Saturday, February 10, 2018

Day 71 Cold, Windy and Another Brutal Day

Before I start I have to deal with a rumour that I have ben asked about several times over the past couple of weeks. The rumour is that this is my last season in Fernie and at the end of the season I will be selling up and moving on. Let me make it clear that I have no intention of quitting Fernie and will be skiing here every day for many seasons to come, the good lord willing. I think this is just a case of wishful thinking on the part of RCR.

On the way to the hill today it was -19 with no new snow over night. We were supposed to be getting an arctic high which would mean clear skies and no wind but in the event we had ridgeline cloud which gave some light snow (don't get excited it didn't even amount to a dusting) and strong ridgeline winds which moved down the hill as the day progressed. The winds drove a lot of blowing snow and whilst I think the mercury up top rose to about -10 the wind chill must have been in the -20s all day.

We went to the New Side and found some wind sift in Puff Trees but not enough to disguise the fact that we were skiing hard icy bumps. After yesterday the go to was Knot Chutes but today they were a mixed bag. The wind had scoured some of the surfaces but deposited some sift in other places - overall the soft deep snow had gone and we were getting firm chunky snow taking a good edge with a little sift at best. That having been said this looked a way better bet than the lower mountain so we looped them finding the crunch line had moved down to the bottom of the I bowl presumably where the wind and cold had dried out the surface a bit.

We ran down to base through Currie Glades which were ok and soft most of the way down and in any event the best option (or so we thought) as Currie was closed at the County Line. Final run down was through a groomed Diamond Back which was hard and icy with a few death cookies but to our minds a better bet than trying the ever icy Gilmar Trail. Next time round I headed out to look for Gotta Go or Anaconda on the grounds that with the crunch line now much lower on the hill these may have been open. No such luck and I had to get down a rather ugly Surprise Trees to run Down Diamond Back.

While I had been checking out runs Lynda and my visiting Irish buddies had tried 1-2-3s and had found them surprisingly good with lots of blown in sift almost to the bottom of 3s where the crunch began. After a couple more loops of Knot Chutes where we were starting to see some soft wind grooming we went to a late lunch via 1-2-3s where the skiing was good but the viz was poor in the top, and Gilmar Trail which confirmed all out worst fears of being a slick hard track.

After lunch we were told that the Timber Chair was down for repairs and would be at least 40 mins. Unsurprisingly there was a large line up at Elk which we bypassed as singles only to be told that Timber was back up and running - we decided to investigate the Old Side anyway. We might as well have saved our time as it was a complete bust and the very cold wind that had been a feature of the morning skiing in White Pass was now there to chill us going up Bear.

To give the guests a tour round we went out to Dancer and found it rock hard un groomed ice with irregular sifted or swept snow and the light was pretty poor as well. We dropped down North Ridge with everything on either side subject to (quite understandably ) conditions closures - it was slick but just about ok. We came back up Boom and after a very slick run down Bear decided that the Old Side was not worth it and headed to the New. In fairness I heard from a patroller buddy that by the very end of the day some sift was getting into Cedar but that was as good as it got.

We finished the day with some more Knot Chute loops and as the viz was now poor we were more or less on our own. To be fair I had expected today to be busy but for whatever reason it was much quieter than even a normal Saturday and not much busier than a week day. We had a few drinks (non alcoholic for me) in the Griz where the band there was very good .

Tomorrow is forecast to get really cold with maybe temps of -25 by the night. Some flurries are forecast but at those temps the moisture content of any snow will be so low that it will not help much even if it isn't blown away in the wind. Fingers crossed for something better.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Day 70 Dust on Crust

We woke up this morning to temps on the deck of -12 where it had stayed most of the night. As the sun rose it became apparent that we were in for a bluebird day although cold as the arctic air mass continued to assert itself. We concluded (correctly) that this meant that most of the hill that had been affect by the rain would be rock hard boiler plate. The overnight report was giving 7 cms of fresh snow which looking at our drive appeared about right although it was clear that this would be nothing like enough to give a satisfactory cushion on the ice - unfortunately another totally correct conclusion.

As I was having my morning coffee an advertisement (please note the emphasis on the second syllable in the English fashion and not the third as in the Canadian) for Fernie Alpine Resort came on. I almost choked on my coffee when I heard what was being said. They mentioned the metre of snow we have had in last 7 days which is true but they then went on to say "and things are getting even better" which is a palpable untruth - things are getting a lot worse. Two days ago rain covered most of the hill and then it froze hard in a matter of an hour giving very ugly skiing everywhere except the very top of White Pass. Yesterday the whole of the upper hill was closed as being too ugly to allow guests to ski it and today patrol had warnings about the poor conditions off the groomers - getting better eh?

We drove to the hill with temps of about-14 and whilst it did cloud over slightly for a short while it soon cleared to give a bluebird day. We figured that as the whole of the Old Side had been below the rain line that the only hope was to go high in White Pass and buddies who tried the Old Side first confirmed this was a good call. Lift line was closed due to conditions and Puff had been groomed and was very slick.

We made our way to the top and found Currie Bowl open but only as far as the County Line so no Concussion and beyond. Based on yesterday we hit the Knot Chutes and struck gold. The 7 cms of overnight snow had added to the soft snow in the chutes which had been high enough to not be rain affected. The conditions were soft, deep and initially untracked powder. Unfortunately this only held good down to about half way down the I bowl and it was crunchy and scratchy from that point on down to the White Pass load. We hit the chutes many time over all the way across, Fraid, Tight, Slim, Thin and Jim and when the chutes got to trashed we high sided the shoulders in between them. It was all awesome powder but very short lived before we hit the crunch.

Late morning we dropped Currie and found Currie Glades off the Polar load nice and soft and lightly tracked down to a crunch line about two thirds of the way down. After that it was scratchy ugly ice and although Gilmar Trail was better than yesterday it was still pretty slick. Then it was back up for more Knot loops before a Currie run to lunch which was getting slicker by the moment.

After lunch we went back up for more Knot chutes which despite the traffic was still good soft powder. As I said we had to run off the hill at about 2:30 to pick up my buddies from Cranbrook airport so we ran down Summer Road and found Diamond Back had been groomed. It was hard and icy but way better than some of the sheet ice elsewhere so we took it to base.

Just about an ok day but how long Knot Chutes will hold up when they are the only place worth skiing is anyone's guess. We currently face an arctic high for a few days so nothing is likely to change unless it gets even colder than it has been over night. Tuesday looks like the first time that we might get some new snow to cover the rock had rain affected lower mountain although it will take quite a lot to have any effect.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Day 69 a brutal day

I am sorry that in the middle of a season that has given us so much good, no great, skiing I have to come back on line on a day where the conditions were brutal and the skiing was ok in places and just cruddy in others.

Last night as I recounted the weather forecasters promised us 25 cms of snow and a full on winter storm with more to come today and temps of -5 or lower - well the best you can say is that they got the date right but apart from that they were hopelessly wrong. There must be another occupation where you can be wrong a significant part of the time and still keep your job but I can't think of one off hand.

It was +2 on my deck when I went to bed and raining. When I got up this morning it was +3 and still raining, and I don't mean a light drizzle. When I got up a couple of times in the night (an inevitable consequence of getting older I have found) it was pouring with rain then as well. I looked out of the window in the hope that this had been valley rain and we had a huge dump of snow on top but no such luck - the rain line went so far up the hill I couldn't se the top of it.

As I got ready for the hill I appeared to be in parallel universe with the forecasters telling me that the current conditions were -3 and snowing and not +3 and raining as I could see. On the radio they were talking about a winter storm and school closures all of which flew in the face of all the evidence. As I understand it the problem was that the modified arctic air mass that was supposed to move in from the east didn't, so you see the forecasters got it right, it was the weather that got it wrong.

We headed off to the hill with pretty low expectations and on the way there the temp even flicked up to +4 for a second or two. The good news was that the rain stopped as we got to the hill and held off for the whole morning. Obviously with the rain line so high the Old Side was going to be a bust so we headed for the New Side. Lift Line was thick jersey cream on the way down to White Pass. When we got to the top of White Pass we found Currie Bowl closed so we just looped White Pass which was ok soft snow to about half way down turning to mush after that.

Our loops were mainly through Knot Chutes which were skiing very nicely, perhaps the best so far this season. I got first track down the Tight Knot where slough management was the main problem and after that next time we hit the drop off into the Fraid Knot which looked rather intimidating but skied very easy and mellow. Slim and Jim were very deep and we had to high side it onto the shoulders and make few turns to let our slough pass and then drop back into the chutes to avoid our slough from the shoulder. I did try Surprise Trees but it turned to elephant snot about half way down.

About 11 something weird happened. The arctic air mass moved in and the temp dropped like a stone in the course of one run and it started to snow and continued for the rest of the day. We had been at about +3 but when we left the hill at the end of the day it was -12 and I think it got close to that in just that one run. The result was that everything that had been soft went to refrozen crud and we headed down to layer up with some more appropriate gear. Currie Bowl had opened and we took it and whilst it was ok light powder on a firm base at the top the Gilmar Trail was sheet ice with many out of control skiers failing to hold and edge, it only needed a Zamboni to complete the scene.

Having layered up I headed back up only to find Siberia Ridge and Currie Bowl closed. This seemed a sensible precaution to me after what I had seen on Gilmar. When Currie had opened it had been closed at the county line and Anaconda had remained closed. This was because patrol were farming the hill to preserve soft slopes to refreeze smooth so not much snow is needed to repair them. I know some of my buddies object to thus but I have no problem taking one for the team today to give us better skiing tomorrow. Just a thought here is that if Polar had been open it would have been awesome but that can't be helped and will have to wait.

Viz had deteriorated with the cold front so loops continued sometimes in Knot Chutes and sometimes in the Gun bowl depending on what you could see but lower White Pass was all ok if a bit scratchy. At 1 a strange decision was taken to close White Pass. It was the only part of the hill not affected by the rain/freeze/thaw and was skiing well particularly in the Knot Chutes. It was suggested that the problem was access to the area but I don't see that as we exited via Summer Road with was nothing to write home about but I have seen it way worse. In fact the only ugly part of the exit was the final 200 meters of sheet ice which was the part of the mountain they decided to keep open for the rest of the day - strange.

After lunch the hill was pretty well shut down with only the Deer and Elk Chairs running and the whole of the lower mountain rock hard sheet ice with some new snow starting to accumulate. I had hoped that as there was so little to ski the hill would have made the effort to open the rail park and skier cross course but no such luck. I spent the rest of the afternoon looping Elk on the only black diamond run available (Upper Kodiak and back on Cedar Trail) or other easier runs made more difficult by the ice such as Power Trip - and so ended a not very good and rather tough day.

As I type this it is -12 on the deck and the winter storm continues if somewhat abated. The hill has shown an amazing ability to recover in the past and we have to hope that enough snow will fall overnight to allow it to do so again. Tomorrow's blog might be a bit late as I am picking up Irish buddies from the airport but it will be done - assuming that tonight's remarks haven't upset the powers that be too much.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Day 68 Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives.

After much consideration and input from a number of followers I have decided to restart the blog from tomorrow. I apologise for the interruption of the service but I can assure you all it has been none of my doing and is down to the remarkable intransigence of others. I am however not one to bear grudges and regard all this as water over the dam - at least from my point of view.

Just on a point of reassurance I can confirm that the blog will have no restrictions or censorship and what you will get from me will be the facts as I see them an opinions on various aspects of skiing in Fernie - I will try to distinguish between fact and opinion but there will be times when you just have to work it out for yourselves. I can also confirm that despite some quite attractive offers I receive no money or favours for writing the blog so what you get here is what I think and not what I am paid to think. As before in summary the purpose of the blog will be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

It will probably be helpful to put in here a background report on where we are on the hill in terms of conditions just to save time later on. After a slow start to the season when the base dropped to about 60 cms it started to snow just before Christmas and has been snowing pretty consistently ever since. The snow has been interspersed with a few (unreported) rain events which has had the effect of giving us a very solid 311 cm base which is something of a record for this time of year. The upper mountain has stayed in great shape but the lower mountain and particularly the lower parts of the Old Side are rather scratchy. The early season alder problem has been beaten into submission and you can now ski anywhere on the mountain fence to fence with great tree skiing low down because of the top to bottom snow cover.

The exception to all this is Polar Peak which has not been open for a single day all season. The problems of getting Polar open have been exacerbated by the very difficult snow pack which has meant that control has had to be focussed on the open ski terrain and the fact that White Pass chair broke down for 12 days just after Christmas making access very challenging. The good news is that a cat finally cut a track to the top yesterday and work can now start in earnest to clear the snow from Polar Top and allow the lift to spin. Best guess I have heard for an opening is next week sometime as long as no further problems come to light.

The interesting thing about having a lot of terrain closed is that we tend to ski in places that we don't normally go. Due to the combination of lift failures and avi risk we spent most of January with less than half of the terrain open and some days and for days at a time it was way less than that. With the good snow and the opening of terrain we have been able to ski some runs that we have only skied lightly before such as White Rabbit, Shaun's Chute and the Crutch. A special mention goes to the Fraser Tooth which is a line off Siberia Ridge into North East Glades and was only cleared out this year - a nice line a great work by Fraser. More of all the skiing tomorrow as things kick off.

Today we had a big warm up with plus temps at the base and light rain in the afternoon. All this was forecast as the front end of a Pacific Warm Front and things are supposed to cool a lot tonight and dump snow - we do in fact have a winter storm warning for the Elk Valley in effect but with the amount of snow they are calling for in the next 24 hours it looks more like a promise than a warning to me. Temps on my deck is +2 but I am not worried, after all when have weather forecasters ever got it wrong.

See you all tomorrow and remember to tell your friends the blog is back in business.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Day 65 - I'm thinking about it

And what I am thinking about is starting up the blog again.

Let me make it clear that nothing has changed since RCR emailed me on the 3rd December and said "Our Senior Risk Management Team will have to further investigate this matter to determine if further action is required" with further references to removing my pass. Given that 2 months have passed since the date of this email I assume that the great and good who comprise the "Senior Risk Management Team" have met and decided that I don't represent a risk to society and can therefore keep my pass. An email to this effect would have been a nice courtesy but then I suppose I shouldn't expect miracles.

If I do decide to continue the blog then everyone should be aware that there will be no more private emails or off the record chats. Any threats to me will be published here on the blog so everyone can see what is going on. Anyone thinking of threatening me would be well advised to make sure that they are happy for anything they say or write to be published and attributed.

One of the main factors in my consideration is the staggering support I have received from a huge number of followers regarding the blog, I had always hoped that I was providing a useful service but I am quite honestly amazed (and not to mentioned rather touched) by the level of support I have received from a wide range of people both on line and personally on the hill. Followers seem to fall into two camps - those who don't ski every day and want their daily fix of Fernie skiing and those who ski regularly who want source of accurate information about conditions which is sadly lacking from official sources. Both of these seem to be suffering as a result of my decision to stop the blog/

Another factor is purely a personal issue. The blog takes me about an hour an night, sometime less. I am now spending about 2 hours a night answering emails from people either about the blog, or conditions in Fernie or whether or not they should come and ski here with their friends. It would simply be much quicker for me to go back to writing the blog.

In my final post I referred everyone to official sources of information but I have to say that those are just not fit for purpose. Some examples are - a week ago we had a day when it snowed all day with a fall rate of 10 cms an hour at one time and the next day it showed a total of 6 cms in 24 hours - we regularly see the forecast daytime high as being lower than the day time low, I think they transpose the figures - the other morning the figures showed zero snowfall year to date and a zero snow base - only yesterday the base was shown as 295 cms and after no snow in the last 24 hours today (we actually did have some) it showed at 311 cms. It's a complete shambles which I can't make head nor tail of and I ski every day so what hope would anyone else have.

In the absence of my blog to give a reality check the publicity machine (bovine excrement department) appears to have gone into overdrive. We have reports of the huge snowfall in the year to date which fails to mention that a significant proportion of this was washed away in the late November rains. Similarly there is a load of ballyhoo about the 2 metres plus of powder we have received in January which fails to mention that for extended periods we couldn't access it due to lift break downs (I'm sorry, unscheduled maintenance) and avi closures. Don't get me wrong, you will never hear me criticise the patrol for closing the hill for safety reasons but I do have a problem with the fact that this is not mentioned in the "awesome powder" publicity circus. Don't even get me on the subject of the toilets, parking and day lodge facilities, none of which come near coping on high traffic days.

Finally a number of my conspiracy theorist friends (of whom I seem to have a disproportionate number) take the view that as RCR have always hated my blog as something that is beyond their control (a fact that has been stated to me on a number of occasions by senior management) that this is part of a larger plot to gag me and by stopping the blog I am playing into their hands. I can't say if this is right but it certainly is point of view.

So in summary all these factors are rolling around in my brain at the moment. In the next couple of days I will make my final decision as to whether or not to shut down this site forever or to try and go back to something like normal service. Any thoughts or inputs which may help me with my decision would be more than welcome.

PS Sorry about the small type, can't seem to do anything to make it larger but any future posts would be back to normal