High Speed Cruising at Pano

We were expecting some spring skiing at Panorama this weekend with forecast highs of 11C and blue skies in Invermere Saturday morning.  However, it did take a while for the snow to soften up.  In the morning, the mountain was bathed in Sunshine with just a few clouds in the sky.  But at the crack of 10am we were still a bit too early for the spring softies.

Screenshot 2014-04-07 20.50.26I know I’ve said it before but Panorama does an excellent job of grooming the main runs on the front side.  That’s a good thing because any terrain outside the groomers was a nasty hard pack with crusties and crumblies that sent you scurrying back onto the groom.  We took one run to the summit before lunch and it was a similar frozen mess – not very enjoyable.  But that’s what you can expect from the thaw freeze cycle this time of year.  It’s not to take anything away from Panorama – they had an excellent year for powder.  But on Saturday it was a day for high speed cruising.

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That’s Big E! Check out the rooster tail :-)

Before lunch we lapped the second chair continuously.  There we’re a few icy patches at the pinch points but otherwise you could really carve the hard packed groom.  This resulted in super fast conditions.  It took me a while to get my mojo on the tellies – I was constantly turning too hard to try and trim off speed.  But Sammy (that’s him in the post header about to roost me with snow) had his GS racing skis so he was opening it up and carving like he was on rails.

Spoo bangs out a turn!
Spoo bangs out a turn!


But the real fun began after lunch when we discovered ‘Fritz’ down to the Triple Chair.  This was real soft top to bottom but not slushy enough to start grabbing your skis.  This was the snow I was hoping for!  I love telemarking on soft spring snow.  It makes me feel like I really know what I’m doing!  On icy conditions, steep hard pack, or bumps, I’m less than stellar.  But on low angle, groomed, ice cream, I really shine – at least in my mind :-)  Regardless of my delusions, I have to say that the Templar Nobles were once again a super fun ski to ride.  I think I’m going to get a lot of enjoyment out of these babies!

I know... the artwork is backwards.  They still rock the piste!
I know… the artwork is backwards. They still rock the piste!

By late afternoon it had clouded over and the wind had picked up.  The runs off the second chair started to transition from a soft surface with hard pack underneath to something a little dustier.  But Fritz stayed soft and slushy until last run.  I think we skied no more than half a dozen different runs all day and that may sound boring to you.  But it was a hoot!




Spring Tour at Black Prince

While Calgary was suffering through another wintery day last Saturday, it was absolutely beautiful in Canmore (well except for the odd winter squall).  Since I’ve only been out in the backcountry once this season I jumped at the opportunity to do some touring with my buds on Saturday.  After a grinding business trip in Philadelphia that had me working 12 hour days, sitting in planes and airports for 10 hours on the way down and 8 hours on the way back,  and spending little time getting fresh air and exercise, I couldn’t wait to get outside and breath fresh mountain air.

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As we drove up the Spray Lakes road from Canmore it became obvious that the backcountry crowd was already out in force.  Some of the more popular spots had 5 to 10 cars parked alongside the road.  Based on this we decided to check out a less popular route in the Black Prince area.  As it turned out there were only 4 cars in the parking lot when we arrived so avoiding skiers wasn’t going to be an issue.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 18.27.32There was plenty of fresh snow in the trees as we began our hike.  Gusts of wind would shake loose big clumps of snow and bomb the area around us.  It was warm enough to strip down to our shirts so getting hit by a cold snow bomb wasn’t a pleasant experience.  Fortunately, there was already an up track in place so we didn’t have to break trail or do any route finding.  Earlier this season we attempted the same route and got hopelessly lost.  It took about an hour of wandering through extremely tight trees and sketchy snow pack before we finally found an old up track.  But as they say, ‘the pleasure is in the journey’.  Our journey this time was much easier and much more pleasurable.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 18.27.49As we approached the top of our ascent the snow still seemed pretty light and fluffy despite the sun kicking out some serious heat.  We noticed some tracks heading off to the south to an interesting looking slope that we’d never skied before.  This seemed like an enticing option but we continued to our planned destination and stopped for lunch.  From the saddle we had the option of skiing down a tight chute through the trees on the north facing slope or to ski a more wide open south facing slope into a valley that would provide us access to the area that we were interested in trying.  We could see a group our skiers climbing the slope across the valley and figured we could use their up track and poach some of the fresh lines that they were planning to have all to themselves.

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As we started down the south facing slope we quickly realized that the snow was way heavier than we anticipated.  It had the sludgey consistency of porridge and sloughed off our skies as we traversed the ridge.  Before we broke out of the tress into the open, a quick and conservative assessment was made to put the skins back on and get the hell out of there.  This had the feeling of a pretty dangerous situation but we were able to retrace our steps without incident.

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The snow on the north facing slope proved to be substantially colder and drier.  However, we were still a bit spooked by the risky situation on the other side of the saddle.  The snow was boot deep and relatively fluffy but we were expecting it to get heavier as we descended.  As it turned out the snow pack was stable and we enjoyed some awesome turns for about half the descent.  Then the snow got heavier and the trees got tighter but the grade became less steep so it was manageable.  On a normal outing I would have taken some shots or video on the way down. But with our senses on high alert we weren’t interested in pissing around with photography.  We basically leap frogged down the chute, ducking in behind trees to stop then watching the next guy closely in case they got into trouble.  The turns were great but the excitement was somewhat curbed by caution.

Screenshot 2014-04-02 18.29.08  At the bottom of the run the trees opened up and we swooshed through some seriously wet snow on very low angle terrain.  The run finished when we emerged from the trees onto a frozen lake.  The perfect spot to stop for a snack!  Despite the awesome weather we decided to call it a day.  On the next run the snow would have been heavier at higher altitude and we really didn’t want to push our luck.  A beer in Canmore sounded like the better option.  It was still a lovely afternoon in Canmore and although it was only +3C you could feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.  Sadly, when we pulled into Calgary an hour later it was -4C and snowing.  The next shot is the view from my front door.  Welcome to springtime in Calgary!

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Big White Powda!!

We spent the week skiing Big White and by the end of the week it was fantastic!!  On our first day it dumped about 5cms in an hour but sadly that was it.  This provided a nice surface but the hard crust underneath was nasty – particularly on the lower runs that had been really softened up on warmer days.

Screenshot 2014-03-25 19.36.43Day Two was the worst day of the week.  It was still cold and all the new snow from the day before had been scraped off.  My fat powder skis (Icelantic Nomads) were actually not bad on the first day but with the ice, crust, and hard pack I wasn’t liking them much.  At least the edges were still sharp!  The next day provided some relief as the sun came out and everything softened up nicely.  Well not everything.  We decided to check out Gem Lake as it was in great shape on our first day.  But despite the sun and warmth it wasn’t enough to soften up the ice here.  The top was good but the lower runs were un-skiable.Screenshot 2014-03-25 19.42.04Then the snow started to fall on day 4.  Visibility was poor above tree line but the trees off the powder chair were amazing – plenty of fresh lines!  We tried the Falcon chair and found more awesome fresh tracks but the wind and poor visibility at the top drove us back down to the Powder Chair for the rest of the day.  The snow was 10-15cms deep and there was hardly anyone there because the snow wasn’t in the forecast.  It was one of those days where you could find fresh tracks in light hero snow right up until last run.  Awesome!Screenshot 2014-03-25 19.46.52

Day 5 was the big powder day!  The morning snow report was 25cms in 24hrs and we were on the lifts shortly after they opened.  It had stopped snowing so visibility was much better, there was very little wind, and the snow was boot deep in the trees.  I don’t think I’d skied on a really nice powder day with my new fat boards so I was kinda regretting going for such powder specific skies.  But on this day all those regrets were blown away!  The Nomads kicked some serious butt.  While some of my friends struggled a but in the deep snow, I was floating effortlessly through the tight trees.  Powder chair was awesome again and Gem Lake had freshies top to bottom.  The trees accessed by skiing into the backcountry zone of the Sun Rype bowl were stellar.  It was a highlight of the week.

Screenshot 2014-03-25 19.52.59Once again it was a super fun trip with the Stoklies from North Van, Crusty and Satan from Kelowna, and the Carmichaels from Ottawa.  We always have a great time with this gang, on and off the slopes.Screenshot 2014-03-25 19.55.23




Selective Powder In BC

As forecast Whistler is reporting 28cms of new snow this morning.  Judging by the webcams it’s still a bit socked in but there will be fresh tracks to be found in the alpine.Screenshot 2014-03-16 07.56.04

To the east Kicking Horse received 26cms and 37cms in the last 48hrs.

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Looking a little nasty on top this morning but hopefully that will clear out later in the day.Screenshot 2014-03-16 07.59.06

Louise also has 21cms this morning and it’s -1C at the base.  The snow will get heavier as it warms up today but on the backside it should be nice and light for most of the morning.  The freshies will be gone by mid afternoon so heavier snow won’t be a huge factor.  Skiing should be great at Louise today and judging by the base cam I’d say a lot of people have the same opinion.Screenshot 2014-03-16 08.00.30

I’m at Big White for the week and I’m hoping for more snow.  It dumped heavily for about an hour yesterday morning but it was only enough to put 5 to 10cms of snow on a nasty crust.  I’m told that when it warms up the spring snow is really good but yesterday it was too cold for softening and there wasn’t enough new snow to improve the conditions.


Mental Health Day! (Cough, Cough)

It’s snowing lightly in Calgary this morning and if you haven’t already left for work you might want to call your boss and book a sick day.  If not today then be sure to get out there tomorrow.  It’ll be busier tomorrow but not as bad as it will be on the weekend.  A lot have skiers have been holed up for the last 2 weekends and they’ll be itching to get out with all this new snow on the ground.

There’s lots to be excited about this morning.  24hr snow reports: Whitefish 36cms, Whitewater 29cms, Castle 20cms, Revelstoke & Sun Peaks 16cms, Whistler & Panorama 14cms and the list goes on.  Lake Louise has 9cms this morning but they’ve been getting outclassed by Sunshine Village all week.  Ready….   Sunshine Village has 11cms of new snow this morning and 50cms in the last 48hrs.Screenshot 2014-03-06 07.05.33

If you want the details, slide on over to the Ryder Report.  Unfortunately, with all that snow coming down they had white out conditions in the alpine.  Judging by the webcams it looks like conditions will be very similar today with more snow coming down.  But I don’t think anyone will be complaining about the visibility when the powder is boot deep.

Screenshot 2014-03-06 07.10.07You can see from this webcam shot that it’s snowing lightly in the village this morning and judging by the higher elevation web cams there is more action up high.  But the weather station gives a better indication of the snow they received over night.  I recommend checking this webcam shot throughout the day to see if there is further accumulation.  If significant snowfall continues I’ll drop some more webcam shots onto the Powderwatch facebook page.Screenshot 2014-03-06 07.09.36


Jackson Hole-y Cow!!

I’ve been enviously enjoying the incredible powder shots coming out of Jackson Hole this year and posting them on www.facebook.com/Powderwatch. Since I started observing Jackson Hole in early February, they’ve been getting heaps of powder and sharing some of the coolest photography I’ve seen in a while.  Well, Sunshine, Kicking Horse, and Whistler also have excellent photographers but Jackson seems to be getting more powder days in the last month.  Anyway, this is the kind of stuff I’ve been seeing from J.H. – awesome!!!Screenshot 2014-03-02 09.40.40

This morning Jackson Hole is reporting 43cms in 24hrs and 56cms in 48hrs.  Folks, that’s a whole lotta snow and more is expected for the next 3 days (at least).  If I was retired, I’d be hopping in my 99 Subaru Outback and heading for Jackson on a hope and a prayer.  And I’d make it!  The scoob has never let me down :-)  In fact, it’s been to Jackson without me – my bro Bernie was visiting from Toronto a few years ago and he borrowed the car for a week of powder chasing.  Unfortunately for him, there was too much snow and that resulted in mountain passes being closed and even Jackson Hole was closed because the lodge collapsed under the weight of all that snow.  Crazy!!!  I’m thinking we may have a similar situation with all the snow that’s falling this week.  Certainly there will be a number of in bound areas closed due to high avalanche risk.

Seriously... do conditions at Jackson Hole look amazing?
Seriously… do conditions at Jackson Hole look amazing?

This next video from Jackson Hole was published on Feb 23 – before the most recent storm dumped half a meter of snow on the ground.  Can you see why I have serious powder envy?

Well, it’s pretty clear that Jackson Hole is going to have a joyful week of skiing and plenty of base to take them through spring.  But snow is still falling in California and serious accumulation is happening in Colorado.  Mammoth and Squaw Valley are reporting 5 to 10cms this morning but they have about a meter of snow for the week.  Bear Mountain, California is reporting 25cms today.  In Colorado, the snow just started to fall heavily this weekend.  The 24hr snow reports are as follows:

Breckenridge 15cms, Vail 23cms, Keystone 20cms, Copper Mountain 23cms, Beaver Creek 30cms, Alta 20cms, Arapahoe Basin 20cms, Aspen 15cms.

This shot was from Alta 2 days ago.  Looking good and it just got even better!!!

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That said, Jackson Hole appears to be ahead of the pack so far this season.

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Powder Day in California!!

When I think of California, I think of coast line, beaches, beautiful but massive cities, and… amusement parks.  Wally World!!!  But there are mountains east of San Francisco that have some world class ski resorts.  OK, everyone’s heard of Lake Tahoe or Mammoth… but have you ever skied there?  If not, then it is time to change that immediately.  Hop on a flight to San Fran, rent a car, and go enjoy some fresh pow while the rest of us in Alberta and BC freeze like rats.  It’ll be fun!!

Mammoth - chair heading up to the 'Top of the Sierra'
Mammoth – chair heading up to the ‘Top of the Sierra’

Let’s start with Mammoth where they are reporting 30-40cms of fresh snow this morning.  Now imagine yourself skiing that peak in knee deep powdy.  Eh?  The forecast high is around zero for the next 3 days so I’m thinking it might not be west coast powder – maybe a little on the heavy side by mid day ;-)  The terrain at Mammoth looks really interesting.  Lot’s of wide open terrain above tree line and certainly enough variety to keep you exploring for the weekend.

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Mammoth by the numbers:

  • Over 3,100 vertical feet - comparable to the big resorts in the Canadian rockies
  • Over 3,500 skiable acres - respectable :-) Lake Louise has 4200 acres
  • Over 150 named trails
  • Over 300 days of sunshine per year - now that I like! But when does it have time to snow?
  • Top elevation: 11,053 feet - I didn’t realize the Sierra’s were so big.
  • Base elevation: 7,953 feet
  • Average snowfall: 1000cms  - it does have time to snow!  In comparison, Fernie averages 875cms annually.
  • 28 lifts (includes 9 high speed quads, 2 high speed six-packs and 3 high speed gondolas)
  • Terrain: 15% expert, 20% advanced, 40% intermediate, 25% beginner

The other California resort that’s reporting heavy snowfall is Squaw Valley.  The powder chasers were enjoying 25cms of new snow this morning.  Judging by the alpine webcam, it looks like the snow is still coming down this afternoon.  It looks a bit wet to me but then I’m used to dry rocky mountain powder (and colder temperatures, see Outlook West).

Screenshot 2014-02-27 13.38.54 I took the liberty of perusing their photo gallery and sharing a couple of pics that I hope give you an idea of what a powder day can be like at Squaw Valley.  In these shots the snow looks very light and fluffy!

Screenshot 2014-02-27 13.45.40 Screenshot 2014-02-27 13.45.58The terrain is also massive!  The elevation isn’t as high as Mammoth, only 9050 feet, but they have 6 mountain peaks, 29 lifts, and 3600 acres of terrain.  Their average annual snowfall is over 1100cms.  That’s plenty of powder to be enjoyed in a season.  I also like the front side / back side layout.  I’ve never skied Squaw, but I get the sense that the backside probably has better snow on a powder day (similar to Lake Louise).  And as the trail maps show they have a crazy amount of runs – 170+ if you’re counting.

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I’ll include one last google earth photo showing Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe and some of the other ski resorts in the area.  Alpine Meadows is just below Squaw Valley on the map (next to Scott Peak) and Heavenly is down at the south end of the lake (not shown in the map below).  The big resort next to Mt. Pluto is Northstar and the smaller one near Mt. Lincoln is Sugar Bowl.  http://www.skilaketahoe.com/  lists 7 major resorts and a couple smaller ones in the area.  I think I could spend an entire season there and not get bored.

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Mid Week Montage

It’s been a while since I’ve posted some video so I just spent a couple hours checking out some of the latest stuff on youtube.  I’ve put together a little collection for your enjoyment.  I hate to start off with a commercial but this one is really good – trust me :-)  The rest were all posted in the last week.  We’ve had some great conditions lately!!

Brown Shorts Indeed! That’s one crazy chute at Revelstoke.

There were multiple videos to choose from for Fernie last week but this one had the best face shots and deepest pow. Envy!!!

This wasn’t an epic powder day but I chose it because it made me want to find the T2 hike next time I’m at Kicking Horse. Sweet terrain!

There was some seriously great powder at Lake Louise in February. More to come in March I hope!

Last but not least… Sunshine Village at its best. Heaps of snow!

Spotlight On Fernie

While it’s been feeling a lot like spring here in Calgary, it’s been dumping at Fernie all week.  If I had a little more freedom in my life right now I’d have been there since Wednesday!  This morning Fernie is reporting 38cms in 48hrs – most of that falling on Friday – and 101cms for the week.  What a week of outstanding snow conditions! Screenshot 2014-02-22 13.05.08

As you can see, it was dumping in the village yesterday… rain was not an issue.  In the alpine there were fresh tracks to be found everywhere.Screenshot 2014-02-22 13.04.16

There were more than a few happy faces revelling in the freshly fallen snow.  This gentleman certainly seems to be in a jolly mood!

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Robbin Siggers described my sentiment exactly on the Fernie FB page, ‘Um if you are not here, what are you doing with you life?’  I also liked Mike Shaw’s reply, ‘working to afford your crazy prices.’  This is true but there must be other ways to afford more time in the mountains.    Derek Ryder is making it happen at Sunshine and so are hundreds of lucky souls who were skiing mid week in Fernie.  Screenshot 2014-02-22 13.05.49In my opinion, the magic of Fernie is found in the Alpine Bowls.  There’s a article on the FernieFix blog providing some entertaining opinions on the 5 Bowls of Fernie.  (If you’ve never skied Fernie, or are planning a trip there, I recommend checking out the FernieFix blog.)  But I have to agree there is something special about the massive bowls that Fernie has to offer.   One of my favourite things to do on a powder day is to ski all the way around Lizard Bowl a descend through the trees.  There’s a tiny hike up before you drop in but it is totally worth it.  Same goes for the traverse over to Snake Ridge.  On a powder day you’re likely to be tempted by all the fresh tracks on the way over but my recommendation is to go all the way first, then start working your way back on subsequent runs.

Curry Bowl is another one of my favourites when there is a good dumping of fresh snow.  I’ve been there many times waiting in a line for the rope to go down at the Curry Bowl entrance from White Pass chair – my pulse quickens just remembering those moments.  I also remember hiking from Lizard Bowl into Curry before the new lifts went in.  The heart rate definitely hit the red zone on the way up and again on the way down.  Pure excitement!  My first day skiing Polar Peak last year was also a powder fest.  It opened just after lunch and prevented us from calling it a day at 3PM as originally planned.  I certainly have an abundance of great memories from Fernie even though I only ski there once or twice a year.

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I know how great it can be at Fernie, I think the pictures tell the story of how epic it has been there this week.  The great thing is that this kind of event happens multiple times per season.  Of course it’s not constant powder, there was a 3-4 week drought in January when conditions became rather sketchy.  But when the Griz brings the snow it really is a shame if you can participate in the fun.  My recommendation is to go there – now.  Well, maybe not tomorrow because they are expecting highs south of -20C.  But it will be sunny and warm by mid week and with two weeks worth of fresh snow the conditions will be fantastic.

It Is Awesome Out There!!

Where to begin???  It just keeps snowing in the mountains and I have to say, ‘we deserve it!’  Let’s start with my top 10 for 24hr snowfall and 48hr snowfall:

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The weekly numbers are pretty mind blowing.  Mt Baker 198cms (What?), Whistler 127cms (no more bad snow season), Revelstoke 117cms (Calgary powder chasers are on site), Mt Seymour 117cms (great skiing minutes from North Van), Mt Washington 106cms (that will surely keep them open for the rest of the season), Cypress 100cms (more great skiing in North Van), Panorama 96cms (I should’ve gone to Mike’s place in Invermere this weekend), Fernie 91cms (snow valley returns – Craig Morris will be happy).

If your resort isn’t showing up in the top 10, don’t worry, it’s snowing everywhere!  I was at Louise yesterday and it was spectacular as these pics confirm:

Enough Powda for ya?
Enough Powda for ya?
Hey!  I rode the lift with that Bear!
Hey! I rode the lift with that Bear!

Kicking Horse has been piling up the snow all week – 87cms total and 24cms in the last 2 days.  They’ve also been sharing some wicked powder shots – like this one! Screenshot 2014-02-17 09.36.26

Whitewater is one of my favourite resorts, I wish I lived a lot closers to the Koots.  I’m sure the skiing was amazing this week and as this pic shows, there is plenty of untouched powder to explore.

Don't touch the powder!
Don’t touch the powder!

Is there anything better than ripping fresh lines in Fernie’s alpine bowls?  I’ll answer my own question, ‘No!!!’  This shot from yesterday brings back some good memories for me.  I really need to get down to Fernie soon!  I noticed Craig Morris hasn’t updated his blog this week.  Yes, it’s that good!

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Here’s a killer shot from Revelstoke on Thursday.  I have some colleagues who are down their this weekend so hopefully I can poach some more shots from them tomorrow.

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Logan Swayze generally posts some epic shots on the Whistler website but I haven’t seen anything since Feb 12th – conditions must be too good to stop for pictures.  Anyway, I’m sure it still looks something like this :-)

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It's Snow Time!