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.
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.
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.
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
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.