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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.