Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ski Day 24: More of the Same, only Heavier

Vert: 7,805 m YTD Cum Vert: 222,185 m
Runs: 14 YTD Cum runs: 442

We awoke to a ton of snow at the West Wing -- over 20 cm was burying my car --

-- and radar that said it was dumping between here and Calgary, but reports of nothing really new at Sunshine (3 cm). But they were wrong. Sunshine just got the edge of it, getting another 6-10 cms, similar to yesterday.

Even this amount of snow was wind affected, though, so unlike yesterday where it was all light and fluffy, today's fresh snow was more dense and wind compacted, and some spots - notably Gold Scapegoat and the top of Bye Bye Bowl - were blown clear to ice before you got to the powder. This made for interesting conditions, because expanses of untracked white were sometimes boot top deep powder, and sometimes glare ice, and you could not tell which until you got there.

It stayed mostly cloudy for the day with a moderate east wind, and occasionally, the clouds formed below us, which is always cool.

Delerium was reasonably busy today, as you can tell by the tracks you can see near the bottom.

Generally the snow coverage was really nice, with soft bumps forming everywhere by the afternoon. This despite a real lack of crowds (the A & B Lots were not full), likely due to the condition of the roads from Calgary.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Ski Day 23: All the Weather, All the Time

Vert: 10,665 m. YTD Cum Vert: 214,380 m (this day broke 700,000 vertical FEET for the year)
Runs: 18 YTD Cum Runs: 428

The day started sunny and -8 with 6-10 cm of light fresh dust everywhere - just a great morning.

Underneath was generally very soft, but many of the moguls I ran across were a little on the hard side, most notably in the glades on Goats Eye like Goatsucker. Many people were enjoying Delerium Dive, and while I did not partake, I spoke to several who did and who reported it excellent, with knee deep lines. Around noon it socked in and started to snow big fat flakes.

The lasted for a while with low viz, but by 2 PM it started to lighten up though it was still snowing. It snowed on and off all afternoon, enough to fill in tracks in the Bye Bye Bowl. Even with good viz, it was still pretty lonely in the bowl.

It was also a pretty quiet day, with cars only 1.5 km past the gate, and no lineups of consequence at Goats Eye in the morning, Angel or Divide in the afternoon. At 3:30 PM, it was -5 and snowing on Divide, but bright and sunny and +1 in the parking lot.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Big White 2009: Ski Days 16-22

Vert in 7 Days: 61,640 m. Peak day: 10,500 m. Lowest Day: 3,795 m
Runs in 7 day: 148. Peak day: 25. Lowest day: 12
YTD Cum Vert by the end of the week: 203,715 m
YTD Runs by the end of the week: 410

I've always said that when we go to Big White for a week in March, we get a little of everything.

We get blue sky days...

...and zero viz, fogged out days.

We get groomer days, and powder days (it snowed a total of 30 cm on the first three days we were there, and dusted on virtually every other day)...

...and in fact, some days, it snows quite hard.

...and I get to stay somewhere nice, and ski with my brother, his wife, and KC -- and if I'm lucky, meet puppies.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a vacation.

Note that it only took until Tuesday March 17th to break last year's vert, which was a record year for us, and we broke 200,000 vertical meters on March 21st.

We would have done better had we not been fogged out on Thursday, getting only 3,795 m in. We would have been fogged out on the Friday, too, but we decided to "go for it" and made over 10,500 m in viz that was at times down to 50' or less. We did it by starting at the Black Forest, and going down every run starting on the right and ending 24 runs later on Born to Run. Twenty four runs in basically zero viz. Here, for instance, was the viz at the top of the Black Forest. There really are trees to the right and left.

The best day was the 21st. Falcon & Gem had been closed for 6 days and 3 days, respectively, and we got first, second and third tracks in the Falcon Bowl in the beautiful sunshine. Knee deep freshies. Sun Bowl was almost as good. And the first Sunday was pretty fantastic, too. with 15 cm and piles of freshies in the Black Forest glades.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

An Open Letter to the Banff Alpine Racers

Dear Mr. President:

I had the misfortune to run across your race team at Sunshine Village over the weekend of March 7/8, and I wanted to offer you some feedback. You were participating in racing/training on Goat's Eye Mountain on both days.

The arrogance and disrespect of the members of your club is atrocious. En masse, both days, they abandon their skis in front of Goat's Eye Gardens, rather than putting them in the racks. I sought out your leaders and asked them not to abandon their skis in front of the Goat's Eye Gardens entrance as it was a safety hazard, but the behaviour did not change. To one of your leader's credit, I heard him speak to your members, who claimed it was not them, but "the girls" who left 40+ pairs of skis in everyone's way -- and still did nothing about it. I spoke with several of the volunteer helpers but they would not do anything. I saw one of Sunshine's ski patrollers trying in vain to get your people to simply put their skis in the racks, with his instructions falling on deaf ears (he finally gave up). I actually considered putting them all in the racks myself -- mismatched, of course, just to make a point -- but thought that was stooping to your level.

In addition, on the way to their closed race course, they treat other skiers as race gates, cutting them off and skiing past them at high speed, irrespective of the danger. I respect that they wish to practice, but they should be taught to do so away from others. They are more than welcome to ski like utter maniacs on their closed race course where they don't put others at risk -- in fact, I suspect they are encouraged to do so -- but while on the hill with other guests, they should be following the Alpine Responsibility Code.

They ignored others in the lift corrals, pushing through when it is not their turn, or blocking the corrals to wait for their friends. Fortunately, it was not that busy, or they really would have caused a ruckus.

Your motto is "Make friends. Learn skills, and develop a love for skiing". You should also be teaching respect and consideration for others, which they do not have, and care for safety, which they do not have. I commented to my partner that I would never want my children joining your program, which by all measures on this past weekend turns out arrogant, self centered, inconsiderate juvenile delinquents on the ski hill. Not the skills I suspect you seek.

Derek Ryder

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A Review of the Sunshine Inn: March 2009

In 27 years of skiing at Sunshine, I had never once stayed at the Sunshine Inn. Two years ago, they renovated the main part of the Inn. in the summer of 2008, they tore down the old wing, and will be rebuilding it in the summer of 2009. KC stayed there about 20 years ago. So it was a new experience for the both of us.

It starts very fun. We pulled up to the hotel check-in in the parking lot area around 7:30 PM on Friday. Hotel guests get to park in the VIP Parking right next to the gondola base. The efficient and helpful staff squirrel away your bags and skis, and normally, your stuff is on the gondola heading up before you are. Now, the gondola stops running at 5:30 PM every night except Friday, and one has to wonder what happens if you arrive after that. Answer: Sunshine Suzy, a tread equipped SUV, that comes down the ski out for you. But they much prefer if you get there in time for the gondola.

These things I learned about the gondola ride up at 7:30 PM:
1) You still need a pass to get on the gondola. I had packed my season's pass away in my luggage. If you can't easily show your pass, they will issue you a hotel guest pass, but you will need to show your ski pass up in the village.
2) It's very dark for the 20 minute ride up. And very quiet.
3) The seats are not heated. This is not a small issue, but actually one of consequence. Sitting still for 20 minutes at -20° should not be taken lightly. Fortunately, we had grabbed our slippers from our suitcase, and we sat on them during the ride up. But we were still underdressed for the ride. I forget that normally I'm well insulated riding the gondola. Jeans do not count as good installation.

Upon arrival in the village, the first thing you notice is the utter silence, except for the sound of the gondola. Nothing is moving, and no one is out. Except tobogganers, and an ever attendant Sunshine staffer keeping an eye on them. Yes, you can toboggan the hill between the Angel and Strawberry chairs just by asking.

I don't know what the Inn was like before the reno, but it's now quite elegant and beautiful.

There are currently three kinds of rooms. The Standard rooms are at the back, facing a forest and cliff. Very private. If you're the kind of person who likes to leave your drapes open and strut around in the buff, these are the rooms for you. The Deluxe rooms (where we were) face the ski hill. These are great for watching the Groomers...

...checking out what lifts are running, and watching the sun rise. The best rooms (4 per floor) are Suites, all of which feature their own fireplace.

The Standard and Deluxe rooms are big enough, but not large. The bathroom is particularly cramped, and the bathtub is only about half the size of a normal bathtub (but fits two for a shower just fine...). Some things to be aware of:
• The radio reception is atrocious, but every room has a CD player. Bring CDs.
• There is no weather channel on the TV. The one channel you need the most, and they don't have it.
• The amenities are OK, but it's virtually impossible to get the shampoo out of the bottle. It's hard and very difficult to squeeze.
• The water is so hard it will exfoliate you. Lather, it appears, is optional.
• There is no humidity. I thought it was dry in Calgary, but up here, your skin will dry up far worse, so use the moisturizer.
• Water is a pretty precious commodity. This is evidenced by the lack of water pressure in the sink (the shower's fine).
• The rooms are HOT. Our thermostat was set at 10° (the lowest setting) but the heat was still on and the temperature in the room was 24°. We slept with the window open more than a crack in order to be comfortable.
• The Inn is old, and you can hear all hall noises.
• The bed was delightful. Either that or I was tired.

The Inn experience is hard to describe. At 4 PM, the entire hill magically and fairly suddenly just clears out, leaving only Inn guests, Inn staff, and the Sunshine staff that stay up on the hill. That's less than 300 people, and you will be hard pressed to see more than 40 of them. It is unbelievably private and peaceful. I'm use to the hustle and bustle of the Chimney Corner Lounge at lunch when it is packed with 200 or more people. At night, there's probably all of 20 people in the whole space (including staff) and they spread out.

For amenities, the Inn has:
• A small games room, with free pool;
• A family room, with some big stuffed couches and a big screen TV;
• A small health club, with a treadmill (like I haven't had enough exercise), some weights and yoga stuff, where you can book a massage, and
• a dry sauna and outdoor hot tub.

The hot tub is big enough to hold 20, and big enough to develop quite a current if all the jets are pointed in the same direction. It doesn't really have a view; the glass wall gets buried with 5' of snowdrift. So aside from the fact that you are overlooked by the bar, the restaurant, and half the hotel rooms, it feels private. We had the luxury of hot tubbing at -22° in a snowstorm, with the accompanying hair freeze, which is always fun.

The main nighttime activity? Watching the groomer's lights up on the hill, and try to guess which runs he is grooming. Be still my heart...

I was looking forward to eating up on the hill, but worried at the same time because the Chimney Corner Lounge and Eagle's Nest share a kitchen, and I think they are the only two places to eat on the hill at night. That, and I have eaten at the Chimney Corner about a billion times for lunch. Well, yes, some of my fears came true. Some of the lunch menu items are on the dinner menu, too. There's probably too much overlap between the Eagle's Nest and the Chimney Corner in terms of food influences and style. But...

The food at both were great. Friday's dinner in the lounge started with some Asian style Calamari ($12), and I had the special, a bacon wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed with goat cheese. It was delicious and only $24. For Saturday in the Eagle's Nest, I started with Crab Cakes ($14) and again had the special, a Surf & Turf with a large perfectly cooked beef tenderloin topped with 8 big fat shrimp ($40). KC had the saffron risotto ($24), which was easily risotto for 4, which she couldn't finish. The wine list is the same at both, not long but well chosen, with about 15 each white and red, all quite reasonably priced. For instance, on Friday, we had a Jacob's Creek Shiraz for $32. Now, if the bar only carried Bombay Sapphire, the world would have been perfect (Tanquerey 10 isn't worth it, to me). So I could see a guest not getting bored of the food for at least 3 days, but more than that could get repetitive.

One nice thing about the Inn is that it takes virtually no time to get to know the staff. With so few guests, you will see the same wait staff and front desk staff, and they WILL remember you and your name.

One thing that did surprise me was the idea that Inn guests would get "first tracks". Wrong. I stepped out of the Inn at 8:45 on Saturday, and there were already about 200 pairs of skis in the racks in front of the day lodge. Turns out a LOT of folks come up the gondola very early, have breakfast, and do that first tracks thing. It's not busy at 8:45, but you will not be the first ones onto the chairs. So grab an (expensive) latte in the Java Stop in the morning, read the free newspapers, and start your day gently.

And gentle is a theme, because the Inn is an exceptionally peaceful place. There's very little to do, which if you are in the mood can be quite a good thing. Nothing happens fast after 4 PM up in the village. Mad Trappers re-opens from 8 PM to midnight daily. I suspect it's mostly open to give the staff who live on hill something to do other than wreck their accommodations. I don't know if they serve food after 8 PM. We did not go over, being too lazy to put on boots.

And staying at the Sunshine Inn will do that to you. It will disarm you into relaxing by taking away your reasons to be stressed. For a few nights, anyway.

A Weekend Up at The Sunshine Inn: March 7/8 2009

Ski Day 14:
Vert: 10,195 m. Runs: 22
Ski Day 15:
Vert: 10,550 m. Runs: 18
YTD Cum Vert: 142,075 m YTD Runs: 262

So my daughter just turned 18, meaning I no longer have a kid, but a fully fledged, Grade A #1, downright beautiful Adult for an offspring. For her birthday, she asked for two things: a printer, and the use of the West Wing for the weekend so she could have a party with her friends. That left us stranded, and with a reported 36 cm in the three days leading up to the weekend, we decided to try staying up at the Sunshine Inn for laughs. In the interests of people potentially seeking a review of the hotel and its amenities, I will publish that in a separate post. This post will be about the skiing over the two days.

We had spring in January, so being Alberta, it seemed logical we would get winter in March, and that's what happened. The weather all weekend mostly sucked. It was fairly flat light except for both late afternoons, and really cold on Sunday morning (-23°), and only moderately cold the rest of the time (-15°).

On Saturday, it dawned foggy and with light snow.

There were clearly places where the 36 cm of snow had accumulated. There were also places where it hadn't, and the top of Standish was one of them. Unfortunately, that's where we started our day. Cold, windy, and blown clear ice is a poor choice for a first run while staying somewhere that promises "first tracks". After we got our bearings by heading to Goat's Eye, we actually found some very nice stuff anywhere with trees, such as in the Goatchicken Glades, and on Gladerunner itself.

Lineups most everywhere were good (Goat's Eye, Angel) to moderate (Divide) to severe (Wawa, Standish). Because we were staying on the hill, and had bagged about the 4th or 5th chair going up Standish at 8:45 AM, we decided to take the afternoon easy and ended it with a few runs on Wawa in really wonderful snow. By 4 PM, it had been gently snowing for a few hours, and the viz was actually quite good. And between 3:00 and 3:15 the lineup at Wawa literally disappeared; we had the hill to ourselves for the last 45 min. By 3:45, there were probably only 200 people left in the village, and at 4:05 PM, we were down to the hotel guests -- all 60 of us. More on this in the Sunshine Inn post.

Sunday dawned with much more promise...

...until we discovered it was -24° outside. At first it was calm and almost sunny. If you have ever wondered, here's what it looks like from the top of Divide at 8:30 AM. There are 4 people in this photo, all of whom are on the chair. We were the first ones up the lift.

At around 10, it started to sock in and the wind came up. From the east. Normally it blows from the west, and Goat's Eye is partially protected. When it blows from the east, Goat's Eye (where we were) bears the brunt. Of a 35 km/h wind. At -23°. Horrible. Then it got worse, because it started to snow. We bailed for an early and rather long lunch to warm up. We returned to the village at 1 PM, to find the wind subsiding a bit, the snow slowing down, and the temperature a balmy -18°. By 1:30 on Divide, the temp was up to -14°, and it peaked at a rather pleasant -10° by 2:00 and stayed there, with the sun out, illuminating the snow for the first time in 2 days. The now 38 cm of fresh snow. That no one had been in because it was cold and you couldn't see it. And did I mention that there was hardly anyone at Sunshine on Sunday afternoon? Turned off by bad weather in Calgary, and cold in the AM, the parking lot wasn't even 3/4 full. No lineup on divide.

And endless fresh powder tracks in Bye Bye Bowl. All by ourselves. This photo was taken at 2:00 PM. Count the people.

This is much busier. Or maybe not.

In the Bowl, the powder was boot top or deeper. On the Assiniboine Flats, it was the same. And no one around.

Late Again: Feb 21st, Ski Day #13

Vert: 10,020 m YTD Cum Vert: 121,330 m
Runs: 20 YTD Cum Runs: 222

The perils of posting over two and a half weeks late is we forget. Fortunately, we have photos and notes to remind us.

The blue sky reminds me that day was last last time we skied before the snow drought ended. The snow was fading, having been tracked for 3 solid weeks with no fresh. Ice was showing up. Photos like the one above make it look wonderful, and it was indeed nicer than staying at home, but still, the 30 cm of snow that started falling 3 days later was much needed.

This was also the first day on my new Nordica Enforcers. Now, the dimensions on these puppies are 135/98/121, meaning that while they are happy on groomed, they are happier in fluff. Today, therefore was obviously not a great day to put them to their first test.

And I wonder who decided that skis needed a graphic image of a blue skinned guy, with 6 arms, wearing a necklace of skulls, who has a lion in his crotch, and is hanging on to two cobras. Personally, I think they look stupid. Obviously, I missed the meeting.

But they ski very nicely.