Visitors to the Lake Louise Ski Area last week were treated to this summer’s first sighting of a grizzly bear at the resort. Last summer we didn’t see a bear until well into June, due chiefly to the much slower melt that occurred last year. Bears start their summer seasons at valley bottom, then follow the melting snow line uphill as it slowly rises. Last summer, a cool spring meant that we didn’t see grass around the base area of the resort until up to a month after normal, and the resulting late green-up also meant a late arrival for the bears.
This hasn’t always been the case, as a few winters ago a grizzly was spotted on Wiwaxy while we were still open for skiing. We closed the run, and the bear spent a short time in a futile search for food, then moved on. More recently, a bear was also seen over in the Larch area while we were open for winter, but after a few brief appearances also went on its way, not to be seen again until summer.
Especially in June and July, bears are regulars at the resort, and both black and grizzly bears can be seen most days wandering around the hill. It’s not common for bears to get close to where people are. The electric fence keeps them out of the base area, and they rarely approach the Whitehorn Lodge/mid-station area when there are people around. When it does happen, a bit of a lock-down goes into effect so that the bear(s) can go about their business undisturbed. People who are held up at Whitehorn Lodge because of bear, for example, don’t mind, since it usually means there’s a bear close enough to watch and get good photos of without having to leave the safety of a building.
If you’re lucky enough to ride the summer lift and go right over a bear, it’s an amazing feeling – you know you’re safely out of reach of the bear, but it can still be a little unnerving, especially for those who have never seen or been near a bear before. Needless to say, people get very excited.
The photo below shows our first bear of the season, and was taken just uphill of the main base area (as was the photo of grizzly sow with two cubs at the top of the page, taken in July 2008):
For a change of pace, and as we all wait for more snow, here are some photos of the Lake Louise Ski Area taken in July of 2007. It was a beautiful day as we hiked up to the top of Summit, then over to Boomerang and out via the Temple road. While I prefer winter, it was a beautiful day, and it was easy to get a sense of how much snow and wind it actually takes to get much of the alpine terrain open. As mentioned in the previous post on snow farming, we depend on the wind to help get the snow where it’s needed. Since most of the wind at Lake Louise comes from the southwest, the result is less snow on the front or wind-facing side of the mountain, and more on the back. Looking in summer at the terrain we all ski in winter, there’s little question that the wind is most certainly our friend!
This first photo shows a part of Richardson’s Ridge called Speed Run, which is actually outside the ski area boundary. You can still see two craters from the previous winter’s avalanche control, made by explosive projectiles fired from an avalauncher gun, located on the flats just outside the bottom left corner of the frame. Why does avalanche control occur outside the ski area boundary? You’ll see that happen in a few places where avalanches in terrain outside the boundary could affect in-bounds areas, and in this case, there is a cat track that runs fairly close to the run-out zone of the Speed Run slide path. This cat track is easily visible from Paradise Chair in the winter.
The photo below is taken from the top of Summit, looking toward the east end of North Cornice, and the small lake that lies hidden beneath snow and ice during winter.
Taken from the top of the Top of the World lift, this photo shows Whitehorn I. While it isn’t obvious from the photo, Whitehorn I takes a lot of wind and snow to fill in what is otherwise a very rocky place.
Here’s a shot looking right down the entrance to ‘I’ Gully of Whitehorn II. It’s actually a part of Whitehorn III, but because it opens and closes along with WH II’s ‘H’ Gully, it gets lumped in with all of the WH II gullies. Make sense? The prominent outcrop in the background of the shot is called The Prow.
This is a shot taken from Boomerang, looking toward ER 6 and ER 7. The top of Paradise Chair is just visible at the top. ER stands for Eagle Ridge, which begins in the east at East Bowl (ER 1), and ends at ER 7, which is where the ridge joins Mt. Whitehorn.
This next shot is taken from Shoulder Roll, which is large natural wave feature lower down on Boomerang. Shown are the gullies of Whitehorn II, with the upper portion of Rodney’s Ridge leading away to the left. ‘C’ gully is the left-most gully that still has snow in it, and is the one that goes straight down from the top of the Summit Platter.
And, last but not least, here’s a shot from the valley bottom looking back up toward, from l-r, Whitehorn III, Boomerang, Brownshirt, and North Cornice, with OOB peak in shadow sticking up behind on the right. OOB stands for ‘Out of Bounds’. Boomerang is made of a surface of smooth, loose shale, with very few protruding rocks. Combined with near-constant wind loading of snow, this results in great skiing conditions before other alpine areas are even open.
Is beautiful as it is in summer, I still prefer it covered in snow!