Contrary to the local weather forecasts we looked at yesterday, it’s currently snowing heavily at Lake Louise, with a few cm’s already on the ground. Added to the 25cm or so we received over the weekend, things are looking good for more lift and run openings later this week. Avalanche control and trail crew teams have done a good job of traveling around the mountain and compacting the snow as much as possible, either by explosives use, ski cutting, or side-stepping on drifts.
Disturbing the snow goes a long way in slope stabilization, as the layers in the snowpack are interrupted, and the disturbed snow settles in firmer than it was before. On avalanche slopes, ski cutting has the dual benefit of compaction and cutting up a large slab into smaller pieces, reducing the likelihood and consequences of avalanches.
As the avalanche control team moved through Saddleback a few days ago, they remote-triggered an avalanche that started mid-slope of Whitehorn I. It ran on a weak layer of facets, formed at the bottom of the snowpack when we had those unseasonably cold temperatures in October. In other locations, teams were experiencing a lot of ‘whoomphing’, which is the term used to describe when a weak layer in the snowpack collapses, and the air trapped inside the snowpack rushes to the surface in an audible ‘whoomphing’ sound – hence the name. Whoomphing tends to happen on flatter terrain, where the slope isn’t steep enough for the snow to avalanche, but the weak layer still exists and can collapse nonetheless. On steeper terrain, the collapse of the layer generally results in an avalanche, provided there is sufficient snow on top of the layer to run.
The photo below shows the avalanche in Whitehorn I. Remote-triggering refers to an avalanche that starts away from where the load was placed on the snowpack. What likely happened is the weight of the skier(s) caused a whoomph, which has the ability to propagate under the snow and travel along the weak layer for considerable distance, in this case running up slope until it hit a weak spot on the slope (around boulders perhaps) and causing an avalanche. The ski track in the photo is where the team was when the avalanche released.
Finally, because you can never have enough shots of Boomerang in its undisturbed glory, here’s a shot taken yesterday from the top of Paradise chair.
It’s always nice when weather forecasts calling for snow are accurate, as they have been so far this week. After a white-knuckle drive from Banff this morning, it was great to arrive at Lake Louise in the middle of a blizzard. We’ll have crews on the upper mountain later today, so should know soon how much snow has fallen (and is still falling). In the meantime, here are some shots I took this morning walking from my car to the office. I can’t think of a more fitting way to start the season!
The venue for opening day is the traditional route from the top of Glacier Express to the base – Bald Eagle to Wiwaxy, and then onto Easy St. at the bottom. Three rails will be set up on the left side of Easy St. and will remain there until the next temporary park opens on lower Wiwaxy in a few weeks. Once the World Cup and NORAM races have ended, we’ll make some snow and open the permanent home of the terrain park in its usual location on Easy St.
With the warm temperatures that were forecast for this weekend, we wanted to be sure we had the run ready by today (Thursday), since the daytime high temps were expected to climb well above 0C, and snowmaking would have to stop. Two cold nights ensured that we’d have the snow to build the run in plenty of time.
So, there I was cruising down some nice fresh corduroy this morning, checking out the handiwork of the snowmakers and groomers. The sun was shining, and there was not even a hint of the masses that would be on the run tomorrow. It was a very brief moment of calm in what has been the busiest week of the busiest month of the year, and we’re all looking forward to the big day.
Meanwhile, on the still closed upper mountain, snow continues to gather, thanks largely to our good friend, the wind. The trail crew is hard at work setting and moving fences, and the avalanche control team is now out daily starting the control work required to eventually get terrain open. Some places it’s possible to travel on skis, but others it’s not. Either way, crews are getting to where they need to be, and the work is getting done. Dave Petch, an avalanche control team member, took the photos below on October 30th, and there’s little question things are coming along nicely. If we get the snow that’s supposed to fall for the next few days, we’ll be skiing these places sooner rather than later.