Welcome to the Lake Louise Lowdown

The Lake Louise Lowdown provides a behind-the-scenes look at the operation of a large ski resort in the Rocky Mountains of Banff National Park, specifically from a Mountain Operations and Snow Safety point of view.

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37 Comments on “Welcome to the Lake Louise Lowdown”

  1. Trevor Brophy says:

    This is great stuff! Thanks for posting all this great info!

    -Trevor

    • Jean Beaudoin says:

      Was there last Friday….
      Wish I’d be there today …. skiing at Lake Louise…..

      Stranded in Bahrain!!!!!

      Cheers

  2. John@CdnRockies says:

    I’ve been a Louise fan (and 8 mountain pass holder) for a long time and must congratulate you on this site. Every article explores new territory that regular ski/boarders see but have litle knowledge of the underlying processes.

    It’s a delight to read your posts and I suspect access will grow quickly in the coming year. I have certainly passed on this URL to many of my friends.

    John

  3. Steve Cooper says:

    This is great stuff. Miles beyond the promotional fluff that passes for content on most ski hill blogs. The “behind the scenes” content is fantastic, and your love for the mountain really shines through. it’s giving me a new appreciation for the place too. Keep it up!

    Steve

  4. Daffy says:

    Chris

    It seems the mercury is going to rise a bit finally. With all the cold weather we’ve seen lots of delays in opening lifts. Can you post the resorts policies on this or shed some light on the procedure. It’s been driving me crazy to drive my 2 hours from Calgary to get there only to have the Glacier chair turning when the ski report says “all lifts open”.

    Great work
    Thanx
    Daffy

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Daffy,

      I’m not involved in the creation of the snow report, but I think it’s safe to assume that “all lifts open” means there are runs open from each lift. If delayed openings are weather related, the status could change at any time. In the past we’ve had to close the three alpine lifts (Top of the World, Summit, and Paradise) for part of the day due to extreme winds. While we had expected the wind to come in some shape or form, you never know exactly what will happen or when (or if) until it actually happens, and the same is true of cold. The thermometer may say -30C, which is a borderline open/close temperature, but any sort of wind or a little bit of sun can easily push it either way, making a day that’s somewhat bearable or one where we only open one lift.

      The decision to keep a lifts and terrain closed comes from both Lift Services and Snow Safety. The lift mechanics must be certain that the lift (each is different) can operate reliably in the cold temps. A lift stoppage of even a few minutes means a whole lot more at -30C than it does at -5C for someone sitting on the chair, and machinery doesn’t like cold temps. Snow Safety uses their remote weather stations to measure temperatures, along with wind speed and direction, to arrive at a wind chill value, which explains that on cold days with wind usually only the more sheltered lifts are open. Also, we have to consider how far people are from warmth in the event they get hurt or break their equipment, in Boomerang for example. A patroller would need to respond from the top of Summit, assess the injury, package in the toboggan, and get the patient all the way to Temple Patrol (by Larch Chair) on slow, sticky snow before having a chance to warm up. In -30C temps, that would likely be an unacceptable exposure to cold for both patient and patroller.

      If you’re looking for a good picture of current conditions at the lake, use the first link to get forecasted winds for that day, then use the second link to get the equivalent wind chill (both links are on LLL home page):

      1. http://www.snow-forecast.com/resorts/Lake-Louise/6day/top

      2. http://www.msc.ec.gc.ca/education/windchill/windchill_chart_e.cfm

      The wind speed is used to determine if a lift will run, and the wind chill to determine if it’s safe to have people outside. For example, a -24C day means the lifts would have little problem running, but throw in 40km winds and you have excessive windchill for people, so the lifts won’t open.

      I hope that helped.
      Chris

  5. Billy D says:

    Hi Chris,
    I must agree with previous posts. This info is extremely interesting & helpful. I only ski Lake Louise a couple days each year but the regulars or more experienced riders must appreciate your efforts. I was wondering if you could direct me to any sites or blogs discussing favorite runs or out of the way spots on the mountain. My friends and I aren’t spectacular skiiers but we are looking to increase our experiences. Exploring is fun but with only days of skiing a year I’d like some directions. Could you describe the area below Eagle Meadows? Trail maps seem to show fairly widely dispersed trees and skiable for a mid to high intermediate. I guess I’m looking for inside info that home skiiers may want to protect, like that special honey-hole fishing spot. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks again.

    Bill

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for the comment.

      The main open areas below Eagle Meadows, Comer’s and Paradise Pocket, are shown in photos in an earlier post about avalanche areas below tree line. Comer’s is right below the Eagle Meadows cat track at the top end of the long permanent wood fence. Paradise Pocket is further down and to skier’s right. It’s hard to find if you’ve bever been.

      No matter where you end up going down, you’ll probably wind up on Pine Cone Way, a green run that traverses that part of the mountain and takes you back to the base area. If you hit them right, Comer’s and Paradise Pocket can offer a few good turns, though they’re also kind of out of the way from Top of the World, Paradise, and Summit – the three lifts I’ll stick to when I’m up at the Lake on a day off. I can’t even say I’ve skied those areas other than for work purposes. If you like to explore the mountain, they’re worth a look, but I think the excitement will wear off quickly.

      As for info on the special fishing spots, I think you’d be better off asking someone (i.e. a patroller) when you’re actually there. Exploring is fun, and this might not be the best place to announce someone’s secret stash!

  6. Billy D says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks again for the great terrain shots and explanations. MY friends and I just got home from our annual trip. One friend and his wife skiied & rode 5 days at Sunshine, Norquay & the Lake. Without insulting the other hills (because obviously they also undoubtedly have similiar processes in place to ensure great skiing possibilities), my friend’s first comment was that “Lake Louise is the Mecca for skiing (and riding)”. This made our decision to stick to the Lake Louise for our two days. Although their was a decidely lack of snow (compared to previous years) we realize that conditions, in that respect, are not in the control of RCR or the people they emply. We noticed certain runs that were closed and even though I was personally ready to explore some new terrain, we respected the closed areas, confident that they were closed for a reason, even though at times we were unsure of the reasons. Despite some restrictions our group, which consisted of level 3 to 5+ skiiers and boarders had virtually limitless options of areas to have fun. I, myself experienced my first double black run through the glades off of Ptarmigan which was great. We also had a very memorable run at Swede’s off of Paradise. We saw numerous signs of your team of avalanche/terrain control at work and although they were at times above our understanding, for the eye looking for these things, they were evident and this blog gives geater understanding for those interested in the details. I have nothing but good things to say about our experiences this year and we all left with positive thoughts and I definitely reccomend Lake Louise to all those contemplating a trip. Koodoos to you and your crew and a shout out to Rocket whom we have met in the off-season and has been welcoming whenever we meet him on the hill. Greetings to him and his family from La Crete, AB. Thanks to everyone at the hill.
    Bill.

  7. Neil says:

    Hi Chris,

    Your weather, snow & mountain info are great.
    I have only been to louise a few times, and was wondering how much avalanche activity happens in west bowl?

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Neil,

      The amount of avalanche activity in West Bowl varies, and really depends on all the same things that affect other terrain. While “backcountry” is the official term used to describe this area since it lies outside the resort boundary, “sidecountry” is probably more accurate, since it gets more traffic than most other backcountry areas due to its ease of access. Skier compaction can significantly affect snow stability, so it’s good to think of it as somewhere between in-bounds terrain and true backcountry (though leaning a bit more towards the latter) – it doesn’t get avalanche control like in-bounds terrain, but gets more traffic, and therefore more skier compaction, than true backcountry areas.

      When looking at avalanche bulletins for information on avalanche activity and snow stability, the one produced by the Parks Service for the Lake Louise area is likely going to more accurately reflect conditions than the one produced by the resort, which applies to in-bounds terrain only.

      One thing that is a bad indicator of slope stability in West Bowl is other people going in there. I’m always amazed at how many people go into West Bowl when the avalanche hazard suggests staying out, usually without proper rescue gear. It’s not uncommon for skiers or riders to trigger avalanches. At the same time, a slope may need a precise trigger in order to avalanche, and while one person can ride the entore bowl without starting a slide, the next may hit the wrong spot and get the whole thing to go.

      I hope that helps. One of the best things you can do to prepare for a trip out-of-bounds is to get the right information, and luckily there’s an entire ski patrol at the Lake who are willing and able to help point you in the right direction to get the information you need.

      Chris

  8. Neil says:

    Thanks for the info Chris,

    I really hope that people take the time to read your article on “closed vs out of bounds.”

  9. Great blog, super informative and really well written. keep it up mang.

  10. simon spooner says:

    Hi Chris

    Just wanted to say, great job mate. Thie Blog site is superb, kept me safe and in the best spots during the winter season!! And now sittng in my armchair in not-so-sunny england. Is giving me plenty of smiles and reminding me of fantastic memories when i lived and worked at Lake Louise.

    All the best for the future, keep the amazing pictures coming , and facinating blog going.

    Kind Regards

    Simon

  11. Peter says:

    Off topic but I’m curious: is it true that March is usually the month of heaviest snowfall?

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Peter,

      I felt your question was relevant to what’s going on at the Lake these days, so I answered it in a new post.

      Chris

  12. Steve Medeiros says:

    Fantastic blog! My first season at Lake Louise was last year and I am looking to get more into the tougher terrain this season. I will for sure keep my eye on this blog throughout the season.

    May I ask what your relationship is to the resort?

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Thanks for the comment, Steve.

      If you click on “The Lowdown on the Lowdown” tab at the top of the page, you’ll see a bit about what I do at Lake Louise.

      Chris

      • Steve Medeiros says:

        Ah, didn’t know that was a link… I may have ridden in the gondola with you. I remember a very knowledgeable (and older) resort employee sharing information with another individual on the ride up.

        I can’t wait to see what is drummed up in the terrain park this season. :)

      • lakelouiselowdown says:

        Hey Steve,

        That may have been me in the gondola – how much “older” do you mean? We do have some big plans for the terrain park this year, and you can expect to see a post here in the near future outlining what you’ll find there this season – stay tuned!

        Cheers,
        Chris

  13. A Long-time LL Supporter says:

    Chris,
    You’re doing a fantastic job describing the amazing efforts of the mountain operations department, which produces the best product possible, but is there anything you can do about the marketing department? Why does LL management insist on insulting the intelligence of its customers when it claims 7 runs are open, and we all know that 6 out of the seven are really just one single route that changes names 6 times on the way down? (and the 7th “run” is really just the bunny hill in front of the day care?)

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi LL Supporter,

      Thanks for the comment (and the compliment!).

      Although it may seem as though the run count is a marketing effort to make it seem as though more terrain is open than is actually the case, that report originates in my office. I use a form that has a list of all named and numbered runs at Lake Louise as they appear on the trail map, and it is this form that is used all season long to indicate what is open and what isn’t. This is standard practice in the industry, and our goal is to pick a system of reporting that gets used consistently throughout the season, even if there’s only one way down from a particular lift earlier in the season.

      Hope that answered your question.

      Chris

  14. Nic says:

    Hello Chris,

    Is it possible to get an update on Home Run and any backside runs being built? Just hoping to get an inside scoop on when more lifts will be opening.

    Thanks,

    Nic

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Nic,

      Things are coming together on the upper mountain and on the backside, but there are still some thin spots preventing us from opening runs. Until it snows again, we’re relying mostly on man made snow to build runs. There has been some wind to help, but like last season, a few times it has come from the north, scouring the slopes that usually benefit from wind loading. We hope to open Home Run in the near future, with “Early Season Conditions”. Saddleback is also getting close, but the entry is still very bouldery. And, while some places look fat with snow, it’s still mostly the low-density stuff that fell a few weeks ago and doesn’t offer much in the way of support. The very cold weather that followed the snow storm reduced stability and support, so the main job of the avalanche control teams is disrupting the weak layers so they don’t come back to haunt us once more snow lands on top.

      Chris

  15. soon to arrive says:

    Are the back bowls open yet? If not, when do you think they’ll open?

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hello,

      At the moment, Boomerang and Saddleback are open, with Paradise Bowl likely to open this week. Boomerang is in great shape with lots of snow. Saddleback is still variable, and Paradsie is expected to be similar. Please remember that our upper mountain runs are still in early season condition, and have not received grooming. In other words, even though Saddleback is indicated asa green run on the trail map, it is currently blue, or even black. Buried hazards still exist.

      As for the rest of the back bowls, things are steadily improving, and if the snow keeps coming, we should see terrain opening on a regular basis.

      Hope that helps,
      Chris

  16. Graeme says:

    Awesome blog, really enjoy the insiders view of the mountain and what it takes to run it and keep it safe. This is good stuff!

  17. Russ says:

    Man, I’m missing my lowdown fix:(

  18. Rick says:

    Got to the Lake for the first time this season yesterday. It’s not that we haven’t been skiing, but it’s just not worked out at LL so far.

    The place is in great shape, and we skied areas that haven’t been this good for seasons. And the new terrain parks – outstanding!!!

    Let’s hope the last two months stay this good.

  19. Russ says:

    I’ve been skiing the Lake pretty steadily since the late 70’s. This weekend everyone’s talking about the coverage or the shape the mountain is in and how it’s been a long time since it has looked so good. In my memory, it has never been this great. Many thanks to TRAlL CREW, the AVY TEAM and, of course, MOTHER NATURE.

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Thanks Russ – I’ll pass along your thanks to the Trail Crew and Avalanche Control teams as well. Who would have thought back in December that we’d have the conditions we’re all enjoying now? Things are shaping up for a great spring!

      Chris

  20. Brad says:

    Hey Chris

    Was just wondering what happend to the 230 cm base in the back bowls???

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Brad,

      Not sure what you mean by that – are you talking about snow melting or something else?

      • Brad says:

        Hey Chris
        Thanks for replying.
        The lake Louise snow report for the back bowls was reporting 230cm.
        I was observing the accumulations each day all the way up to 230cm, then suddenly one day they were reporting 180cm and I’ve noticed that’s all over the place as well lately. Even on todays report it’s showing only 10cms more than the front.. hmmmm.. Chris I’ve skied the Lake all my life and I’m 51, a couple of yrs ago I had over 100 days there and we’ve ridden the lift together on a occasion and it sounds like your having a kick ass season (I’m injured ) so i’m just trying to make sense of it all??
        Thanks bud, I read your blog all the time, it’s a great addition to the LL website!!

      • lakelouiselowdown says:

        Hi Brad,

        Sorry for taking a bit to get back to you – I had to put on my detective’s hat to look into what it was you were talking about.

        Basically, the discrepancy resulted from a loss of communication with our remote weather station near Pika corner. When operating normally, the station sends out an automated e-mail containing a few values, depth of snow and depth of new snow among them. We briefly lost access to the depth of snow figures, but were still able to get depth of new snow (in previous 24 hours). During this time, each day’s new snow amount was added to the last available snow depth value we had to give an updated total. This sounds like it should provide an accurate number, but what this method does not do is take into account many other factors that affect the total depth of snow, such as wind transport, melting, and settlement.

        This period coincided with the first real warm weather we’d seen this winter, so when we re-established access to snow depth numbers, it had dropped quite a bit due to all the factors mentioned above, and especially melting. The big drop you saw in total snow depth from one day to the next was the correction that happened once we got back on line.

        Hope that answers your question.

        Chris

  21. Brad says:

    Hey Chris

    Thanx for your effort, that seems to be a rational explanation and answers the question. Enjoy and lay down some turns for me!!


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