the right time to get first tracks. For the rest of the morning we just looped Grand Papa Bear and Papa Bear (only the chute side of the Peak was open) as the rest of the skiers discovered the opening. Actually I predicted (and was proved right) that a bit of skier traffic improved the surface which did have slight crust on it although by late afternoon all the runs showed signs of having had too much of a good thing. We ran to lunch through Baby Bear which was very good and Concussion which was just as good as before.

The afternoon was spent just looping the Polar Chutes, particularly Grand Papa and Papa Bear and just one foray into Barely Legal which showed that we need a bit more snow yet to repair the rock surfaces in the exit chutes. We just had time for a run to base via Mama Bear (still in pretty good shape) and Concussion (holding up surprisingly well) before heading out for the final rip down Skydive.

We all knew in or heart of hearts what it was going to be like given the Decline experience but we hoped that things had changed a little during the day - we were out of luck. It skied ok to just above the Megasauraus Trail and then turned to very ugly breakable crust. So far it was skiing just like yesterday but you may recall that then the lower section softened to spring skiing. Well, today it didn't, it was hard refrozen crud of the worst kind and showed no signs of softening. We all felt that we had earned our beers (and OJ and sodas) after dragging our asses down that.

Time for one more early night to try and shake this cold and to be ready for the early start to beat the weekend crowds tomorrow. Forecasts are holding out the prospect a little precip over the next few days and I will take whatever we can get.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 49 rather challenging conditions

First a quick recap of yesterday. When I got in at 2 in the morning when they finally cleared the highway I was not in much of a mood to go on line. My brief report was done over morning coffee and although light on detail it did capture the main points of the day.

We did have about 15 cms of new snow on the hill and as it snowed all day off and on it turned to rain for the lower hill by the end of the day. They opened Polar Peak and despite very poor viz we had some good skiing particularly in Mama Bear where we were need to break up the slab that was forming and help keep the runs open. The whole of the upper mountain was good and we hit the glue line just about at the top of the final pitch in Skydive which was very heavy going.

Today was +2 on the way to the hill and +1 on the way back. During the day it may have got a degree or two warmer at the base but I noticed at the White Pass load late afternoon it was showing -1. Things at the top of the hill were way more socked in than yesterday, so much so that Polar Peak never opened and the highest point on the hill was White Pass top.

They reported 19 cms of snow overnight but from the fact that the base had hardly moved at 174 cms it was easy to work out that what had come down was very heavy indeed and could not in any proper sense of the word be described as powder. This was confirmed by looking up the hill where the rain line started just about at the  White Pass load on the New Side and pretty well went all the way to the top on the Old. The precip held off for most of the day which is just as well as I suspect it would have come down as rain and just before we skied off the hill it started as graupel and stayed white just about all the way to the base - it seems to have stopped now.

It was obvious to us that the highest parts of the New Side would be the only places with any chances of good snow although the thick fog which hung on the hill made skiing in these areas tough. We did not have the earliest of starts due to the events of last night but it was still a full day - very full by the standards of some. By the time we were skiing Currie Bowl had been opened and on the second loop the high Reverse Traverse was also available. That is how we spent out days, looping out along the traverse and running to base by various routes.

The hill could be divided into roughly three equal parts on any descent. The top where there was fresh untracked snow but very heavy, best described as Jersey Cream if you are being generous. The middle where it was rain crust and you were doing long turns on hard breakable crust and the conditions totally sucked. The bottom where temps were so warm that the crust seemed to have melted and we effectively had mushy spring skiing. This was true to a greater or lesser degree with all runs.

We did of course get many first tracks with the official recommendation of the hill being to stick to the groomers - Sykydive, Decline and Cougar Glades to name just a few Particularly good skiing was in Concussion where the chutes below the soft snow had been broken up by skier traffic so they were ok and Lone Fir where the fan was awesome as always. Particularly bad skiing was Cougar Glades where falling snow from the trees made the crust worse and the need to avoid trees made skiing more tricky and Easter Bowl where the ugly breakable crust mid section seemed to go on forever.

Last run of course was Skydive where the falling grauppel made the bumps at the top easy and the soft snow on the top section could be hit at real speed. The crusty mid section was not too bad as the terrain allowed you to jump most of the turns and the final spring skiing section was actually rather better than usual. That brought to an end a very hard and tiring day which would have been tough even in normal circumstances.

Where we go from here is an open question. If the hill just freezes as one forecast says we will have nightmare conditions as the soft snow hardens. If we get a little precip as other forecasts say we may be able to salvage something out of the current weather cycle.

Day 48 No Report

We did go to the hill, it did warm up, it did snow hard up top and by the end of the day the lower part of the hill was rain with the deep snow turned to elephant snot.

Unfortunately at about 17:30 a semi smashed into the Lizard Creek Bridge closing Highway 3. We went back to the Rusty Edge to eat and found that the bridge was not going to open until gone midnight. We also discovered that cars trying to get back to Fernie via Morrisey had come off the road closing that option. Luckily a good friend who lives on the hill (thanks Ruth) took us in and gave us a bed until the Highway opened (alternating traffic only) at 2 in the morning.

I will do a report on both days tonight. Time to head for the hill.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Day 47 Kimberley

As explained yesterday the morning was spent today getting Lynda ready her return to the UK and then dropping her a Cranbrook Airport - I'm sorry I mean the International Airport of the Rockies. As my buddy Simon was arriving from Ireland on an evening flight it was not worth coming back to Fernie for the afternoon so I decided to ski a half day at Kimberley.

Actually a seniors half day pass was a bit under 50 bucks including tax so I was not exactly betting the farm by giving this a try. Unfortunately the 5 dollar reduction for being a Fernie season pass holder only applied on full day tickets but I was happy with everything except how easily they were convinced that I was a senior - they could at least have pretended that I didn't look that old.

On the drive out west which took just over the hour I noticed the temp rising steadily so that it was -3 in the parking lot when I got there and also -3 as I pulled into my drive back here in the Elk Valley this evening. Conditions were overcast and we had light snow all afternoon which did give a minor accumulation.

I have only skied Kimberley once before but my memory didn't fail me. The whole of the central and lookers left part of the hill is easy intermediate skiing and of not much interest to me. The lookers right upper section of the hill is a series of single black diamond runs most of which had not been groomed and this looked the most promising area for me.

I spent all afternoon looping off the top of a triple chair which accessed the area of which I speak and just dropping down varies runs and lines that looked interesting. I always ended up at the lowest part of the hill and had to get lifted back by a rather creaky old double chair although considering we have the Elk Chair and the Haul Back I am in no position to criticise.

Kimberley seemed to be suffering the same problem as Fernie. They have had some snow but no great quantity and what has come down has been light and dry and so not giving the solid coverage on any ungroomed runs. Most of the runs I tried had significant amounts of twigs and rocks coming through and some very significant terrain features that were not fully covered. Three times I tried to get in the trees between the runs and each time I ended up surrounded by dead fall or alders or both - I abandoned my plans for tree skiing.

The hill has a rolling lift closure pattern and just as the double chair closed and I had to make my way back to the main base area I discovered a really nice area of tree skiing that was crossed by a number of culverts where the only way across was to ski snow bridges on fallen trees - great fun. I just managed to get a final lift up the main high speed quad and by cutting left got back into my newly found tree run. This time I cut in even further and got some good untracked lines although the final drop onto the cat track which looked like a nice soft steep snow face was in fact about a foot of fluff on a rock face which slid out as soon as I hit it. It was bit of an inelegant drop but I made it with no great harm done.

After a couple of OJ and sodas in their bar (it wasn't the Griz) I picked Simon up and drove back to Fernie. On the way snow was starting but that now appears to have stopped. The hill forecast (Fernie that is) is calling for tons of snow over the next couple of days but with a danger of rain at lower elevations in the middle of the cycle. Personally I'll take whatever we get.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Day 46 a short day and a windy one

First of all the reason for the short day. We got a call this morning to say that Lynda's mother had died back in the UK. A lot of the morning was spent fixing flights for her to go back to the UK tomorrow to sort things out. I may be needed back in the UK but in the short time I shall stay here on my own and carry on.

With only a little over half a day available I decided just to go to the New Side and see what was happening. Things had warmed up on the way to the hill at -12 and at the White Pass load it even got up to about -8 during the day. I understand things were a lot colder on the Old Side and a number of people moved from Old to New hoping to get warmer - they were disappointed. The brutal ridge line winds more than cancelled out any warming in temps and even though it was quite bright with sunny spells it was clear that we were on the front end of a weather system.

I noticed going up White Pass that the snow had sifted into the Gun Bowl and under the chair and I had several runs down in deep untracked wind sift. This was a pattern repeated all day as I looped back under the chair in between other runs on several occasions and as the winds got stronger the sift just got deeper and more untracked, some of the best skiing of it's kind I have had.

Amazingly Polar Peak was open in these brutal winds and I went up to see what the chutes were like. I had hoped that the winds which were just howling at the peak would have sifted snow into the chutes. One run down Papa Bear showed me that the snow had been scoured out of the chutes and the surface was rock hard and only just taking an edge but at least it was pretty flat. I wasn't prepared to get that cold to get some barely average skiing and that was my last visit to the peak for the day.

The rest of the day was spent looping Decline (twice and still soft wind sifted snow) Stag Leap (nice and soft and not too twiggy at the bottom) Concussion (three times, soft flat sift) Alpha Centauri (lots of sift) and Surprise Trees, the only real disappointment as I had anticipated the sift having blown in there but it hadn't and all we had was hard chunky tracked up snow. A special mention has to go to the top section of Lift Line which was also filling up fast with sift and was a great drop from Timber top to White Pass load.

The usual final rip down Skydive was just as much fun as ever with more lines starting to emerge in the final pitch. We had a few drinks in the Griz and thanks to all our friends who were so kind to Lynda who had joined me for the latter part of the afternoon's skiing.

Tomorrow may be interesting as I have to drop Lynda at Cranbrook airport around midday and meet a buddy who is arriving on an evening flight. At the moment I am of the mind to have a half day skiing at Kimberly which is a place I have only skied once before and that many years ago. Watch this space for a rather different report tomorrow.

Day 45 A short late report

Apologies for the late report but Sundays are my one day of the week for drinking (and I tend to try an make up for the other 6 days) and we went out for a meal at the excellent Himalaya restaurant so things have rather got ahead of me.

We didn't get any real new snow over night, only a light dusting which just made things look a bit nicer and made the surface run a bit faster. The temps still don't show that much sign of warming as on the way to the hill they were -13 and on the way back -12 although driving back from the restaurant tonight they were down to -20. Once again the daytime highs got up to around -10 but a cold ridgeline wind (particularly on Polar Peak) gave a fairly brutal wind chill high up.

There was some valley cloud but we had a lot of sun during the day and on our last ride up Polar Peak we noticed that things were bluebird in our part of the world but looking out to the West towards Koocanusa it was a solid low cloud base that was trying to push into our part of the Lizard Range - who needs a weather forecast when you can go and see it happening for yourself.

We had an Old Side morning looping out first to Snake Ridge which was nice and soft in the middle section. Then we hit Gorby Bowl taking an easier line down the left hand side of the choke and finding soft deep snow all the way down. Finally we dipped into Fish Bowl on the Poppa Chutes and found really nice deep snow before we exited on the Redtree cut out. All returns were through Kangaroo and Boomerang/Bear Chutes which all skied nicely on soft bumps.

We went to the New Side and found Polar Peak open despite brutal winds and dropped Papa Bear which was a bit varied but generally ok skiing. Needing a warm up we side stepped up to Lone Fir and found that it was still in remarkably good condition as was the fan below which was soft and deep. The exit for lunch through Easter and Freeway was also pretty good.

After lunch we decided than an adventure was in order and hiked out all the way to the high entrance to Fish Bowl where I found they had installed a transceiver gate and was gratified to find that mine was working A1. We worked our way across the bowl and then dropped great untracked lines all the way down picking our way through some of the tighter chutes. As always it was a long hike out of the bottom of the bowl but thoroughly worth it for the best skiing of the day.

With not much time we dropped Boomerang to get across to Timber Chair and the New Side and got up White Pass just in time to catch the last chair up Polar Peak - the chair closes a half hour before the rest of the hill. It was still brutally windy despite the bluebird conditions and we just had time for a rip down Papa Bear which was firm wind groomed snow and a skate round Trespass Trail to get the final chair up White Pass.

The final rip down Skydive was good and it remains soft in most places although getting a bit firmer in the upper pitches in my judgement. The Griz bar was it's usual awesome Sunday night gathering which for a whole range of reasons is my favourite night of the week - it's no coincidence that Sundays are the one day of the week I drink. After a great meal in the Himalaya it's time for bed and a repeat tomorrow in what looks like being surprisingly cold conditions.