Saturday, 31 January 2009

Ski Day 7: Back to Ontario?

Vert: 5,535 m YTD Cum Vert: 59,360 m
Runs: 15 YTD Cum Runs: 108

Based on a reported 36 cm in the last 4 days, we got to the Sunshine parking lot at 9:00 AM to find a 20 min, 2.5 km lineup just to park. Upon arrival at the huge Gondola line, we were informed by the staff that Goat's Eye, Angel, Divide and TP Town were all closed due to wind, and they were unexpected to open for the day. The Gondola was running at one quarter speed. Looking at the crowd -- by 9:30 the lots were full and they were already starting to park folks on the road -- we bailed and went to Norquay.

And after getting there, discovered why we don't ski Norquay very often. The virtual absence of lift lines did not make up for the rock hard ice and brutal hardpack man made snow that reminded me of the worst of the front face of Louise -- or any of the places I skied in Ontario growing up. The Spirit Chair, in particular, IS Ontario, with all of 630 ft (196 m) of vertical, very similar to Blue Mountain or Osler. The lunch rush was entertaining; they couldn't handle the crowd, and blamed it on Sunshine.

Still, aside from the odd gust, it was not windy, but if you're coming here sometime in the next few days, be sure to sharpen your edges. A lot.

Tragically no photos, as KC didn't bring out the camera...

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Hiking Pigeon Mountain -- A Very Much Belated Post

Our best hike of the year had the best pictures of the year, and so despite the fact that we did it way back on July 20th, 2008, I just had to post about it.

Pigeon was the first hike on our list of "mountains to climb that we can see from the West Wing". Pigeon looms over Dead Man's Flats, and if you know what you're looking for, is visible from the western edge of Calgary as you pass Valley Ridge. Technically, we could hike it by starting from the West Wing, but by driving the 5 min up to Alpine Resort Haven, we save a 6 km round trip trek on a gravel road with 200 m of elevation gain.

This hike is pretty simple, or it was until we decided to follow Gillean Daffern's "shortcut" on the way down (more on this later). Here's an overview of the route from Google Earth; you can easily see how close it is to the West Wing.

It starts with a long, 2 hour walk up the Skogan Pass powerline right of way. The farther you go, the better the views get back towards Canmore.

At that point, you weave throough the forest up the side of Pigeon. Here we found evidence of critters scraping the trees. Could be elk antlers, could be bear, but based on a number of factors, we believe it was cougar.

The trail breaks out above the trees to an endless meadow occupying the top 1/3rd of the mountain. Here the trail becomes a stairmaster of relentless steep uphill.

Again, the higher you get, the better the views get, from the view back to Canmore... the slopes of Mt. Collembola (left) and Mt. Allen (centre)... the West Wind Pass, West Wind Ridge and the Three Sisters.

The upper meadows are closed to hiking from December 15th through June 15th, and it's easy to see why. This is great wildlife terrain, filled with Columbian Ground Squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.

That deer stood perectly still and watched us pass behind him until he practically twisted his neck off.

The trail finally levels off in a saddle between the two main peaks of Pigeon. The south east peak requires a lot of work to get to, crossing a tall rock band. We didn't try. The views to the east and to Lac Des Arcs below literally explode into your sightline at the saddle, and the northwest peak bekons to be climbed (or, more accuratly, "walked up to"). Once up there we were greeted by views of our condo in Dead Man's Flats, and Bighorn Sheep.

The views down the valley to Canmore and Mt. Rundle were stellar...

...but actually, I like the view back towards Calgary better.

It's easy to get a good overview of the Hamlet of Dead Man's Flats, too...

...looking back at Mt. Lougheed is impressive... is the view to Grotto Mountain and the canyon across the Bow River valley.

Now, at this point, things got stupid. I refer you back to the map above. Gillean's book said it was easy to take a bearing from the top of the mountain directly down to the top of the old Pigeon Mountain Ski Area, and cut off a lot of walking. I had my GPS, so figured it was worth a shot. Well, here's the math: it's 1,100 m down. It's 4 km, So you drop 250 m for every km, or a constant 25% grade. The forest is dense with no game trails. There's two big scree areas, and two immense gullies. In fact, here's what the route looks like from across at West Wind Pass:

We basically followed the red line down, from the peak at the upper right to the top of the ski hills on the lower left. Crossing the scree patches. Ugly. And in fact, in the tree clump in the middle of the lowest big scree patch, I wiped out in the loose rock and sprained my thumb. The forest was dense, the gullies steep sided, and the entire route was a nasty fight through dense bush. It also, coincidentally, took over 3 hours. But my navigation was nearly perfect, and with one minor problem near the end, we popped out of this forest...

...onto an old ski run.

Post Script:

Karen got a phone call while we were on top.

This should not be surprising since (a) she is always on call, and (b) the south peak of Pigeon contains a cell tower. The guy asked her to arrange for a Canada AM hit, and she said she couldn't because she was standing on top of a mountain. He didn't believe her. In a fit of modern technology, she held up her Blackberry, took a photo, and e-mailed it to him. He was suitably impressed.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ski Day 6: Spring Skiing in January?

Vert: 9.980 m YTD Cum Vert: 54,095 m
Runs: 20 YTD Cum Runs: 93

We're having a heat wave
A tropical heat wave
You know the temperature's risin'
It isn't surprisin'
We certainly can -- can can

It hit +7° in the village for a high, not a cloud in the sky, freeze/thaw conditions and sun softened slop on the fully exposed faces. You would swear it was April.

Interesting morning weather on Goats Eye -- there was a patch of cold air (-10°) sitting around the base area, while the top was +2°. Go figure. Overall snow coverage is good, but Saturday's similar weather conditions brought out some unpleasant ice patches.

It actually wasn't even that busy save for a 5 min line at Divide in the afternoon. Cars were only about 1.5 km past the gate.

Some days are just more fun to ski than others...

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Ski Day 5 -- Howlin' Wind

Vert: 8,305 m YTD Cum Vert: 44,115 m
Runs: 13 YTD Cum Runs: 73

Karen's mom's funeral and assorted other stuff associated with it kept us away from the slopes from Dec 28th to this past Sunday, Jan 11. In the 4 days before the 11th, Sunshine had 67 cm of snow. So with all that fresh, how was it?


Lineups were about average for the gondola, and about 2 km of cars were parked down the road. It was snowing and overcast all day, with temps around -7°. There was at least 8 cm of fresh overnight, but it was hard to tell as the wind was whipping it around everywhere, so it ranged from blown clear, to drifts waist deep, and more.

Goat's Eye was the place to be. The wind at the top was strong, but only about half the wind up on top of Divide. The wind caused huge white outs near the snow fences, but away from that the snow conditions were great. Here's an AM view of the lower part of Silver Scapegoat, looking down towards Bronze Scapegoat & Gladerunner.

The top of Divide, and the tops of the Angel and TP Town Lifts were virtually unskiable in howling (50 mph?) winds and near whiteout conditions in the afternoon. But the snow was very nice anyway, so long as you were willing to braille ski. And despite the reported 60+ cm in the past week, and a new base of 155 cm, it didn't strike me that the coverage was dramatically better than after Christmas, though more runs are opening on the top of Goats Eye.

We didn't stick around late. KC was recovering from a cold and a funeral, and we were up on Divide, which was a waste of time. We didn't feel like going back to Goat's Eye, and like the bigger vert that you don't get on Standish or Wawa, so we bailed at 3. A season's pass will do that to you.