A Change of SeasonsPosted: September 24, 2011
The upper slopes of the Lake Louise Ski Area have exploded in colour this week as the thousands of larch trees that populate the upper edge of the forest have turned the golden hue that makes them famous at this time of year. It’s a great time to be on the mountain, when everyone is working hard to prepare for winter and clear skies make for spectacular vistas in all directions. The bears are slowly moving away from the ski area, and with a week or so left in the season for the summer sightseeing lift, visitors will move away as well, leaving staff to focus on opening day of the ski season, only a few weeks away.
With the snow from last week completely gone, we’re back to almost summer-like weather, and while the nights are getting colder and the days shorter, the sun still does a great job of heating things up during the day, making for pleasant working conditions everywhere on the mountain.
Working up around the Sunset area today was a group of about twenty-five volunteers for the World Cup ski races that will happen in November and December, like they do every year. The top part of the course, from above the Sunset Terrace down to the top of Tickety Chutes, is the most difficult section to build, due chiefly to its exposure to constant high wind. Not only does the wind reduce the amount of snow that falls, but it also can stymie any attempts to make man-made snow. The World Cup work crew was there to cover this section of the course with snow fence, using the same materials and methods used by our Trail Crew. Snow fence slows the wind, forcing it to drop any snow it may blowing across the slope. A properly placed fence can make all the difference, and when a sufficiently sized drift is formed, the snow is compacted and the fences removed, covering the area in snow that is much less likely to blow away. Once the groomers pack it down into the ice the racers love so much, it’ll take a lot more than wind to move it.
One of the things I love about being on the mountain without snow is that you really get a sense of the varied terrain, and I am continually amazed when I look into places like Whitehorn 1 and think it could ever become a ski run, and a great one at that. The entire slope is wall-to-wall boulders, some the size of a small car. If anything, I’m reminded of my appreciation for the wind and its ability to fill in the most gaping of holes.
Other features that lay buried beneath the snow and out of sight of most visitors are the signs of old lifts and other structures on the mountain. On the run Eagle Poma, for example, the concrete footings that anchored the towers of the old Eagle Poma lift are all still visible. When the original gondola was running, it travelled up to Whitehorn Lodge from the base terminal a few hundred metres from the Trans-Canada Highway. Skiers then had the option of skiing a short distance downhill to the base of the Poma lift, which ran up the present-day Deer Run and deposited them on a flat section right at the top of Eagle Flight.
The Poma was long gone by the time I arrived in Lake Louise, but I was able to enjoy a couple of summers when the old gondola was still in operation, in those heady days when mountain biking was allowed anywhere, including on the hill. Local staff were given summer passes for the gondola, and we’d spend entire days riding down as many different runs as we could. The Parks Canada crackdown on mountain biking put an end to that, though with what I know now about how many grizzly bears inhabit the ski area in summer, it was most probably a good thing, for bears and humans alike.