Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ski Day 14: Not Much Fun

Vert: 2,540 m YTD Cum Vert: 109,375 m
Runs: 3 YTD Cum Runs: 193

I always tell people I rarely have a bad day skiing. Today wasn't bad, but it ranked right up there as the 8th lowest vert day in 16 years of record keeping, and the 3rd lowest where we quit by choice.

On the bright side, it was sunny.

However, it was brutally cold (-22° at 9:15), and while not generally windy, a wickedly nasty breeze was whistling on the top of Goat's Eye. So we skied a run, then went in to defrost/defog goggles & scrape the ice off the face masks, then went back out and immediately frosted up again.

It was also obviously windy overnight, as a very challenging wind crust of hard pack formed everywhere, so things looked silky and fresh but were in fact very challenging, and virtually all of yesterday's deep powder was crusted over and no longer joyous. In short, the snow looked great, but it wasn't.

On top of that, the snow was sticky, sticky, so anything flat was horrid. For instance, you couldn't get going fast enough on the Goat's Eye traverse to make it up to the flat above Silver Scapegoat without walking, the bottom section of Sunshine Coast was brutal and the ski out could be tucked from the top without fear of going fast.

It felt to us like a day where an accident was waiting to happen, and we weren't having a lot of fun, so we gave up early, as did a bunch of others we saw in the parking lot.

BTW, I apologise for the goofed up fonts. Blogger added functionality to change fonts and sizes, and I haven't figured it out yet.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Ski Day 13: More Epic-ness

Vert: 7,445 m YTD Cum Vert: 106,835 m
Runs: 12 YTD Cum Runs: 190

When I look back at the stats I have kept for the last 16 years of skiing at Sunshine, I can see that generally, we don't get a lot of epic powder days, with fresh snow up to your knees. Normally, I get those in my annual Big White fix in March. Sunshine generally goes through the winters with regular small snowfalls of 5-10 cm, which enough to keep things nice and silky, but rarely do we compete with Fernie or Revi snowfalls. However...

This year, we have already had two days of high levels of epic-osity, and today was day number three. They reported 22 cm overnight, and everything was at least boot top and frequently knee deep.

The AM was a bit challenging, as the snow had drifted into and hidden all the moguls, meaning the odd and unexpected sudden drop to your waist. But everything was gorgeous and silky light, unlike the heavier powder of a few weeks back. AM viz wasn't the best...

then it cleared a bit around noon...

then socked in again, meaning the PM was an exercise in braille on top of Divide, in Boundary Bowl, and in Bye Bye Bowl. The wind was also blowing from the east, meaning the drifts were in the "wrong" places, plus it was a chilly -15° most of the day, and snowing.

In hindsight, we probably should have gone back to Goat's Eye in the PM for the better viz, but instead we fought with it up on Angel and Divide until we got fed up of not being able to see, then gave up. But not for lack of fresh tracks; busy as it was, we were still getting knee deep untracked powder shots on the way to the ski out.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Ski Day 12: More Snow, but No Viz

Vert: 6,820 m YTD Cum Vert: 99,390
Runs: 11 YTD Cum Runs: 178

Another 10-15 cm overnight plus a little bit of windblown made for excellent AM turns. While not as epic as yesterday, it was still possible to explore and find some deep relatively untracked stuff. The trail crew was working hard on Goat's Eye yesterday and today and has almost got Gold Alfterburner open; the removal of the fences made traversing possible to more of those waist deep spots in the glades.

Avi bombing in the south side chutes (Far Side, Wild Side, etc) triggered a Class 3 to base that ran pretty much the whole slope. Today was avalanche awareness days, and the reason this avi went to ground was obvious at the demonstration test pit. They demonstrated one of those compression tests where you cut a 30 cm square block to ground and whack on it with your hand. The thing failed at the really awful weak layer right at the base, dropping a fully competent block of consolidated snow that was 1.2 m tall.

It snowed all day and the downside for the day was the miserable viz. We braved one shot at Hill 205 and it was completely braille; even staying near snow fences didn't help. You had to stay lower than the OS Pitches to see anything. So not long after checking out the test pit, we bailed, because although the snow was good, you couldn't see it.

The 789 Club

Yesterday, we ran into a couple of guys having a huge amount of fun. There were a lot of people having fun yesterday, but these dudes were particularly stoked. They were members of the 789 Club, which has apparently been in existence for 40+ years. Among their other feats, the club is (allegedly) responsible for extending the hours at Mad Trappers to 10 PM. Trappers used to close at 6 and re-open at 8 for the hotel guests; they would park their butts at 5:45, order a LOT of beer, and sit there. They claim to have built a 20 person lean-to in the Goat Chicken Glades. And the 789 part? Their goal is to break the alpine responsibility code's rules 7, 8 and 9 every time they are out. In case you have forgotten, these rules are:

7. Observe and obey all posted signs and warnings.
8. Keep off of closed trails and area.
9. You must not use lifts or terrain if your ability is impaired through use of alcohol or drugs.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ski Day 11: EPIC!!!!

Vert: 7,260 m YTD Cum Vert: 92,570 m
Runs: 12 YTD Cum Runs: 167

22 cm overnight and +50 cm in the past 48 hrs made for epic, heli skiing like powder conditions, with knee deep to waist deep powder in the morning. Goat's Eye had a chair spacing problem first thing, and when it finally started at 9:45, the corrals were full, and we were at the back of them. However, despite this, we got awesome first tracks on Rolling Thunder. Here's KC catching some powder turns on the lower section.

It was socked in first thing, but got sunny around noon.

The hill was VERY busy, but lift lines were short. The net result was that, just like last weekend, anything easy to access was skied out by 11. However, that still left a LOT of rocking terrain.

It socked in and started snowing again in the PM. We were up on Divide and it was basically a white out above the top of Angel. Our legs were beat from an epic morning, so we bailed a little early.

The avi conditions were fearsome. Parks Canada heli bombed the Borgeau chutes in the AM, and triggered an avi that covered the access road at 10 AM with 50 m of debris 3 m deep. It took 90 min to open the road again (it's funny to see a snow cat parked on the road 1.5 km from the base area). Sunshine bombed the Wild West chutes and buried the ski out enough to close it for a half hour while they cleared it. Two major natural avis happened in the Dive (Milky Way & Starbucks). Today was avalanche awareness days. They cancelled all the events due to the weather, but I for one thought it was a great day to see how avis happen.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Development sliding under the radar screen

The little hamlet of Dead Man's Flats (DMF - population about 60) is off most people's radar screens, but there's some stuff going on that my loyal blog readers may find interesting/concerning.

First off, a while back, there was a swap of lands was proposed between the Government and MD Bighorn involving lands in DMF. The proposed swap placed MD lands into Bow Valley Provincial Park as a wildlife corridor. The red crosshatched lands in the map below are the MD lands going into the park; the yellow lands will also go into the park, but are already provincial lands.

Sounds good.

However, the lands surround a huge proposed development of 70+ single family homes, a 50 unit condo complex and a 15 lot industrial park to the east of Pigeon Creek.

The MD recently held reviews of the Area Redevelopment Plan that proposes (in addition to that development) a total re-design of the DMF hamlet, including lining the highway between Pigeon Creek and the Three Sisters Provincial Campground (including both the Husky station and the Esso) with a "downtown Canmore"-like development of commercial and condo development, including some 300 parking stalls and another 300+ condos.

Build out population for the hamlet would be on the order of 1,600. Along with it, and built first, will come a new sewage treatment plant (the old sewage ponds are in the parks land that will be in the wildlife corridor), a drinking water treatment plant, and the oft-discussed regional waste transfer station servicing Banff and Canmore as well as the MD — all abutting the parks land and wildlife corridor, and in fact, immediately adjacent to the G8 Legacy wildlife underpass under the TransCanada.

All this development hinges on finding a water supply. The MD drilled 2 deep wells in 2006 and 2007 looking for water that came up dry. They drilled a 3rd in 2008 and were successful. The only catch is that the well is 45 m from the old garbage dump (affectionately referred to in provincial parlance as the "nuisance grounds"), and you can't drill a drinking water source well within 450 m of a garbage dump without a waiver from Alberta Public Health. Requesting and granting such a waiver requires a public hearing, the first of which was held in March 2010.

Provincial studies presented with the data in the March 2010 hearing show the former dump to be pretty contaminated. Several studies are available that show some pretty nasty stuff in the ground, and that the stuff is migrating UPDIP of the dump. Courtesy of an intervention at the March hearing, the MD went back and regrouped. They contacted Alberta Transportation, owners of the contaminated dump site, and got studies done that describe what it would take to remediate the dump (which has nasty leachates heading to the Bow River, in addition to potentially towards the proposes drinking water well).

A full day hearing is now scheduled for February 1, 2011 with the Alberta Public Health Regional Board in Calgary, to be chaired by Dr. Brent Friesen. In this hearing, the MD of Bighorn plans to propose that they should be able to use the well next to the dump for drinking water until Alberta Transportation cleans up the dump. If the well is approved, that basically clears the way to turn Dead Man's Flats into a 1,600 person town, with a development that looks like a cross between the area around Lawrence Grassi Ridge and Elk Run Industrial Park in Canmore -- all supplied by a single well next to the garbage dump.

One thing I have learned: no water = no development, and the MD is making the argument that if they can't use this well, there's no where else to drill, so no water for the hamlet, which for the MD (who are seriously committed to develop DMF somehow) is a bad outcome. So to me this hearing is pivotal. And it appears as if no one but a small group in Dead Man's will be coming in opposition. And never mind the development; they're the only ones in opposition to drilling a drinking water well next door to a contaminated, leaking garbage dump. Maybe it's because one day they may have to drink the water. Here's hoping Dr. Friesen doesn't think it a good idea. Him I actually trust.

There is an old saying: no single snowflake believes it is responsible for the avalanche, nor raindrop responsible for the flood. This hearing is the snowflake. It is the raindrop. It is the start of a flood of development. Heaven help us if the well draws in the contaminants from 45 m away (as it most assuredly will). It will be Walkerton all over again.

It's amazing to me that stuff like this can be basically done under the radar of folks who care about development in the Kananaskis and the Bow Valley Corridor. Heck, I'd be amazed if it even gets reported in either the Rocky Mountain Outlook or Canmore Leader; rarely does what happen in DMF hit the paper. I don't know if its true, but it sure feels like the MD gets to run roughshod since "only" 60 residents in DMF are directly affected.

The G8 Legacy Underpass connects the Wind Valley with the Bow River. Those of us who hang out in DMF (and who have read the wildlife corridor studies) know it is an underpass well used by bear, numerous cat species, and numerous ungulates and canids.

Personally, I think it best if we put a sewage treatment plant and a town of 1,600 next to it, don't you?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Ski Day 10: Colder but Still Nice

Vert: 10,230 m YTD Cum Vert: 85,410 m
Runs: 19 YTD Cum Runs: 155

Today was nicer in many ways than yesterday. For starters, we were nearly alone. The parking lot was just over half full, and there were no lines ever, including for lunch.

The snow was easier to ski, too. Yes, most of the epic knee deep powder lines were gone save for a bit of new stuff they opened overnight on the lower part of Gold Afterburner (giving access to waist deep drifts and some killer glade lines between Gold Afterburner and Gold Scapegoat).

However, despite most everything being tracked up, the turns that were left from yesterday were sweet, and there was a couple of cm's overnight to make even the groomed stuff excellent.

As you can see, the viz was better than yesterday, too, with hazy sun most of the day.

However, the two real downsides were (1) it was a lot colder (-17° at 9:30 at Goat's Eye base, peaking at -12° early afternoon at Divide base), resulting in frequent stops to de-ice goggles, and serious face mask frost...

...and (2) the snow itself was slow, slow, slow. All the traverses were particularly sticky, and scooting to Divide base or along Green Run to get out of Bye Bye Bowl were exercises in grunt skating.

So it was another nice day to have a hill to ourselves.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ski Day 9: Pow-Pow

Vert: 8,550 m YTD Cum Vert: 75,180 m
Runs: 14 YTD Cum Runs: 136

The reports said 9 cm overnight and 25 cm in the last 3 days. This was an understatement. We arrived to boot-top to knee deep powder shots for the majority of the morning. The viz wasn't the best, but it cleared a bit just before noon.

It was the kinda dump that put +6" on top of all of the groomed stuff. It was the kinda dump that made for floating tree shots.

The roads weren't the best (or, by reports from folks we spoke to, at least the section from Canmore to Sunshine wasn't good), but it didn't keep everyone away. Crowds appeared at Goat's Eye by 10 AM, and while we ran into very few lift lines all day, most of the easy powder lines were gone by noon. But we were still playing in knee deep fresh stuff at 2:30 when we had to leave to catch tonight's basketball games. Maybe fortunately, it socked in as the afternoon progressed and started snowing, too, so leaving wasn't that awful. The temps were moderate at -9° C in the AM and -5° C around noon, but got noticeably colder as the afternoon progressed.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Ski Day 8: Better and Worse

Vert: 9,375 m YTD Cum Vert: 66,360 m
Runs: 16 YTD Cum Runs: 122

It was warmer at Sunshine today then yesterday (-17° AM, -12° mid day), but didn't feel like it. After discussing this with several folks, I came to the conclusion that it was me; I was underdressed. Otherwise, today was a carbon copy of yesterday, including:

1) Goat's Eye closed at the beginning...

...though it opened earlier (9:30 vs 10:10 yesterday)

2) Sunny AM

3) Cloudy PM with poor viz and snow threatening

However, unlike yesterday, it was windier and there were fewer untracked powder bits. The stuff I mentioned & showed photos of yesterday was tracked out by the time I got there at 1:45. I should stop telling you where the good stuff is, because if you truly loved me, loyal readers, you would leave some pow for me.