First Chair Solitude.
It’s been another snowy Spring at Red. Since returning form a week at Fairy Meadows, we’ve had 8 legitimate powder days out of 12. But being late March, it’s quiet. Many of the seasonal visitors have departed, workers have returned to their jobs, we just don’t get many tourists this time of year, and locals have finally had enough powder that they’re not calling in sick for a 10cm day. Because I’ve been busier than usual with guiding this year, and now that my schedule is open, unlike many I’m fully stoked to be on the hill. Yesterday we had 10cm of light fresh snow on a soft base, bluebird skies, and no wind. My usual ski partners were otherwise occupied, so alone I strolled up to the line-less T-bar seconds before 9, skated across to Motherlode on immaculate corduroy, rode first chair with not a sole in sight, and proceeded charge down all my favorite lines in the most perfect (fast, soft, and filled-in) of conditions. Only at Red.
Monthly Archives: March 2012
Summiting Jumbo Peak, circa 1998.
So Jumbo has finally been approved. I first read through the multi-volume development plan for the proposed Jumbo Glacier ski resort development in the early 90s. Looking at it through the critical eyes of a skier it seemed even then a kitsch fantasy of rich Euros cruising down glaciers in the sunshine. It was easy to dismiss as the doodlings of an eccentric old man looking to create a legacy, rather than a blueprint for a viable ski resort. Since then this high profile issue has attracted an array characters and interest groups looking to manipulate it to their advantage – reactionary pro-development politicians looking to enhance their right wing credentials, career environmentalists stirring up public anxiety on the thinnest of grounds, marginalized indigenous rights activists weaving a fable of spiritual dominion, existing tourism operators positioning themselves for compensation, and self-serving business types lining up on either side of the issue according to calculations of anticipated gain or loss. The whole bill-board littered area has already been exploited so shamelessly by hordes of cashed up and ethically bereft Albertans, that what is really just another real estate scam almost certainly doomed to failure (given the demographic prospects for ski resort real estate over the coming years), does not particularly surprise or concern me. Anybody crazy enough to invest in this debacle deserves to get fleeced. If I was one of the small number of people who actually live and recreate here I’d be royally pissed (and I wish them all success in their efforts to derail this thing), but these mountains and valleys are already logged to shit, over-run with commercial snowmobile tours and heli-skiers, and so hold little appeal to me. Given the relative insignificance of this proposed development compared to any number of examples of our shared environment being exploited for private gain (urban sprawl, endless clear-cuts, open cut coal mines, dammed valleys, commercial fisheries, fracking, tar sands etc.), I suspect most people getting worked up over this of another agenda, or no sense of proportion. My concern is to limit the public’s financial exposure to this private folly, and to not get distracted from the fundamental and systemic problem – the BC (and Federal) government’s evisceration of the public sector’s capacity to meaningfully manage the private exploitation of public resources in the public interest, and their complete disregard for the value of public recreation on public land. Jumbo is just a symptom.
Julian had been hucking for glory (with varying success) and talking about deploying his airbag backpack throughout our recent week at Fairy Meadows. On the final day of skiing he lined up this drop, charged into it, deployed his airbag at the last moment, and to the delight of us all – stuck the landing. Fun times.
Here’s a couple of great shots that Jonathan Rhea took on the trip.
On the night of March 5, 1770, American colonists angry at unjust taxes imposed by colonial authorities began throwing snowballs at British troops guarding the Customs House in Boston. In the commotion, British troops opened fire on the mob, killing three immediately. Two more colonists died a short time later from their wounds. The American Revolution was set in action.
Skiers at Red Mountain have a history of expressing their dissatisfaction with a snowballs. As I recall it, on a powder day in December 1992 , the new ski school director attempted to assert lift-line priority on the Granite Chair for a group of ski instructors, before the public loaded. The large powder hungry crowd grumbled and jeered. The lift operator clearly expressed his sympathy with the waiting crowd and demanded authorization from above. When this was not forthcoming, the emboldened crowd errupted in celebration and pelted the ski instructors with a continuous hail of snowballs as they retreated down the hill. One of my room-mates, who was amongst the instructors, quit that very day.
And so to the events of yesterday morning. As on just about every other powder day this season, we waited until after 10.30am for the Motherlode chair to open (Red opened at 9.30am). As we waited to ski the largest overnight dump (30cm) since January 2009, patrollers skied run after run, culminating in the whole lift-line watching in palpable resentment as three patrollers simultaneously ripped tracks under the chairlift while hooting in satisfaction. As the patrollers entered the lift-line there was widespread booing, then a hail of snowballs and jeers that snowballed (if you’ll excuse the pun), with every subsequent patroller a target.
I’m not suggesting that this sort of mob justice is reasonable, but the skiing public is pissed. While there are undoubtedly valid reasons for each and every delay (apparently wind and challenging snowmobiling today), rather than emotional personal attacks from staff, might I humbly suggest that what is needed are periodic updates while we stand waiting, a more sensitive approach to the flaunting of powder skiing privileges, explanations and apologies where appropriate, and obviously a more effective strategy developed to ensure that more often than not we spend the mornings we’ve paid and planned for skiing powder rather than standing around.
First tracks down Needles was a candidate for the run of my season!
I passed through Fairy Meadows Hut on the Northern Selkirks ski traverse I’d completed in 2007. Impressed with the dramatic terrain but with little time for diversions, I looked forward to returning someday. So I was stoked when the opportunity arose to spend a week showing around a passionate and capable group of skiers that I’d worked with previously.
Remote Release on the Moraine.
Heavy snowfall and high avalanche hazard severely limited our forays into the alpine terrain otherwise accessible from the hut.
Fortunately we arrived to find all previous tracks buried in over 75cm of new snow, and spent the week gorging on deep powder in the steep trees and glades below the hut.
With every cliff drop and pillow line ending in the plushest of landings, everyone was sending it.
Towards the end of the week it dumped again, filling in the lines we’d been skiing and delaying our flight out for a day. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful week in the mountains.
I’ve just finished my last shift at Wildhorse cat-skiing for the winter. Adjusting to the demands of semi-regular work rather than free-skiing all the time has sometimes been a challenge, but the daily powder skiing really has been a joy.
Since it passed the top of the 3 meter measuring stick we’re just guessing on the snow-pack depth, but it’s been a snowy season as per usual, and the terrain keeps even the most demanding skiers satisfied.
Wildhorse is a bit of an anomaly in the powder skiing industry. We’re not trying to provide a “luxury” product for the elite, and it’s not about status, it’s simply about delivering great powder skiing. For me, and for our regular clientel, that’s all we need.