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Friday, 31 December 2010

Ski Day 7: Chilly in the Powder

Vert: 9,905 m YTD Cum Vert: 57,255 m
Runs: 17 YTD Cum Runs: 106

This is how the day started.


Observant viewers will see that the clock in the background reads 9:50 AM. I got to Goat's Eye at 9:10, only to find the lift down. I skied down to Wolverine only to find it down, too. The gondola was pack, so uploading was a bit of a problem. And it was a balmy -27° to boot. So me and about 30 other people were trapped at Goat's Eye Gardens until about 9:50 when Wolverine started (Goat's Eye started about 10:10). Ah well. So I skied a reverse day, spending the morning on Divide and the afternoon at Goat's Eye. Given that I lost that hour, I was surprised I got in 9,905 m - but then again, I was solo today as KC was working.

The morning may have been cold but it sure was pretty blue sky.


The 20+ cm we got this week was obvious, though most everything was pretty tracked out. I say "most everything" because I certainly found some really nice stuff in Bye Bye Bowl.



Several of the tracks below the snow fence on the right (including some of the pretty S shaped ones) are mine. I turned laps there and over by the fenceline on the extreme left pretty much by myself for the morning. I also had fun in the powder skiers left of Assiniboine Flats. The really nice part was the combination of sunshine and zero wind meant it actually felt warm (-5° ish) back there instead of the -17° that the thermometer showed at Divide Base.

Just before lunch, a cloud deck appeared out of nowhere. By 1:30 I was over on Goat's Eye, and the overcast was settling in, making the light flat and the viz poor.


The snow has helped, but it has helped Goat's Eye the least. Nothing new has opened up top, and it looks like it won't for a bit yet. The steep pitch of Rolling Thunder is still nasty with hazards, and Silver Scapegoat is still hazardous, too. The entire section of Silver Gladerunner is full of obstacles, though I found the Goat Chicken/Sucker glades OK (there's just no reasonable way out). The best stuff I found was on Wildfire and Bronze Scapegoat, where the coverage is fantastic and the snow beautifully carveable.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Sunshine Village Restaurants

A while back, I posted a review of the Sunshine Inn. But I have never commented specifically on where to eat at Sunshine. There are 9 places to eat that I know of. From top to bottom:

The Eagle's Next Dining Room in the Inn has always puzzled me. I think it's open for lunch, but I think it also has the same menu as the Chimney Corner Lounge, and in that context, seems to act as an overflow area for the Lounge, rather than the other way around. I wish you could make reservations here; they are certainly set up for it. It's also fairly easy to get into, and rarely has a line - if you know that the way to access it is to come into the Inn, turn left at the front desk, then go upstairs or take the elevator to the entrance.

The Chimney Corner Lounge is one of my favourite places to eat on the hill. The food is excellent, the greenhouse like terrace area has great views, if you're inside the fireplaces are nice, and the service is normally very good and fairly fast. They have a daily soup and sandwich special that is pretty good and makes for a nice change from the menu for us regulars who eat there a lot. However, it's popular, and line ups are common if you insist on eating at 12:00. We therefore try to avoid arriving before 12:45.

The Java Stop in the Inn is little known. It's downside is that it's not very big. But it serves pretty good pre-packaged sandwiches at a self serve counter that makes for a very fast lunch stop indeed.

A lot of people seem to like Mad Trappers. I'm not one of them. I only eat there once or twice a year, and usually because the Chimney Corner is full with a long lineup. Trappers is always crowded, though it's bigger than it looks. I find the food one of the weakest of anywhere on the hill. They claim to slow BBQ chicken and pulled pork; I do both of those, and mine is so much better than theirs it's silly. The service is normally OK to good.

The Burger Stop in the ground floor of the daylodge is a self serve burger bar. Basic if expensive stuff, and almost always a crowded zoo.

I never go to the cafeteria on the main floor of the daylodge. Ever. It's elbow to elbow packed, the tables and chairs uncomfortable, the food expensive cafeteria fare ($30 for a bad pizza?).

Once every few years (like this past week) I go to the Lookout in the top of the daylodge. Every time I go, I regret it. The buffet is good, though I find it too much for me for lunch, and is probably good value at $18.95 if you are starved. Eating the buffet would solve the biggest problem of the Lookout: painfully slow service. Dining a la carte takes a solid hour. The sliders are tasty but come with nothing but the 3 little burgers (you can buy a bowl of sweet potato fries that's the size of an oil drum). The service is so slow the food frequently comes out cold. Avoid the place unless you're doing the buffet, and even then, expect your drink order to be delivered half way though your meal.

I've never though of a collection of Atco trailers as a "garden", but that's what Goat's Eye's eatery is. Atmosphere? No. But I would come here before I would eat at the Cafeteria in the Daylodge. It has your basic short order stuff, but there are some real food options, too, like fruit and salads. The chili's pretty good. And you can get a discount on food with a Sunshine Card or Pass (but not at the lunch rush).

I have always liked the Creekside down at the parking lot, and it's even better since it's been renovated. The food is probably the best on the hill. The service has always been good and fast. They give discounts to SSV Card and Passholders. And you can always get in without a lineup, even on the busiest days. Today, for instance, saw cars parked 3.2 km down the road past the gate, and yet here's what it looked like at 12:20 pm:


Yes, lots of empty tables. Yes, you have to take the ski out to get there, but the ski out is actually quite fun when there's no one on it and it is not the Deerfoot Trail. If you're already at Goat's Eye, the Creekside is just 8 minutes ski away; you can't even get to the village that fast.

So we mostly eat at the Chimney Corner or the Creekside, with the occasional excursion to Trappers.

In the end, the biggest complaint I have with it all is that there's too much similarity between the menus at all the places. The Creekside is supposed to be "southwestern", but it's not at all. Trappers is supposed to be a BBQ place, and it isn't. All the restaurants serve the same things (right down to the same buns for the burgers), and for us regulars, it really gets monotonous.

Ski Day 6: Heavy Weather

Vert: 6,315 m YTD Cum Vert: 47,350 m
Runs: 9 YTD Cum Runs: 89

While it clearly snowed over night, it didn't dump a whole lot. There was 3-6 cm everywhere, with more in some sheltered spots than others.


The problem was with the rest of the weather. It was blowing pretty strong, reducing viz to zero in a snowy white out in spots like on Sunshine Coast near the top of the traverse. In addition, it was repeatedly socking in then clearing up high, while continuously snowing down low.




It's tough to show how hard it was snowing; snow doesn't show too well in photos, but here's an attempt.


So the new snow was nice but the viz was a challenge some times, and despite the snow, it was easy to find windblown icy sections, especially in places like Old Chute. Enough snow fell to hide the hazards, but not enough to bury them, as you can see in the photo above of the routes below Cleavage. So spots like the steep pitch on Rolling Thunder looked fine at the beginning but were in fact still hazardous, and once a few folks had been down, there were piles of fluffy moguls with exposed rocks between them.

And then there was the problem of the crowds. As expected, it was really busy today (cars parked 3.2 km down the road past the gate), so anything nice and accessible got tracked out very fast, and we were glad we started early. In fact, despite it snowing the whole time we were there, the continuous tracking by the crowds meant not many fresh lines after 10:30.

So we skied the morning at Goat's Eye, headed to the Creekside for lunch, and bailed - after taking advantage of the 40% off everything sale in the shop at the base.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Ski Day 5: A Study in Contrasts

Vert: 9,055 m YTD Cum Vert: 41,035 m
Runs: 18 YTD Cum Runs: 80

It dawned warm (-3° at Goats Eye Base at 9:15) and sunny with a moderate breeze, and in fact the mountains were very pretty.



However, the morning snow conditions were pretty marginal. The winds and traffic of the last 24 hrs had combined to make everything scraped, with stones and rocks showing up all over the place. On Goat's Eye, only Sunshine Coast, Gold Freefall and Wildfire were worth skiing; Silver Scapegoat was a sea of hazards and scraped clear...


...Old Chute a windblown ice strip, Rolling Thunder too rocky in the middle section. We were tempted to have lunch and leave, but a snow shower blew in at about 11:30 and stayed until 1:30. Compare the first picture with the one above, taken at virtually the same place of virtually the same thing.




After 1:30, the sun came through again, and there was mostly excellent light for the afternoon.



The snow that fell was made up of really tiny flakes, and not that much accumulated (perhaps 2-5 cm plus blow in). But what a difference in the PM conditions. Silky stuff that was a real treat to turn in everywhere except the really exposed spots that had blown clear.


The Angel Hill where the old chair ran was an absolute gem for some reason. So the afternoon was a gas. Then it socked in again at 3 and became almost dark and started to snow again, and was still snowing in the parking lot at 3:45 when we left.

Here's hoping it snows all night. The little fluff that fell was great, but we need 10-15 cm to bury the rocks.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Ski Day 4: Merry Christmas

Vert: 8,920 m YTD Cum Vert: 31,980 m
Runs: 17 YTD Cum Runs: 62

It was only slightly busier than yesterday, which is about typical for Christmas Day at Sunshine. It dawned mostly clear but windy, with early AM winds of 40-50 km/hr at the top of Divide according to one patroller I spoke with. So even though it was warmer than yesterday (-5° at 9:30 AM), it didn't feel it.

The strong winds did not help conditions, especially on the upper half of Goat's Eye, in Bye Bye Bowl, and on the other typically affected faces of Angel Flight, Red 90, the World Cup Downhill near the top of the Angel Traverse and the top of Standish. All of these places had significant areas of windblown super hard pack (I was glad we got our edges sharpened a few weeks back). The strong winds came with funky clouds.



I should have made a movie of the latter picture, as the clouds were hurtling by at 50-80 km/hr just overhead.

The winds died during the day, and it got sunnier. By early afternoon it was quite pleasant.



Loyal readers of this blog will know that while you will see occasional shots of KC, shots of me are a rarity. I got KC a camera for Christmas. Now you'll get to see my butt from time to time.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Ski Day 3: A Quiet Christmas Eve

Vert: 9,425 m YTD Cum Vert: 23,060 m
Runs: 17 YTD Cum Runs: 45

Christmas Eve at Sunshine is typically quiet, and this year was no exception. I was a really nice day, but felt colder than the -10° temp because of a steady breeze. Given the proximity to the shortest day of the year, the sun really didn't show up at Goat's Eye until 11 AM or so. It's interesting skiing in morning twilight for the better part of 2 hours.


When the sun finally did show up, it was quite pretty.


More and more of the hill is opening. This morning, they opened Ewe First down to the traverse on Goat's Eye. I'm not sure I would be in a hurry to ski it, as lots of hazards are visible...


...but I saw the tracks of brave souls who ventured as far as the Wildside chute.

In the afternoon we went (as usual) to the Divide. Bye Bye Bowl was interesting. Yeah, there's a few rocks here and there (especially in the lower band where the rocks always are), but there was actually powder, too. We found about 4-6" on top of a stable sun/wind crust (that you could poke through with your pole but not well with skis).






The snow generally rocks even though it hasn't snowed for a week or so and the base is only 84 cm. I found no ice/hard scraped bits anywhere, and everything was beautifully carveable. Okay, so it's not the 15' of powder that Mammoth Mountain in California has, but it's really just fine. And there was practically no one here to enjoy it. Good for me, bad for them

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Dec 20-21 Total Lunar Eclipse

For the second time in 2 years, we had a total lunar eclipse on a clear and cold night. Or at least it was clear until just before midpoint of totality, when it started to cloud over. Given that the midpoint was 1:17 AM, catching the first half seemed good enough for me. Despite being up at 2 AM the night before, I was still wide awake at 1 AM (an unpleasant artifact of the current process of selling my company, as is the time of this post), so getting pictures wasn't hard. However, the -19° temps didn't make it easy.

I was lazy and due to the cold didn't use a tripod, so these shots are all handheld using my 30X optical (720 mm equivalent) lens, which worked out fine except for the time in totality. Shooting a full moon is actually quite easy; about 1:320 at f5.6 with ISO 100 on my camera at full telephoto. It's when it gets close to totality that it gets tough, what with the contrast between the brilliantly lit white part and the nifty red dark part (you can expose for one or the other but not both). My camera also has an ultra low light feature which I'm sure would have worked just fine in totality had I been using a tripod.









This last one is in totality and handheld using the low light mode. Yes it's blurry, but check out the colour. Maybe next time I will drag the tripod out in -19°. The last time that the eclipse occurred on the winter's solstice was 456 years ago. No one has figured out when the next one will occur, but it will be a while, I suspect.



I also liked this photo of the eclipse a lot. It's better than mine.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sold!

The one thing about working in the oil industry is that it is a constant ebb and flow of change. The sale of my company made it into the public domain today as the purchase and sale agreement was finally signed. I have known about this for a while, but now that it's public, I can talk about it officially (not that I actually have anything to say about it).

You can read about it here.

As some of you know, I'm not sure what the future holds for me or many of the projects I've been working on. Worst case scenarios is I become a ski bum for the winter, which isn't a bad outcome at all as those of you who read my blog would know. All should be straightened out by the end of January. So stay tuned, and I'll try to keep you informed as to my whereabouts.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Ski Day 2: MUCH Better

Vert: 8,815 m YTD Cum Vert: 13,635 m
Runs: 15 YTD Cum Runs: 28

What a difference 15 cm and the opening of Goat's Eye has had on the hill. We were able to find some nice powder stashes, and build up that vert very nicely, thank you very much. The forecast was for sunny AM and cloudy PM with flurries; in fact, we had snow on and off all day, and the sun really only poked though for a total of 20 min in the morning. There was about 5 cm fresh on the groomed stuff, so everything was very nice to turn on. There are still exposed hazards, just fewer than last week. However, the traverse on Goat's Eye has a HUGE hole in it and the Caution sign is real, so be careful. Silver Scapegoat has a lot of tree top bits showing through, as does Wildfire and Rolling Thunder, but if you're careful, everything is just fine to ski with the steep pitch of Thunder being the most challenging. The only thing I don't recommend on the Goat is the Eagle Creek road, which while groomed is seriously full of annoying rollers, so you can't get the speed up to make that last traverse.

Late afternoon, it started to sock in (I think it will snow nicely tonight), and so we bailed a little early due to lousy viz. But on our second last run, we ran across some beautiful untracked boot top powder that was just a real treat to ski - or it would have been, were it not for my burning thighs.

Some views of the day: First, the not yet opened glades under the Goat's Eye chair up bear the start of Gold Afterburner.


The top of Sunshine Coast:


I don't think the Dive will open any time soon.



So conditions are far superior to last week, and I recommend them highly.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ski Day 1: Beautiful but Thin Coverage at Sunshine Village

Looking back, the earliest in the season I have ever skied was at Nakiska on December 10, 2000, back in the days when CFCN had a ski team, and we did early season events. Generally, I agree with Lucy from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when she said "I don't eat December snow; it's not ripe yet." Looking at my pre-Christmas records back to 1996, snow coverage is never ripe, always low, and the weather tends to be cold. So I consider any time before Christmas to be "bonus days".

And it was indeed a bonus day to be up in the mountains, despite the limited snow coverage and runs open. For there was not a cloud in the sky, and there was an inversion meaning near zero temps up top while it was -14° in the parking lot. If there had only been more snow. Sunshine has a 53 cm base right now; Goat's Eye and Divide remain closed due to lack of coverage. Angel is open, but the face above the traverse is closed, as is the entire face below the Green Run, including everything from Red 90 through Boundary Bowl back to Angel Flight and the Pockets. At Cat Track Corner, you could traverse across above the terrain park, and gain access to some "interesting" stuff (it's either that or take Green Run to Peyto Pass). Here's a view from up high on the traverse showing the state of the terrain park. You can see the have been harvesting snow on the extreme left of the photo just above the Green Run, and the groomed strip skiers right of the terrain park at the base of Viking Ridge/South 205 on the extreme right.


This is the first time I have ever been at Sunshine when everything skiers right of the original Angel Flight down low (where the old Angel double chair topped out) had trees sticking out of it. Barner's Bowl was a mess; TP Main Chutes are more rock than snow. I don't know why TeePee Town is even running.

I was able to find some relatively fresh snow bits by traversing into the OS Pitch; I can't say I recommend it. Due to last week's cold snap, the snow has no structure, and there's nothing underneath it. Ruts are real, so you sink through the powder very easily and hit your choice of either the ground or a bit of hard pack hiding. Either way, it's tough skiing. There are also bits of exposed rock pretty much everywhere, so you have to be careful. The same is also true of the entire Assiniboine Trail area; tempting looking powder that sucks to ski.

So if you kept expectations low and stuck to the well tracked groomed stuff, you could have fun in the warm sunshine. The new Strawberry Chair is good (very fast, faster than Standish), and there were some nice turns to be had in places like Boutry's Bowl. We didn't get up Standish or spend much time on Wawa (where only Meadow Park was groomed, and very badly at that), Wolverine (which was in the dark and colder courtesy of the inversion) or Jackrabbit. But we kinda got bored of the limited terrain we could ski on Angel, so left early, having skied only 4,820 vertical meters and 13 runs. But it was good to get out and realize that I remembered how to do this...

Monday, 29 November 2010

Review: Kodak PlaySport HD Video Camera

KC game me a Kodak Playsport Zx3 camera to take to Maui to shoot underwater pictures and movies.


I don't tend to shoot a lot of movies in the first place; I have had the ability to do movies (including HD ones) on my last 3 digital cameras and basically never used it. So I was mostly interested in something that was good for shooting underwater, and that was good enough that I could take it skiing with me in the winter.

The PlaySport isn't it. I don't recommend the device at all.

First the Pros:
1) The thing is a breeze to use. Point and push the button to record. Push the same button to stop recording. Switching between 5 MP still pictures and various movie qualities is easy.

2) The photo quality is good, usually. For the times when it's not, see #6 in the Cons section below.

3) It's reasonably well designed for right handed people, with the control buttons in logical places.

4) I'm pretty sure you could operate the start/stop button with gloves on.

Now the cons:
1) The screen can't be seen in bright sunshine or underwater. Kodak claims it added "filter" modes to the display to make this better, but they don't make a darn bit of difference. So it's a "point and hope" camera underwater, and not much better on a sunny day above water.

2) It's not waterproof by any means. On my 3rd day snorkling with it, it leaked and died, turning on but refusing to stay on. After a lot of searching on the web (the documentation is miserable; see #12 below), I found that's how it responds when it leaks. To dry it out, you open the two access doors, remove the battery and memory card, and leave it open for 24hrs. I did this and it dried and started working again. Two snorkel days later, it died the same way (power on them immediatly power off), then an hour later just died for good. Now it won't even power on, and it's because the thing isn't actually waterproof. It's rated to only 3 m, which isn't deep, but I never took it more than 2 m down and it still leaked. It was normal to find water in the HDMI/USB connector compartment at the end of the day.

3) The one button on/off thing is great so long as you know if you're currently on or off. But the red "record" light that tells you if you're on or off is in the display that can't be seen. On numerous occasions, I stopped a recording when I thought I was starting it. I missed several recordings because it was already recording for some reason when I pressed the button. It really should have a separate start and a stop button instead of a single button.

4) Underwater audio is poor at best, and water stays in the microphone when you take it briefly out of the water.

5) The movie files are HUGE; figure 1 Mb per second for 720p mode (and it has a 1080p mode that make even bigger movies). This probably isn't the fault of the camera but of the compression mode used. I ended up shooting only in WVGA mode to reduce the download & upload times.

6) It has an "underwater" mode that supposedly colour corrects underwater shots. However, while better than no colour correction, this mode doesn't correct anywhere near enough. Every photo I took needed additional post processing in iPhoto (all aare too green with poor white balance). Photos taken in very shallow water in bright sunlight were best, but lower light or in cloud and the coulour balance was awful even with underwater mode on. Some samples are below.

This first one is bright sunshine, shallow water, underwater mode on, colour uncorrected. Looks pretty decent.


Cloudy day, shallow water, underwater mode on, colour uncorrected. Looks green.


Same photo, "fixed" in iPhoto by dropping the tint and re-adjusting the white balance.

7) The movies need underwater colour correction too; however, when you move them to iMovie, the already big file size basically increases in size by an order of magnitude (your 18 second, 19 Mb file becomes a 190 Mb iMovie). This isn't the camera's fault, but it still sucks.

This movie was shot with underwater mode on, but is otherwise uncorrected. I was just floating, with the camera never more than 6' underwater in bright sunshine; the total water depth is about 30' (this was really clear). The green cast is still there. If I knew how, I would adjust the white balance and drop the green out of the tint.



8) The underwater mode is forgotton when the unit turns off (or turns itself off). So if it automatically turns itself off in a power save mode while you're snorkling, you need to go through an awkward set of push buttons using a menu on the screen you can't see to turn it back on. My way around this was to put it in underwater mode and set it to take still pictures, then shoot one still every minute or so, switching it to movie mode only when I needed to make movies.

9) You can't control how long the time is before it goes to sleep, and the documentation doesn't tell you (after using it 5 days, I think it's between 90 and 120 seconds).

10) When the battery is removed, the automatic photo counter is reset to 0001, resulting in files with replicate names. This gives iPhoto grief on uploads, because it sees duplicate file names.

11) The owners manual says the batteries basically stop working at -5 C, so it would have to be kept warm for use as a ski camera.

12) Did I mention the documentation was miserable? The paper stuff supplied with the camera was brief, but hey, you can download the extended info on the web. The extended info is vacuous, but it is twice as long.

So the thing is basically a piece of junk. It's bigger and fatter than most cell phones with the only incremental capability being that it's waterproof, and it's actually not waterproof at all. Splashproof maybe, but it's useless for snorkling.

On the bright side, it only cost $150. Now, if KC could only find the receipt, we could send it in for repairs and try to get it working again.

Or we could throw it out, which at this moment is more appealing.

Save your money and buy one of those cheap disposable underwater cameras, then scan the photos you take with it.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Ups and Downs of Beach Life

So yesterday our beach was invaded by nasty Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish. These are not good. Fortunately, they were not big guys; all the ones washed up on the beach were about less than 2" across with tentacles between 6" and 12". But at least 3 people were stung, and even the little ones make red welts like huge bee stings or mosquito bites. Here's a macro shot of one. The bodies are clear, but the tentacles are blue. Fortunately they sparkle in the sun, so were easy to see.


Once folks realized they were there and in the water, the beach pretty much cleared out. These things come into Hawaiian waters on a cycle associated with the moon; box jellies do the same thing. In fact, you can find online calendars that tell you when they're expected. High winds tend to blow them ashore.

Today, when we went back, we checked the high water line and found none before going snorkeling. It was a great snorkel day; we saw 4 turtles, 2 eels and an octopus who was fun to watch because he was being harassed by some fish. The winds were strong this afternoon too; sure enough, more jellies showed up, though not as many as yesterday.

But in with them was a critter I've never seen before. He looked like a jelly but had a shell.


Turns out this is a violet snail, which I think is an exceptionally cool critter. Turns out this little guy eats man-of-war jellyfish, making him my buddy. They are a snail that lives in the ocean and floats on a mass of bubbles, and basically float around at the whims of the wind. Needless to say, if a batch of jellies washes up on shore, these little guys are not usually far behind.

And you thought hanging out on a beach was just about snorkeling and boogie boarding.