It’s been 16 days since our last snowfall here in the Kootenays. Not a record dry spell by any means, but enough to get people worrying – “will it ever snow again”. The days of sunshine were appreciated, but as it got colder and strong north winds scoured even the protected stashes, soft turns have become difficult to find.
We toured at Kootenay Pass on Sunday, and at just the right elevation and aspect there was still some preserved powder, but variable best describes the conditions. You couldn’t ever be sure what to expect on the next turn. It was also very cold, but the sun was shining and we had fun.
I woke this morning to the sound of plough trucks, and 1cm of new snow. It’ll be dust on crust today, but temperatures are moderating, there’s light snow in the forecast all through this week, and with the chance of a more significant dump on the weekend, I expect we’ll be powder skiing sometime soon.
The view from Mt Grey yesterday.
It’s been a couple of weeks now with continuous cloud/fog in the valleys and sunshine up high. It makes me glad to be a skier, otherwise the lack of sun could get me down (like living in Vancouver). It’s been Spring-like conditions up on the mountains with warm temperatures (12 degrees) and corn snow on the south aspects. There’s finally some snowfall in the forecast, with a return to powder skiing perhaps by the middle of next week.
I just took delivery of my brand new 185cm Dynastar Huge Trouble skis (140-115-130), and I’m currently in the process of trying to work out where to mount them. The very detailed review that sold me on the skis makes a convincing case to mount them at -3cm to hit the sweet spot in the turning radius. I’m convinced that most twin tip skis are mounted too far forward, which might explain why all but he most aggressive jibbers I see seem to be leaning back and fighting for control. To confuse things, a tech from Evogear told me to mount them at +2cm else they wouldn’t perform on hard snow. I’m going from my 183cm Head Super Mojos, which I love, so to try to sort this out I measured what I estimated was the functional side-cut length (ignoring the tip and tail) on each ski and produced a spreadsheet comparing the relative positions of the manufacturer’s centre mount positions. My Supermojos are mounted (on the line) at 43.54% from the rear. The manufacturers mounting position on the Big Troubles is at 45.91% from the rear. At -3cm the mounting position on the Big Troubles is at 43.97% from the rear, seeming to confirm the review I read, and which I’m hoping will deliver the feel I’m looking for. These are going to be my day to day resort skis, but with Dukes mounted on them so that I can skin up to Motherlode on big days, lap Roberts occasionally, and perhaps use them for cat-skiing. Bring on the powder.
Sunrise – Wildhorse Creek.
I got to guide one of my favourite local tours yesterday. After a late night (life lesson #273 – don’t party with Quebecois when you’re breaking trail all the next day) and a very early start I snowmobiled for an hour – most of the way into the Qua yurt where I met the 8 guys from Calgary.
“Where the hell are you taking us” – Wade and the guys on the Seaman summit traverse.
We skinned to the south summit of Seaman peak (for Whitewater skiers, its the massif directly to the south of Ymir peak) and traversed the exposed ridgeline to the gunsight notch at the top of the classic line we call Long Qua.
Sure it hasn’t snowed in a while, but we were loving pitch after pitch of silky boot deep hoar frosted snow. We toured all day, and found that even on the sun warmed aspects, it was great skiing. After sharing a beer as the sun set I hustled to make it back to civilization on my lightless sled – more than a little bit tired.
We checked out Kootenay Pass yesterday, looking for protected powder in the trees. The sun was shining bright above the valley fog, not a breath of wind, and we found some creamy consolidated powder skiing – a beautiful day. Here’s a short video of Steve.
Russ from Funhogz in Cranbrook met us at the Pass, joined us for the skiing, and then mounted a couple of pairs of Dynafit bindings (he brought a jig and all the tools) on the tailgate of my truck. That’s what I call service!
With the ski hill getting a little firmer and a little more skied out every day, it seemed a good time to go for a walk. Andrew and I headed up Old Glory to check out the conditions in the Alpine. It was easy trail breaking all the way, and mild sunny conditions until the summit ridge, with wind and white-out. There were no signs of any recent activity, but we took the most cautious line down the nose. About a third of the way down, skiing the moderate angled ridgline, I remotely triggered a fairly sizeable (~2.5) avalanche about 50 meters ahead of me. I watched the whole thing slowly fracture and break into large chunks before flushing out into the aprons below.
Andrew – checking out the fracture.
The crown depth varied between 30 and 130cm, and it had propagated about 100m wide from the ridge into the adjacent gullies. The sliding surface was facets on crust, and it started on a windloaded convex roll between shallow rocks (East aspect, elevation ~ 2200m).
Andrew – Skiing the debris.
The snow surface was wind blasted and almost chalky, but the turns were actually pretty fun.
Andrew – Giving the snow some love.
We took some time to dig around in the snowpack at treeline, which as we expected showed a very well bonded mid-pack on top of a facets/crust/facets sandwich. Skiing from Saddleback peak to the car was variable, windscoured crust – firmpacked powder – wet firm crud. A work-out.
Here’s a few pics that Sara took on a sunny morning at Wildhorse last Friday.
Snowpack 101 – that’s me in the pit, just to show that I do occasionally dig. It seemed solid to me, and nothing moved all day.
Perfect Glades – With so much recent snowfall we only had one road in, but there’s lots of space in the glades. It was easy skiing in carveable powder.
Trevor – Owner, lead guide, driver, mechanic, tail-gunner, photographer, telemarker, skier.
Kirsty on the Fench Fry (Mt Record) – 1996 – A classic old pic taken from White-wolf ridge by my brother. Mine’s the middle track, and the conditions were as perfect as they look.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre provides a valuable public service with their regularly updated bulletins. It must be challenging trying to summarize something as complicated as the evolving story of a region’s snow-pack, into an avalanche danger rating scale, but their current ratings do seem particularly misleading. The Kootenay Boundary forecast is currently calling the danger “high” at all elevations. According to the international danger scale (which the CAC applies) high means – “Natural and human triggered avalanches likely”, but that’s certainly not what I’m seeing. Since the warming on January 6th – 8th, and the cooling since the evening of January 8th, we have about 1.5 meters of well consolidated and bonded (there’s a couple of hard sheers) snow on top of rotten crusts and facets. With minimal penetration and fast surface conditions, there’s great skiing to be had on moderate angled slopes (and I’m not finding any issues on steep terrain either). Significant snowfall or rapidly rising temperatures would change things, but for now the probability of a natural release is miniscule, and it would take a very particular set of circumstances for a skier triggered release to occur. Sure, determining exactly where such a skier triggered release might occur is very difficult to predict, and the consequences could be major, but with experience and a conservative attitude backcountry conditions certainly seem manageable. I spoke earlier with CAC staffer Ilya Storm, and the CAC (based on the advice of experienced professionals) seems to be conflating predictability, consequence, and probability into “high” probability ratings in order to warn off the adventurous but inexperienced. I expect that the unpredicatibility is particularly disturbing to the experts, but as usual I’ve a libertarian sensibility on such matters, and think if they are to be credible the CAC has an obligation to impartial accuracy, and that the responsibility for decision making should remain with the individual.
It was dumping hard yesterday and into the evening, so I had high hopes for powder skiing today, but woke to rain on my roof. Motherlode chair was closed due to reportedly high avalanche conditions (I’d have loved to check it out) so we skied mashed potato like snow with poor visibility on the Red Chair. On steep terrain it was actually pretty fun powder-ish skiing, but by about 11am I was pushing a big ball of crud in front of me as I straight-lined down Poochies, so called it a day. Tommorrow is forecast to be wet and slightly warmer (argggggh) then cooling and clearing for Friday. It’ll be intersting to see what we’re left with.
6pm Update – Mat just dropped by to gloat that because he’d stuck around a few minutes longer than I this morning, that the Motherlode chair had opened, and so he’d spent the afternoon lapping the North -side steeps with no-one around. We’d been told earlier that there was no chance it would open, but anything is always possible at Red Mountain.
John Van Dongen
BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
Minister Van Dongen,
I recently listened with concern to your CBC Radio interview (Jan 6th) in which you stated that you were considering criminal penalties for those skiers who crossed closed ski resort boundaries, and for skiers who entered the backcountry under certain conditions. As a lifelong backcountry skiing enthusiast and a working ski guide, I strongly urge you to resist a populist response to the recent avalanche deaths and not to embark on illconsidered regulation of the public’s right to freely access the mountains of this province. The backcountry in winter, like our rivers, the ocean, and our high peaks, is a wild and potentially hazardous place. Good judgement keeps you alive in the backcountry, no matter what the conditions, and the legitimate recreation of experienced skiers should not be criminalized. Efforts to educate inexperienced skiers should be adequately resourced. Closures are unenforceable, and will just promote cynicism about overly paternalistic goverment. Ski resort management and public officials cannot proclaim when the backcountry is safe or not without assuming inappropriate responsibility and liabilty for such decisions. I appreciate your concern, but this is a complicated issue that effects many more people than resort operators concerned about the public perception of their industry. Please don’t take away my right to access the backcountry.