Exactly three weeks after starting this blog, today marks the spot when the magical (in my mind at least) number of one hundred views in one day was reached (I remember how happy I was when I reached twenty!).
Thanks for visiting, please come back…I’ll update the site as often as I can.
For a change of pace, and as we all wait for more snow, here are some photos of the Lake Louise Ski Area taken in July of 2007. It was a beautiful day as we hiked up to the top of Summit, then over to Boomerang and out via the Temple road. While I prefer winter, it was a beautiful day, and it was easy to get a sense of how much snow and wind it actually takes to get much of the alpine terrain open. As mentioned in the previous post on snow farming, we depend on the wind to help get the snow where it’s needed. Since most of the wind at Lake Louise comes from the southwest, the result is less snow on the front or wind-facing side of the mountain, and more on the back. Looking in summer at the terrain we all ski in winter, there’s little question that the wind is most certainly our friend!
This first photo shows a part of Richardson’s Ridge called Speed Run, which is actually outside the ski area boundary. You can still see two craters from the previous winter’s avalanche control, made by explosive projectiles fired from an avalauncher gun, located on the flats just outside the bottom left corner of the frame. Why does avalanche control occur outside the ski area boundary? You’ll see that happen in a few places where avalanches in terrain outside the boundary could affect in-bounds areas, and in this case, there is a cat track that runs fairly close to the run-out zone of the Speed Run slide path. This cat track is easily visible from Paradise Chair in the winter.
The photo below is taken from the top of Summit, looking toward the east end of North Cornice, and the small lake that lies hidden beneath snow and ice during winter.
Taken from the top of the Top of the World lift, this photo shows Whitehorn I. While it isn’t obvious from the photo, Whitehorn I takes a lot of wind and snow to fill in what is otherwise a very rocky place.
Here’s a shot looking right down the entrance to ‘I’ Gully of Whitehorn II. It’s actually a part of Whitehorn III, but because it opens and closes along with WH II’s ‘H’ Gully, it gets lumped in with all of the WH II gullies. Make sense? The prominent outcrop in the background of the shot is called The Prow.
This is a shot taken from Boomerang, looking toward ER 6 and ER 7. The top of Paradise Chair is just visible at the top. ER stands for Eagle Ridge, which begins in the east at East Bowl (ER 1), and ends at ER 7, which is where the ridge joins Mt. Whitehorn.
This next shot is taken from Shoulder Roll, which is large natural wave feature lower down on Boomerang. Shown are the gullies of Whitehorn II, with the upper portion of Rodney’s Ridge leading away to the left. ‘C’ gully is the left-most gully that still has snow in it, and is the one that goes straight down from the top of the Summit Platter.
And, last but not least, here’s a shot from the valley bottom looking back up toward, from l-r, Whitehorn III, Boomerang, Brownshirt, and North Cornice, with OOB peak in shadow sticking up behind on the right. OOB stands for ‘Out of Bounds’. Boomerang is made of a surface of smooth, loose shale, with very few protruding rocks. Combined with near-constant wind loading of snow, this results in great skiing conditions before other alpine areas are even open.
Is beautiful as it is in summer, I still prefer it covered in snow!
Got a sneak preview of things to come today during a trip to the still-closed upper mountain at Lake Louise. While there hasn’t been enough snow to consider opening any of the Lake’s expansive alpine terrain, the MG’s (Manual Groomers- Lake Louise’s Trail Crew) have been hard at work since September setting up km’s of fence in order to trap blowing snow and begin building the runs. The practice of using fence to control blowing snow is not a new idea, and if you look closely you’ll see it in use along windy stretches of highway to help keep the roads clear in winter.
Lake Louise, as in the rest of the Canadian Rockies, has a continental snowpack, which means the area receives less snow than places like BC’s coastal and interior mountain ranges. Especially in periods of low snowfall, a ski area can use all the help it can get in order to get snow to accumulate in all the right places. Luckily, Lake Louise receives a fair amount of wind, and when it blows strongly enough to transport snow, the strategic placement of snow fence can dramatically increase the amount of snow accumulation.
Snow fence comes in a few different forms, but the type commonly found in use at ski areas is a lightweight yet strong and flexible vinyl/plastic combo that makes for easy deployment and portability. It stands about 4 feet tall and comes in varying lengths, and has holes over its entire surface, usually in a 50:50 hole-to-non-hole ratio. The faster the wind blows, the more snow it can carry (provided there is snow to be carried, called fetch), and the idea of the fence is not to block the wind, but to slow it down enough so that it drops its load of snow in a designated spot. The photo below shows a drift forming on the leeward side of a length of snow fence:
In the background of the photo is a larger wooden snow fence, permanently built into the ground. Standing up to ten feet tall, these fences have the ability to form much larger drifts than their plastic cousins, but must be built so that they do not block ski runs or other rights of way. Plastic fence can be deployed all over a run, since once the run is ready to be opened the fence can be removed. At the same time, any fence is only useful if it is placed in areas that receive wind, and must be placed perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. The wooden fence also uses the same proportion of holes to non-holes, and with careful attention to height and length, the drift can be formed close to or farther from the fence, depending on the specific needs. The next photo shows a run (Home Run) covered in snow fence:
Between each of the rows of fence in the photo above, you can see that the drifts have been packed down by people side-stepping on skis. This packs down the accumulated snow and allows more snow to accumulate in the same place, and there are a few reasons for doing this. Deploying and moving fence takes time, so the longer they can be kept in the same spot, the more effective they can be. A fence can only build a drift so high, and once that effective height is reached, one must either pack down the snow, or remove the fence. The other reason is that due to the fragile alpine environment, snow cats cannot begin to work the run until a certain minimum amount of snow is in place, and the more it gets packed down, the faster the cats can get in there to work it.
In the next photo, taken from the top of the Summit Platter looking toward Paradise Chair, there are two long rows of plastic fence on the left, and one long wooden fence on the right. The wooden fence has a space underneath, and this results in the drift being formed farther away than the plastic fences, which go right to the ground and have the drifts grow right around them. This area is almost ready for the cats to do their stuff:
There is an amazing effort that goes into building many of the alpine runs at Lake Louise, and I am continually amazed every time I venture onto the upper mountain early season at how much fence there is and how much ground it covers. I skied at the Lake before their MG program was as extensive as it is now, and there’s no question that their efforts pay off!
Finally, to change the topic slightly, here’s a shot of Boomerang taken from the top of Summit, looking as ready as it ever could to be skied:
For those interested, there’s currently a great interview with new Lake Louise part-owner/controlling partner Charlie Locke on Biglines.com, where he talks more about his passion for Lake Louise, and how he envisions its return to glory, and includes the following quote:
“My first two priorities are to intensify customer service and begin again to deliver the product that our customers want: Which is better grooming, less hassle, more skier/boarder friendly and to re-establish our park as one of the pre-eminent parks in Canada which will include a number of moderate sized jumps.” He also added later that, “where I am, I don’t have to squeeze the last dollar out of it. I just have to be sure that at the end of the day we have something that we built and can be proud of.”
It’s a good read, especially for those who long for the glory days of the Lake. The entire interview can be found at:
Back at the Lake for my second day of skiing this year, and things have changed quite a bit since opening day. Most notably, the warm temperatures that had softened the opening day snow nicely have cooled enough to refreeze it, and combined with the steady traffic over the long weekend has resulted in many icy spots, and has made evading other people at high speeds a bit of a nerve-rattling affair. There were also more people here today than Saturday, and by the end of the day ol’ Wiwaxy was looking more beaten than a rented mule.
As usual at this time of year, snowboarders outnumber skiers by at least 5 to 1, and probably more. As the destination crowd begins to arrive closer to Christmas, things will even out, and then skiers will become the majority, although not by much. For now, with so many boarders crammed onto one run, it helps to have eyes in the back and sides of one’s head since so many of them seem intent on jibbing, hitting, grinding, etc, anything they can get their boards on, and come flying from all directions. I’m a skier, in case you haven’t noticed, but have nothing against boarders, and observe their antics with a sense of detached amusement as I make my way quickly down the run, all the while hoping I survive to make another lap. Of course everyone hopes more terrain and runs will become available, not only for the obvious reasons of variety and greater challenge, but it also has the wonderful effect of spreading people out over the mountain, and we can resume being in complete control of our own mortality, however temporary that may be.
I’ll likely be back tomorrow (kids back in school=less crowded slope), but I may defer the decision until morning since we may get some snow over the next 24 hours or so, which may breathe some more life into Wiwaxy.
See you on the slope!
Winter’s finally here, and what better way to herald the start of a new ski season than by taking your life into your hands on the Wiwaxy 500 on opening day at the Lake!
Right on schedule, Glacier Express was the one lift open, and Wiwaxy was the one run open, and I’m happy to say that the crowds weren’t too bad. In fact, rarely was the lift line more than a few people long, and other than the usual crowd of over-excited yahoos, things remained pretty much in control. This was in stark contrast to last season, when opening day saw lift line waits of up to forty-five minutes for the same lift and run. Wiwaxy was actually in nice shape, and despite the fact that it was all man-made snow, the warm temperatures of the last few days had softened it to the point that there was little if any ice to be found.
It never fails – every year I am reminded of the muscles that had lain dormant over the summer, and even after a few laps on a green run, I still woke up this morning with, well, not exactly pain, but with the feeling that I had been skiing, and it felt great! It’s also funny that on a run you normally wouldn’t be caught dead on during the thick of winter, you can actually have a bit of fun. At the same time, if too much time passes before any serious terrain opens, that fun will slowly and surely turn to boredom as you pine for more of a challenge. Things are only getting started, so I’m nowhere near panic mode yet, and the forecast for Lake Louise (see link at left) is calling for varying amounts of snow through the week. Probably not enough to drastically change things, but you gotta start somewhere!
As mentioned in an earlier post, there has been a change in ownership at Lake Louise, which is now officially called “The Lake Louise Ski Area, Ltd” and is no longer a part of RCR (although it appears they’re maintaining an affiliation for the next little while). The following is taken from the official site of Lake Louise Ski Area, and can be found at: http://www.skilouise.com/news-and-info/media/news.aspx
“New Lake Louise Ski Area Owners Intensify Focus on Creating Magical and Memorable Rocky Mountain Experiences
|Managing Partner Charlie Locke Vows To Implement More Improvements.
LAKE LOUISE, Alberta — Snow is blowing, the papers are signed and the world-renowned Lake Louise Ski Area is officially under new ownership just days before the chairlifts start running for what promises to be one of the most exciting seasons in its history.
“For me this is not so much a business decision as a return to a fundamental passion,” said new managing partner and former owner Charlie Locke, who is unretiring from retirement to lead the Rocky Mountain resort. “My family and I are very excited about getting back to the mountains and reinvesting our energies to ensure Lake Louise continues to be Canada’s favourite ski resort.”
Mr. Locke has partnered with the former owner –Resorts of the Canadian Rockies chairman Murray Edwards — to form a new company to operate Lake Louise, which later this month will host the opening speed events of the 2008/09 World Cup season. The Lake Louise Ski Area will be operated independently of, but associated with, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies.
Mr. Locke said with additional resources now focused on Lake Louise, his new team will work to build on the tremendous visitor experience improvements implemented at the resort over the past several years.
Initiatives will include a focus on customer service, full dedication to superior snow making and high-quality grooming and enhanced après ski options.
“We understand that it’s about the whole experience and we’re committed to making sure skiers and snowboarders, kids, families, and young adults have the best time possible on the snow and after,” said Mr. Locke “In addition to reintroducing a quality terrain park with all varieties of features, we’re also looking at more dining options, events and entertainment.”
The ownership change will have no impact on 2008/09 season passes or other ski products. All multi-resort passes will have the same skiing and boarding privileges as before.
Mr. Locke originally invested in the resort in 1974, helping finance many of its initial lifts. He became full owner in 1981, and spent the next 20 years shaping it into the world-class destination it is today. Mr. Edwards purchased a 50% interest in the resort company from Locke in 2001 and the balance in 2003.
|Monday November 3, 2008″|
And there you have it – another season underway.
For those who haven’t travelled the Trans-Canada Highway between Banff and Lake Louise this summer, a lot of work has taken place, and those who travel this road for the first time since last winter will see some big changes.
The original project was for twinning of the highway for a 10km or so stretch from Lake Louise to Moraine Creek, and this section, according to reports in the local papers a month or so ago, was to be twinned, paved, and ready for two-way traffic in time for this winter. Further landscaping and completion of the wildlife over/underpasses would take place next spring. Prime Minister Stephen Harper also this summer announced a cash infusion that would allow twinning of the entire stretch between Castle Junction and Lake Louise, resulting in an uninterupted four lane highway from Calgary all the way to Lake Louise.
However, it recently became clear that the original stretch would not be completed as planned after we saw fewer and fewer signs of crews and equipment at the construction sites. Our thoughts were confirmed this week when a newspaper article reported that due to a spell of bad weather, paving could not be completed in time, and it was decided to pull out and return in the spring. So, that means we’re back to our original two-lane white knuckle drive for this winter.
October saw the installation of new Texas gates at the two ends of the Lake Louise overpass, completing the fencing for the first stage of construction. It apears as though the large animal overpass near Temple pull-out is almost done, but the one going in just west of Lake Louise will be done next summer. A number of various wildlife underpasses are already in place.
A big dump of snow is a great thing for ski areas, but not so great for roads. Once this project is done, at least getting there won’t be as terrifying!
I’ve just added some links ( to the right—> ) to the three main weather forecast websites I use to try and get a handle on what kind of weather we can expect in Lake Louise.
As mentioned, weather forecasting is a tricky business, and doubly so in the mountains. I’ve yet to find one single forecast that applies directly to Lake Louise. Instead, I use a combination of the three listed here to get as accurate as possible a picture of what’s to come.
Lake Louise sits in the Main Range of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and near the Continental Divide, which is also the dividing line between Banff and Yoho National Parks, as well as Alberta and British Columbia. We are in Banff National Park, but close to the western edge, and since most of our weather comes from the west and passes over Yoho National Park before reaching here, I find the Yoho weather forecast to be a better indication of what’s to come than the one for Banff. I’ll use both, but will give more weight to Yoho.
The forecast for Lake Louise from the Weather Network seems to be for the townsite in the valley bottom, so assuming the call for snow is accurate, one can expect snowfall amounts at the ski area to be greater than those on the forecast. I throw all three into the mix, weighted according to previous reliability, and voila – my very own Lake Louise skier’s weather forecast.
Finally, and to repeat, mountain weather forecasts (as many others) become notoriously less accurate the further ahead they try to predict, so I generally only go a day or two ahead. I’ve been disappointed too often in the past seeing a call for 25cm for a week away, only to have it change to partly cloudy by the time that day rolls around. Just today I saw a call for 15-20cm for next week changed to 5cm, and it’s still four or five days away. At the same time, we could experience one of those glorious moments when the snowfall amounts are underpredicted, and we get more than what was called for. There’s nothing better than waking up early one morning to find an unexpected foot of snow on your car !!
Well, it’s been pretty warm here in Lake Louise, and not only have the snow guns fallen silent, but there’s been no precipitation to speak of.
However, if you click on the Weather Network site to the right, they’re saying we can expect snow through next week, with Tuesday being the big day (5-10cm). Anyone who’s spent any time in the mountains knows that you can’t trust a forecast for more than a day or so in advance, but it’s still nice to see the little snow flakes on the forecast! 5-10cm isn’t much, but if we do get it, it’ll mean more than that higher up and on the backside, and this winter’s base can start to build.
Keep your fingers crossed…