With news that the change in ownership at Lake Louise would bring about an expansion of the terrain park and the addition of jumps that were absent last season, people are wondering what exactly the plan is. Hopefully this will add a little clarity.
Currently, a park is being built on Lower Wiwaxy. This park already has a few box and rail features, and will be added to daily, provided the temperatures remain cold enough to allow snowmaking. It will eventually take up all of Lower Wiwaxy, and will also include one or two small-to-medium jumps. The Heavy Metal Rail Jam, originally scheduled to take place last week, was postponed because warm temperatures prevented the snowmaking that was needed to install the features. The event is now going to take place on the weekend of Dec 13-14, and recent cold temps have allowed snowmaking to proceed at full tilt.
You can expect the park to be on Lower Wiwaxy for another four or five weeks, then once racing is done on the World Cup course and enough snowmaking occurs, it will be moved to its usual location under Glacier Express chair on Easy St. While the exact layout of the park is still a work in progress, we have some talented minds coming up with ideas that will re-introduce variety and flow to a park that will have five or six jumps and as many rail and box features that can be installed.
Like last season, users of the park are required to purchase a $5 park pass which is good for the whole season, wherever the park is located. The process is quick – go to Guest Services in Whiskyjack Lodge, sign a waiver, pay your $5, and you’ll receive your pass along with a $5 food voucher good in any of Lake Louise’s lodges. If you’re under 18, you’ll need a parent or guardian to sign your waiver (just like a season’s pass). When entering the park, you need to show both your park pass and your lift pass, which will be scanned on each entry. Like the lifts, you must show your passes each time you enter the park.
The Ultimate Steeps is the area on the Lake Louise trail maps that is also known by its avalanche control name, Whitehorn II. The photo below is another taken from a helicopter on May 10,2007, and the effects of the warm spring weather are made obvious by the prevalent snowballing that can be seen. Comprising seven gullies, Whitehorn II is a vast and steep area that used to be a permanent avalanche closure, and has only recently become a regular part of the yearly run inventory at Lake louise.
Up until about 15 years ago, all avalanche control at Lake Louise was performed by Parks Canada. I can remember my first few seasons skiing at Lake Louise, skiing along the valley bottom towards Paradise chair and seeing a park warden sitting on a snowmobile at the bottom of ER 5, waiting to write tickets for those entering the avalanche closure above. When avalanche control operations were handed to the ski area, it took a number of years for the control staff to learn all of the intricacies of the weather history and also of the terrain that had up to then been regularly open. While an in-depth knowledge of a slope’s snowpack is essential to forecast hazard, one must also be intimately familiar with the ground that lies underneath, since surface features such as trees and rocks play a large part in how the snowpack behaves on a slope. These features can also affect how the wind travels across a slope, and have a large influence on how wind-blown snow (fetch) distributes itself in any given area.
Once the avalanche control team had become familiar with the reguarly-open terrain, they began to set their sights on places that had never opened, and for which little historical information existed. The first year Whitehorn II opened was for the final two weeks of the season, when the relative lack of experience in that terrain was tempered by the settling effects of the warm spring temperatures. Then, with each passing year, and as familiarity increased, that terrain would open earlier and earlier each season, provided of course that conditions permitted. In a good year, when things like snowfall, temperature, and wind cooperate, Whitehorn II can be opened well before Christmas.
In the photo below, runs that appear on the Lake Louise trail map appear in black text. Other features of note appear in red or white. In the recent re-naming of much of the alpine terrain, each of the gullies in Whitehorn II received a new handle, and to avoid confusion, each gully’s name starts with the letter with which it was formerly identified (e.g. Adrenaline = ‘A’ Gully). While knowing which gully you’re in can sometimes be a little confusing, there are a few visual aids that can be helpful. For example, when looking up from below, Chimney (‘C’ Gully) is the first gully, going from left to right, that reaches the full height of the Summit Platter. Chimney is also the gully you’d be skiing if you unloaded the Platter and went straight over the back and down without traversing. Adrenaline and Big Horn are shorter, and start lower down.
To enjoy the full vertical of F, G, and H/I Gullies, cross the Boomerang traverse and enter through the gate at the high point at the end of the traverse, rather than the gate at the top of the lift. Most people enter through the lower traverse, meaning four or five turns in mostly-untracked snow await those who enter from above. As mentioned in an earlier post, you won’t find ‘I’ gully on the trail map since it is actually a part of Whitehorn III. However, in order to open H Gully, I Gully must also be controlled, and in good years is a skiable line. H and I Gullies always open and close together, since there is no practical way to divide the two with closure fences.
The cold temperatures have finally arrived. Is this good? Yes it is, because until we get more snow from the sky, the man-made stuff is all we have, and cold temperatures mean more snowmaking, which means we can open more runs.
While Lake Louise uses a few different types of snow guns, each with their own efficiencies and optimal operating conditions, -15C seems to be the sweet spot as far as overall maximum efficiency of the system goes. All snow guns use a mixture of air and water to produce snow, and the colder it gets, the wetter this mixture can be. Once you get to -15C, however, things start to freeze up, expecially the hundreds of little nozzles on the fan guns that are otherwise so productive.
With large whales (the piles of snow made by snow guns) popping up more and more, the push to open more terrain has gone right along with them. By this weekend, the Grizzly Gondola will open, serving upper Wapta and Lower Flight initially, then Deer Run and Pika soon after. Temple Lodge will be open once Pika is ready to go. Also part and parcel with Pika are areas further down the Corridor from Paradise chair, including Crow Bowl and East Bowl.
The new Ptarmigan chair is not complete, but with the grips for the chairs arriving tomorrow (Fri), assembly and installation of the chairs and the final load test are imminent. Until then, those skiers heading down Pika below the base of Paradise chair will be skiing around the mountain rather than over it to return to the main base area. Via the Ski Out you ask? Actually, in anticipation of the need for a good early-season ski route to the front side, we’ve had the Temple Road closed to vehivles since the first snow arrived, and it will serve as a temporary ski out until the real one is ready to go. Temple Rd runs parallel to the ski out, but is wider and has a better grade, and will work quite nicely for those using it.
Also today, we made use of the helicopter parked in front of the patrol building for World Cup to move our four avalauncher guns into their respective positions on the mountain. As soon as today’s race training was done for the day, a few of us flew with pilot Todd Cooper to see the locations, then we hopped out while Todd attached a 50m long-line to the underside of the helicopter and completed the mission, all in under 30 minutes. As I’ve mentioned previously, helicopters are also a great way to get a close up bird’s-eye-view of the resort, and there’s no way I was leaving my camera behind for an opportunity like this! Unfortunatley, the sun disappeared for the duration of the flight, and the photos were less than spectacular.
I did manage to capture the helicopter in good light during take-off earlier in the day as it participated in a rescue practice for the medical staff working the World Cup. Almost all injuries on the race course are removed by helicopter, so the team goes through the motions to ensure they’re ready for the big moment, which they always are. A few seasons ago, I was lucky (or crazy?) enough to be the “patient” for this scenario, and was wrapped up and slung below the helicopter along with Parks Canada Public Safety Warden Marc Ledwidge. I was allowed to video the event (as much as my strapped-in arm could manage), and that short video clip is posted below the photo:
Enjoy the weekend!
Once again the Lake Louise Ski Area is hosting World Cup ski racing, with the men’s Downhill and Super G this weekend, and the Women’s Downhill and Super G the next. These events are always an exciting and hectic time in the life of the resort, as athletes, coaches, trainers, race officials, media, volunteers, and fans come from all over the world to take part. Like getting the ski area ready for the season, there is a mammoth effort involved in making all the preparations necessary for a successful event, and most of it happens out of sight of most skiers and starts long before the first snowflake hits the ground.
The ability of Lake Louise to reliably hold these races early in the season, year after year, depends almost entirely on our massive snowmaking system, which makes us much less reliant on Mother Nature to provide the white stuff. It doesn’t hurt that ski racers like their courses to be boilerlplate ice, which is a result easier to obtain given that man-made snow is generally moister and denser than its natural cousin. Every year, our snowmaking system fires up on October 15th, and goes non-stop (provided that temperatures cooperate) until the course is complete and all equipment is removed prior to the start of race training.
What does it take to bring the World Cup to Lake Louise? To make a long story short, here are a bunch of facts and figures that shed a little light on how big an operation it really is:
- 4m-high “A” net – 4,000m
- 2m-high “B” net – 11,000m
- 2,600 pulleys
- 20,000m braid rope (to tension nets)
- 6,000m plastic snow fence
- 300 air-filled bladders (to pad hard objects outside but close to course)
- 30 F1-style air fence (large air bladders for larger objects)
- 6,000m of 1/2″ cable
- 6,000m of 3/8″ cable
The course set-up is supervised by Equipment Manager Doug Savage, who organizes everything from helicopters to porta-potties. Randy Pruden is the Chief of Safety, and along with his crew of ‘net monkeys’, oversees the installation of nets and other safety equipment, provides on-scene crash expertise, and supervises course preparation and repair during racing. Net installation begins at Thanksgiving, and after approximately 2600 race runs involving World Cup and NORAMs, tear down commences in January, and takes three weeks. At the height of course construction, there are up to 500 volunteers on site.
Snowmaking & Grooming
- 5000′ water hose (longest single set-up: 2300′)
- 12 snowmakers per 12-hour shift, working 24 hours a day until done.
- 16,000,000 gallons of water to make snow
- 20 snow guns running at once, with 53 possible placements
- 600-700 snow cat hours
And finally, below are some photos from various stages of course set-up:
More World Cup action to follow…
These shots were taken May 10, almost two weeks after Lake Louise closed for the 2006-07 season, which had been one of the best for snowfall in a long time. The week preceeding the flights had been very warm, which explains the wet look of the snow, as well as the “snowballing”. Also, because the winter had seen so much snow, many surface features normally evident were smothered, and the terrain looks a lot smoother here than it actually is. Nonetheless, I like the fact that you get a view that you otherwise wouldn’t, and it makes it easier to piece together all of the many and varied pieces of mountain that make up the ski area.
What had started as a blue-bird day had begun to cloud over by the time the helicopter arrived, and a number of shots ended up being slightly spoiled by cloud shadows, as seen in the second photo of the area around the base of the Summit Platter. I auto-bracketed each of the 300 shots I took (3 different exposures for each one), since I didn’t have the luxury of time to constantly fiddle with the settings.
This first labelled photo is of the area called “The Wall” on the trail maps. Runs marked in black text are as they appear on the Lake Louise trail map, and the red text represents each individual mountain face as it applies to avalanche control. Each face of a mountain is subject to its own weather and avalanche-related conditions, based on elevation, slope angle, exposure to wind, and aspect (which compass direction it faces=amount of sun exposure). The control names are based on the name of the mountain or ridge, and are numbered left-to-right looking up. “E.R.” stands for Eagle Ridge, and there are seven distinct faces, starting with East Bowl (E.R. 1) and ending with the gullies that make up E.R. 7. Some run names at Lake Louise still use their control names, and others do not.
With little fanfare, Boomerang opened early this morning, and after a brief rush of seven or eight keen skiers, only 20 or so came through in the next half hour. Perhaps it was the white-out visibility that kept skiers away at first, but nevertheless, everyone was treated to excellent conditions on the run, and as the light improved during the day, more and more people showed up. “Fantastic” said one. “Creamy” said another. “I’ve been waiting since May for this!” said a third, and so on. Also opened for the first time on Summit was Outer Limits, which was a great test for those early season legs (mine failed).
On Boomerang, Yves Drouin was first through the gate once it dropped, followed closely by Tom Fry and Will Larooi. Both long-time and enthusiastic Lake Louise locals, Yves and Tom were able to squeeze a few laps in even before others got there for their first run.
Later in the day, the avalanche control team was able to complete the set-up of the avalanche closures in Paradise Bowl, and it too was opened, much to the delight of a hooting and hollering crowd. Conditions there were also excellent, and despite a few rocks being discovered, all seemed to have a great time. I took as many photos as the generally poor light would allow, and once I have a chance to apply a little digital trickery to make them look better I’ll post them.
Stay tuned for more terrain openings, as the avalanche control team moves further down the Corridor and looks to open Bankhead (2/3 Shoulder) and Crow Bowl in the coming days.
For those lucky enough to be at Lake Louise today, conditions did not disappoint, as skiers and riders venturing onto the the upper mountain were greeted with great early-season conditions. Early season in Lake Louise usually means rocks, but for those not too worried about a few new dings in their bases, there were lots of powder turns to be had. While the Snow Safety weather station reported 4cm of new snow overnight, the wind was once again our friend as amounts were often greater, especially on the backside. The following photos were all taken today:
If you feel like you missed out today on some great conditions, fear not – tomorrow marks the day we open Boomerang for the first time, and in case you missed the photos in previous posts, here’s what it looked like today, which is also what it will look like right before we open it Saturday morning. With only a little work to complete before the gate drops, be there early to ensure some epic turns:
While Boomerang is in terrific shape, the approach through Windy Gap is still bare, and will require that skiers and boarders remove their planks and do a short walk to get across the flat rock patch. After that, it’s in great shape all the way to Paradise chair. Also opening Saturday morning will be Outer Limits, which is always a solid early-season performer. The long permanent snow fence has done its usual magic and created a nice wide drift to enjoy, as shown in the photo below, taken this afternoon:
The Mountain Operations team has been working at full tilt getting all of this new terrain ready, and while they may be tempted to pause and enjoy the fruits of their efforts, they’ll continue working to get even more terrain open. Look for Paradise Bowl and Crow Bowl, among others, to open in the next few days.
Reminder: the new Ptarmigan chair is still under construction, so for those going back side, Paradise chair represents the only means of returning to the front side of the mountain. All upper mountain terrain (as the patroller will tell you before loading Top of the World lift) is ‘experts only’, and there remain many marked and unmarked hazards. Tread lightly in places of less snow.
Enjoy the weekend !
Denizens of Wiwaxy – rejoice! The recent snowfall has answered our prayers, and we’re poised to open three more lifts by the time this weekend rolls around.
Our avalanche control, ski patrol and trail crew teams have been working hard to prepare the areas whose openings are iminent. There are miles of area boundary and avalanche area fence to set up, along with all the signs that are placed along them. The trail crew is removing and replacing snow fences that currently block runs. Snow cats are busy pushing snow around and packing what base already exists. And finally, our fearless snowmakers are blasting a few more areas lower down that still need another coat of the white paint.
At the moment, the plan is to open both Top of the World (TOW) and Paradise Chairs on Friday (Nov 21), and the Summit Platter on Saturday (Nov 22). From TOW, you can access Home Run on the front side, and Saddleback on the back side. The only avalanche closure accessible from Home Run is for Flight Chutes, which is east of Home Run. There is also no access to the Sunset Flats area, which is where the World Cup course is being set up.
Going backside, Saddleback leads to Adrenaline (Whitehorn II ‘A’ Gully), Hourglass, and Split Rock. Avalanche closures are in effect for the remainder of Whitehorn II, and for Kiddie’s Corner.
From the Summit Platter, frontside access is via Outer Limits back to the base of the lift, and backside access is via Boomerang, which is in fantastic shape. The photo below was taken this afternoon, and the only visible tracks are those left by two ski patrollers setting up the avalanche closure along the top of Whitehorn III (the tracked section at the bottom was done by snow cats, making for an easier time on the flats). Once the closure line for Brownshirt and points beyond is set up tomorrow, those patrollers’ tracks will be the only others. Our intention is to leave Boomerang in pristine condition, so the lucky skiers and riders who get there at the right time will have a nice long powder run without crossing or seeing other tracks.
A few notes of caution: IT IS STILL EARLY SEASON ! While we’ve received enough snow and have done enough avalanche control work to open the runs listed above, we still have a shallow snow pack, and you should be prepared by bringing rock skis and keeping aggressive skiing in check until you can be certain of the conditions. A face plant in powder can be amusing, but not when you land on a barely submerged rock!
Also, you must obey all avalanche closures as they exist. They are not open to interpretation or negotiation. For example, Boomerang is open, and Brownshirt is closed. While they are adjacent and look to have identical conditions, Brownshirt is closed because it leads into avalanche terrain that has not been sufficiently controlled. Once control work has been completed, it will open, but until then, please stay out.
Remember, we have a long ski season, and a measure of restraint will help ensure you stay healthy enough to enjoy every second of it. I’ll be out there, and I hope to see you, too!
As has been rumoured and now announced, Lake Louise this season will see the return of its terrain park. Park monkeys can rejoice in hitting the jumps that have been absent since a few winters ago, in addition to the usual assortment of rails and boxes. The following quote is taken froma news release on Lake Louise’s official site:
“One of the first things that new owner Charlie Locke wanted to implement when he took over majority interest in Lake Louise was the re-emergence of the Terrain Park,” confirms Lake Louise Marketing Director, John Ross. “Due to liability issues, it won’t be as extreme as it was in some previous years, but it will still be an excellent place to go have fun and practice your skills. Our goal is to have the Terrain Park back in action just as soon as possible.”
There you have it. Click the link below to see the entire article:
What a difference a week makes!
We’re starting to see a few more smiles on the faces of our avalanche control team and trail crew as they wander around the upper mountain of Lake Louise, thanks to our recent snowfalls. With over 20cm received last weekend, and more over the last few days, white has replaced brown as the dominant colour in the alpine, and with more snow in the forecast, we’re becoming optimistic that further terrain openings are not far off.
While the pervasive warm temperatures of late have put a damper on our snowmaking efforts, they have done a great job of settling our upper mountain snowpack, and so far this is a year where the snowpack is building right-side-up, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Up to now, our avalanche control efforts have produced a number of results, with many avalanches sliding on a hard crust that formed during a rain event on November 2nd. This crust was hard enough to support the weight of a jumping skier, and provided a good sliding surface for whatever snow lay on top. Now, the warmer temperatures have resulted in a few things. Due to heat from the ground and the air, the crust has become moist, and is breaking down to the point that it will no longer support the weight of a skier. It is also becoming less of a distinct layer as it joins those layers above and below it. Only in places where there has been significant wind loading did we get any big avalanches. In other words, it currently takes a lot of snow on top of this breaking-down crust to produce results, and even then only after explosive charges are placed on the slope. A good example of this today was in the Heart, which is a feature to the skier’s right of Paradise Bowl, and avalanched about as big as anyone could remember – all on a day that otherwise produced few noteworthy results.
Now, about that right-side-up snowpack. Ideally, as a skier you want your snowpack to have its densest, strongest snow on the bottom, and then get gradually lighter as you approach the surface. This makes for great skiing, as you have soft snow to ski in on top, with a firm base on the bottom to keep the snow in place on the slope and you off of whatever ground features may be lurking below. In the avalanche world, weak over strong is good, and strong over weak is bad.
A (very) quick lesson in snow and temperature: Basically, weak layers develop when the snowpack is of insufficient depth to deal with a significant difference in temperature between its surface and its base. In this part of the world, ground surface temperature remains within a degree of 0 degrees C all winter long as a result of residual heat built up over the summer. Snow needs about 10cm of depth to cope well for every degree of temperature difference between surface and base (referred to as temperature gradient). For example, if your snowpack is 100cm deep, the temperature at the surface can be -10C or warmer without the snowpack suffering any ill effects. If the snowpack is shallower or the temperature colder, the snow can no longer maintain a gradual change in snow crystal structure from top to bottom, and weak layers begin to develop. (Many volumes of snow science have been published over the years, so obviously this is about as brief a summary as you’ll find on what can be a very complicated subject!)
A typical start to the season in this area involves a little snow mixed with cold temperatures, and any weaknesses in the snowpack that develop during this time tend to linger ominously throughout the winter, unless of course they are taken care of by avalanche control or warm temperatures. You’ve probably heard the term hoar, and there are two kinds – depth hoar and surface hoar. One type of hoar crystal can be those big feathery crystals you sometimes see next to a stream on a very cold day, covering not only the snow surface, but branches, fences, and the like. They are very fragile, and collapse as soon as you try to pick them up or disturb them. As the names imply, surface hoar happens at the surface, and depth hoar below the surface of the snowpack. Depth hoar happens when the temperature gradient is steep (shallow snow and cold temps) and surface hoar happens on cold days when there is a nearby source of moisture (not really relevant to a ski hill scenario), or during a cold, clear night. Depth hoar is a concern since the overlying snow is not well-supported. Surface hoar is not a concern as long as it is the top layer, but once it gets buried by new snowfall, it becomes a weak and unsupportive layer, just like the depth hoar.
Phew – enough about avalanches for now. Besides avalanche control, we also had a long day today of flying snowmaking equipment into place for the upcoming World Cup races, and my next post will be all about that, complete with photos. See you then…