It’s obvious to anyone skiing at Lake Louise in January how much one month can completely transform a mountain. After the most recent storm, this month sits in the #2 position for highest snowfall for January since recording began in the 1930′s. We now sit at 156cm for the month (measured at our weather plot near Pika Corner), which is shy of the benchmark of 170cm set in January 1999. With no snowfall expected today or tomorrow, we don’t expect to overtake that record, but to those skiing the Lake these days, it doesn’t much matter as the conditions couldn’t be much better.
Of course, with this much new snow in so short a time, there’s a lot of extra work for other staff on the mountain. Notably, the Trail Crew is faced with the daunting task of digging out all of their fence that has all but disappeared. Not only is much of the fence no longer needed, but in some places it’s in the way of where we hope to build cat tracks. One place where every sign of snow fence was completely obliterated is on Skyline, between the top of Summit and the Wave. Trail Crew staff were in over their heads (literally) as shown in the photos below, supplied by Tim Hall of the Trail Crew:
Heading out for a little avalanche control this morning, but in short:
20cm of new snow overnight (as of 5:00am) + light winds + -13C at mountaintop = COLD SMOKE!
Light winds means that avalanche control will proceed more quickly than usual, and runs should open in short order. For this month, our snowfall total is 151cm, which is two centimetres shy of second best January on record. It’s still snowing lightly at 8:00am, so once again, we’re going to have another epic weekend of great skiing at Lake Louise. More later…
There’s little question skiers have been enjoying fantastic conditions at Lake Louise this past week, and with the welcome addition of sunlight and improved visibility, Saturday was no exception. Whether or not there were fresh tracks to be had, everyone had the chance to enjoy nice soft snow that covered the entire mountain. Avalanche control teams have done an outstanding job working terrain after getting pummelled by wave after wave of storm snow, and by Saturday all terrain that had already been opened this season was open again.
Along with the new snow, a strong and sustained push of westerly/southwesterly winds did a great job of filling in much of our usual leeward terrain. From Boomerang and Whitehorn I all the way over to Crow Bowl and East Bowl, skiers were able to find their own lines well into the day.
Another 6cm of new snow fell overnight at Lake Louise, and Monday morning saw a break in the weather that’s pounded the Lake this past week. With the warmer temperatures, this new 6cm is slightly heavier than the rest of the over 50cm we’ve received lately, but should still make for great skiing.
One way to describe the heaviness of new snow is to use water equivalency. As a rule of thumb, 1mm of moisture will produce 1cm of snow. In other words, if you take 1cm of snow and melt it, the result will be 1mm of water. On colder days, the snow is lighter, which means the same 1cm of snow will melt into less than 1mm. Likewise, on warmer days, 1cm of snow may have more than 1mm of water equivalency. This was the case last night, as our 6cm of new snow has the equivalent of 8mm of water, making the snow slightly heavier than normal. It’s not a huge difference, so it’s not like there will be a thick layer of slop on top of all the light powder we received in the storm.
The surface of the snow is more likely to be affected by the steady moderate winds that have been blowing for the last thirteen or so hours. Wind moves snow around, in the process breaking apart the delicate crystals into smaller pieces. When snow falls with no wind, the crystals land gently on top of each other, and there ends up being lots of space, or “air”, around the crystals, making for soft fluffy conditions. Once the wind blows and creates the smaller broken crystal pieces, they pack tighter due to both their smaller size and from the packing motion of the wind. Slab conditions are the usual result.
With the sustained overnight winds and huge amounts of recent snowfall, avalanche control teams have their hands full today getting terrain open. Things will move a little slower, both to ensure the safety of crews and that teams are getting to all the areas they need to get to. We’re once again looking to do some heli-bombing in the next twenty-four hours or so, and that will allow us to make some great progress in stabilizing the touchy conditions.
It just keeps coming down here in Lake Louise, and skiers cannot believe their good fortune at enjoying yet more outstanding conditions on the mountain. Around 15cm of snow has fallen since the lifts closed Saturday, and there may be no end in sight.
There is also no end in sight to the foolishness on display by some skiers and riders as again today people were entering closed avalanche areas in search of powder (which was plentiful everywhere else on the mountain). Patrol was first notified this morning of a skier-triggered avalanche in one of the ER7 Gullies, which have yet to open this year. Without confirmation of anyone buried or injured in the slide, control teams had to drop what they were doing and hightail it to that area, expecting to perform a search of the area in case there were burials. Luckily, before they arrived at the site, the reporting person and the skier who triggered the avalanche were located, and confirmed that nobody was buried. Even once it was confirmed they were the involved parties, the two skiers were very evasive when being questioned by patrollers. Patrol called off the search and resumed their control work for the day.
An hour or two later, the avalanche forecaster was travelling to Flight Chutes with two RCMP dog handlers in search of a good place to conduct an avalanche rescue practice. Since there was a slide in that area yesterday, they could use the debris from that to hide objects that would simulate a buried victim. Upon arriving at the area, they discovered two sets of tracks entering the closed area, and just inside the rope, another, newer avalanche. Once again, skiers were ignoring signed closures, entering hazardous areas, and triggering avalanches. Upon confirming that no one was buried in the slide, they all bid a hasty retreat and went elsewhere for the rescue scenario.
Later in the afternoon, two skiers reported that they had triggered an avalanche in the area around the cliffs in Maintenance, which is outside the ski area boundary and receives no avalanche control. Patrollers went to investigate, but found no sign of anyone buried or otherwise in trouble.
Somewhere out there are a few folks who should be thankful to escape both today and yesterday with nothing but a soiled pair of underwear.
For those who enjoy skiing in open terrain, it has been dumping furiously all day at Lake Louise, with no signs of letting up. Monday promises to be one for the books!
Another 4cm dusting of new snow overnight (and still snowing) will make for even more epic turns at the Lake on Sunday. And with more snow in the forecast for this coming week, this is the week to be here!
After by far the biggest storm of the season at Lake Louise left over 40cm of new snow on an already sketchy snowpack, one would think it obvious that the avalanche danger would rise to levels making it foolish to travel anywhere other than inside ski area boundaries or over simple terrain (i.e. flat) outside the boundary. Parks Canada has rated the danger as “4-High” – one level below extreme – in the backcountry, stating that natural avalanche activity is widespread and that with conditions the way they are now, it may be better to remain at home than be in the mountains, at least until things settle somewhat.
Here in Lake Louise it is Avalanche Awareness weekend, with a number of activities planned to promote education and awareness amongst the skiing public. Education remains a challenge, so events like these are embraced by the snow safety team as a great opportunity to spread the word of good decision-making and safe travel in the mountains.
Inside the ski area boundary, skiing conditions are about as good as they get, with soft untracked lines available late into the day Saturday. Previously opened avalanche terrain took a little longer to open today due to the snow and accompanying winds, but open they did, and smiling faces were easy to find in places like Boomerang, Whitehorn I, and ‘A’ Gully of Whitehorn II.
So, with all this in mind, it defies explanation that people blindly went into places like West Bowl and Maintenance (both outside the ski area boundary) with their associated avalanche danger, especially with so many good lines to be found in bounds. A size 3 skier-triggered avalanche cleaned out most of West Bowl, while numerous skier-triggered size 2 avalanches left their mark in Maintenance. Size 2 and particularly size 3 avalanches can easily kill or seriously injure those caught in them, and we’re left shaking our heads wondering why people are oblivious to the hazard.
Inside the resort boundary, skiers also found their way into avalanche closures. Those ducking the rope into Upper ER5 came within metres of two large avalanches that ran just an hour or two earlier when teams were conducting control work with explosives, yet this glaring evidence left no impression on those going under the rope. These avalanches ran all the way to the bottom of Lower ER5, which means that those entering closed terrain could have triggered an avalanche that had the potential to reach open terrain. Granted, if control teams felt there was any significant hazard in Upper ER5, they would not open the lower half. But either way, this reality escaped the thoughts of those who took it upon themselves to decide what was acceptable and what wasn’t, without thinking about closures already in place.
If there was ever a time to get to the Lake, today is it! Over 40cm of new snow has fallen in the last two days, and conditions don’t ever get much better than they are now. See you out there!
It’s a whole new world at Lake Louise, with about 50cm of fresh snow falling in the last week, and another blast scheduled to come through today and tonight. Overnight, we saw the return of our good friend the west/southwest winds, which blew into the moderate range for four or five hours and helped transform the back bowls and other leeward slopes that love these winds so much.
With this sudden and significant load on the existing snowpack comes increased avalanche hazard, and control teams change their method of attack when all of a sudden consequences of avalanches become that much more of a concern. For example, slopes that had been getting ski-cut to control instabilities now have to be approached more carefully. As a rule of thumb, a slope is considered suitable for ski cutting if the avalanches resulting from the cuts are no bigger in area than your average kitchen. No, with much larger parts of the slopes prone to sliding, explosives become the tool of the day. Bombs allow teams to control a slope without exposing staff to danger.
The avalanche forecaster will also “shrink the terrain”, which means some areas will be closed for the day so teams can concentrate on other areas. For example, Brownshirt will likely remain closed today so crews can open Boomerang. Brownshirt requires extensive control work, both in the Brownshirt gullies and over around North Cornice and Upper North Cornice. Rather than keep the entire Boomerang/Brownshirt area closed while control work proceeds, a few quick laps can take care of any concerns in Boomerang, allowing it to open much sooner. Teams can then spend all the time they need in the Brownshirt area getting it ready and still provide some great bowl skiing for those who are keen to get after it.
I’m heading up on the mountain for the first time in almost two weeks later today, and will add an update with photos later today or tomorrow morning. Until then, skiers are enjoying easily the best conditions of the season with tonnes of light dry powder covering the mountain.
For those wondering why there have been no updates in 2011 so far, I have been away from work welcoming my new baby daughter into the world (and the snow that she brought with her!). I’ll be back at it later this week, and updates will continue at their previous pace. Until then, I’m just trying to sleep…