Powderwatch Snow Conditions http://www.powderwatch.com It's Snow Time! Wed, 27 Jan 2016 19:54:57 +0000 en hourly 1 A Warm Monday At Lake Louise http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/899/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/899/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 19:49:51 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=899 It’s been several weeks since I was last on the downhill boards, but on Monday we drove out to Louise with my sister who’s visiting from Boston.  It was a family day as my niece joined us as well.  Once again, I wasn’t expecting amazing snow as there hasn’t been much precip at Lake Louise since Christmas.  On Jan 17 Louise had about 20cms of new snow but otherwise it’s been dribs and drabs.  This morning (Wed Jan 27) Louise is reporting 5cms of new snow and 17cms in the last 7days.  On Monday they reported 3cms over the weekend.  They’ve been getting dustings but no all day snowfall like they had on Jan 16. But at least it was a beautiful sunny morning with temperatures around -5C.


My sis hadn’t been skiing for a few years so it was a day spent skiing mostly blue runs.  That’s fun too but it didn’t allow me to go searching for my favourite powder stashes.  Because of that my report is somewhat speculative.  I will say that the groomies still have a decent bit of loose snow on top and not that much ice.  I did sense a hardness in the base that wasn’t there when I last skied around Christmas.  I also found the grooming wasn’t superb like it had been over the holidays.  That’s likely because it was Monday and they didn’t bother grooming much.  Btw… if I could work Saturdays and have Mondays off, I think I’d go for it.  The resort was pretty much deserted.  No lift lines, easy to get a seat in the lodge, no traffic to negotiate on the runs.  It was awesome!

I did scoot down Hour Glass on the backside and it was nowhere near as good as it had been 3 weeks ago.  The moguls were firmer – but still not icy – and there were a lot more exposed rocks.  As I looked back up the Whitehorn chutes I could see a disturbing amount of rock visible.  Conditions in the back bowls are getting increasingly thin.


Louise does have snow in the forecast for the next 5 days and that is just what the doctor ordered. The expected accumulation is only around 5cms per day but that is notoriously inaccurate.  Let’s hope we get at least one day of serious snow.  A colleague of mine backed out on a trip to Castle on Sunday because the forecast changed from decent snowfall to just a few cms.  Then they received 15cms leaving her thinking that she should’ve gone in spite of the forecast.  I think that’s always a good choice.


A few of you may be curious as to why I haven’t been skiing much in January.  It’s partly due to lack of snow but mostly due to the fact that we’ve been going cross country skiing at West Bragg Creek every weekend since Christmas.  Up until last weekend conditions have been excellent and they allow dogs off leash so Rio has had a blast chasing us around the 12km ‘Moose Loop’.

I’m mentioning this because I made an observation regarding the condition of the track set trail at West Bragg.  Despite having very little snow the course has been soft and super fun to ski for several weeks.  Then it warmed up last week and with the sun loading the track completely iced up.  There was zero grip in the track, the downhill section got slick and treacherous, and falling on that surface was a decidedly painful experience.  It reminded me that lack of snow isn’t necessarily a problem when it comes to skiing.  Avoided the melt / freeze cycle is key to maintaining reasonably good conditions.   We’ve all suffered the dismay of seeing a massive powder fall at Fernie get wiped out by rain a couple days later.  Warm temperatures are the real enemy, not the lack of snow.  That’s why Louise has managed to stay pretty good for the last 6 weeks.  It’s also why Sunshine typically has much better snow conditions.  El Nino and the mild winter it brings are not necessarily something we should look forward to.  I agree that it’s nice to ski in warmer temperatures but I’m happy to wait for spring for that to happen.

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Christmas Season Finale http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/christmas-season-finale/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/christmas-season-finale/#comments Thu, 07 Jan 2016 05:38:20 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=887 On Sunday I concluded what was absolutely my best Christmas ski season ever.  For as long as I remember Christmas hasn’t involved much skiing and if I got out once or twice I considered it a good year.  This year I made it to the mountains 7 times in a 2 week period for downhill, backcountry, cross country, and hiking. I have family and friends to thank for getting me out there so often this year.

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The grand finale to my great outdoors Christmas vacation was another great day at Lake Louise.   As it was the Sunday before we all had to go back to work, the resort was pretty much deserted in comparison to the last 7 days.  Once again, I wasn’t expecting much after 2 weeks without snow and the Christmas hoards pounding and scraping the runs into long streaks of misery.  The conditions were getting more ‘variable’ and most runs were packed hard, but overall I’d still give it a 7 out of 10.  What made it a 7 was partly due to knowing where to find some good snow, partly due to skiing with enthusiastic young people (my niece and her boyfriend), and partly due to having an incredibly deep and high quality base this December.  Cold temperatures also helped avoid the melt / freeze cycle that I now realize is a bigger factor than crowds when it comes to ruining the snow conditions.  Yes, massive crowds will quickly eliminate the sweet pow that makes a ski day truly awesome.  But a soft base can last much longer than I ever realized when it’s cold and dry.

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We started our day meeting Jess and Skyler at the top of the Gondola just before 11am.  We planned to start out with Meadowlark but missed the turn and skied all the way to the bottom on Juniper.  I can now confirm that the front side is indeed icy.  But when we later skied Meadowlark it was still relatively soft although the dirt was starting to show in places. We also dropped into Grizzly Gully via the steep trees under the Top of The World chair.  This run seemed to be Jess and Skyler’s favourite as they loved the natural half pipe and the steep drop in through the trees.  Jess was riding a snowboard and Skyler was free riding skis without poles – you get the picture.  The Gully was much more scraped off than a week ago and the moguls on the sides of the Gully were extremely solid.  But you could still carve everything, even without super sharp edges.  There really wasn’t much ice at all.

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My favourite run was Hour Glass on the back side – ski the cat track from the Top of The World Chair and continue all the way around staying high as possible then drop into the steep piste on the Whitehorn side of the mountain.  The snow was fantastic, there were a few rocks but I easily avoided them, the moguls were nicely form but not too deep, and the turns felt smooth from top to bottom.   After a couple laps via the Paradise Chair, Jess mentioned that the long traverses on the upper and lower cat tracks were kinda boring for a snowboarder.  She had a valid point.

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Old Ptarmigan, Larch, and Larch Poma were all still in very good shape although I think the base was thinner than a couple days earlier.  There’s only so much deterioration you can replace with snowmaking and grooming.  The Ptarmigan Glades were also a lot of fun still but considerably more stumpage was beginning to show.

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All things considered it was a great day in the mountains with reasonably warm temperatures, plenty of sunshine, and beautiful blue sky.  I know it hasn’t snowed in a while but my recommendation is to take a chance anyway and you might be surprised.  In the past I’ve skied on some pretty icy mountains and would never make a recommendation when conditions are that bad.  Places like Castle, Fernie, and Revelstoke had even better snow than Louise around Christmas so I suspect conditions are really good at those resorts too.  I’m not mentioning Sunshine because you can get the skinny from a more reliable source, right here in the Ryder Report.



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Return To Black Prince http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/return-to-black-prince/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/return-to-black-prince/#comments Tue, 05 Jan 2016 05:47:10 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=878 It had been a couple weeks since my last outing in the backcountry and although we returned to Black Prince the conditions were much different.  When we arrived in the BP parking lot the temperature was -20C.  I think it was supposed to be -5C in Calgary so I didn’t wear anything warm enough for -20C.  Fortunately, with backcountry skiing you generally get into the climb fairly quickly and under normal circumstances you’re peeling off layers, even when it’s -20.  We quickly got into our boots, strapped on the skins, did a transceiver check, and were climbing in record time.  As usual, the climb up the access road was brisk enough to warm up but also involved a fair bit of conversation so we weren’t pushing it too hard.

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Today it was my turn to set the up track and since it hadn’t snowed in about a week I looked for someone else’s up track to avoid breaking trail.  This turned out to be a mistake as I chose one that I immediately assessed as being a crappy up track and turned the crew around much to their dismay.  We then had to ski back down the gully about 100m to find another up track that I didn’t see on the way up.  This one turned out to be a good one and we followed it to the point where the glades started to open up.  At this point there were multiple up tracks criss crossing this way and that.  I elected to switch tracks on occasion and even break my own trail when the track wasn’t to my satisfaction.  The higher we climbed the warmer it got until we were soon stripped down to our shirts with gloves and hats removed.  I was still sweating.  The heat really slowed down our ascent – Jay was struggling on the climb thanks to his AT gear that weighed about 100kgs.  Seriously, I think my downhill gear is lighter than what he was lugging on his feet.

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After a couple hours we were at the top and the sun was brilliant.  We sat down for a long lunch and enjoyed a spectacular view of the valley below.  I threw on a down sweater but it really wasn’t needed – I didn’t even zip it up.  On this tour the climb and the lunch at the top were definitely the highlights.

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The ski down was a bit underwhelming.  Most of the top half of the slope was tracked out and then crusted up thanks to the warm days we’d been having all week.  The turns were not graceful – Dave managed to bounce off some crud and crash into a tree.  But towards the bottom of the slope the air began to cool significantly as we dropped into the shade from the mountain ridge above us.  Then the snow became quite good and we were able to enjoy a few good turns before the trees started to get to tight.  I remembered that the trees get really tight as you drop down towards the lake.  This is true.  But there were more open sections than I remember so some of the turns through the trees were really fun.  But the last 100m down to the lake was an exercise in dodging deadfall, hoping creeks, and getting whipped by pine boughs.  I was no longer popular with my tour mates :-)

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As we popped out of the trees onto the lake the temperature was noticeably colder.  (When we eventually got back to the car the temperature was -16C.)  Our bodies were still pretty warm from working hard in the trees so the cold air wasn’t much of a problem but it was very strange how much the temperature changed from just inside the trees to out on the frozen lake.

Before I wrap up this post, I have to tell you about the guy we met who was skiing alone.  This is extremely risky even though conditions were probably as stable as they get at Black Prince.  He had an avalanche transceiver, but if he was buried or fell into a tree well who would know?  Then to top it off, he skied right down the big gully that anyone who’s done an avy course would avoid because it’s a very nasty terrain trap.  I’ve seen tracks in there before but it’s always followed by comments on the stupidity of some people.  The guy was skiing alone and on the most dangerous terrain in the area… he obviously considered himself invincible.  Take my advice, don’t be that guy.  People more competent and safety conscious than this twit have found themselves in bad situations in the backcountry despite using good judgement.  Please respect the potential dangers that exist in the backcountry and try to set an example as a responsible person.  When tracks go into an area like this then less experienced skiers may follow.

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Sobre Viviendo – Lake Louise http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/sobre-viviendo-lake-louise/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/sobre-viviendo-lake-louise/#comments Fri, 01 Jan 2016 02:55:47 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=871 I have a friend and colleague that I haven’t spoken to in a long time and one of the Spanish phrases he taught me was, ‘sobre viviendo’ which basically means ‘still surviving’ and is a response to ‘how’s it going?’  I think this is an appropriate description for Lake Louise.  After nearly a week of heavy Christmas traffic and virtually no replacement snow since the week before Christmas, the conditions were once again surprisingly good.  There are plenty of good turns on the mountain although some areas are starting to enter ‘sketchy’ territory.

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Rather than repeat my last post I’m just going to quickly list the runs where I found great snow and fun turns without hitting any rocks.  But first I have to give some kudos to the snow management team at Louise.  I was skiing with Big E yesterday and she really loves Larch.  When I’m not skiing with her I don’t go anywhere near Larch.  Powderwatch Relationship Tip: it’s important to ski your partner’s favourite runs and pretend that you think they’re great even if you think they’re kinda boring.  This will ensure you have many happy days in the mountains together.  When Larch has fresh powder it can be fun, especially the bumps on Larch Poma.  But with the massive line ups at Larch chair and the lack of snow this week I was expecting a skating rink on Larch.  Trust me.  There are many times that I’ve skied Larch and it’s covered in patches of blue ice.  But there was 3-4cms of man made snow on top of a heavily groomed surface.  There was hardly any ice and the turns were actually a lot of fun.  So thanks Louise Operations for making one of my less favourite runs an enjoyable experience.

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OK.  Let’s get on with the list of runs with great snow.  Headwall next to the Summit Platter had some rock pile that you needed to navigate but otherwise had a nice soft surface.  Brown shirt (another of Big E’s favourites) was just as good as it was a few days ago when I skied it with Bern.  I didn’t ski them myself but I was told that the Gully’s had opened a few days ago and had some of the best snow on the mountain.  The hike into boundary bowl was well worth the effort and the scenery was spectacular on such a bluebird day.  Cowboy and ER3 and probably, any run on this face, were still in great shape.  Meadowlark was getting a tiny bit scraped off and moguls were starting to reform in places but it was still super fun.

On my last post I noticed that from the shots I posted the mountain looked empty.  But it was seriously crawling with people.  I decided to include a shot of the base line up just so you know I’m not making it up when I said the place was packed.  See???

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How To Navigate A Busy Day At Lake Louise http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/how-to-navigate-a-busy-day-at-lake-louise/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/how-to-navigate-a-busy-day-at-lake-louise/#comments Tue, 29 Dec 2015 22:45:18 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=863 I was torn between focusing this post on the surprisingly great conditions at Louise yesterday, or how we were able to avoid one of the biggest crowds of the season.  In the end I thought the crowd avoidance piece would be most useful to our readers.  The Christmas hoards, some decent snowfall, or even unseasonably warm temperatures could change conditions in a hurry making any report on conditions largely irrelevant.  (Note: post featured image is from the Lake Louise photo gallery, taken on Dec 21st.)

But I’ll start with a short report on conditions because it was a surprisingly excellent day on the mountain.  A little over a week ago I was at Louise and conditions were hard pack, not too icy yet but I could see it coming.  When we checked the snow report Sunday night and saw 6cms in 7days, I was decidedly underwhelmed.  If Bern wasn’t visiting from Toronto I probably would’ve pulled the pin.  That would’ve been a big mistake.  When I was last at Lake Louise I was with a group of intermediate skiers so most of our runs were on blues on the front side.  Yesterday, we spent 95% of our day on the back side with only our last run down the front.

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Our first run was down to the platter where the snow was much softer than I expected.  Don’t get me wrong, it was well trampled but still carv-able like crumbly styrofoam.  We then went straight up the platter and skied Brown Shirt where the snow was very soft and there was a skiff of fresh snow on top (maybe 2-3cms).  It was super fun and with that run my day was already made.  We did several more runs on the platter, skiing Outer Limits and popping through the fence to encroach a little out of bounds into West Bowl.  The snow was fantastic!  There were a few rocks to avoid but no ice at all.  I also dropped into Whitehorn 1 and easily skirted the rock piles and found some fantastic snow.  It wasn’t powder but you could still float a little and carve hard turns that kicked up plenty of snowy rooster tails.

The other area that surprised were the glades between Old Ptarmigan and Ptarmigan Chair.  We lapped this a few times because it was so much fun.  Eagles Flight was another run where we found great snow.  At the end of the day we skied Meadowlark and all the big moguls from the week before had been groomed out so the surface was soft and snowy.  There were some moguls on Lower Meadowlark but instead of being icy boiler plate they were soft enough to ride with enthusiasm.  This was a testament to how good conditions were at Louise this December.  With virtually no new snow during the busiest period of the year I was expecting blue ice, exposed rocks, and generally uninspiring conditions.  Instead, we had a blast and felt thoroughly satisfied at the end of the day.

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OK.  Let’s get to crowd situation.  We left at 7am and the highway to Banff was a steady line of tail lights separated by no more than 5m, in both lanes, for as far as the eye could see.  Rather than tangle with the type A’s in the fast lane I resigned myself to cruising along at 80km/hr.  It was snowing lightly and visibility was poor at times but the highway was mostly dry.  It was mainly the volume that kept the speeds down.  As we passed the Sunshine turn off, I wondered why there weren’t as many people exiting as I would normally expect.  I found out later that the Goat’s Eye chair was broken down so that may have resulting in more people opting for Lake Louise.  In contrast, the Lake Louise turn off was backed up onto the trans Canada for a few hundred meters and we slowly crawled of the highway and up the road to the parking lot.

At this point it was very clear that line ups were going to be a factor.  In these situations I head up to the Skoki Lodge parking lot and ski down to the village.  It avoids the parking lot gong show and a long walk back to the lodge with ski boots on and skis on your shoulder.  Once you’re at the lodge, always head for the automated ticket windows they’re much faster.  Then grab the quad chair as opposed to the Gondola – it always loads faster even if the line looks big.  We went for the singles line and with a very short wait we were heading up.  Within 20 minutes of parking we found ourselves boarding the near empty Top of The World chair.  We’d just slipped past thousands of people swarming the base area and were on our way to a day that was eerily free of crowding.  I say eerie because there must’ve been 10,000 people or more on the mountain.  We encountered them at times but at other times we were the only people on a run.  Bizarre!

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My next tip covers when to stop for lunch.  We hit the Temple lodge at 10:30 after a couple runs and found it pretty empty.  We’d stopped to warm the toes and adjust the boots but decided to have a coffee and eat half our lunch.  We discussed staying clear of any lodge until after 2 because the lines would be ridiculous.  An agreement was quickly reached.  We were back out at the Ptarmigan chair by 11:30 just as it was starting to fill up in the Temple Lodge.  The lift line was minimal.  For the next couple hours we lapped the Summit Platter and Paradise chair if we went into the back side.

For the entire time we were skiing right onto the lift.  I attribute this to a couple things.  The lifts lines always get a little shorter around lunchtime – that’s why it makes so much sense to stay out of sync with the masses.  But even so, when the best skiing is off the summit it’s unusual for the platter not to be backed up and have at least moderate lines.  My theory is that the majority of Christmas skiers are families, tourists, and people who only go out a few times per year.  The powder hounds stayed away because there was no new snow and the people that ski 20 to 40 times a year really don’t like the Christmas crowds.  I have a self employed friend in Canmore who often speaks disdainfully of weekend skiers like myself.  That’s the kind of person who goes backcountry skiing over Christmas.

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By two our legs were getting fried and we popped into the Temple Lodge to finish our lunch and have a beer.  To our surprise it was still packed in there.  But it was the last remnants of the lunch rush because by 2:15 the place was empty.  After a very enjoyable break we were putting the skis back on just before 3.  The Ptarmigan line up was insane – as long as I’ve ever seen it – and the Larch chair was as bad if not worse.  We scooted up the singles line to pass hundreds of holiday visitors who had just finished the lunch time debacle, looking for a free table, lining up for 30 minutes to get their lunch, and even lining up to go to the bathroom.  I’ve been there many times so it’s always a treat when I’m skiing with someone who gets the crowd avoidance strategy.

We could have done a few more runs after our second lunch but again we decided it made much more sense to get a jump on the conga line back to Calgary.  In December, that also means driving most of the way home in daylight as opposed to being in the dark.  The highway was relatively clear until we hit Banff and then it began to thicken up.  Snow was still blowing and the highway became slicker as we approached Calgary.  We counted 6 vehicles in the ditch and we were at the front of the crowds returning from a day in the mountains.  My guess is that the emergency crews were kept very busy last night.

That’s it.  It’s a very simple formula for making the best of a day that could potentially involve frustrating line ups, crowded runs, and dangerous skiers and boarders who think they can rip through the waves of people covering every inch of the most highly trafficked runs. Many of you will already be well aware of this technique and maybe have a few tricks of your own.  But for those of you who typically don’t make the effort to take the road less travelled, I highly recommend that you give it a try.

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Castle Run http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/castle-run/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/castle-run/#comments Wed, 23 Dec 2015 12:53:45 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=853 Morning Crew!!   Castle has had 75cms this week and 25cms in the last 24hrs.  More later, we’ve got to hit the road now.  Also, check out Whitefish on Instagram.  They had some fantastic conditions yesterday.  Fernie also has a powder alert with 10cms of new snow.  Go south if you can.

Dec 24th (the day after) – Getting up at 5am and driving 3 hours down to Castle was well worth it!  After skiing Louise on Sunday it was pretty clear that they needed more snow before it would get really fun.  My neighbour just told me Sunshine was good on the weekend but getting skied out by Wednesday.  With no snow in the forecast for Banff National Park for the next few days I was beginning to worry that Bern wasn’t going to enjoy some great skiing despite the fact that we’ve had a ton of snow since November.  I’d talked him into bringing out his skis from Toronto because skiing had been fantastic for most of December.  Castle to the rescue!!  (Actually, I should thank my colleague Madelaine for tipping me off that Whitefish had received a bunch of snow on Tuesday.)

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We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise as we drove south on Hwy 22 but the lack of snow even closer to the Crowsnest highway was a little disconcerting.  Even driving into the Castle parking lot, it didn’t look like they’d had much snow – maybe 10cms.  But on our first run bellow the Red chair we were treated to boot top freshies and gorgeously fluffy snow.  This was my first day out on the Icelantic Nomads (awesome ski for powder) this season and as usual they were super responsive in the fresh snow and even in the chop later in the afternoon.

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Bern had only skied Blue Mountain once last season and his legs were screaming in protest as he forced them to perform quick turns through the glades.  He also was carrying a heavy, bulky pack with his Nikon digital SLR and honkin’ big lens.  We only did photo ops on the first couple runs before ditching the pack in the car.  But we did get a few great shots that I’ve distributed throughout this blog.  Unfortunately, my finger slipped off the auto focus button as I snapped Bern getting some awesome face shots.  The post featured image isn’t an artistic interpretation, it was operator error.  I still like the shot but imagine if it was in focus :-)

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The top of Castle was were you could find the best snow on the mountain.  I skied the rope line on the edge of the chutes and hit the chutes when they were opened later in the day.  The pow on top was spectacular and I had a blast floating through the shrubbery that was still protruding from the fresh snow.  But my best run of the day was through some tighter trees between ‘North Star’ and ‘100 Last Turns’.  Somehow the freshies in this area had been completely missed.  Bern and I did most of our laps in the big bowl skiing ‘Sheriff’ and ‘Outlaw’ and picking our way through stands of trees to find sections of untracked powder.  But even the tracked snow was still deep and fantastic to rip up.  We also ventured into ‘Tamarack Bowl’ and ‘South Bowl’ for more stellar turns.  Only the bottom half of the mountain was a bit scratchy – many of the lower runs could use another 30cms of base.  But there were various groomers and cat tracks to help you get back to the chair without whacking too many bushes and alder branches.

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By the web cam image this afternoon it looks like it’s still snowing at Castle today and they’re reporting another 7cms in the last 24hrs.  If you’re looking to get some turns in over Christmas I’d highly recommend heading down there as opposed to making the shorter trip to local Calgary resorts.  Sunshine is only reporting 1cm of new snow today and Louise is reporting 3cms.   I don’t see much snow in the forecast for either resort but Santa can always surprise us!  Nakiska might be pretty good if they get some of the snow that’s falling in Calgary today.  Kicking Horse is looking a bit dry – similar to Louise and Sunshine.

So where do they have a bunch of snow?  Revy is reporting 12cms today and 78cms over the last week.  Fernie is reporting 13cms and 67cms for the week – similar to Castle.  Whitefish is reporting 26cms and 82cms for the week.  Christmas in Montana anyone????

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First Day At Lake Louise http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/first-day-at-lake-louise/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/first-day-at-lake-louise/#comments Tue, 22 Dec 2015 22:24:51 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=848 Not only was it our first day at Lake Louise last Sunday, but it was also the first time I’d skied with my Niece and Nephew since they were teenagers.  Jeremy Lives in Toronto now so the only time he gets out is when he’s home for Christmas.  Jess and her boyfriend Skyler started talking to us about getting out for a ski day last year but we never managed to organize it thanks to the limited number of days that I got in last year.  So Big E and I jumped in my sister’s car with the young pups and hit the trans-Canada heading west to Lake Louise.  I was quite impressed that we made it to the lift by 10:30 and put down 4 runs before lunch.

The coverage at Lake Louise was already far better than what it was at the beginning of March last year.  It hadn’t snowed much in a week so we weren’t whooping it up on snow blanketed terrain but the hard pack was still carve-able on most of the mountain and there was very little ice.  Sunset Terrace was in pretty nasty condition – not very snowboard friendly – but the run below had no ice to be seen.  I was pretty happy about the lack of ice patches because they can be a killer when you’re tele-marking.  There’s nothing more terrifying than leaning into a hard turn with your knees bent in a low crouch and having the boards shoot out from under you on a slab of well hidden ice.  But ice would not be a significant problem on Sunday.  The huge moguls on Meadowlark were a major problem for me and for Jeremy’s legs that weren’t quite ready for muscling their way through some pretty deep troughs.

It was overcast and snowing lightly for the entire day but never accumulated enough to make the surface powdery.  The following shot was pretty much what we were looking at for the whole day.


As you can see, the snow was pretty good but the visibility wasn’t great at times.  The Old Ptarmigan run was closed and the Larch chair had technical difficulties and was shut down for the afternoon.  With Ptarmigan ‘moguled’ up this reduced our selection of blue runs and kept us mostly on the front side.  The visibility was better on the front but the surface definitely wasn’t as soft.  But despite that we had a great day of fun!  Even though I’m a snow snob, sometimes it’s the company that makes the day.

The outlook for the Christmas weekend is pretty similar to what we had last Sunday.  Temperatures will be a little colder (around -15C) but they are calling for sunshine in the long range forecast.  I had a quick peak at the Louise web cams today and it’s -10C at the base with sun shining.  Looks like a perfect day to be out in the mountains.  But this time of year the shadows are getting long by 3 in the afternoon.


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A Day In The Backcountry – Part2 http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/a-day-in-the-backcountry-part2/ http://www.powderwatch.com/uncategorized/a-day-in-the-backcountry-part2/#comments Sat, 19 Dec 2015 17:50:00 +0000 http://www.powderwatch.com/?p=839 Before I go on to tell you about the fantastic day we had skiing at Black Prince, I need to make a bit of a disclaimer.  I’ve been skiing in the backcountry for about 20 years now but I wouldn’t consider myself skilled, well trained, or anywhere near an expert on the subject matter.  I tend to rely on the knowledge and experience of my companions because theirs is vastly superior to mine.  They spend more time in the backcountry and do week long guided tours at least once a year.  They’re certainly far closer to 10,000 hours than I am.

Case in point… one time I took my wife up to Asulkan hut thinking I knew the area well enough to stick to ‘safe’ terrain.  She was an intermediate skier who was very nervous on steep slopes and she was inexperienced in the backcountry.  In hindsight my experience level was nowhere near what it should have been to take her up there.  I made one mistake which led to a couple subsequent mistakes.  My first mistake was leading us into a nasty terrain trap because the slope going in was very gradual and easy for her to ski.  On the first run I broke my decision to ski only the headwall and tree triangle below the hut.  Instead I went somewhere I was unfamiliar.  This led to my second mistake, not putting the skins on and going back the way we came.  I tried to exit the terrain trap by traversing the top edge of it and subsequently committed another high risk error by leading us across a steep and 30m wide avalanche chute.  Either side of the chute was treed so we crossed one at a time, me first, from the relative safety of the trees on one side to the trees on the other.  Also foolishly, once we were safe in the trees on the other side I went back out to retrieve a basket that had fallen off my pole.   Thankfully, there were no incidents but my lack of experience and poor judgement had put us both at risk.  Although my wife loved the adventure of that weekend – we spent the first night alone in the Asulkan hut with gale force winds blowing snow into the hut through small cracks in the cabin walls – we never did another tour together because I didn’t trust myself.  As they say, “your next mistake could be your last.”

Screenshot 2015-12-19 10.43.42

Our tour to Black Prince last Sunday was a somewhat less dramatic adventure.  Although we pulled into the parking pull out with a large male moose licking salt off the car parked beside us.  That was pretty dramatic!  We kept an eye on him as we put our boots on, skinned up, and clipped into our skis.  He came over to taste our truck once but quickly went back to the other vehicle when the noise of pulling a set of skis off the back of the pickup seemed off putting.  We always kept at least one vehicle between us and the moose but the next group to pull in stood about 10 feet away from him to take a picture.  Now that’s foolish risk taking!!  Luckily, Bullwinkle was more interested in licking salt than charging after skiers.

It was a gorgeous morning with light snow fall and temperature around -7C.  As we crossed the snow covered meadow, we found that the snow was light and fluffy.  The creek wasn’t frozen over yet so we had to head up stream a bit to find a reasonable ice bridge and then we entered the forest using an up track likely created by the skiers in the car that our moose friend was so attached to.  Having an up track is always better than having to break trail all the way to the top.  However, my Sammy and Jeff seemed to be eager to break their own trail and bantered frequently about the quality of the up track we were using.  As it turned out, they would have plenty of opportunity to break trail throughout the day.

Getting to the top of the slope took about 45 minutes.  The pace was fast but slow enough that we could chat about various topics on the way up – everything from Amazon.com drones, to upcoming backcountry ski trips, to how easy it is to lose money in the stock markets.  At the top we had a quick snack, pulled off the skins and began our first descent.  Being my first run of the year, my skis felt foreign on my feet and my turns were a bit more deliberate than usual.  But the snow was light and forgiving.  About half way down a buried spruce decided to nab the bottom piece of my telescoping ski pole and after a short search digging in the snow we concluded that it would be hopeless to try and find it.  I was to be on one pole for the rest of the day.

View looking back on Spray Lake Road

View looking back on Spray Lake Road

We descended further until the trees started to get a bit too tight for our liking.  I hate to rub it in, but the snow was shin deep and completely untracked.   It’s for the love of skiing in untracked snow that I go through the effort to ski in the backcountry.  It really is the most exhilarating skiing you can do.  (OK… Heli skiing and cat skiing are more exhilarating but take away the machinery and it’s kinda the same.) Having to ski while holding one pole horizontally out in front of me did detract a little from the enjoyment but by the next run I was feeling pretty comfortable with this technique.  It was bad on the climb either. It felt a lot like hiking because I sometimes use one pole when hiking.

Once we retraced our climb back to the top we decided to drop in the back side and work our way over to the most well known slope on Black Prince.  It was a short run down to the gully through mostly tight trees and the turns were more cautious than fun.  We broke out of the trees onto a wide meadow that stretched across to the gully that would be the normal approach from the Black Prince parking lot.  As we skinned up for our next ascent Sammy commented that this was where it all began for us.  We were much younger then and were, for the very first time, trying out telemark gear rented from the University of Calgary.  Many day trips to Black Prince were in store over the next 10 years and we recalled all the friends who had joined us back then but were now living in other parts of Canada.  It was a poignant moment thinking that we were the last of our group of young and eager friends who were still touring on a fairly regular basis.  It felt like we were visiting a place fondly remembered from our past, like the neighbourhood you grew up in, because we hadn’t been to this particular part of Black Prince for about 5 years.

I’d forgotten that it was a pretty good slog from the gully to the wind swept terrain just above tree line.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to break trail as Jeff and Mike swapped the lead and wisely left me to toddle along behind.  I was able to just keep pace with them but the heart rate was elevated for a sustained period far longer than I’m used to these days.  Fortunately, my body saved the heart attack for another day.  I can remember doing that climb three or four times in a day but I don’t think I would have been up for more than one ascent on Sunday.

Screenshot 2015-12-14 20.40.26

At the top the snow was only about 20cms deep thanks to a steady wind blowing across the slope.  Just 30m below us someone had dug a pit that measured 175cms deep.  That’s a mid season snow pack and testament to what a great snow year we’ve been having so far.  Although we were tired from the climb we didn’t waste any time ripping off the skins and getting on our downhill gear.  On the climb I wore my down sweater, light cross country ski gloves, and a light skull cap – and I was sweating like crazy.  For the descent I donned my wool/fleece toque, my gortex jacket, warm mittens and ski goggles.  I also zipped up my hood to prevent snow going down my neck in the event of a tumble or an encounter with a snow loaded tree.

We started skiing down the slope towards the lake and found the conditions to be a little sketchy.  There was a hard packed crust under maybe 10cms of snow and bumps that resembled moguls.  This part of Black Prince is so well used that you almost get moguls forming.  Old up tracks freeze and get covered in with snow and can be quite hazardous when you don’t spot them.  We quickly traversed away from this area and dropped into some tight trees on the gully side of the descent.  This is where we found the best skiing of the day!  The run was very steep and the trees were barely navigable in some spots.  To break through the thick glades we had to bush whack on a traverse until we broke out into a clearing.  But… we hit several clearings where a 30 to 40m swath of untouched powda lay before us.  We took turns going first so we could each enjoy the thrill of laying down tracks on an unmolested piste.  But there were plenty of freshies for the three of us!  As we were at a higher altitude than the slope facing Spray Lake Road (where we started our day) the snow was lighter and deeper.  I dialled in the floating hop turns that you can only do in deep hero snow and despite skiing without the use of poles the turns felt completely effortless.  It made the hard slog to the summit worth every heartbeat.

Screenshot 2015-12-19 10.41.44

We broke out of the forest just above the gully, shot down the gully for about 50m, and pulled up in the meadow we’d traversed earlier.  It was time for a well deserved lunch!  Stopping for lunch in the backcountry is a very relaxing moment as you rest on a self made bench consisting of skis and maybe a pack on the skis to keep your bum warm.  Your favourite snacks (such as tuna sandwiches) are pulled from your pack and munched on.  It’s a good time to hydrate as well.  I find I usually forget to drink enough because the water is generally ice cold and even starting to freeze up the opening of the water bottle.  Lunch is also a bit of a race against time even on a pleasantly warm day.  When it’s -15C or colder a big down jacket is absolutely essential or you’ll be ramming down your sandwich in about 2 minutes.  But with the right insulation you can hang out for 15 to 20 minutes before you start to feel cold.  Like hiking, backcountry skiing usually involves a lot of chatter and sometimes lengthy discussions on the up track.  Similarly, lunch is a great time to swap stories and catch up with old friends.  It also inevitably involves a bit of farting – sorry, but it’s true – especially if you’re out there with the boys.

The guy who get’s cold first is usually the one to break up the tea party.  On Sunday, Sammy had his skins on and was plowing across the meadow before Jeff and I had finished off desert.  I was next and Jeff followed about 100m behind.  We caught up with Sammy trying to find a break in what looked like and impassible stand of trees.  He picked his way up slope until finding a section where we could squeeze through in hopes of finding an opening.  Above us we could see some nice open glades where putting in an up track would be very easy.  But we had to break through the dense stuff first.  As the trees started to open up we found an up track and were happy to follow it for a bit.  Unfortunately, it kept taking us away from our destination and eventually we had to abandon it and start breaking trail.

That’s when I ran into my second equipment malfuncti0n of the day.  My skins had been getting increasingly more snow on the sticky side and my right skin eventually lost all adhesion.  It was manageable until we started some steeper up tracks and then the skin started to fall off.  My second face plant was into a tree well so in frustration I decided to do something about the near useless skin.  All it took was vigorously rubbing the glue side together to generate some friction and melt the snow.  Slowly some stickiness returned to the skin so I could get it back on my ski.  It probably took 10mins and my partners in crime were not impressed with the delay.  Nobody wants to be coming out of the backcountry in the dark and the clothing is always stripped down for a climb so any delay by a floundering member of your crew will meet with some ridicule.

Screenshot 2015-12-19 10.36.59

With the skins sufficiently repaired, we continued up the mountain in the wide open glades that we’d seen from below.  As my intrepid trail breakers pressed on I was able to admire the rolling forest bellow us, the beautiful stands of trees glittering with snow that had fallen throughout the day, and the scent of pine floating in the crisp, late afternoon air.  The climb began to feel effortless despite the long day marching around in deep snow.  Perhaps it would have been a good time to take my turn at the front but there was a sense of both cooperation and competition coming from my companions who were relentlessly banging out a track through the powder.  Who am I to interfere with their obvious enjoyment of the moment!!  A freeloader perhaps… but at least I’d done my part by gamely tagging along with one pole all day, and without complaint.

The final ascent down to the highway was another joy ride through pristine snow.  Again we took turns laying down the first tracks through various open glades.  It was almost embarrassing, “It’s all yours buddy.”  “No you go, I took the last one.” “No worries.  Rip it up Billy”.  Guys aren’t usually that nice with each other but we’ve been skiing together for a long time.  As the terrain flattened out just above the creek we finally ran into some poor conditions with the snow being a little wet on top and distinctly crunchy underneath.  It made navigating the bob sled run through fallen trees and stumps all the more challenging on our tired legs.  But we scooted through without incident and were soon trudging alongside a beautiful open creek with pillowy white embankments.  I felt like I was in a scene from ‘Peter and the Wolf’.  As a child that was always one of my favourite picture books.  Apparently, I’ve always had a fascination with snow covered wilderness.

Screenshot 2015-12-19 10.35.40

The tour ended with a scamper across a meadow to our vehicle parked along Spray Lake road.  Sammy and Jeff bolted ahead in a final race to this finish to test each other’s endurance.  I was content to trudge along well back of the really fit guys.  Walking my dog, Rio, for an hour and a half every day maintains a base level of fitness but as Sammy put it, “when you turn 50, you have to work out harder to stay in shape and the benefit from each workout becomes less.”  In my case, I’d stopped biking to work on a regular basis,  hadn’t run for weeks, and hadn’t been in the pool since we got Rio.  My main source of workouts are curling once a week (yeah not much cardio there), hockey once a week (mostly anaerobic), and yoga twice a week (essential for maintaining some flexibility and strength but again not much benefit for the heart and lungs).  I guess I’ll have to get in shape for skiing by skiing more often.  Otherwise, who has the time to whip themselves into shape?  Not me.


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