With heavy snow piling up and avalanche hazard spiking in the back-country, an unscheduled day off from cat-skiing at Wildhorse fortuitously coincided with all the terrain on Granite being opened for the first time this season. Coverage is exceptional given the relatively low snow-pack depth, and we were charging down all our favorite lines like it was mid-winter. Sure visibility was marginal (Buffalo Ridge terrifying) and at lower elevations the snow had the consistency of mashed potatoes, but after being fenced in like criminals for weeks, we are free at last.
Monthly Archives: December 2011
Just the two of us.
At some ski hills skiers line up in anticipation of openings, and Boxing Day can be one of the busiest days of the year, but things are different at Red Mountain. I’d heard a rumor from a friend/employee that the Red chair might be opening today. The on-line snow report said it was closed, but given the unreliability of Red’s communications of late, I chanced it and headed up for first chair. The Red chair was turning, but the place was otherwise deserted. I put my skis in line, and with a few minutes to spare thought I’d check the status of what runs were closed and what weren’t after recent snowfalls. I wandered around the base area, but there was nothing posted anywhere that I could see. I checked with guests services but they didn’t know, so asked at Ski Patrol, and they weren’t sure. None the wiser I grabbed a coffee and strolled back to the Red Chair, which was still deserted. A volunteer patroller skied through, but (no surprise) he hadn’t been told what was going on. Finally a friend (who’d also put more trust in rumor) showed up, and at 9am we were the only two skiers to load. At the top of the chair, there were rope lines strung all around the place. I asked the lift attendant what was closed and what wasn’t, but he didn’t know. So I went skiing. After a couple of runs of poking about I’d worked out where the best snow was and how to traverse there without crossing the roped closures, and I had a bunch of fun runs in variable snow by and to myself before heading home.
The snow is returning, a couple of inches at a time. Not enough accumulation yet to get Red Mountain to open anything worth skiing, but in between Christmas preparations we got in some fresh turns in the local side-country, or is that slack-country?
Meanwhile our quirky little cat Cheeky was joining Elise and my nephews for some cross-country skiing.
For the past 3 weeks (though it seems longer) a huge and entrenched high pressure has redirected the Pacific Northwest storm track far to the North and South of us. 3 weeks of cold clear weather has made for great ski-touring conditions, and yesterday at Kootenay Pass was another glorious day of bouncing turns through untracked boot deep hoar frost and facets.
Even skiing at Red Mountain hasn’t been too bad, for despite extravagant efforts to fence skiers into only a couple of crappy groomed runs, with a little extra effort and creativity it’s been possible to traverse to some good quality early season powder skiing without getting busted.
Finally now the storm track is forecast to return for Christmas and I’m hopeful that we’ll be wallowing in powder by New Years. But as the new snow accumulates on top of a deep layer of faceted snow created by the December drought, safe skiing in the backcountry will require considerable good judgement for quite a while. A good time to exercise caution and enjoy powder skiing in-bounds.
My winter at Wildhorse cat-skiing has begun. With the owner/lead guide Trevor recovering from a broken leg sustained in the Fall, I’m taking on all guiding duties for a little bit. The snow-pack is thinner than usual, and we haven’t had much new snow of late, but with perfect boot-deep powder skiing on all aspects, our clients are invariably stoked at the end of the day. I have mixed feelings about guiding. Of course I course I love skiing fresh powder, but the experience can’t compare to the freedom, challenge, and camaraderie of adventuring with close friends. What does make it worthwhile is the the satisfaction of providing people with what is often a peak life experience. It’s uplifting to be associated with such joy.
Cam – First Slide.
There’s no getting around the sad reality that Red is the last ski resort in Western Canada to open. The coverage and especially the snow quality has been deteriorating these past couple of snowless weeks, but it’s been decided that the lifts will start running this coming Saturday Dec 17th. I was told today that the Silverlode, Motherlode and Paradise chairs will be operating, but that skiing on Granite will be limited to Southern Comfort, Southern Belle and Rino’s. That many of us have been enjoying skiing the whole mountain for the past month, and that coverage is still adequate to good in most areas matters little, as patrol and management want it known that closures will be enforced. Protecting the clueless from their own folly apparently requires that we all suffer. A little new snow overnight has marginally improved the otherwise firm snow surface, and we had fun on First Slide this morning, but it won’t be an opening to remember. I’ll be cat-skiing instead.
Another sweet day of touring in at Kootenay Pass. I’m aware of much discontent at the lack of recent snowfalls, but with clear mild days, perfect stability, and a velvety hoar frosted surface to the snow, touring is going off.
We seem to be in a snowless pattern at the moment. With cold nights and sunny inversions during the day, the snowpack is deteriorating and faceting on exposed south aspects, but is otherwise well preserved. Rather than lap the ski-hill again, we spent a few hours wandering around and skiing a couple of aspects off Mt Crowe. Warm and windless, we found good skiing in some (for me) less traveled places, and some thin schnarby conditions to keep it interesting.