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.

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