Sunday, 23 March 2008

Skiing Day 14

Vertical: 10,370 m, Cum to date: 142,755 m
Runs: 16, Cum to date: 275, Average run 519 m

The weather forecast called for a chinook-y 11° & sun in Calgary, but a steady -6° at Sunshine, with increasing cloud all day, and significant snow starting at lunch. For once, they got it right. The front arrived about 10, giving us all of two runs in the morning clear skies. We haven't had consequential snow in the mountains in nearly a month. It showed. Some stuff had been groomed, and it's a good job, since the ungroomed was generally hard pack ice nasties. Silver Gladerunner was groomed, but good for only one run before turning into glare ice. Silver Scapegoat was groomed; Wildfire was the best, however, with about the only turns that were actually soft. They had groomed Rolling Thunder, too, but it was closed for a race.

One of my favourite silly ways to come down Goat's Eye is the cat track next to the Eagle Creek run. Horrid when ungroomed, wonderful when buffed. I once saw fresh lynx tracks down there. For fun, since I had my camera, I decided to make a movie of the run. The first part is unfilmable; it winds and twists and and is a little steep to be holding a camera. But the next section is tuck city. You get moving at quite a clip at some points, as the wind noise will attest. My only comments during the video are to note where the really flat part starts, and where the runs off the back side of the Jackrabbit Hill start merging in.

Late in the morning it started to snow. Up top, it started to get windy, and that caused wind sift to blow into a few places, like behind the snow fences on the upper face. The last few runs up top were great.

We did our typical trek to the village via Wheeler & Tee Pee Town. By the time we hit the top of Tee Pee Town, cloud-base was at the top of the Divide Chair. Two runs on Divide and it was almost down to the top of Angel. The snow up top was OK, but it was bitter cold in the wind. We bailed for lunch, and it started snowing in earnest.

Cloud-base continued to drop, making more runs on Divide pointless. We did a few off Angel, but the viz kept getting worse, and the snow was pellets up top. Below treeline the skiing was actually quite fine, but we had no desire to play on Wawa or Wildfiire. We checked the vert, noted we had broken 9,000 m already (and it was only 2 PM), so we went to the top of Angel one last time, then headed home. It didn't feel like we skied that much (it never does on a "cruizin the groomed" day), so we probably could have done 12,000 or 13,000 without breaking a sweat.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Eagles & The Drive Home

Sunday was a beautiful day to drive home; we had clear blue skies nearly the whole way home to Calgary. And we even made it home in record time.

The Okanogan Valley was full of birds on the way. We saw plenty of robins, lots of hawks, but best of all were the bald eagles.

There's a stretch of road between the end of Mara Lake and Enderby along the Shushwap River where we usually see bald eagles on our drive, and the drive out was no exception. We saw at least 13 in one tree, and several more solos and small groups. I promised myself to keep the camera handy and pull over if I saw some on the way home, and we did indeed luck out. In a single tree just south of Grindrod, we found a tree with 6 eagles in it.

Most were flying around and didn't stay parked all that long.

One landed on a pile of earth behind what I think is a chicken barn.

He hung out there long enough for me to get into digital zoom mode.

Turns out this isn't all that unique. A little bit of 'net research led me to the site of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club and their report on the January 13th, 2008 annual bird count. On that same stretch (Vernon to Sicamous) they counted 35 baldies. I felt humbled.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

I hate snowboarders

That's a pretty harsh way to start a post, but after 20 years of uneasy coexistence with snowboarders, this week I have officially come to hate them. Today alone, I was:

• Cut off by a boarder on a green cat track. Both of us were doing a fair clip; the boarder came from behind me unannounced and missed my ski tips by less than 6". The reason he cut me off is uncertain, but I suspect it had to do with the fact that his 5 buddies were on my right, and he was on my left.
• Nearly hit by two boarders on two separate occasions blasting out of the trees onto a run without looking
• Cut off in a lift line by a pair of boarders who insisted in riding the T-Bar up behind their buddies. When they got to the lift, the two boarders added insult to injury by riding up as singles.
• Had my skis skied over and pinned down in a lift line by a boarder behind me who decided that it was important for the nose of his board to push against the back of my binding;
• Nearly got clipped by a boarder trying to do jumps over trees without first checking his landing area (which happened to be an active run with lots of people on it)

I have come to believe that no one actually teaches boarders the Alpine Responsibility Code, which, for the record, is:

In fact, I know virtually no boarders who pay attention to items 1-4. In addition, they like to sit, 5 and 6 abreast, blocking lift exits while putting their boards on. Boarders traveling in a group love to sit and block whole runs. I very, very rarely see boarders on the sides of runs; they like plopping down in the middle. If they drive the way they board, no wonder drivers don't seem to know how to merge -- or yield -- anymore.

I can put up with boarders sideslipping down runs scraping all the snow off; poor skiers do it too, though less. I have learned tolerate boarders who rocket pass you without warning; it seems as if the simple courtesy of calling "on your left" has left both boarders and skiers.

Come to think of it, more skiers (especially young ones) need to be drilled in the code, too. It's just that boarders are more arrogant at ignoring the rules.

I'll make you a deal. STOP IGNORING THE ALPINE RESPONSIBILITY CODE, and I'll stop hating you. That goes for skiers, too. I'm an equal opportunity safety guy.

Big White Day 7

Vertical: 10,070 m, Cum to date: 132,385 m
Runs: 22, Cum to date: 259, Average run 511 m

Total for this week: 75,815 m (248,737 vertical feet), 162 runs

I'm told there comes a time in a marathon when a runner hits "the wall"; they have run out of energy with miles to go. Every stride is a struggle. Winners figure out how to push through the wall, and fight on.

My legs are not winners.

Today, after a mere 216,000 vertical feet in 6 days, my legs decided they weren't going to work well anymore. This I learned in my first 3 runs off the groomers. It was like I was being held up on partially cooked spaghetti. "Sloppy" is inadequate to describe it. A pathetic, hopeless mess is closer. Not that my skiing on the groomed runs was all that good either.

Still, we decided to stick to mostly the groomed runs, and we again learned that the Big White grooming report is "merely a suggestion". The only way to find what is groomed is to ski to the top of it. Runs groomed today that were NOT on the grooming report? Surprise, Roller Coaster, Corkscrew, Blue Ribbon, Upper Perfection, and probably some more we didn't try. We think they groomed extra today because of the number of runs that were closed: Upper Roller Coaster & Speculation (for a race); Paradise (for another race); part of Sun Run (for yet another race).

The weather dawned weird; low cloud below the mountain base, high cloud enshrouding the mountain in fog; plus sunny spots with snow showers.

As the day progressed, the upper clouds turned to towering cumulus, and there were actually thunderstorms in the forecast. When these babies arrived, it sure looked black in places.

We tried to avoid all the nuts racing over on Ridge and spent a bunch of the morning in the Enchanted Forest off the T-Bar where there were still nice fresh lines and the tracked stuff was great.

Here's KC blasting in the crowds. Crowds of trees, that is.

By lunch it was snowing again.

And there was company for lunch: Molly the Newfie (yes, Carolyn, I thought of you immediately).

As I write this, snow showers are still passing through, and the one we're having this moment is a sun shower.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Big White Restaurant Reviews

We've been coming to Big White for years, and little here changes except the ever-growing crop of high priced condos. There's not a lot of places to eat here, surprisingly. We think it's because most folks have their own kitchens. Restaurants are only ever busy on Friday nights. All but one place have been here for years.

Raakel's & Coltino's are the bane of Big White's existence, since they're the only ones not partially owned by the resort. Accordingly, they're not advertised much. Raakel's Bar has the best view of anywhere to eat in Big White. The lunch food is OK, but it's well priced. Having been there twice so far, the service this year isn't very good; you really have to fight to get your waitress's attention. Coltino's next door has switched in my time from Greek to Italian to Steak. No matter what, the food tastes like bar food (they share the Raakel's kitchen). But it's cheap and quiet.

The White Crystal Inn has a beautiful lounge & restaurant. The food is generally the best on the mountain. However, their wine list sucks. It's all Okanagan, and WAY overpriced. No Canadian wine I have ever tried is worth $50, and that's a low end bottle here. We were in the dining room with Alan & Claire this week, and the service there was pretty poor, too. The bar's a little better, but not much.

Snowshoe Sam's bar has the best burger, without question, and it's also got the atmosphere of a real ski bar. Service here has been spotty this time, too. We didn't eat at the restaurant upstairs this year, but have really enjoyed our meals there in the past, though it's a little pricey.

I can't comment on the Kettle Valley Steakhouse. Every time I think about eating there, I look at the menu and gasp at the prices. Then I realize it's down in the ever depressing, remote, and inaptly named "Happy Valley". Wisdom causes me to go to Sam's for a good steak anyway.

There's a new place on the mountain this year: Pappa's Roasters, a small chain out of Kelowna. It took the place of Frank's Chinese Laundry, an awful chinese food buffet place. The menu says the place is a Swiss Chalet knock off. We like Swiss Chalet, so we tried it. In a word: don't. The service was terrible. They advertise a full bar, but had no idea how to make a martini, and had no vermouth anyway. I ordered the chicken & rib combo, and it came without the chicken. The lady sitting beside me ordered dinner with a salad that never came. In both cases, we had to work to find our waitress to get it fixed. They were out of the much vaunted calamari. The ribs were good, but the rest of the food? Yeuch. My "fire grilled chicken" was obviously par cooked earlier and reheated. Ditto for KC's chicken breast (rubbery pre boiled, then seared to get grill marks, though not enough to achieve being hot). The lemon potatoes were cold and rubbery, the pita like cardboard, the green beans revoltingly inedible. The wine list is 4 reds and 4 whites, all Jackson Triggs, which is OK as long as you like them. My bill in the end came without the wine on it; I pointed it out to the waitress, who "corrected" it, putting the wrong wine on it (at that point I gave up fixing her mistakes). There's nothing so unappealing during dinner to see an ill dressed, dirty chef come thought the dining room to help himself to the fountain pop, then return to the kitchen by kicking the door in. It looks and feels like a high school cafeteria (though I recall that my high school cafeteria had better food). Avoid at all costs..

We also wanted to get to Carver's this year, but didn't. It, too, has been Greek & Italian, but now it's Indo-Canadian. Would have liked to have tried their butter chicken.

In general, we have noticed the service in the restaurants, in the ski shops, in the rental shop, and pretty much everywhere has been poor this year. I used to have a high opinion of Aussies, but this year has turned me off, as many have been downright surly.

Big White Day 6

Vertical: 11,745 m, Cum to date: 122,315 m
Runs: 23, Cum to date: 237, Average run 516 m

Skiing weather forecasts are notoriously incorrect. For one thing, it's the mountains, where the weather can change in 5 minutes. For another thing, it's the mountains, where elevation change plays a major part of driving temperature. Finally, it's the mountains, which can make their own weather. said that it would start snowing Thursday night, and keep snowing until Saturday morning, with a sunny break this afternoon. Well, almost. It did snow, and it did snow a bunch. However, it was isolated snow showers. Lots of them. It never cleared, though the sun peaked out for about 2 minutes this afternoon on the Gem side of the hill.

It dawned cloudy, foggy & snowy again, but the flakes were tiny.

We got to the runs to find 3"-7" of powder on top of last night's grooming. Run of the day was the first on a silky Cougar Alley then diving into the endlessly untracked glades. Come to think of it, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th runs were identical. No one seemed to show up at the Forest until 10 AM, and until then, the only lines we crossed were our own. Here's one of my tracks in the glades.

The cloud never abated. At noon, it was dumping heavily in the village.

Just before lunch we found Head doing free ski demos, so I tried this year's Monster 78's (I wanted to rent them yesterday, but they were out with someone else). They're better in the powder than the 72's I tried yesterday, not as good in the crud, really not as good in the groomed, and heavy.

After lunch we went over to Gem to play in the Sun Bowl. After several tries, KC finally got a shot of me in the snow ghosts.

At 4:30 pm, it's lightly snowing, with the odd belching snow squall around, like this one.

All in all, a great day despite generally awful viz. We were amazed at the high vert (highest of the 2007/2008 season), considering it was all powder runs. Today wasn't as a much fun as the last few days, though, as Alan & Claire left yesterday, and we miss them already. Still, Claire wouldn't have like today much because there was too much snow...

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Big White Day 5

Vertical: 11,290 m, Cum to date: 110,570 m
Runs: 22, Cum to date: 214, Average run 517 m

The day dawned with some promise, but deteriorated rapidly. Sunny at 7:30...

but cloudy within an hour. It threatened to snow all day, but really only flurried for a few minutes at lunch.

So the snow wasn't the best; the groomed stuff was really ground up ice (the sun yesterday must have been stronger than we thought). We headed to Gem to gain a bunch of vert (but mostly to play in the Sun Bowl), then headed back to the village mid morning to test skis. I tested:
Head Monster im72 (last year's model)
Fischer AMC
Atomic Blackeye &
Nordica Nitros
but none skied better than my own Nordica 9.1 MFs. The new Nordicas ski just like mine, and the Monsters are second best, better in crud, not as good in powder.

KC tried:
Head Wild Thang,
Atomic Metron Foxy Babe,
Roxy &
Nordica Olympia Victory
with the Nordicas an improvement on her current Rossignol CarveX 10.

We thought the act of testing, going into & out of the shop, would keep the vert down for the day, but apparently not as we notched up almost the vert of yesterday. Our testing route was Hummingbird to the Ridge, Easy Out to Hwy 33 to Secret to the Black Forest, Cougar Alley to the Black Forest glades, then the Black Forest/Home Run & the Terrain Park for powder runs -- 1,300 vertical meters & 3 runs per cycle.

I'm disappointed I didn't find a ski that was better than the ones I'm on, which I bought in January 2002 after wrecking my Blizzard Zero E's.

At 4:45 pm, it's overcast and lightly snowing occasionally.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Big White Day 4

Vertical: 11,805 m, Cum to date: 99,280 m
Runs: 26, Cum to date: 192, Average run 517 m

This is how ski days should dawn.

Clear blue skies, fresh cord for the non-powder hounds, like Alan...

Freshies in the terrain park...

And powder for the powder pigs like me (no, not a picture of me).

From the top of Falcon chair, you can see Silver Star in the distance.

It was a great day; just below freezing all day, nice and sunny, good snow everywhere. Run of the Day for me was in the Sun Bowl, with nice little soft bumplets, but KC's first run on Mervyn's was pretty nice, too. My cold is under control with meds, so aside from my first sloppy run, it was a pretty good day, and the highest vert for a day so far this year.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Big White Day 3

Vertical: 10,265 m, Cum to date: 87,475 m
Runs: 25, Cum to date: 166, Average run 527 m

It was one of those days with a little bit of everything. It started sunny...

...with fresh lines everywhere courtesy of the 5 cm overnight...

...and lovely buffed corduroy...

...which Alan and Claire adore (here's Claire adoring it).

Then it socked in and started to SNOW. Fernie rates, I think.

That lasted until 3 or so, and left in its wake another 8 cm, giving some great turns in the afternoon, especially in the Black Forest area glades, and in the Terrain Park. No, I don't terrain park, but in a raging blizzard, neither does anyone else -- meaning lots of fresh tracks on groomed snow. Schweeeet.

All in all, a GREAT day, with one major exception. I started to come down with a cold last night, so far from being my usual agressive skier self, I was sick all day. We got our 10,000 vert, but I now feel like crap.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Big White, Day 2

Vertical: 10,090 m, Cum to date: 77,210 m
Runs: 23, Cum to date: 141, Average run 569 m

It dawned snowy, though there wasn't much in the way of accumulation. We started in my favourite glades, over in Black Forest. There's no one here, so getting first tracks was dead easy. These are the easiest trees on the hill, and a great way to warm up for the rest of the day.

This viz is always good on the Black Forest, but the vert is low and the runs not that long. Today, they didn't groom much over there, so the wimps in the crowd (sorry Claire) didn't have much to ski. As the day progressed it socked in from time to time. When it socks in here, it socks in big time. Note the skier on the hill (right centre). Now THAT's a white out.

Here's a shot of the top of the T-Bar, also in white out.

We just over to Gem for one run (a bit of a waste), but manage to get the vert over 10, though not courtesy of the wimps (sorry Alan & Claire) who gave in after working too hard for the earlier part of the day.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Annual Big White Trip, Day 1 (Sunday)

We had an uneventful drive in yesterday, with generally overcast conditions but bare roads even across the Roger's Pass. It was -1 in Calgary, +5 at the top of Scott Lake Hill, 1 most of the way through the parks, 4 in Golden, 0 at the top of the Rogers, and +14 in Kelowna. Kelowna was sunny, with summer like weather including cumulus clouds with the odd shower. It was + 6 at the base of Gem Lake at 4:30 pm local when we drove by, and we were afraid of freeze thaw and frozen death cookies for our first day of skiing.

Vertical: 10,550 m, Cum to date: 67,120 m
Runs: 21, Cum to date: 118, Average run 569 m

Well, there was some of that, but mostly not. The day dawned classically Big White foggy big white-out...

...but the cloud base rose all day, and there was even some sun. The groomers were where to start, and our fave, Born To Run, was in great shape. This run has the best entrance of any run I have ever skied anywhere. There's big, wide spaced tress, it rolls, and it's just fun to bob and weave.

After a couple on Powder, including Powder Keg (the run of the day) we headed over to Gem, and found a lot fewer clouds, with only a bit of wind at the top. The Sun Bowl was wonderful, full of soft, easily carve-able bumps.

Here's KC cruising through the trees.

After lunch at Raakel's, we headed to the Black Forest, and did some more tree running until we hit the dead leg time, bailing fairly early after a typical Sunshine day of vert (which is good for Big White). After quitting it started snowing, but that didn't last a long time.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

They lost, too

First the Dinos Women's Basketball Team. Then the Men's. Both teams lost in the playoff the same way -- by not doing what they had done all year to be successful. The desperation on their faces was tragic to see. They tried hard, but maybe, they tried too hard. Tyler looked stressed out as the Friday game started. Air balls were fired this weekend by Jeff, Jeremy, Robbie, Ross, Henry, Cody and Tyler -- and I haven't seen an air ball all season.

I'm not an armchair coach, and I certainly not an athlete. I can't tell what they should have done. But I know they all tried their best, posting the best season in years, and for that, I'm proud of them.

We'll be there in the stands again next year.