Saturday, February 24, 2018

Day 85 A somewhat eventful day

Yesterday I trailed the change in the weather and today it arrived. They were reporting 18 cms of snow overnight but I was sceptical as we didn't have anything like that in our drive. In the event when we got to the hill there was more snow and as we went higher there was certainly 18 cms and possibly more in places.

It was -11 on the deck this morning and -3 as we drove away from the hill tonight so it would appear that the forecast warming trend is continuing. The day was a mix of sun and cloud becoming more sun and less cloud as the day went on. I was worried about the sun affecting the skiing surface but a cold wind sprung up keeping everything in proper winter conditions. The new snow  was light low moisture snow which is great blower pow to give you face shots but not so good at holding you up and you very easily went right through to base which was hard and bumpy. Still it was great to have new deep untracked powder and as the day went on the snow actually became heavier and as a result skied a bit better.

We went to the New Side as on a busy weekend (I am optimistic this will be the last busy day for a few weeks) as the Old Side is always trashed by the pay for powder groups who are given access to the hill ahead of us mere peasants just because they are prepared to pay the extra - don't get me started. The drop down Lift Line was deep with a firm base and only lightly tracked. Currie wasn't open so we had a few loops of White Pass where the light powder gave continuous face shots and there was plenty of untracked snow to be had.

The fence dropped on Currie and we headed out to Decline where the top was untracked and awesome. At the Megasaurus a funny thing happened in that 4 tracks came in from the left and we had to thread a fine line between them in the bottom section to get untracked snow. Next time round we hit Stag Leap which was tracked a bit but had some great deep untracked lines all the way down the left hand side. At Lynda's suggestion we went to Touque Chutes where she said the snow was always deeper and as the last 35 years have taught me she was right, it was great. We exited through Spinal Tap where the snow had folded in so it was deep all the way down through the creek bed and you had to duck to get under the fallen tree.

When we got up to the top of White Pass we saw that Polar Peak had opened and when we got to the Polar load we found that the chutes, and only the chutes were open. We looped Polar several times mainly in Papa Bear where the snow was deep and soft and cut back to the lift each time. We had decided to take Mamma Bear and run to base for lunch but were stopped from traversing in by Ski Patrol. When we got down and looked to see what had happened we were shocked to see that the whole of Mamma Bear had let go with a Class 3 avi that had taken out 2 trees, had a crown all the way across the chute almost a metre high and taken out 3 skiers on the Reverse Traverse. Luckily the skiers were dug out very fast and no one was hurt despite the death cookies being almost a cubic metre in size in some places. Everything was closed down for a while quite understandably with everyone shaken and thinking about what might have happened if it had been Papa Bear that had slide as that was full of skier traffic all of the time. I got a good first hand report of the incident from my buddy Steve who had triggered the avi in first place as he entered the chute.

We went to lunch to gather our thoughts as if we had been a few minutes later we could have been taken out ourselves. We ran down Concussion which was a bit wind affected but soft snow and Gilmar Gully which skied just like the skier cross track that I described yesterday. Lunch was quite late because of the events of the morning so we were faced with a short afternoon.

I decided to treat myself to some tree skiing so we hit -
Cougar Glades - this was tracked on the right but if you pushed left into the tight trees there was a lot of untracked lines. I got so far left that it was straight drop into the left exit chute and that was steep and untracked as well.
The Brain - Super soft deep snow so far down that the exit into Skydive was only two turns above the cat track
Namless Trees - A little tracked up at the top but untracked lower down. The creek bed below Megasaurus was very deep and I tried first the trees on the left and then the right before cutting out on to the lower section of Stag Leap. It was all good tight tree skiing.

After that we had time to hike up the Mitchy Chutes and take the tight tree lines between Mitchy's and Big Bang which seemed to have been left alone for the most part. We finished on Skydive where the group today was 9 strong with 3 first timers this season. It was very mellow tracked powder. There was line up to get in the Griz so we came straight home for an early night. Tomorrow is my drinking night and I am optimistic that the crowds will be gone and we will be back to normal. Looking forward to another powder day.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Day 84 Getting a bit fed up with this

What I am actually getting fed up with is the lack of new snow, the unseasonably cold temps and the resulting steady deterioration of the skiing conditions. Now, I know that 6 days without snow would not be considered much of a snow drought in most places but this is Fernie and we do set the bar rather higher here. In any event I am starting to feel a bit beaten up going to the hill every day only to encounter tougher skiing conditions than the day before which in truth are leaving me feeling rather sore.

Of course we had no new snow over night and the warm up that was promised yesterday failed to materialise so the temp on the deck as we had our morning coffee was -23. It looked like it could have been a blue bird day but as the morning wore on it clouded over and became rather socked in at the higher elevations although the temp was rising. By early afternoon the wind had come up and we were getting a lot of blowing wind sift in very poor viz. Before the end of the day we had a full on winter storm on our hands with the snow coming down hard and the temp on the drive home -7. Unfortunately the snow seems to have tapered off at the moment but I am optimistic that we are now entering the next snow cycle.

We went to the Old Side and decided to bite the bullet and push out to Snake Ridge. This was no easy task as the cat track out there is now cut with a lot of uphill in it and the snow in these cold conditions was super dry and grippy - if you were pushing you were moving but when you stopped pushing you stopped moving. After a long slog I arrived at the top of Gorby Bowl and hit the Curved Ball shoulder into Steep and Deep and exited that on the skiers right chute. This was the best snow I have skied in days being soft deep chopped up powder but worth the effort, not so sure.

After that we did a series of Old Side loops through Cedar Ridge, Boomerang, Boom Ridge, Linda's, Bear Cave Chutes, New Lift Line and Bear Chutes. The were all rather tough chunky dry snow on a firm base with bumps and icy patches, in fact the kind of tough skiing that makes for such hard work. Every loop was returned through Kangaroo which we hit 4 times and was it's usual tough icy bumpy self. On every occasion in Kangaroo we seemed to encounter a group of people who wished that they weren't there but I thought the Roo was skiing just as well as ever.

After lunch we headed to the New Side and found that Lift Line had some nice sift blown in at the top but it was best to cut right into Big Bang half way down to avoid the icy scrapy section at the bottom. When we got to the top of White Pass the Polar Chair was turning but not loading and soon it shut down altogether so no Polar today. There seemed to be evidence of a big blast up in the Grand Papa Bear chute so maybe we will get something there tomorrow.

We did a series of loops in the wind affected and later fresh snow conditions which were all dogged by the very poor viz which really got worse as the afternoon wore on. The loops were -
Concussion - ok skiing if you picked the sift in between the wind exposed chunks. The gully on skiers left of Gilmar was a lot of fun and the viz was pretty good considering. You could hold the creek bed all the way down and it was great skiing.
Stag Leap - the bridge was a bit improved from yesterday and the conditions in the trees at the top rather scratchy. After that it was ok mixed conditions all the way down the run with some soft snow.
Decline - rather like Stag it was a mixed bag with some nice easy skiing and some hard icy bumps particularly in the mid section.
Lone Fir/Spinal Tap - the light in the chute was a little flat but it skied ok and a the fan underneath was great as always but a bit firmer than usual. We traversed across to Spinal Tap and found the snow chunky but ok and the creek bed good all the way down.

We just got back up in time for the final Skydive rip and by this time we had a full on winter storm. There were only three of us tonight but we had a good non stop drop of Skydive to finish the day. As I am sitting here have light snow on the deck and have to keep our fingers crossed that it holds up.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Day 83 More of the same

Although things warmed up a little it was a case today that nothing much had changed and we had another day just like the last few only with the snow conditions not quite as good as was to be expected.

The day started at -16 with no new snow reported. We had hazy sun in the morning which gave defused light so that every where that was in the shadow was very flat light indeed. In the afternoon the skies cleared a bit so it was almost bluebird as we drove away in a steady temp of -7. The outlook is for a snow cycle over the weekend and more to come next week so things are set to improve.

I was a little late getting to the hill as I had to drop off a buddy's pair of skis at Ski Base where they are looking at a warranty claim for him. When we arrived at the hill we were undecided as to which side to go to ski. The decision was made for us with the news that the Bear Chair had become the latest in a long list of lift break downs this season and would not be running until 12. This was later revised to 2 and although I didn't ski the Old Side I understand this timescale was more or less met. So the New Side it had to be.

We went up White Pass to find that the Polar Peak chair was turning but it was not loading. We killed some time doing Knot Chutes/Surprise Trees loops. The drop into the Fraid Knot was very mellow and the skiing there and in Slim and Jim were good soft wind sift. Surprise Trees also had a good covering of sift and only got a bit scratchy low down.

As it didn't look like Polar was going to open we dropped Gotta Go and had a tough time in the very flat light until we got through the choke where viz improved. The Don't Lose Me Trees to the right of Bootleg skied ok after you got through the cat debris. To kill more time we took a trip down Siberia Ridge which Lynda said was soft all the way down and I took the Fraser Tooth which was ok soft snow but with some very hard icy patches.

By now it was late morning and we found Polar Peak open for business. As before the only part open was the Coaster side so we had several loops of the Crusty Chute which was firm but with some sift and a few bumps. The runs to the chair were via the tower 6 traverse and then straight down, each time pushing a little further into the wind affected snow under the chair - well someone has to work it for the rest. Last run before lunch we pushed into the fan under Papa Bear which was very good if slightly variable. Our run to lunch was through Concussion which was great soft snow with the only problem being a number of traverse lines and then the Gilmar Gully which skied surprising well and where the light was much better than we expected.

After lunch we went back up the New side as the Bear Chair remained broken down. It was a rerun of the morning with a few Polar loops then a run to base, then repeat. The runs to base were through Decline which was still soft in places, Concussion which skied just like the morning and Stag Leap which probably had the best snow we found anywhere on the hill being soft all the way down. The drop at the bridge on the way across had deteriorated a little since yesterday but was still well on the right side of ok.

We just had time for a White Pass lap and so hit Knot Chutes again. Obviously there had been traffic during the day as the drop into Fraid Knot had developed a big kicker which was hidden in the fading light and came as a bit of a surprise. Slim was still in good shape and I rode the left shoulder of the chute followed by Surprise Trees which were still soft in many places. Final rip of course was Skydive where the club numbered 4 of  us. The general view was that it was tougher than yesterday particularly in the final pitch but rather better on top.

With a bit of luck the next snow cycle starts tomorrow afternoon and temps should be in minus single figures. That would be nice.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Day 82 Not as good as yesterday but still ok

The light dusty snow I talked about yesterday continued throughout the night and tapered off mid morning. The total accumulation was 1 cm which more or less says it all but as I said yesterday at least it added to and didn't take away from the existing snow and made everything look pretty.

The temp on the deck was -20 and only forecast to get into the mid teens at best on the hill. The forecasts worked out about right although the wind particularly on the New Side made the "feels like" temps stay down in the 20's. As we drove away tonight the valley temp was -11 and forecast to fall so all in all things stayed rather nippy. The cloud cover hung about all day giving some patches of poor flat light and the top of White Pass got quite socked in before clearing at the end of the day. It was never going to be a great day either in terms of the snow surface or the weather.

While looking at the official web site I came across and interesting item advertising the fact that a beer garden would be opening on certain days at the Bear's Den. This seems to be an interesting policy change by the hill who up until now have taken the view that the consumption of alcohol on the hill was something to be discouraged on safety grounds. I wonder what the good folk of the Senior Risk Management Team (who were so interested in my activities earlier in the season) make of this change as I am unaware of any research that suggests serving alcohol in an environment involving high speed travel and personal judgement is a good idea. I also speculate on how this will affect Hot Dog day when in the past security guards have been employed to search us and remove alcohol on the grounds that drinking on the hill was not permitted, surely we couldn't have a situation where alcohol is being confiscated at the Elk load and served at the Elk top.

We decided to go to the Old Side and again decided not to put in the effort to get out to Snake and beyond. We did a morning of interlinked loops of Bear Cave Chutes, New Lift Line, Kangaroo (many times), Boom Ridge, Linda's, Boom, Buck Shot, Cedar Ridge, King Fir and Bear Chutes. The skiing was pretty much the same all over it was firm bumps covered in a layer of soft snow with some tufted soft snow on the edges and the occasion ice patch in between the bumps. A buddy who went all the way to Snake said it was much the same out there so it was really what you would expect a few days after a snow cycle after a bit of skier traffic had pounded it in.

After lunch we headed up the New Side as Lynda was keen on hitting a Concussion loop before heading off to the gym for the afternoon. We saw that Polar was turning but closed and assumed that it had been open earlier but later it seemed that it had been on standby and given the poor viz I don't think we missed much. I had anticipated having a gentle afternoon on my own but unfortunately (well not that unfortunately actually) I fell in with bad company in the form of Brad and Kyle and we went for a rip.

The Reverse Traverse was skiing ok and with the repairs to the bridge it was a mellow slide out to the Big 3. The loops we did were -
Decline - good wind sift had filled in a bit and the low section was soft and ok.
Cougar Glades - a bit chopped up but good lines with lightly tracked snow if you poked around on the left.
Touque Chutes/Spinal Tap - the first few turns were scratchy but things got better the further down you went. In Spinal Tap the snow was surprisingly good even through the tight creek bed.
Stag Leap - the trees at top were a bit chunky but one in the run itself to snow was probably the best and softest on the hill particularly on the left side.

We even got in a skier cross race where I managed to get a 3rd out of 3. After that we just had time for a White Pass loop and I hit the Tight Knot where everyone was saying that a huge windrow looked to have appeared in the chute. Everyone was right and made for an interesting drop before we hit Surprise Trees which just like yesterday were soft sift with little traffic.

Last run of course was Skydive where Rod and Dan joined us for a final non stop rip which was good in the top, scratchy on the final roll and ok everywhere else. As usual the bar was jumping and we had a good time talking skiing with like minded folk. Doesn't look like there will be much change tomorrow with the exception that things may be a little warmer, here's hoping.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Day 81 A nice day's skiing

Yes, today was a nice (if a bit cold) day's skiing. That is to say it wasn't awesome or any of the other much over used adjectives, just nice, and that was mostly on the Old Side for a change. All will become apparent in good time.

I thought yesterday was cold but today was way colder. It was -27 on my deck this morning as I was drinking my coffee and on the radio they were saying that it was a wind chill of -32 in the Elk Valley. There was no new snow overnight and the day looked like it might be another bluebird day. As it turned out it started to go hazy almost from the outset and this developed into full cloud cover as the day went on. The problem of course with these conditions was that the light in the areas of diffused white light shadow became very flat although ironically as the cloud cover increase the viz got better due to the reduction in the reflected white light.

Lynda decided to take the morning off and when she turned up at lunch time it had warmed up to -17 as she parked the Jeep in Lot 4. On the way home tonight it was a balmy -13 so it looks like we are on a warming trend which hopefully will bring some precip soon. All day we have a very light dust falling from the sky as the cold temps froze any moisture that was in the air. This couldn't really be described as snow as the total daily accumulation must have been about half a cm but at least it was adding to and not taking away from what was already there.

I went to the Old Side and rejected the idea of pushing out to Snake in the super grippy, dry, cold snow. From the lack of people I saw out there it seems that most agreed with me although I spoke to a buddy later in the day who confirmed that he had gone out to Steep and Deep and it was ok. I just did repeated and varied loops of Bear Cave Chutes, New Lift Line, Linda's, Boom Ridge, Boomerang, Buck Shot, Bear Chutes and of course Kangaroo. The skier traffic had beating the snow in pretty well and all the runs were firm bumps with some soft snow and occasional icy patches in between. As I said really nice skiing and particularly good as bump skiing was just what was needed to keep me warm.

Last run before lunch I headed over to the New Side where it was much colder with some wind chill. What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I had to fight my way through the crowds at the top of  Polar Peak and today there was no one in sight. The reason was the viz which was poor and I had to grope my way down a bumpy Crusty Chute. The run to base was via Stag Leap which was a bit chunky in the trees at the top but ok most of the way down.

After lunch we did a repeat of the morning on the Old Side. Boom Ridge was particularly good as the bumps were firm but taking and edge and had just enough soft snow to be (as I said) really nice skiing. Kangaroo seemed to get better as the day went on although it was it's usual icy self in some places.

With the end of the day looming we headed to New Side and had time for a White Pass loop through Surprise Trees, which were deep soft snow in the top, before heading out to Skydive for the final run. The regular team was back in town so Dan, Lynda, Rod, Kevin and me lined up for the final rip. The Reverse Traverse remained varied but a lot of good shovelling had been done on the bridge at Currie Creek and that is now back to being pretty mellow - Thanks Kevin G. Skydive proved to be ok and with a little more traffic would be up to the standards of the Old Side runs. It was just a bit scratchy in the mid section and at the top of the final roll but otherwise good.

So as I said it was a good day's skiing and although the hill is still technically busy due to the Alberta holidays it didn't seem that way where we skied. More of the same tomorrow, or so they say.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Day 80 Polar Peak is back in town

Yes, as the heading says Polar Peak opened today for the first time this season (awesome work by the guys and girls on the hill to defy the elements and the "experts" who said it couldn't be done) and although it was only a partial opening and conditions were not that good the views from the top in total bluebird conditions were awesome and we will have better to come, but more of all that later.

Overnight the hill reported no new snow and for a change I agreed totally with their report. Starting temps on the way to the hill were -24 in bluebird conditions which meant a high pressure system and so mercifully no wind to speak of. Things did warm up a little particularly in the direct sunlight but on the way home it was showing -16 in the Jeep so all day was a good day to stay layered up with skin covered.

I had intended to head to the Old Side where I heard the snow was good yesterday but two things prevented me. Firstly the snow was super grippy and with the best skiing going to be out on Snake Ridge the push out was going to be very hard work and secondly Polar Peak was on standby so I needed to lurk on the New Side to catch the opening. As it was a buddy of mine did go out to Snake and confirmed it was a long hard slow push for chunky, not very good conditions.

First drop of Lift Line confirmed that things were going to be much tougher today as the grippy snow on the first turn almost caused me to take a header down the fall line. Further down it was hard chunky very dry snow pulling hard at the skies and in other places slick ice. This was something of a cypher for the rest of the day where these conditions predominated on most runs.

I did several loops back through White Pass and it became apparent that a significant wind event had taken place with everywhere off the groomers being a lunar landscape of windrows and icy ridges. After a while I decided to take a run to base and went for Decline. The Reverse Traverse was easier in the improved light but the bridge was as ugly as I have ever seen it with an icy lip that would give you air if you hit it at any speed and the landing would be well beyond the K point of the dip below - I was cautious through there all day. Decline was interesting with hard windslab on the rolls from the updraft wind but ok snow in the more sheltered areas. It was a case that it would improve with skier traffic but the problem being that I was the only skier traffic with most skiers on a holiday Monday opting to do Franz Klammer (blimey that's showing my age) impressions by ripping up the groomers.

When I got back up White Pass Polar Peak had opened. The chutes were closed but the Coaster, Cat track and just one clown chute (Crusty) was open. Below you could take the very hard and sketchy traverse across Shale Slope at tower 6 and either drop back to the chair in some very wind affected surfaces or go on to under the chutes where the snow was a bit slabby but much better and ski all the way down to base. I just looped the chair all morning trying the Coaster once (icy and rock) and then Crusty every time after that which was crusty but improved with skier traffic and me working out a good way in at the top after about the third time. The snow under the chair was very firm and wind affected but after a lot of morning traffic the Crusty/Chair line had improved to ok but no better than that. The view from the top was of course awesome.

I went to lunch via Lone Fir (surprisingly good in the chute and good but chunky in the fan) and Spinal Tap which was also pretty hard dry chunks. After lunch it was more of the same on Polar interspersed with runs to base through Stag Leap and later Decline/Window Chutes. All the runs down were hard work in hard snow and as anticipated the choke at the bottom of Window Chute was very ribby.

Lynda had decided to take the day off so I was surprised as I pulled in to White Pass for my final ride up to Skydive to have her pull in along side me. She had heard about Polar and could not resist coming up for the afternoon. Skydive actually skied very nicely in the top and was some of the best snow on the hill. The final pitch got harder and icier but no worse than anywhere else.

So ended a good day and our first Polar Peak of the season. To be fair the skiing wasn't great but there will be better to come and if someone gets in and breaks up the windslab in the Polar Chutes we may actually get some nice skiing out of them. More of the same forecast until the next weather system hits us later this week.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Day 79 Greater love hath no man that.......

Of course the full biblical quote is "Greater love hath no man that he gets in his SUV and drives his Irish buddies to Cranbrook Airport to catch their plane on a powder day so he misses the first two hours of skiing on the hill". Actually it is something of a comment on the season that we are having that I am happy to miss a morning of powder skiing. In a normal season my response would have been "Screw you, find your own way to the plane."

We got back to the hill at about 11 and decided to go to the New Side. This may not have been the greatest decision as buddies who skied to Old Side said the snow was way better and it was warmer. The downside was that Cedar high traverse was not open so the skiing was limited. As we lined up at Timber we heard that the Reverse Traverse and Anaconda had only just opened so maybe we didn't miss that much after all.

It was -12 as we arrived a the hill and my guess was that it was several degrees colder up top but in the absence of thermometers this had to be a guess. Official reports called for 16 cms in the last 24 hours which feels about right although I would have some problem with what is claimed to have fallen last night and what fell yesterday. As we drove away from the hill tonight it was -15 confirming that nothing warmed up today.

What was evident was that there had been a massive wind event on the hill last night so that the snow was blown into huge windrows which could really ambush you, and the fact that the wind had dried the snow out so that it was very slow and grippy and technically "interlocking dendritic crystals" or what we peasants would call "squeaky snow".

We went out on the newly opened Reverse Traverse which was cut in a most unusual manor to hit Decline. The conditions on the traverse were brutal cold winds with a cutting edge that made frostbite a real possibility. The run was ok with untracked wind slab on the rolls and super soft snow in sheltered areas. Next loop working on the basis that trees would protect the skiing surface we hit Cougar Glades which had great deep soft untracked lines and the drop into the left hand exit from right above was awesome deep untracked snow.

We had under estimated the cold so went to lunch to layer up via Stag leap which skied ok with tracked up soft snow proving a fantastic final pitch. After lunch we headed back out with full face cover, and extra fleece layer and an extra pair of gloves. Thanks to these precautions the afternoon went very well.

Touque Chutes/ Spinal Tap proved to be deep after a couple of scrappy turns in the top and the creek bed was particularly deep. I then bumped into a buddy at the top of the Brain (Lynda having had enough) and we hit The Brain all the way down. It was awesome with good tight tree skiing and some deep tracked snow and not a few untracked deep areas.

After that I hit Nameless Trees and continues on through the creek bed below and into the trees on skiers right, all great lightly packed powder. It was a great line to hold down to the lower section of Stag Leap. I just had time to hike up Mitchy's at the top of Timber for more deep soft snow before heading up White Pass for the last run.

Final run of course was Skydive but I was on my own - perhaps payback for not making it yesterday. The traverse at the Bridge above Currie Creek was very interesting with a steep lip that launched you even at slow speeds. The Griz Bar was jumping and it was more like a Saturday than a Sunday which kind of figures given that it is a holiday weekend. No new snow forecast but a cooling temp which with the wind forecast should give us a "feels like" temp for tomorrow of around -30 for most of the day - time to wrap up.

In the forecast we are looking for a few clear days followed by another snow cycle later in the week. This may actually allow them to give us Polar Peak for the first time this season in the next few days with any luck - we shall see.