Saturday, 18 January 2014

Jan 18: Poached, sunny side up

No, not eggs.

It was sunny today at Sunshine. Seriously sunny. Sunny as in "it's January but you need sunscreen" sunny.

The sunrise on the Monarch. 9:10 AM
What's the story, Morning Glory? 9:30 AM
The best stuff I found in the morning was clearly the really awesome groomers. Stuff not groomed seemed to have set up overnight, and was a bit firm until skier traffic got on it. And given that it was a typically busy Saturday at Sunshine -- lift lines that were occasionally those 5 minute consequential lines that came and went -- the traffic did scrub a lot of stuff up to make it generally really rideable through the day.


My friend Ginger took my advice of yesterday and hit Goat's Eye and the Scapegoat traverse first thing. It seems that the sun got on it yesterday, and the folks got on it, both after I was there. The end of the Scapegoat traverse -- which was OK when I was there -- was "really bad" in the morning, and a disaster when I got there at 3:45 PM.
Rocks everywhere
There was no way through this bit without hitting rocks. A lot of rocks (and I swapped out my rock skis last week). Not recommended.

Farther along that traverse into Cleavage, Ewe First and Goat's Head Soup, I thought it would get better. Nope. There was a substantial sun crust, and the joyous powder -- that I rode and wrote about yesterday -- was poached. Wet. Ruined.
Crusty, lumpy, wet spring snow after it had re-frozen
Yes, folks. The avalanche awareness dudes have been telling you about how the snow is changing, and sun affectation has been an issue with avalanches the last few days. And in here, the snow was critically affected by the sun. Choppy, frozen, lumpy, crusty, challenging -- you name it. Everything but the wondrous powder I rode yesterday. Break through that crust with your hand and you could make snowballs.
Looks like powder. Not powder. Crust on slop.
Thank goodness the rest of the hill was great. And by great, I mean awesome. As I tell folks, the best day you can have will be driven by the conditions of the day. The groomed stuff everywhere was wonderful. The ungroomed stuff in the shade during the afternoon heat of the sun (Standish face, Paris Basin and the like) remain pristinely soft, carveable, and wicked, because it's not getting warm. It never broke 0° in the village today. The sun has power again (at least this week). Power to change the snow where the sun hits it in the afternoon.

And so everything I rode that had PM shade, or was groomed within the last few days, or saw a lot of skier traffic, was just freaking beautiful. It was a cruising day, not a powder day.

Let us await the next snowfall.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Jan 17: Sun and new terrain

Note: Once again, is down, so as an interim, my skiing posts are here.

It was almost a bluebird sunny day up at Sunshine today, with the real upside being an utter lack of wind.
The village at noon
These two things are good. It has been far too windy the last two weeks, and while clouds with snow in them blocking the sunlight can be very good, that kind of wind can wreck havoc with snow conditions.

When I was last up on Monday, there was more fresh snow than I had ever skied. Well, it took a week, but it's mostly tracked out. Mostly. I'll tell you where it wasn't in a moment.

The wind certainly made Bye Bye Bowl a mess. Despite 90 cm last week, there's more exposed rock at the top and skier's left than there has been since it opened. It's also wind crusted and quite the challenge. Not recommended.

One of my favourite powder stashes, to skier's left of the terrain park, looks untracked and powderfull. But it's solid, unbreakable windslabs. Not recommended.

The rest of the hill? Wonderful cruising. Lots and lots and lots of awesome turns to be had -- and I personally think the snow is better on Goat's Eye than up on Divide. Divide seems to be firmer, likely due to the wind. Assiniboine Flats still has some untracked, but it's wind crusted and not that deep. The Laryx/Dirty Little Corner face still holds some, but it's boot top at best.

We absolutely lucked out today, as more terrain opened. We were at the top of Goat's Eye when they dropped the rope and opened Gold Afterburner (fantastic grooming) and also the access to the traverse to Gold Scapegoat and beyond.
The traverse access
Just before opening
So we were the first to get over to untracked deepness and glory, first in Cleavage...
Karen first
Then me
...the Ewe First trees...
Karen first
...and Goat's Head Soup.

And me
How deep is the snow back there?
A 60 cm pole test
A 37 cm pole test
Yes, the snow was really that deep. But it was also really supportive. So if you fell (and Karen did) getting up was a pain, because your butt sank down 50 cm and if you were silly enough to try to push off with your hands, they sank to ground. If you pole planted hard while skiing, the pole sank away to nothing.

But your skis barely sank in 5 cm standing still, and when you moved, you actually floated onto the the surface readily at the unweighted apex of the turn...

Me, unweighted, almost out of the snow
...then sank only to your boot tops at the peak of pressure. I think the wind consolidated all that waist deep powder of last Monday.

The end of that traverse as it connects to Scapgoat is a bit rocky so be very careful. the rest is fine. The crowd was small today, so I'm telling you point blank that's the place to start tomorrow, because there were still lots of first tracks available when we left. Just DO NOT CROSS THE AVI CONTROL ROPE AT THE WILDSIDE. It's marked closed. Pay attention to this and every other avalanche closure. Why?

Patrol bombed the Farside today, and it went to ground and created a 1.5 avalanche, plus numerous sympathetic ones in the Wildside. Best view of the mess is from the TeePee Town Chair.
Maybe you can see them if you blow this photo up
There are still a lot of hanging bits ready to go. Don't cross that rope or it could be the last rope you ever cross.

And on the theme of avalanche awareness, this weekend (in addition to kids 12 and under skiing free) is also avalanche awareness days, both at Sunshine and elsewhere. In fact, if you're a back country dude, I strongly suggesting heading to Burstall Pass parking lot on Sunday for avalanche awareness put on by Parks.

Avi conditions are horrid out there. There have many skier triggered avi incidents recently in slack country and back country areas. I could see many avalanches on Mt. Rundle & Cascade just driving to Sunshine today. Everything is just itching to fall.

For instance, there were also at least 4 natural avalanches today on Borgeau in the bowl above the Borgeau Left Hand ice climb, including ones that had debris come to the top of the icefall.
You probably can't see them, but they're there
It's never a good idea to cross ropes, but these days, you could die doing it. I would prefer you stay a reader of my prose than be an accident statistic.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Jan 11: A different day

Vert: 1,125 m in 3 runs

Yesterday, on January 10, the powder was awesome, the winds were manageable, and it puked snow all afternoon. That marked the beginning of a huge storm system. It continued to snow all night, and when we got up for work, 19 cm had fallen since yesterday according to the 5 AM report. By the time we left at 7:45, it was up to 24 cm. It was shaping up to be a huge powder day.

The drive in was a mess. We passed a minivan in the eastbound lanes being pulled out of the ditch. Just inside the Park gates, a pickup truck had rolled into the ditch not long before we passed. This was to affect traffic for most of the morning; we heard that by 9 AM, there was a 45 min wait to get by it.

That rollover caused the folks to arrive at Sunshine slower than expected, and so we had a fairly slow and steady morning doing our SnowHost thing at the base area. But the snow was continuing unabated; 10+ cm in the parking lot, steady snowfall, and inauspiciously, a fairly strong wind at the Borgeau Base.

On the ride up at 11, it was clearly getting windier. Coming out of lunch at 11:45, it was still dumping, with poor viz and very strong swirly winds. Lifts were being affected.
Looking up into the void. 11:45
From the Strawberry lift line, 12:15
The ride up Strawberry was stop and start due to the winds that were getting even stronger, which, by this time, were averaging over 40 km/hr and gusting to over 70 km/hr. The snow blasting straight into your face on the lift while you were stopped wasn't fun. We tried dropping onto the Boutry Face, where yesterday, we found deep soft powder. Today, the blasting wind had cause the powder to set up more, and it was firmer, and grabby. Down in the trees, it was better, and deeper.
That's 35 cm -- in a place where I tested just under 20 cm yesterday
We didn't like the wind and lack of viz. We wanted to get out of it, and generally, I head to Goat's Eye to do that. So we headed to Wawa in order to ski over. Wawa was just like Strawberry; busy, with lots of stop/starts due to wind. It was a long and cold ride up.

Still, the snow in the Tin Can Trees was really fantastic.
Deep, but not steep
...though getting in was a study in braille skiing.
KC comes in from the murk
We got over to Jackrabbit, and found to our surprise a huge lineup -- the kind you never, ever see at Sunshine. We guessed that the increasingly strong winds and poor viz had driven everyone on the hill down here to either ski home or hide in the trees. Being good SnowHosts, Karen and I decided to stay and help direct traffic. We ended up staying there for the next 3 hrs.

About 15 minutes after we got there, swarms of people started skiing down from the village. They told us that the upper lifts were shutting. From Jackrabbit, we could see Standish was stopped, as well as Goat's Eye. Then a snowmobile arrived and gave us a status update. Every lift other than Jackrabbit and Wolverine were shut, including the Gondola. That put several thousand people onto two lifts.

We started to have troubled guests. Guests who had kids up in the village at daycare, folks with bags in the village, hotel guests -- but no way to get to the village (other than walking, which some of them did). We had folks who wanted to ski down to the parking lot but didn't want to stand in the huge lineup (this is a common problem at Jackrabbit, because they don't know that the lineup is always faster than the 15 minute uphill walk). Green and Blue skiers who really wanted to ski the Black Diamond upper canyon (which even the instructors were not recommending to other instructors). Folks who wanted to go home but couldn't ski to the parking lot for one reason or another (injuries, poor skiing ability, etc). We had folks in the adaptive program stuck and in need of help.

By this time, there were now 5 SnowHosts (of the 9 on duty) at Jackrabbit base, directing traffic and trying to help folks. We triaged them as best we could, and then the Mountain Operations Manager came by and told us they were going to set up snowmobile shuttles between Goat's Eye, Jackrabbit and the Village to re-unite families, help folks, and try to manage the situation. But the bad news is we had to actively discourage giving sled rides to the parking lot due to skier traffic on the ski out, and the hope the winds would die which would allow the Gondola to start running.

And so we stayed and helped. Most guests were OK, knowing we couldn't control the weather. The lineups generally didn't bother them. They were happy we were trying to shuttle folks, and the kids loved the sled rides. For over an hour, there were always about 1,000 people at Jackrabbit base.

By 3 PM, I had to head to Goat's Eye to do my assigned "end of day" duty. I got there and found fairly organized mayhem, as word had gone out that parents could pick up kids in ski school from there, so most every instructor and their class was milling about. Again, I helped triage and organize guests for sled rides up the mountain, and one or two heading down, and I answered about 100 questions. 

The peak wind gust I saw on the automated data was north of 80 km/hr at around 2 PM. By 3:30 PM, the winds had abated enough that the Gondola started running, albeit slowly with a lot of stops. The sled shuttle ended, we were able to load guests up and down, and things started returning to normal, though the ski out was busier than usual.

It was a very, very different day than I'm used to (3 runs?), but in the end, I was enormously proud of how every department on the hill stepped up to the challenge. Ski instructors found places for their classes to play and learn (the Black Diamond runners spent the day hiking and getting fresh lines; were they ever a bunch of happy campers). Lift operations, Ski Patrol, and Gondola operations staff ran every available skidoo getting folks and their "stuff" reunited. Yes, there were some irate guests, and we sent them to Guest Services, who did what they could to manage their frustration.

But generally, the guests all took it in stride. The ones who got there early in the morning universally reported awesome powder and spectacular first tracks. Doing my "good bye" duties at the end of the day, everyone still reported having an excellent day. For although lifts were shut, and folks were separated from their stuff, the snow was still deep, and the riding was really amazing, especially in the trees.

Jan 10: Some sun, and a whole lotta powder

Note: I normally post my ski condition reports of Sunshine Village up on However, on Friday, Jan 10, the site was apparently hacked and temporarily disabled by the ISP. I do not own that blog, and am just a contributor, so have no idea when the blog will be back up (though I note with interest that the blog owner is in Florida this week). In the meantime, I will be posting my condition reports here once again, as I used to do several years ago. I encourage you to keep an eye on as I will return to posting there when the site is restored. In the mean time...

Vert: 7,070 m or 23,196 ft in 16 runs.
YTD: 132,280 m, or 433,878 ft and 324 runs

The hill was reporting only 9 cm in 24 hrs and 4 cm of that overnight, in what is obviously the beginning of a big storm cycle. When we got to the hill, it was socked in up on the top of Divide but was occasionally sunny (between periods of fog) on Goat's Eye. As usual, not a lot of folks were on Goat's Eye. After a warm up run on that 4 cm sitting on some groomed stuff, and another of the full 9 cm...
Top of Wildfire, 11:15 AM
...we noticed the access gate to some of our favourite tree spaces had opened. The gate is on skier's left near the bottom of Gold Freefall, and leads to the trees under the Goat's Eye Chair, and if you're willing to mush on a bit, trees all the way to Gold Scapegoat and beyond (though by Gold Scapegoat, the ratio of traverse to run starts to get a little poorly weighted to me). Over in these trees, which have basically not been skied this season, it was easy to find a lot more than 9 cm.
That's about 19 cm, not 9.
We had a great run in knee deep powder in these trees (up to your waist blasting through drifts), then started traversing to explore even further. The powder just got deeper, and then the sun came out, and gave us this:
Yours truly, lower Gold Scapegoat, 11:30 AM
More of it
Karen attacking the trees
It was just really awesome skiing.

Then the clouds hit Goat's Eye, and within a half hour, it was snowing pretty heavily, and skiing was in a blizzard.
Me in the snow on Rolling Thunder, 11:55 AM
We headed to the upper mountain for lunch in a raging snowstorm...
The view from the Gondola, 12:50
...and after lunch debated staying or leaving, as the winds had picked up to ~20 km/hr (it was almost calm in the AM), the snow was just driving, and the viz was terrible. But we decided to stick it out, but stay on the low lifts, avoiding going up high on the upper mountain. We rode up Strawberry, noting an utter lack of people on Divide (probably because you could barely see Divide base in the fog). We dropped off the top of Strawberry onto the Boutry face (one of our favourite, under-skied, powder traps that loads heavily when its windy) and sank up to our waists in untracked powder on our first turns. Just freaking righteous. The whole face was like that, under skied and over the knees no matter where you went.

So we also had to give the Upper Standish Face a try, and found it slightly more tracked (it's easier to see and access) but equally knee deep. We also played in the Bunkers in boot top to knee deep untracked stuff. Down near Prune Picker's Pass, in the trees, I got another 20 cm pole test.
That 'ain't no 9 cm.
The snow just dumped all afternoon. I checked when we got home and another 8 cm had fallen after noon.

It was an amazing day, snow wise and ski wise, highlighted by the short lived but beautiful AM sun.

Friday, 10 January 2014

You can die in Africa

There's a lot of things that we take for granted in our day to day lives. One is that the risk of getting really, really sick and dying from where and how we live is small. Africa is not like this.

They have a lot of diseases in Africa that kill a lot of people. For many, there are vaccines, but you and I don't need them because the incidences of, say, yellow fever, is virtually zero where I live.

For our upcoming trip, we need a bunch of vaccines and prophalaxes, and of course, since most are not needed here, they're not covered by Canadian health insurance. However, many doctors and the Provincial Health Clinics themselves have travel clinics and specialists that you can pay to access. This is good, because we need info on how to manage the risks of:

  • Malaria
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Diphtheria, Polio & Tetanus (DPT vaccines are actually given here, and we got a booster last fall since we're at risk for tetanus in our volunteer work).
  • Typhoid fever
  • Meningitis
  • Yellow Fever
  • Cholera
  • Rabies
Malaria in particular is pretty rampant where we're going. So bad that at least 2 of the common treatments are now basically ineffective, as the malarial strains have gotten used to them and adapted.

Africa is also AIDS Central. In Zimbabwe, about 15% of people, or 1.2 MM, are infected. In South Africa, it's 17%, or 5.6 MM people. Namibia is 13%. Botswana is 23%. Canada, by the way, is 0.3%, with ~73,000 cases. Pretty sure avoiding this won't be an issue, though.

On top of this, there's other bugs and small nasties that can kill you, or at the very least, make you really sick. Tsetse flies (sleeping sickness). Putzi flies (Myiasis). Sandfleas.

But my personal favourite is bilharzia (also known as Schistosomiasis, which I guess is why people call it bilharzia). This nasty little parasite comes from the faeces of infected people getting into the water. There, it infects a snail. The snail then generates 100,000 parasite larvae per day for the rest of its life. These snails and the larvae can move around in the water, but can also be blown around by wind, so essentially no water is safe. Go swimming in slow moving water and you're at risk. The larvae are absorbed through your skin, make it to your liver, and do nothing but propagate more larvae for the rest of their lives. The new larvae that stay inside you grow up and lodge in your intestines, bowels and other fun places, making you sick as a dog and always tired. It takes ~6 weeks of this to get to the point where you can test for it and treat it.

On the bright side, shallow slow moving water is where you're likely to meet a crocodiles, and deeper slow moving water is where you find hippos, both of which are really good at killing you much faster than bilharzia.

So we're off to the travel clinic next week to find out what we need to do. We leave in 3½ months, and some of these vaccines need time to become effective.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Africa: The Adventure Begins

Visiting South Africa has been on my list of "things to do" for years. A number of things delayed it; the security situation, and the fact that it's a long, long way from my house would be high on the list. After we retired, we decided the time had come to go and do it. And I'm going to take you, my loyal blog readers, on the ride with us.

Problem number 1 was that neither Karen nor I know much about South Africa, so our first step -- over a year ago -- was to buy a guidebook. That we never managed to read. So much for that concept.

We knew planning this little junket would take a while, so in the fall of 2013, we committed to ourselves to go in May 2014. We were in the AMA office renewing car registrations in September, and picked up everything they had on African travel (which wasn't much). We went to Maui taking with us our unread guidebook and the AMA stuff with the intent to make headway on planning. Then my daughter announced plans to be in Australia for 3 months starting in May, and we dithered, considering joining her in Oz instead of Africa. No Africa planning.

Finally, in November, we started reading and researching. We lucked out that one of the AMA pamphlets we picked up was for G Adventures, and they had a safari tour idea I never thought of. A "road trip" in an African-equipped mini-bus, visiting a bunch of places I have heard about, read about, and been interested in: The Namib desert. The Etosha Pans. The Okavango Delta. Victoria Falls. I was intrigued. If they went there, maybe others did.

A bunch of internet searching showed that a number of safari tour operators did similar things on a similar route. Most were camping safaris, like G Adventures. Some, though, were "accommodated" or partially accommodated, staying at places that had campsites but also regular hotel rooms, so that safari participants had the choice of how they wanted to sleep. We thought long and hard about camping for 20+ straight days, and the need to lug a sleeping bag halfway around the world. We landed on accommodated.

So real Step #1 was to punch the details of a bunch of tour options into some spreadsheets. These sheets were loaded with our constraints -- leave no earlier than April 27, get home no later than June 2. One operator even listed off where they stay, including website addresses. I could actually trace the route. Most started from Cape Town and headed north, though a few started from Johannesburg. We liked the starts in Cape Town for a bunch of reasons.

We quickly learned that once you got to Victoria Falls on most of these trips, you had a problem. You could stop and fly somewhere. You could continue either north into Eastern Africa, which we didn't want to do. Or you could drive 3 days across Zimbabwe, 8 hrs a day, down towards Krueger National Park in South Africa to spend even more time wildlife watching. Zimbabwe was not a place most safari operators want to spend much time.

So we landed on a popular 21 day safari route that started in Cape Town and ended in Victoria Falls. Our pick of the several companies that ply that route (including Drifters, G Adventures, Sunway, African Budget, and others)  is an African tour operator called African Overland Safaris, on a tour run by Nomad Adventures. The safari dates of May 7 to 26 worked for us. We sent off a request for more info.

So then we started looking for flights, on points. I wrote a whole post about that just after Christmas, so I won't rehash. In the end, while we could have used every point we had (and then some) to fly on Delta via Atlanta in Business Class the whole way, we opted to go on Air Canada and its partners for 300,000 points; 75,000 pts per person each way. But this was hugely complicated.

I couldn't transfer my points into Aeroplan from American Express for 4 days because their systems were down. I couldn't convince Aeroplan's booking tool that I really could fly into Cape Town and out of Johannesburg; I had to book it as two one-ways. Aeroplans rules and fares changed on January 1, and I was trying to set flights up on December 31. I couldn't get one of the flights ticketed after I booked it because of a sched change that occurred basically the moment I booked it. Trying to fix that, the Aeroplan lady suggested flight schedules and connections I couldn't see. It was painful. But it got done. And my free tickets came with $2,000 in taxes and fees. Still, that was a saving of over $12,000 over buying those tickets, so I shouldn't complain.

With flights arranged, we started the process of booking the safari. Turns out you can't pay a company in South Africa (or Namibia, Botswana. Zambia or Zimbabwe) a single dime using a Visa or MasterCard without telling the credit card company first. That cleared up, even if you pay them, a booking isn't complete without you providing the tour operator with your medical insurance details that prove that you have extensive travel insurance. Run into trouble in the Namib desert and you need to be airlifted, and they won't even talk to you if you don't have that coverage.

And then there's passports. Your passport needs 2 blank opposing pages for every country you visit or they will just not let you in. In our case, we go in and out of South Africa twice, so we need 4 pages for them. And the passport can't expire for at least 6 months after the time you plan to exit. Karen needs a new passport, it seems.

So we have flights to get there, flights home, and a safari in the middle. Now all we need is the rest of the trip.

Stay tuned as we keep you updated. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Sunshine attracts the nicest people

As most of you know, I'm a SnowHost at Sunshine Village ski resort, and write about all my ski days on another blog, That blog reports on snow conditions, and while this is about something that happened at Sunshine, it has nothing to do with snow conditions.

As a SnowHost, one of the things we do is greet people. Sometimes, people aren't the happiest in the morning. Their drive hasn't been good, the kids are unhappy, they had to get up early. Start your day badly and my observation is that it can go on like that too far. So a cheery greeting, an offer of help, an interaction with a kid -- these things go a long way to making people's day better, and it can turn around a bad morning. For decades, I've just generally interacted with people in the parking lot, and occasionally start conversations with folks parked around me about current conditions, lousy drivers, or anything else.

Karen and I got to the parking lot on New Year's day, and were parked next to a red car with two young ladies in it. We're packed in like sardines, so I made sure that we could each open our car doors and get boots on and I wasn't in their way. This led to a conversation about conditions, about New Year's Eve and their hangovers, about their drive in, about having a great day, and we just chatted while getting ready. Nice young ladies. By the time we walked away they were seriously pumped about their day.

At the end of the day, I got back to my car. The red car was gone, and this was under my windshield wiper.
Now, I'm an old fart, readily double their ages. Notes like that -- heck, nice things being said about me by nice and beautiful women in general -- never happened when I was in my 20's. Karen says they left the note because I'm "charming". Probably the fact that I'm "harmless" also had something to do with it, since I'm clearly not cuter than I was when I was 20.