The sun was shining from a clear blue sky, the skiing through hoar frosted powder as good as it gets, a group of ripping skiers laughing and sharing an incredible day. I watched a relatively minor miscalculation and fall onto an unfortunately positioned concealed rock, and in a moment was faced with evacuating a hurting young man and potential spinal injury from a remote backcountry location. With lots of teamwork we hauled (strenuous postholing) a stretcher and spineboard up to our injured skier, packaged him, then back down and into the snowcat, down the cat-skiing roads, transferred to a snowmobile and trailer to negotiate 16km of snowed-over logging road (the alpenglow transcendent), into the back of my pickup and 30km to the hospital in Nelson. An exhausting 31/2 hr epic that ended well, with no hypothermia and only a non-critical fractured vertebrae and bruising.
Trevor from Wildhorse Catskiing was spending the day driving and packing down his snow-roads, so in exchange for some shovelling and our company Michelle and I got to ski a bunch of the runs, including a short tour to the summit of Wildhorse peak (pic above). With clear skies and cold temps, the previously reactive snow-pack (we saw evidence of multiple natural releases on Qua peak) was completely stable, with an easy skiing lightly frosted topping. Conditions are ideal for the start of regular operations tomorrow.
In this season that keeps on giving, we had another 32cm of new snow to enjoy today. The holiday crowd made for a huge line-up, and avy control kept us waiting till 9.45 before loading on the Motherlode chair, but it was actually stupid deep (Red’s new marketting catch phrase) in places. I had plenty of great turns, but though certainly the deepest in-bounds day so far this season, I found it a little too deep and perhaps a tad on the heavy side, having to muscle my way through alot of situations. It would have been a great day for a pair of Pontoons or Sumos (super-fat skis). I’ll have to work on adding to my quiver. I’m off to Wildhorse for a couple of days of Cat-skiing. With dropping temperatures and clearing skies it’s sure to be pretty amazing.
Woke to 15cm of fresh snow and sunshine on the mountain. Ripping it up in the powder with my friends is what I want for Christmas every year. I didn’t feel like stopping (Camo and Don wouldn’t have waited anyway) so my only pic is of the first chair ride up, an untracked expanse of powder underneath, and pillows through the trees beckoning.
With hordes descending upon Red for free skiing day, and sunny stable conditions, a tour up Old Glory (the highest peak in the Rossland Range) seemed a reasonable plan. Jordy, Steve, Marty and I made quick time in ideal travelling conditions, about 3 hrs to the summit, including a short ski into Essling creek. The double-hourglass on the East face (dropping directly below the summit in the pic above) is one of my favourite lines; steep, direct, exposed, with a couple of technical cruxes. We gave it a try despite the early season conditions. We found consolidated but still soft and consistent snow, making for fast and easy carving. The upper rock band required a bit of billy-goating, but that just added to the adventure. We got great powder turns off Hanna peak, and some fun ducking weaving down the uptrack to the highway. Only 4 1/2 hrs roundtrip and a short drive home, it doesn’t get much easier.
I snapped this pic from White-wolf ridge yesterday, on my way out to a couple of runs off Mt Record. I was struck by the contrast between the sunlit corduroy perfection of Southern Comfort and the dark, steep, and uber technical Microwave Face in the background. That skiing at Red encompasses such a range of experiences is key to it’s unique appeal, but the greedheads in charge have always had a difficult time with it.
Prior to the mid 70’s Red was all steep and challenging. It was only with the addition of the Paradise Chair in 1976 that groomed intermediate terrain made skiing more accessible and enjoyable for the young, the old, and the inexperienced. Unfortunately the debt incurred proved unmanageable, and led to the Ski Club selling out to Scat and his coterie of drunks and deadbeats in the late 80’s. When I started skiing at Red in the early 90’s, skiing the Microwave Face was considered a once a season accomplishment for a few ski bums. The first time I dropped in, despite being early March, it hadn’t been skied or bombed all season, so was loaded with snow, completely smooth and skiable directly off the top. I enjoyed a couple of years of some of the world’s best technical steep skiing and initiated a terminal day tradition (the drunk descent), before Scat decided to include the mountain’s most difficult lines on the trail map in the misguided notion that people would be impressed with the dramatic increase in the number of runs listed. I wish I still had a copy of that year’s trail map which included First Cooler and Super Cooler as quadruple black diamond runs. Predictably it lead to a bunch of wannabe extreme skiers and snowboarders dropping in to the wrong place at the wrong time, and requiring roped rescues by the patrol. The response of the ski-patrol was a policy of bombing the fresh snow off all the steep faces, attempting to render them unskiable. Protests were met with dismissals that “you’d have to be a lunatic to want to ski there” and so although now justified on some spurious notion of avalanche control, the practice continues to this day. That these lines continue to be skied on a regular basis, sans snow, is a testament to the skill and determination of those skiers, guys like Joe Cowan and Sparky Steeves (temporarily out of action), who delight in the raw challenge of these steep technical lines. I’ll wait till a little later in the year, when the afternoon sun begins to reaches the face, warming the snow and providing some adhesion to the rock. I’ll keep an eye on it whenever I look over from Mt Grey, and on the just the right day, I’ll drop in.
I’m only just recovering from a week of incredible powder skiing at Red. It started dumping started about midday on Monday (Dec 11th) laying down 17cm that afternoon. With 30cm overnight, Tuesday was a classic Kootenay powder day, with few people and endless untracked lines. 12cm overnight filled everything in for Wednesday, but strong winds closed the Motherlode chair at 10.30am, so I skied knee deep lines on Red until mid-afternoon. Only 2.5cm of fresh for Thursday, but Granite remained untracked from the day before, and the visibility was perfect for most of the day. Another 23cm for Friday morning, and another first to last chair effort, using every last bit of whatever reserves I had. Despite the perfect conditions it seems few people are committed to midweek skiing before Christmas, there are certainly no tourists, just a few dedicated locals and ski bums lapping fresh lines in anonymity. It doesn’t get any better.