Saturday, February 17, 2018

Day 78 Busy but still pretty awesome

We knew today was going to be ugly busy as it is the start of Alberta Family Weekend and also Presidents Day Weekend in the US. In the event it wasn't too busy in the parking lots although we did arrive before 8:30 as a precaution and on the hill we only had one significant line up at Haul Back just before lunch. The day lodge of course proved to be totally not up to the job and we had to grab our sandwiches at lunch sitting on the bench by our lockers. It seems a strange business model to me where your day lodge facilities are fine on the low traffic days when you are losing money but are totally in adequate on the busy days when you are making money - but then what do I know about business.

It was -10 on the way to the hill with a promise of snow to come. The snow reports were rather enigmatic and changed during the morning. My own take was that we had well over 25 cms yesterday and not much overnight but there was a bit of wind sift. Once again I would hesitate to contradict the official reports, after all, what do I know, I was only there skiing it.

We hit out to the Old Side and had loops on Snake Main ( lovely soft snow up high and down low but a bit scratchy around Gorby Gap) Gorby Bowl x2 ( it was great untracked skiing but as always a bit sketchy through the waterfall area) and Steep and Deep which really lived up to it's name. We filled in between the loops with lines in Boom, Boom Bowl, Bear Chutes and Buck Shot all of which had plenty of soft snow on top but breaking through to the ice base from time to time.

All loops of course we completed through Kangaroo which was soft snow on hard icy bumps. Last run through we followed a group of boarders who side slipped the whole first section. Why do they do that ? It can't be any fun just to stand up and side slip and there can't be any bragging rights from taking a run that way - we have a rule that anyone who side slips has to buy a round. All it does is trash the slope for everyone else.

After lunch we headed for the New Side and dropped Low Saddle which skied ok in poor light. We cut hard right after a couple of turns and got really soft deep chutes and then cut into Easter which was well on the right side of ok. Next loop was Stag Leap which was also soft and deep and starting to fill in.

We had been promised snow in the afternoon and it started to snow with a light fall at around lunch time. During the afternoon it just got harder and harder and by the time we left the hill it was a full on winter storm in -11 and that is continuing outside as I type this.

In the increasing snow we headed out the White Rabbit and had the most awesome run in untracked lines through the trees and snow that was chest deep in some places as you jumped the big air off the dead fall rolls - we thought run of the day, or possibly any day. We then looped Touque Chutes and Spinal Tap both of which had filled in and were giving face shots all the way down.

We decided we had time for a White Rabbit loop before Skydive and so we took it and it was even more awesome than the time before with bigger jumps and drops and deeper landings. Our plans didn't work out due to a chair stoppage last time up on Timber (not the first time today) which meant that we got to the top of Timber just too late to make it down to White Pass for final chair. We went out for one more time down White Rabbit which was no bad second prize and by pushing hard into the trees on the left of the creek bed found even deeper and steeper lines than before and with snow deeper than anyone would believe if I wrote about it. That bought to an end what might just be one of the best afternoon's skiing of my life.

We went to the Griz Bar and as it is my Irish guests final night I made the exception and had a drink. Lynda drove us home in a full on winter storm which is still raging. After I have dropped the guys of at the airport first thing tomorrow it looks like it could be a very good day.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Day 77 Awesome even by Fernie's standards

The day didn't seem to promise much as we drank our morning coffee. The hill was reporting only 1 cm of new snow overnight with a temp of -4 and a few isolated flurries. In the event it started snowing as we drove in to Lot 2 just before 9 and continued until about 3 in the afternoon. The snow just puked down all day and at one time they were recording a 6 cm an hour fall rate. I don't have a figure for the final accumulation but it had to be well in excess of 20 cms.

I think the snow fall surprised everyone as the hill was not particularly busy and if anything was rather quieter than a normal Friday. We feared that this was the promised winter storm arriving early but forecasters are confident that this was just the "light flurries" and the main event is still due to hit us over the next 24 hours.

As usual in these conditions we headed to the New Side and found everything open except Polar Peak (the chair was turning so we are optimistic), and Siberia Ridge of which more later. Most importantly the Reverse Traverse was open as were the Saddles so we had lots of new terrain. There is little point in describing the condition of each of the runs in detail, they were all awesome deep untracked powder. In some cases we were getting genuine first tracks and in others we were just getting fresh tracks as the snow filled in but it was all so good who cares.

We started with a drop of Corner Pocket and then High Saddle and exited both via Easter and Freeway. The snow under the Saddles hadn't been skied in over a week and felt like it. Then it was loops of Stag Leap, Cougar Glades, Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap and Decline. All these were soft deep untracked snow just getting deeper all of the time.

My ski buddies decided to lunch but I skied on. When I got to the top of Timber I found that the Lazy Locals Traverse was open and I headed up hoping Siberia Ridge was open but it wasn't. No matter as the drop into the unskied upper portion of Big Bang was spectacular face shots all the way. I hiked up to Lone Fir and noticed that the Saddles had been closed and guessed correctly that the sign line into Lizard would also be down. Lone Fir was a bit scratchy in the chute but the snow in the fan was super deep and again it was face shots all the way down through Easter.

Just when you think things can't get any better they do. We all met up after lunch and headed up Lazy Locals. On the way we were passed by a couple of ski patrol buddies who advised us to "hold back a moment". We did and when we got to the end of the traverse we found them taking down the closed signs at the top of Siberia Ridge. Sib Ridge had been closed for about 10 days and our first run down the super deep untracked powder was out the other side of awesome - we pretty much could straight line the run.

Next time up we made our only bad call of the day and dropped off the top of Sib Ridge into the Fraser Tooth that was untracked. Whether it was due to the pitch or the aspect I don't know but pretty well everything in the trees above North East Glades that we were making for let go while we were in there and two of our party were carried a long way down in huge sloughs. It was all rather scary although I imagine that after out unofficial ski cutting things were much improved. We went back and had another run at Sib Ridge which was a bit more tracked up but still had deep untracked lines if you worked the sides of the run.

As the snow had stopped and the light improved we decided on a change of scenery and hit the Tight Knot (hardly tracked) Anaconda 0.5 (soft and deep) and Don't Lose Me Trees ( awesome deep snow) as a final loop. Skydive was of course the final rip of the day and the club had expanded to 7. A great rip down at warp speed with buddies in big soft rolling snow mounds.

And so a perfect day ended with a few orange and sodas in the Griz and then a long soak in the hot tub with temps holding at about -2. The forecast is still for another major snow event over the next 24 hours and although tomorrow on the hill will be a zoo (Alberta Family Weekend, US Presidents Day etc) I say bring it on.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Day 76 Normal service has been resumed

Last nights storm blew itself out and the arctic high moved back in so that by the morning we had clear blue skies and a temp of -14 as we drove to the hill. The good news was that before it left us the storm deposited 15 cms of fresh snow to go on top of the 16 that had fallen in the previous 24 hours. During the day the temps warmed up so that by late morning the snow surface out on Concussion was getting slightly sun affected. Around lunch time it clouded over and temps rose steadily so that by the time we drove back into town this evening it was -3.

We had no real new snow to speak of but the hill (or at least the parts of it we skied) were pretty well fully repaired and we were skiing soft untracked powder in most places but still with the odd scrape to an icy base from time to time. This latest snow was much lighter but it sat well on yesterday's heavier base and the skiing was very good indeed.

We went to the New Side hoping for a Polar Peak opening but were disappointed. There had been a natural 2.5 avi in the Polar Chutes and this had given everyone pause for thought. I understand the plan is to give us the Circus tomorrow or the next day but the chutes may be a bit more problematic. Yesterday quite a few morons were ducking the closed signs to cross Concussion high up presumably because they were too lazy or unfit to work their way out legally like the rest of us. Those idiots should be made to look at where the avi debris ended up out of Polar which was right across the area that they had been poaching, ski patrol put these avi signs in certain places for a reason - on the other hand if you are that stupid you probably would learn from that either.

We decided to spend our day looping out on the Low Polar Sink traverse which if you hit it right could be held out to the Skydive Traverse without any climbing. The runs were -
Stag Leap - great untracked powder all the way down and better on the skiers left. The trees at the top have been thinned so that it is now a very mellow drop from the top of Skydive into the run.
Cougar Glades - only one track in front of us which soon disappeared and we had untracked lines in the left trees. The left exit was also untracked and apart from slough management issues was great skiing.
The Brain - great deep powder skiing all the way down with very few tracks so it was easy to find untracked lines to the right of the creek bed.
Concussion - getting a bit tracked up but good deep snow.
Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap - after a few tracks in the top it was untracked skiing in the trees. Spinal Tap was very deep and after ducking the fallen tree low down you could hold the creek bed all the way to the cat track.
Decline/Window Chutes - Decline was great skiing down to the Megasauraus with untracked snow on each side. The drop into the Window Chutes was very deep and untracked and the chute itself had soft chopped up snow in it but was very scratchy in the final choke.

After lunch we dropped the Tight Knot which was full of soft snow taking and edge then Anaconda. Lynda hit 0.5 which was soft all the way down and I tried 2 which was very technical with the soft snow having slid out of the trees although lower down it was soft. The trees to the right of Bootleg (known to us as Don't Lose Me Trees) skied well after the initial cat debris and was untracked down to the drop into Gilmar Trail. Back to loops -

Nameless Trees - These are the trees to the skiers right of Skydive which everyone tells me have no name. They were a little scratchy in places but overall soft and deep and untracked in the bits we were skiing.
Easter Bowl - We had a great drop after side stepping up hugging the right side trees and then going into the trees for the final part down to Freeway. Great soft skiing with many untracked areas.

We just had time for a quick White Pass loop which was Tight Knot (just as good as before) and Surprise Trees. I guess because everything else was open Surprise was mostly untouched with some very soft deep snow. Final rip was of course Skydive which we hit at warp speed to complete a great day's skiing.

I don't usually report what I haven't skied but trusted friends tell me that The Saddles and Lone Fir were open with a lot of climbing and were awesome. I don't doubt this but with so much good skiing to be had with no climbing I couldn't bring myself to make the effort. From the same source (thanks Steve and Brad) I heard that Snake Ride was pretty awesome but scratchy underneath. Steep and Deep was apparently sheet ice although things improved as you got over to Redtree.

So a great day but with no snow forecast overnight. The Friday/Saturday storm is now being talked up but personally I have learned to believe it when I see it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Day 75 Almost back to normal

The snow we were promised overnight materialised and we had 16 cms by morning. Best of all the temp was -2 on the way to the hill so the snow came down with a reasonable moisture content and gave a good covering to the sheet ice that was the surface on most of the hill. It continued to snow before stopping late morning and my guess would be that we got about 20 cms out of the cycle. The on mountain temps were very strange ranging from +1 in places to -7 in others as the arctic air mass moved around with the incoming Pacific system. On the way home from the hill it had settled to -5 and seems to be staying that way.

The effect on the hill was like magic. The covering of hero snow meant that skiing was very good and although you did drop through to the hard ice base in places as long as you kept your speed up you had a reasonable amount of float to keep you away from it. The crowds didn't show up as Lot 2 was pretty deserted as we parked at about a quarter to 9. We decided to hit the New Side in the hope that Concussion and the Big 3 would be opening sometime.

At first everything was as yesterday with Lift Line and Anaconda closed and even Currie Bowl closed although Knot Chutes were open. We had some awesome White Pass loops first through Gun Bowl then Knot Chutes all of which had soft deep untracked snow. We pushed out to Surprise Trees looking for Anaconda which remained closed but found Surprise good but a bit scratchy at the top and very much repaired from yesterday. We dropped Triple Trees that were mostly untracked and found that whilst they were scratchy in the top they just got better the further you went down so that the final pitch was soft deep untracked powder.

We did a few more Knot Chute/Surprise laps which were still soft and deep while waiting for Currie to open. When the fence dropped on Currie it was only open to the County Line so we raced with the other participants in the Currie 500 and had untracked lines down Currie Glades which was very mellow. The drop to base was through the helter skelter in bootleg and then the gully on the left of Gilmar - it was all untracked and totally awesome.

Next loop we tried 1-2-3s which was poor light in the top but by 2s we were finding untracked lines all the way down in ok light. the run to base was Bootleg and the Gully again which still were largely untracked. We got word that Anaconda had opened so we took the Tight Knot which was really soft and deep and the Anaconda 1 which had a scratchy couple of turns near the top but was then super soft and deep.Tthe run down once again was Bootleg and the Gully which were still good.

Somewhere in there Lift Line opened but not quite from the top. The snow was soft and deep and the traverse out into Big Bang was well worthwhile. I skipped lunch waiting for the Reverse Traverse to open but it never did. The Polar Sink did open so with a bit of work and side stepping we hit Decline which was awesome with just two tight tracks down the right leaving the left for us - I thought that was going to be run of the day. Next Loop was Cougar Glades where there was one track in front of me that disappeared and then it was untracked all the way down - on the left hand exit the slough got so great I had to pull over and let it go to stop being taken out. That qualified as run of the day by a big margin

We were a little short of time so we put in a Concussion loop and hit my favourite chute only to find it untracked, it was deep and awesome. The exit through the Gully was still good although much more tracked than it had been. Final run of course was Skydive which we hit in one all the way down. It was tracked but there were still untracked lines to be found if you stuck to the sides, so we did. So ended an officially awesome day, the first for over a week

The weather forecast had been for snow during the day stopping this evening so it should come as a surprise to no one that it stopped snowing during the day and started to snow hard as we left the hill. As I am typing this a full on winter storm is blowing outside and I anticipate another awesome powder day tomorrow. There is also a rumour that we will get Polar Peak tomorrow for the first time this season. The chair was turning today and things looked good but all this extra snow may put things on hold for a day or two. I'm a happy bunny with or without the Peak.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 74 One thing after another

It seems to me that nature is really putting us to the test at the moment and I for one am getting pretty fed up with it. First we had ACL tearing heavy elephant snot in rain which then flash froze to bullet proof rock hard sheet ice - blue in places. We spent a few days sliding around on the sheet ice during which time they had to close down the whole upper mountain for safety reasons and then we had brutal arctic temps of way down in the -20s. To complete the set today we had howling winds sweeping what little snow we had off the slopes and dropped the wind chill temp even further, and all this in pretty poor flat light. Enough.

It was -15 on the way to the hill today and temps rose steadily during the day so that the drive home was at -2 although as has already been said it felt colder in the wind. No new snow overnight and skies were quite clear. As the morning wore on the ridge lines clouded over and the wind came up blowing snow devils around all over the place and even getting to us on the Boom Chair which is usually very sheltered. The skies cleared a bit in the afternoon and the wind dropped a little but to use a much over used expression it was another brutal day.

We went to the Old Side and found that pretty well everything off the groomers was closed and taking a few turns on the little that was open convinced us it was just dust on crust with sheet ice underneath. We looped Bear and Arrow which were groomed with some sift and even dropped China Wall which was unusually groomed. Bear Cave Chutes were open and provided about 6 ok turns before you got to Alpine Way. Cruiser and Cedar Centre were both groomed and skiing ok with a bit of sift holding up. The drop down North Ridge and Emily's to Haul Back was also ok with a bit of sift.

That really accounted for our morning with interlinking loops by various means into Cedar which we returned via Haul Back, Boom Chair and Bear. Feeling that I had let Kangaroo get the better of me yesterday I went back with much more aggression today and skied it 6 times in the morning as part of our loops. It was ugly icy bumps but in fairness skiing no worse than it usually does and by the end of the morning I was really enjoying myself.

After lunch at the ever excellent Big Bang Bagels (the Mr Fernie with bacon just has to be tried to be believed) we went to try the New Side. Everything seemed a lot harder and more wind scoured than yesterday particularly Puff Trees. The Gun Bowl had some soft snow but that was about it and for a change we didn't think that Knot Chutes would be worth the effort. We decided to head back to the Old Side which we did via 1-2-3s (ok once you got through the cat debris in 1s) Lower Barracuda (very slick) and the First Aid Trail which was very icy with warning signs.

The rest of the afternoon was spent doing the same kind of loops as the morning where we found that Cruiser and Cedar Centre were benefitting very well from the sift on the now slightly reduced wind. We had 3 more loops through Kangaroo bringing my daily total to 9 which may be something of a record and certain is the most I have skied it in these ugly conditions.

In the bar the talk was of the change in the weather which is forecast to give us snow tonight and most of tomorrow. With the temps having risen to -2 there is real optimism that the snow will come down heavy enough to stick to the ice base and give us a bit of a cushion to ski on. We have to live in hopes.

Day 73 Life in the Freezer

Actually today's heading is a bit of a misnomer. The average household freezer is kept at a temp of -18 and as we left for the hill this morning the thermometer on my deck was showing -25. Even by the end of the day as we drove away it was only showing as -15 so all in all it was a very cold day.

It was a typical arctic high day with clear bluebird skies. Initially there was no wind but this picked up on the ridge lines in the afternoon and by the end of the day was blowing quite strongly to half way down the hill further adding the to feeling of cold. Needless to say there was no new snow so conditions remained much the same as they have done over the past few days, hard, icy and brutal.

Lynda and my Irish guests decided to take the morning of and wait for things to warm so I was left to my own devices for the morning. I decided to have a look at the Old Side and found that more had been groomed than a couple of days ago and the grooming was way better and less slick than it had been. There was very little ungroomed that was open but I did drop Bear Cave Chutes which were ok (and so they should be as they are the highest skiing on the Old Side) but only for half a dozen turns down to Alpine Way where everything below that was closed.

I expected lower Cedar Centre to be a slick ice track as it is often that even in good conditions but to my surprise it had actually groomed ok and was taking an edge. Taking the advice of Mr Anonymous from comments on last night's blog I dropped Kangaroo and found it to be rock hard ugly icy bumps with death cookies skiing really badly even by Kangaroo's standards and with no sign of any wind sift. Perhaps Mr Anonymous was not a well wisher as I had thought but was really trying to get rid of me - no, thinking like that leads to paranoia.

I went to the New Side as there didn't seem to be anything on the Old Side that was going to be much fun. Just like yesterday Puff Trees were hard icy bumps to get to White Pass. I went into Knot Chutes where yesterday's wind sift seemed to have turned to hard pack which made it all a bit more challenging although the High IT remains in good shape. The only place where the snow was soft was in the Gun Bowl where we had flat wind grooming which remained very mellow right through to the end of the day.

The top of 1-2-3s was disappointing as last night the groomers had push a load of cat debris into the top of 1 although after that they were in good shape but a bit firmer than yesterday. The run to base was through Lower Barracuda and Gilmar Trail which were both hard and icy but at least skiable with care. Currie Bowl remained closed at the County Line although I did see a couple of patroller buddies testing Concussion. When I spoke to them their comment was "it sucked" which I took as an indicator it wouldn't be opening any time soon.

I whiled away the morning in the Knot Chutes hitting out as far as Jim and back. Fraid Knot was the run of choice being flat with some sift on the surface. I ran to lunch as before through 1-2-3s and they remained in ok shape.

After lunch and joined by Lynda and friends we went back up the New Side. I had been told that Currie Powder was worth a go so after a few Knot Chute loops we tried it. On balance it was ok although the hoped for soft snow by the fence didn't really materialise. One very encouraging sight was Polar Peak chair spinning which has to mean that we nearer to getting the Polar Chutes. On the Coaster side we got the first really good look at the avi that let go a few days ago. It is one massive slide that has taken out all of Shale Slope and the surrounding areas and I an told that the average height of the crown is 160 cms so as I said one huge avi.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Knot Chutes trying every possible variation in the chutes and shoulders which made for some very interesting skiing. Our final run was down 1-2-3s which skied just as it had earlier in the day. We had hoped that Anaconda might open but the Glades remained closed all day. It was a tiring day as it always is when your body is burning so much energy just to keep warm.

We are just about to enter the next snow cycle with the promise of a reasonable accumulation. The problem is that temps are forecast to stay low so any snow we do get will be light with a low moisture content - let's see.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Day 72 - still cold, stil windy and still f---ing brutal

No real change today. It was bit warmer on the way to the hill at -10 and was over cast but all they were reporting was 2 cms of new snow but to be honest I didn't see any sign of it. We considered the Old Side but junked it on the basis that we could always go there and investigate if the New Side gave us any cause for optimism which it didn't. Later reports confirmed what we had already concluded which was that the Old Side was a bust and best avoided unless you were in to slick groomers which we were not.

Puff Trees seemed to have a little more soft snow but were mostly hard icy bumps all day. Once again Gun Bowl had the best soft snow and the wind which had gone round to the north and was blowing hard provided some up hill wind grooming. Unfortunately the wind had scoured the Knot Chutes which were very tough and chunky although we enjoyed the challenge of the far chutes most of the morning.

We took runs to base through 1-2-3s and Currie Glades all of which seemed to ski ok. The blow in snow had lowered the crunch line to well below the base of 3's and I am struggling to see why Anaconda and Concussion remain closed when their lower sections are well above the established crunch line. Final runs down alternated between Diamond Back ( groomed and rather slick in the final section) Gilmar Trail (ok as long as you held the left shoulder) and Lower Barracuda which was groomed but hard. Over all you couldn't get away from the fact that the lower mountain was ugly and icy, a fact confirmed by ski patrol who kept most of that part of the mountain closed.

We got into a lot of 1-2-3 loops and found that with the change in wind direction that was where the sift was ending up. We took a few loops back through the Knot Chutes which were still chunky. Temps dropped steadily throughout the day so that by the afternoon we were getting minus high teens which with the wind had to have "feels like " temp well down into the mid 20s.

A special mention has to go to the guys who were working on the Polar Peak Chair where the wind was 60 clicks at the top and conditions were out the other side of brutal. As far as I know ( and they do seem to be rather keen on not letting anyone know what is going on) the problems on tower 6 where the line is off the track is near resolution and the rime on the line which is another big problem might be resolved when they get the chair turning in the next day or two. As I say this is just all unofficial speculation as official sources seem to be unwilling or unable to give any kinds of updates on the Polar Chair - you do have to wonder why they don't want to tell their guests what is going on.

In the afternoon I was on my own and I linked up with my buddy Glen and we hit 1-2-3s ( filling in and getting softer) Knot Chutes (still very technical in the tight chutes) and the 1-2-3s again. Last run off the hill through 1-2-3s which by this time was flat smooth wind grooming was great and we then hit Diamond Back to give Glen a chance to have rip on his 80 ml under foot carvers even if it did mean that the others of us on our powder boards had to slither around a bit - that is what friends are for.

So ended another hard crunchy ugly cold windy day on the hill where the only mitigating factor was that the crunch line moved even further down the hill as the wind sift came into play. don't get carried away, most of the hill was hard ugly icy bumps. Overnight they are calling for -25 and no new snow so tomorrow looks like more of the same - worst luck.