This helicopter photo from May 10, 2007 shows most of Eagle Ridge, with East Bowl (ER 1) off-picture to the left, and ER 7 and all but the very top of ER 6 off to the right. Like previous terrain photos, runs labelled in black are as they appear on the Lake Louise trail map, with patrol names shown in red. Fence lines are shown as orange dotted lines.
The Corridor runs from the top of Paradise Chair to the top of East Bowl and serves as the access to all runs in between. East Bowl (ER 1, not shown) is the bowl directly above the top of Ptarmigan Chair. Crow Bowl is a narrow bowl that usually has a prominent cornice at the top. If you’re standing at the top centre of Crow Bowl and turn around 180 degrees to look towards the base area, the pitch below you is Patroller Pitch, which acts as a quick way to get down to the top of the old Eagle chair and is not on the trail map.
Hidden between East Bowl and Crow Bowl is a little gem of an area that seems to be one of the last areas to get tracked after a snowfall. It isn’t that steep, but it can be a nice surprise when all other areas have been tracked out. The narrow entrance to this area is directly to the skier’s left of the top of East Bowl, and the run below can’t be seen until you’re actually on it. It can be entered from below on either side, but you miss the first bunch of turns. There are a few small clumps of trees, but they’re widely spaced on the smooth terrain to allow lots of choice of line.
I’ve always thought that Google Earth would be a great tool for seeing the terrain at Lake Louise in detail and at any angle or altitude. The only thing preventing that was the fact that the Lake Louise area showed up too blurry to be of any use. Until now…
A few years ago, there was a square of amazingly fine detail located just to the north of Lake Louise, around Mt. Hector and Hector Lake. You could zoom in close enough to see the colours of cars on the Icefields Parkway and the small waves on the surface of the lake. As detailed as this section was, it didn’t extend south far enough to include Lake Louise. Then, a year or two ago, this section grew two more times until it included Kicking Horse Pass, Lake O’Hara, and the Lake Louise area west of the Trans Canada highway. The ski area is tantalizingly just outside the box.
However, more recently a new area of detail was added, and you can now see all of the Larch area up close, including Elevator Shaft and Purple Bowl. The view from above really helps getting the lay of the land, even more so than aerial photos since you can adjust your perspective. A screen shot of one view of Larch is posted below, now all we have to do is wait for the rest of the ski area to be included…
A short post to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year !
Skiing conditions at Lake Louise are great, so come and take advantage and celebrate the departure of one of the coldest snaps we’ve ever had.
On another note, I’ve removed the photo of Mt. Redoubt and Skoki Slides from the previous post due to a couple of labelling errors, and will post a new version once I’ve had a chance to get a better photo.
In January of 2005, western Canada was hit by a huge storm that dumped precipitation everywhere from the west coast and over the Rockies into Alberta. This was a pineapple express – a term for a warm and wet system that originates around Hawaii. If you remember, virtually the entire ski industry in western Canada was shut down or severely limited because this storm produced rain, and lots of it. The only resorts to benefit from this storm, in the form of snow, were the four in Banff and Jasper National Parks due to their higher elevations. Lake Louise received close to 60cm in this one storm, and for three or so glorious days, skiers were treated to conditions that were about as epic as it gets. Then the temperatures warmed, and what had been a deep layer of soft snow was quickly turned to mush. It could have been worse – there were reports that large parts of Whistler/Blackcomb had been reduced to grass, and many other resorts had to close until it snowed again.
At Lake Louise, there was a sea of smiles as skiers enjoyed their good fortune. The avalanche control team suddenly had a very full plate of work to do, as not only did the sudden and significant snowfall produce an extreme avalanche hazard, but we had to go to places that normally weren’t a concern. One of these places was the Skoki Slides area of Mt. Redoubt, which lies to the immediate north of the ski area. The Skoki Slides are so named because in periods of high snowfall they have the potential to run across the normal ski access route to Skoki Lodge, another 9 or 10 km’s away. Skoki Lodge is operated by Lake Louise, and with a large number of guests scheduled to be making their way to the backcountry lodge that morning, it was crucial that avalanche control was performed to protect the route. Given the difficulty in accessing the terrain and the short period in which we had to do it, it was decided to call in a helicopter so that this work could be done safely and quickly.
A permit from Parks Canada is required every time a helicopter is used, no matter the reason, but because a helicopter is a tool that gets used every season for various purposes, a standing permit is applied for and issued at the start of each season. Then, when we actually book the machine, we just need to call the Parks service with dates, times, flight paths, and reasons for use, and the go-ahead comes quickly, especially in cases of public safety as it was here.
While we waited for the helicopter to arrive from Canmore, we assembled the explosives and produced a plan of attack. Upon arrival, we had a quick chat with the pilot, and off we went. The avalanche forecaster sat up front with the pilot in order to guide him to the areas we needed to go. The patroller who would throw the explosives sat next to the rear door, which was wide open. Another one sat next to him, and his job was to ignite and pass the bombs to the thrower. My job, of course, was to document the whole thing (although I didn’t realise until after that the camera I was using at the time was set to black & white).
The short (0:52) video below shows some of the action, and if you look closely, you’ll see that each bomb is actually two taped together. We wanted to make sure that if a slope was going to avalanche, we would help it do just that as much as possible. Two bombs packs twice the punch of one, and our access to this terrain with the helicopter was limited, so we wanted to ensure that either we got the slopes to avalanche, or that we were satisfied with the stability of the snow.
The fuses on each shot are 2.5 minutes, and since we moved along the slope and placed the explosives so quickly, we usually had time to turn around and hover in our front row seats to await the explosions and see what results we got, if any. The whole operation took less than 20 minutes, and when you consider that it would have exposed the workers to danger and taken the whole day to do the same thing without the helicopter, the advantages are clear.
The World Cup and NORAM racers and crews have packed up and left, and now that the course has been cleared, snowmaking has begun in earnest for the soon-to-be permanent home of Lake Louise’s terrain park on Easy St. And, as scary as the recent cold temperatures have been, they have allowed snowmaking in the park to progress quickly, and large whales (mounds of new man-made snow) are popping up overnight.
An incredible amount of snow is required to build a park, and now that jumps are being re-introduced, the amount required has shot up even more. It’s fortunate that we have snowmaking equipment that is able to perform well in these frigid temperatures, and no time is wasted making as much as we can as quickly as possible.
The observant skier will have noticed that Lake Louise employs a few different types of snow guns, from the squat and noisy air/water guns to the large and quieter fan guns. Each gun has its own optimal operating environment, and these cold temperatures are perfect for some guns, less so for others. All guns use a mixture of air and water, and while all water is supplied to guns via in-ground pipes and above-ground hoses, the air is supplied differently depending on the gun – fan guns use their fans to propel ambient air through the gun, and all other guns use air supplied just as the water is, through pipes and hoses.
Air serves two purposes in the making of snow – it atomizes the water into tiny droplets that freeze into flakes, and propels the droplets into the air so that they have more time to freeze before they hit the ground. Fan guns are an exception to this, as they only use air to propel the droplets – the atomization of the water occurs as the water exits the many tiny nozzles that ring the output end of the gun. Fan guns require electricity to turn the fans, so you’ll always see an electrical cable alongside the hose supplying the water. All other guns use pressure in the air and water systems and therefore do not need power, and these guns always have two hoses running between them and the pairs of hydrants supplying them. The photos below show a fan gun and an air/water gun at work in the terrain park:
One of the great things about using high-pressure air/water guns is that it is theoretically possible to make snow when the temperature is above freezing, though in practice it can be difficult to get good quality snow, so you won’t see this happen often. This is a result of the complicated relationship between temperature and humidity, with humid conditions making it more difficult to produce snow at warmer temperatures.
Additional cooling can be provided by the energy released when the compressed air returns to ambient pressure. If you remember your high-school physics, temperature is directly related to pressure, and a substance will decrease in temperature as the pressure is decreased. So, when compressed air exits the nozzle of a gun and returns to ambient pressure, some of the heat energy is transformed into kinetic energy which propels the water vapour skyward, and the release of heat energy quickly cools the water vapour as well.
In order to achieve good quality manmade snow, all guns must receive the right mixture of air and water, and the correct mixture can depend on up to twenty-two factors; things like supply air temperature, supply water pressure, ambient air humidity, angle and duration of sunlight, type of gun, and terrain characteristics. The snowmaker will perform the tried-and-true sleeve test, where they stand in the fallout area and let the snow land on their sleeve. If it bounces off it’s dry, and if it sticks it’s wet. The snowmaker can then adjust the air/water mixture to achieve the desired type of snow.
There are all sorts of facts and figures that illustrate the scope of Lake Louise’s snowmaking system, but if there’s one fact that best sums it up, it’s that we can convert 2600 gallons of water per minute into snow – enough to cover a football field, including end zones, with 1.56 feet of snow in one hour! The amount of snow we aim to make in any given area varies; we’ll make more on high-traffic runs on the lower mountain to ensure they last well into spring, when otherwise all snow would have melted away long before we closed for the season. We’ll also make lots where the terrain is uneven in order to make a smoother run.
Here’s another shot taken during a helicopter flight on May 10, 2007, this time showing the Brownshirt and North Cornice areas. Like previous terrain photos, official trail map run names are shown in black, control path names in red, and other features in white.
One thing I like about this photo is that it clearly shows how North Cornice gets most of its snow. While most wind at the Lake comes from the south-west, Mt. Richardson, which is to the right of the area shown in the photo, redirects the wind around and back south to pass through Bare Ass Pass and straight on to North Cornice (you can see the valley the wind approaches through in the background, behind OOB Peak). The easiest way to know local prevailing wind direction is to look at the cornices – they’ll only form on leeward sides of features.
On the occasions where the wind blows from a different direction, it’s easy to see how that affects the mountain, as you’ll see drifts and cornices where you usually don’t, and runs that you’re used to skiing a certain way change their character. One place for me that really changes after a strong north wind has been blowing is the Corridor, heading over to Crow Bowl or East Bowl. The reverse wind loading is obvious the entire way as you travel along the ridge top.
OOB is a place that has only recently been added to the run inventory at Lake Louise. Up until about 6 or 7 years ago, the boundary line went down the skier’s left edge of Brownshirt Main Gully and along the top of North Cornice. Beyond that was a permanent avalanche closure blocking access to OOB – an area we controlled to protect in-bounds terrain, but was never opened as a ski run. This was similar to a few other places on the mountain, such as Flush Bowl and Lipalian on Larch. These avalanche closures were inconsistent with places like West Bowl, which is also outside the resort boundary but had no restrictions on access – anyone could enter this area at anytime.
After consultations with Parks Canada, our avalanche forecaster changed these permanent closures into area boundaries, sometimes moving the boundary out to include terrain that had previously been closed (but still within the resort’s leasehold) allowing people to access the backcountry from anywhere on the mountain.
Please note that the open boundary is different from the avalanche closures that exist within the resort. Access to these areas are strictly controlled, and are all marked with red stop-sign-shaped signs indicating the area is closed. Only when these signs are yellow and say “Caution – Avalanche Danger” is access permitted. For those who wonder why the sign would say that when the terrain is open, it really means that you’re entering heads-up terrain, which is usually steep and has many unmarked hazards like cliffs and rocks . The sign also means that the terrain can close at any time due to increased hazard, and that each time you should check that the run is open before entering.
As conditions at Lake Louise continue to improve, skiers can look forward to more terrain opening in the coming days. Additional snow and consistent winds have performed their usual magic, and we’re close to opening E.R. 3 and E.R. 7 from Paradise chair, and Lipalian Chute and lower Rock Garden over on Larch (lower Rock Garden is all of the run accessible from the top of Larch chair – any part of the run above Larch top requires hiking and is referred to as upper Rock Garden).
It appears that the cold temperatures we’ve been *ahem* enjoying are set to stick around for at least a few more days, with some models saying another week. As mentioned in an earlier post, the longer the cold temps stick around, the more of a concern their affect on the snowpack becomes, especially in areas of shallower snow depth. The cold “rots” snow, with depth hoar and faceting of snow crystals becoming more prominent. This happens more in areas of little skier traffic, since high-traffic areas are more compacted and are less susceptible to these cold temps. In other words, terrain that has already been open will be of less concern that that which has yet to open. Additional snowpack observation will be required to ensure any weak layers that may have formed have been dealt with.
With Christmas just around the corner, preparations continue at a feverish pace. Snowmaking is going full tilt in the terrain park and on other lower mountain runs, and patrol is hard at work placing all the signs, bamboo, and fencing required on all runs. As it stands, we’re in great shape for the holidays, and we should have even more terrain ready by next week, both groomed and alpine runs.
Here are some photos from a shoot we did with one of our avalauncher guns in March of 2007. Sure, it’s not really relevant with what’s going on currently at the Lake, as we have yet to fire any of the guns this season, but on a day where the temperatures are forcing closures of most lifts and most sane people are staying home, I say anything goes!
Back on March 26, 2007, it was decided to control an area called Exit of Purple Bowl, located on Wolverine Ridge which is the ridge to the north of the Larch area, and separates Larch from the Wolverine Valley and Mt. Redoubt. The targeted area is outside the operational boundary of the resort, but because it has the potential to avalanche into in-bounds terrain (lowest part of Rock Garden) , it receives control nonetheless. This area is also where anyone coming out of Purple Bowl passes through before re-entering the resort boundary.
The avalauncher is a compressed-gas-powered gun that fires explosive projectiles onto slopes too distant or dangerous for patrollers to approach on skis. Shoots either take place at the start or end of the day, making it easier to ensure no people are anywhere near the targeted areas. The explosives look like mini rockets, with plastic nose cones and tail fin assemblies to provide good flight characteristics. The guns each have a laminated photograph of the surrounding terrain, showing required pressures and barrel elevations for each desired shot placement. Since these bombs are light and follow a ballistic trajectory, they can be affected by wind, so the gunner must take that into account by altering pressure and barrel direction.
Like any explosive use, resuts vary, but I was able to get some shots of one good avalanche we got to go, and clearly shows the progression of the sliding snow:
Avalauncher shoots make up only a small part of a season’s avalanche control, and it’s possible for one or more guns to go a whole season without being fired. It’s one of the more exciting methods of avalanche control, possibly ranking only behind heli-bombing (and maybe artillery shells, but we don’t have those at the Lake!).
Here’s the text of a weather report received at 0700 this morning:
Everything unraveling more or less as planned. The high pressure system that brought sunny skies yesterday is moving off to the east this morning. To the west an intense, deepening low pressure system will track to the south and redevelop in the lee of the Rockies over northern Montana in the next 24 hours. It creates and area of snow across southern BC and the southern and central Rockies that will start later this morning or early afternoon, and continue through Saturday into Saturday night and Sunday morning. Total accumulations of 10 to 20 cm is likely with higher amounts along the front ranges southwards to the US border. Most of the snow will be falling overnight into Saturday morning, and then it tapers off as far as amounts are concerned later Saturday. Temperatures will start to drop tonight with readings Saturday morning near minus 20, then a further slide in temperatures will occur during the day Saturday. The big arctic high plunging down from the north pushes the snow off to the south and east by Sunday.
Yay (and brrr).
While the light didn’t cooperate during avalanche control on Wednesday, it certainly did yesterday as our control team headed towards Brownshirt for another round of explosives and ski cutting. Strong winds had continued from the previous day and on through the night, but since most of the fetch had already moved, we weren’t expecting to find significant wind loading. The wind did, however, make for beautiful ski conditions as all back side terrain was blanketed in a soft cover of snow that filled in the tracks from the day before and blue skies bathed the area in a warm light that made everyone feel like a hero.
Despite the fact that we had received big results from explosives in Whitehorn II on Wednesday, we weren’t expecting the same thing in Brownshirt yesterday. Our trips into D, E, and F Gullies in Whitehorn II were the first of the season, and the big results were due to the fact that the terrain had had a long time to build a snow pack, and the early November rain crust had remained intact. Brownshirt, on the other hand, has been getting worked almost from opening day, and we were confident that other than the shallow layer of new, wind-deposited snow on top, the snowpack had been disturbed enough through explosives and ski cutting to stick firmly in place on the slope.
Ski cutting is one of the most common forms of avalanche control used at Lake Louise, and involves patrollers descending a slope in a zig-zag pattern in order to penetrate any suspect layers and to slice one big area of snow into smaller pieces. When a slab avalanche begins, the fracture line propagates through the snowpack, both on a vertical and horizontal plane. If ski cuts have been put into an area of snow, this propagation is interrupted, and the chance and consequence of the avalanche is greatly reduced. Think of it as a fire break in a forest – by removing a swathe of trees, you can reduce the chance of an advancing forest fire progressing past it.
Ski cutting is only performed when deemed safe to do so, and if there is any concern about the stability of the snowpack, we’ll throw explosives onto the slope in advance of our progress. Even when we don’t expect avalanches, we must ensure the safety of the control team, and by throwing a bomb onto a slope, we perform a valuable slope test since the concussive force of the blast will either reveal weaknesses by avalanching or further settle the snowpack. We began our descent of Brownshirt main gully by throwing a charge below us, followed by a few ski cuts, and proceeded this way until all team members had reached the bottom of the run.
Now that the run is covered in ski cuts and blast craters, it won’t take much snow and wind to fill it all back in again. When that happens, the snow will fill in the tracks and holes, resulting in uneven and irregular layers, adding to the stability of the slope. For now, it’s still a little rocky, as the bases of our skis will attest!
The good light yesterday also allowed us to have a good view of the large results we got in Whitehorn II on Wednesday. Below are a few photos of the devastation: