Thursday, April 26, 2018

Season Summary 2017/18

First of all apologies for the delay in producing this report. Unusually I had to miss the last 4 days of the season as I was shipping out to Ecuador (Cranbrook-Calgary-Denver-Panama City-Guayquil-Galapagos) for 8 days sailing, hiking and snorkelling round the North and West Islands of the Galapagos. The trip was totally awesome but obviously I was off the grid as far as wifi goes and in any event 6 o'clock starts and long days with the wild life didn't really leave any time. I am now back in Quito (capital of Ecuador) for a couple of days before flying up to Coca for 7 days on a boat of a very different kind to cruise on a tributary of the Amazon and will once again be off the grid so this is my brief window of opportunity to make the report.

Usually when making the seasons report I can refer back my daily blogs to refresh my memory but this year is different. After my report on the first day of the season I received a threat by email from RCR to remove my ski pass over what I was writing - I have kept the email. I decided that it was just too high risk to continue with the blog and stopped writing it for 70 days with the intention of not restarting. I was driven to change my mind by a number of factors not the least of which was the numerous requests I received from followers by way of comments, direct emails and face to face meetings to restart as they were missing their daily dose of Fernie skiing. What finally decided me was some information I received from a hill insider who confirmed that although they were getting a lot of grief from my followers they considered it a price worth paying to be shot of the blog which provided a constant check to the hype regarding conditions which could otherwise be published. I decided in the interest of the public good I had to restart and I would just like to reassure everyone that no secret deal was struck (in fact they avoided talking to me at all) and the blog will continue with my personal uncensored views with which anyone may feel free to agree or disagree.

The pre season shaped up for something really sensational. Snow throughout late Oct and most of Nov prompted the hill to announce a bonus pre season weekend and things looked very good. Just before that weekend we had top to bottom rain for several days not only causing the weekend to be cancelled but also bringing into question the regular opening planned for the first weekend in Dec. In the event we opened on time with a very sketchy 90 cm base and a lot of vegetation and woodwork evident away from the groomers.

For the first 20 days or so things were pretty poor although some very cold conditions did help to preserve what we had. Just before Christmas the base was down to 50 cms and the alder problem on most parts of the hill was significant and then it started to snow. It snowed all over the Christmas holidays although it stayed cold and all through January and February with spring only making its first appearance at the end of the first week in March. Around day 110 of the season we passed the 1100 cm total snow fall to date figure and even allowing for the fact that they were counting some snowfall from before the hill opened, when you set that off against to 20 day snow drought early on it meant that in that period we were more or less averaging 10 cms a day. That was more or less the story as we only had a couple of 40/50 cms days and for the most part we just got snow every day in the 5/20 cm range.

We had hoped for something like this what with it being a La Nina winter but what we got exceeded our expectations and resulted in one of the best seasons in the 14 years I have skied all winter at Fernie. Of course it wasn't all a bed of roses. The snow pack was inverted and very unstable leading to significant avalanche closures and days of restricted terrain which whilst understandable was frustrating. Of more annoyance was a 12 day period when we didn't have White Pass lift due to a failed bearing at the top bull wheel. It's all very well for the hill to write glowing reports of what a great job their staff are doing repairing a lift (and they did do a very good job) but this was just the tip of the iceberg of the problems with unreliability and breakdowns in the lift system. This year was the worst I can remember for lift failures and the incidence is such that it can't just be put down to bad luck - there is obviously serious failings in the maintenance of the lift systems that need to be addressed before the start of next season.

A special mention has to be made of Polar Peak which only open to the public for 12 days this season which is the lowest number I can remember since the lift was first installed. Worst still, on the days when it was open it was only the Coaster side that we could ski using the Coaster, the Cat track or the Crusty Chute none of which was particularly good skiing. The caution was understandable for on the one day that the Polar Chutes were open we only had a couple of hours skiing before an avi was triggered in Mamma Bear (nice one Steve) which was a full cat 3 avi taking out 2 trees and burying a skier who was on the Reverse Traverse. All in all Polar Peak was a total bust this year and we have to hope for better next.

During this whole heavy snow period we only had one day of top to bottom rain and that was about the end of the first week in Feb. I remember it well as it was just before my Irish buddies arrived having been reading of what an awesome season we had been having for weeks. It is typical of the season that they arrived to a pretty ugly icy hill but within three days of arriving we were back to awesome deep powder again as the snow just kept coming and the hill repaired itself. My estimate is that we had 70/80 what I would describe as good powder days where we were laying down lines in untracked snow.

From a personal point of view the deep snow (we didn't quite get to a 4 metre base peaking at 395 cms) meant that I could hit runs that would usually be marginal or challenging and found them skiing so mellow I was actually trying to find the hardest lines I could just to make things interesting. The sort of stuff I am thinking of is White Rabbit, all the Saddles, Lone Fir, Easter Meadow, The Fraser Tooth, Seans Chute, The Crutch, Gotta Go, Cobra Rock etc in all of which we tried to find new and tougher lines. The usual stuff like the Big 3, Window Chutes, Steep and Deep, Gorby Bowl, Anaconda, Triple Trees etc were just bunny runs. I even got to skiing in some very seep places that I had never skied before. The Hollywood Rock score of 20 attempts, 16 landings and 4 stacks speaks for itself.

At the end of the first week in March we thought that maybe the groundhogs had got it right in their prediction of an early spring as we had 10 days of very warm temps (sometimes not going down to freezing over night) and super mushy spring skiing. Mid March it switched back to winter and the snow machine switched on again and stayed that way through to the end of the season. Of course the late season snow was not as light as the mid winter snow but we were getting full on days of winter skiing even in the second week of April.

So that's it folks, an officially awesome season skiing that finished up at 131 days for me. Now all that remains is to get back to the UK via the Amazon and get all the boats in the water for a summer of sailing. I should be back in Fernie in September by which time the training for the late Fall marathons should be well under way and I will make my usual Fall report on the up coming ski season at that time. In the meanwhile everyone have a great summer.