Here Comes the Snow!Posted: October 19, 2012
Yes indeed, things are looking a whole lot whiter around Lake Louise after last night’s snowfall. We’ve had a number of days with snowfall over the last few weeks, but this is the first that resulted in significant accumulation not only at the base area, but in the village of Lake Louise at valley bottom as well. And while winter preparations have been well underway since the Labour Day weekend, having the white stuff on the ground really adds to the sense that the 2012-13 ski season is just around the corner. With three weeks to go until opening day, there’s still lots to do.
The larger summer projects are starting to wrap up. The Sunny T-Bar was removed in early September, and now the finishing touches are being put on the two new beginner carpets that will take its place. One is running, the other is close. T-Bars are becoming an exception in the ski industry, and fewer people are familiar, or even comfortable, riding them. Carpets are becoming increasingly common, and present a much less intimidating experience for those starting out on the skiing and snowboarding careers.
The Trail Crew have also been busy since Labour Day, as they are every year. With thousands of t-steel to pound into the ground before the snow flies, the race is always on to cover as much ground as possible as quickly as possible. Then, when the ground freezes (and can therefore support the force of the wind), they can begin to tie fences to the steel, which is now about two-thirds complete. The first fence to go up every year is that which runs parallel to the Summit Platter lift line, from the very top down to around tree line. Quick access to the upper mountain by trail crew and avalanche control is critical at this time of year, and the sooner they can switch their hiking boots for skis the faster they’ll move around. It’s no secret that the wind is very much our friend here at Lake Louise, and by putting up kilometres of snow fence, we help get the snow to where we need it the most.
The Avalanche Control department has come to life this past week, and now that there’s snow on the mountain, the big job of observing and recording the life of the snow pack over the course of the winter begins. Even with only a few centimetres on the ground, how that snow is affected by weather conditions can have huge consequences on the long-term stability of the snow pack once it gets deeper. Weak layers may not contribute to avalanche hazard when there’s only a few centimetres of snow, but if those layers are allowed to remain once more snow falls on top, then those layers become stressed from the added burden, and can result in conditions that makes avalanche professionals’ hair stand on end. The key is getting to these areas of early snow and disturbing the layers that have formed and reducing the hazard before it becomes one.
We’ve had a number of snow fall events over the last few weeks, and while any snow that fell on the front side (south-facing slopes) melted away each time, that which fell on slopes with northerly aspects (back side) was slower to do so, and some remained leading up to the bigger snowfall we received last night. Our Pika weather plot recorded around 15cm of new snow overnight, and with temperatures not dipping far below freezing, the snow is denser than what we usually get. This bodes well for the formation of a stable snow pack, as the ideal is to have heavier, denser snow below, and lighter snow on top. Those in the biz refer to this as a snow pack being built “right-side-up”. An upside-down snowpack, all too common in these parts, is exactly that – heavier denser snow on top of lighter snow. It’s late enough in October for there to be confidence that much of this snow will stick around, especially higher on the mountain.
Lower on the mountain, our permit to blow man-made snow came into effect on October 15th, as it does each year. With snow guns, hoses, and generators all in place, and sufficient water in the Pipestone River, all that was required were freezing temperatures, and it wasn’t until yesterday that it got cold enough for there to be a sustained snowmaking effort. White dots began to appear on the mountain and grew over the course of the day. Even with lots of early-season natural snowfall, we still rely on our extensive snowmaking system to allow us to open early in November.
Another staple of our fall season is brush-cutting, where crews trim the growth that has appeared on ski runs over time. This has traditionally been performed by ski area staff and equipment, but this year the job was contracted to a professional outfit out of Golden, BC, as it was felt that the job would go faster and more efficiently if done by experts.
For a number of reasons, we aren’t permitted to begin brushing until after Sept 1 each year, so the window of opportunity can be short, particularly if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Luckily the weather behaved throughout September and into October, and crews were able to completely brush Ptarmigan, Raven, Old Ptarmigan, Lynx, and Larch Poma. Lynx in particular has me excited, as it is one of the steepest runs at Lake Louise that lies below tree line, and other than the knee- to waist-high trees that have sprung up in the last bunch of years, is smooth and grassy, requiring only a little snow to make it an excellent early-season contender.
There’s some more snow in the forecast for the near future, along with temperatures that are expected to remain below freezing. Provided all the planets align, we could be well on our way to a great start to the 2012-13 season. Stay tuned!