Lake Louise Terrain Park – The Plan

With news that the change in ownership at Lake Louise would bring about an expansion of the terrain park and the addition of jumps that were absent last season, people are wondering what exactly the plan is. Hopefully this will add a little clarity.

Currently, a park is being built on Lower Wiwaxy. This park already has a few box and rail features, and will be added to daily, provided the temperatures remain cold enough to allow snowmaking. It will eventually take up all of Lower Wiwaxy, and will also include one or two small-to-medium jumps. The Heavy Metal Rail Jam, originally scheduled to take place last week, was postponed because warm temperatures prevented the snowmaking that was needed to install the features. The event is now going to take place on the weekend of Dec 13-14, and recent cold temps have allowed snowmaking to proceed at full tilt.

You can expect the park to be on Lower Wiwaxy for another four or five weeks, then once racing is done on the World Cup course and enough snowmaking occurs, it will be moved to its usual location under Glacier Express chair on Easy St. While the exact layout of the park is still a work in progress, we have some talented minds coming up with ideas that will re-introduce variety and flow to a park that will have five or six jumps and as many rail and box features that can be installed.

Like last season, users of the park are required to purchase a $5 park pass which is good for the whole season, wherever the park is located. The process is quick – go to Guest Services in Whiskyjack Lodge, sign a waiver, pay your $5, and you’ll receive your pass along with a $5 food voucher good in any of Lake Louise’s lodges. If you’re under 18, you’ll need a parent or guardian to sign your waiver (just like a season’s pass). When entering the park, you need to show both your park pass and your lift pass, which will be scanned on each entry. Like the lifts, you must show your passes each time you enter the park.

Happy riding!


Terrain Photos – Whitehorn II

The Ultimate Steeps is the area on the Lake Louise trail maps that is also known by its avalanche control name, Whitehorn II. The photo below is another taken from a helicopter on May 10,2007, and the effects of the warm spring weather are made obvious by the prevalent snowballing that can be seen. Comprising seven gullies, Whitehorn II is a vast and steep area that used to be a permanent avalanche closure, and has only recently become a regular part of the yearly run inventory at Lake louise.

Up until about 15 years ago, all avalanche control at Lake Louise was performed by Parks Canada. I can remember my first few seasons skiing at Lake Louise, skiing along the valley bottom towards Paradise chair and seeing a park warden sitting on a snowmobile at the bottom of ER 5, waiting to write tickets for those entering the avalanche closure above. When avalanche control operations were handed to the ski area, it took a number of years for the control staff to learn all of the intricacies of the weather history and also of the terrain that had up to then been regularly open. While an in-depth knowledge of a slope’s snowpack is essential to forecast hazard, one must also be intimately familiar with the ground that lies underneath, since surface features such as trees and rocks play a large part in how the snowpack behaves on a slope. These features can also affect how the wind travels across a slope, and have a large influence on how wind-blown snow (fetch) distributes itself in any given area.

Once the avalanche control team had become familiar with the reguarly-open terrain, they began to set their sights on places that had never opened, and for which little historical information existed. The first year Whitehorn II opened was for the final two weeks of the season, when the relative lack of experience in that terrain was tempered by the settling effects of the warm spring temperatures. Then, with each passing year, and as familiarity increased, that terrain would open earlier and earlier each season, provided of course that conditions permitted. In a good year, when things like snowfall, temperature, and wind cooperate, Whitehorn II can be opened well before Christmas.

In the photo below, runs that appear on the Lake Louise trail map appear in black text. Other features of note appear in red or white. In the recent re-naming of much of the alpine terrain, each of the gullies in Whitehorn II received a new handle, and to avoid confusion, each gully’s name starts with the letter with which it was formerly identified (e.g. Adrenaline = ‘A’ Gully). While knowing which gully you’re in can sometimes be a little confusing, there are a few visual aids that can be helpful. For example, when looking up from below, Chimney (‘C’ Gully) is the first gully, going from left to right, that reaches the full height of the Summit Platter. Chimney is also the gully you’d be skiing if you unloaded the Platter and went straight over the back and down without traversing. Adrenaline and Big Horn are shorter, and start lower down.

To enjoy the full vertical of F, G, and H/I Gullies, cross the Boomerang traverse and enter through the gate at the high point at the end of the traverse, rather than the gate at the top of the lift. Most people enter through the lower traverse, meaning four or five turns in mostly-untracked snow await those who enter from above. As mentioned in an earlier post, you won’t find ‘I’ gully on the trail map since it is actually a part of Whitehorn III. However, in order to open H Gully, I Gully must also be controlled, and in good years is a skiable line. H and I Gullies always open and close together, since there is no practical way to divide the two with closure fences.

The Ultimate Steeps

The Ultimate Steeps (click on photo for larger version)

Grizzly Express Gondola to Open This Weekend

The cold temperatures have finally arrived. Is this good? Yes it is, because until we get more snow from the sky, the man-made stuff is all we have, and cold temperatures mean more snowmaking, which means we can open more runs.

While Lake Louise uses a few different types of snow guns, each with their own efficiencies and optimal operating conditions, -15C seems to be the sweet spot as far as overall maximum efficiency of the system goes. All snow guns use a mixture of air and water to produce snow, and the colder it gets, the wetter this mixture can be. Once you get to -15C, however, things start to freeze up, expecially the hundreds of little nozzles on the fan guns that are otherwise so productive.

With large whales (the piles of snow made by snow guns) popping up more and more, the push to open more terrain has gone right along with them. By this weekend, the Grizzly Gondola will open, serving upper Wapta and Lower Flight initially, then Deer Run and Pika soon after. Temple Lodge will be open once Pika is ready to go. Also part and parcel with Pika are areas further down the Corridor from Paradise chair, including Crow Bowl and East Bowl.

The new Ptarmigan chair is not complete, but with the grips for the chairs arriving tomorrow (Fri), assembly and installation of the chairs and the final load test are imminent. Until then, those skiers heading down Pika below the base of Paradise chair will be skiing around the mountain rather than over it to return to the main base area. Via the Ski Out you ask? Actually, in anticipation of the need for a good early-season ski route to the front side, we’ve had the Temple Road closed to vehivles since the first snow arrived, and it will serve as a temporary ski out until the real one is ready to go. Temple Rd runs parallel to the ski out, but is wider and has a better grade, and will work quite nicely for those using it.


Also today, we made use of the helicopter parked in front of the patrol building for World Cup to move our four avalauncher guns into their respective positions on the mountain. As soon as today’s race training was done for the day, a few of us flew with pilot Todd Cooper to see the locations, then we hopped out while Todd attached a 50m long-line to the underside of the helicopter and completed the mission, all in under 30 minutes. As I’ve mentioned previously, helicopters are also a great way to get a close up bird’s-eye-view of the resort, and there’s no way I was leaving my camera behind for an opportunity like this! Unfortunatley, the sun disappeared for the duration of the flight, and the photos were less than spectacular.

I did manage to capture the helicopter in good light during take-off earlier in the day as it participated in a rescue practice for the medical staff working the World Cup. Almost all injuries on the race course are removed by helicopter, so the team goes through the motions to ensure they’re ready for the big moment, which they always are. A few seasons ago, I was lucky (or crazy?) enough to be the “patient” for this scenario, and was wrapped up and slung below the helicopter along with Parks Canada Public Safety Warden Marc Ledwidge. I was allowed to video the event (as much as my strapped-in arm could manage), and that short video clip is posted below the photo:

Helicopter takes off in the morning.

Helicopter takes off in the morning.

Helicopter video:

Enjoy the weekend!

Lake Louise World Cup – Pt I

Once again the Lake Louise Ski Area is hosting World Cup ski racing, with the men’s Downhill and Super G this weekend, and the Women’s Downhill and Super G the next. These events are always an exciting and hectic time in the life of the resort, as athletes, coaches, trainers, race officials, media, volunteers, and fans come from all over the world to take part. Like getting the ski area ready for the season, there is a mammoth effort involved in making all the preparations necessary for a successful event, and most of it happens out of sight of most skiers and starts long before the first snowflake hits the ground. 

The ability of Lake Louise to reliably hold these races early in the season, year after year, depends almost entirely on our massive snowmaking system, which makes us much less reliant on Mother Nature to provide the white stuff. It doesn’t hurt that ski racers like their courses to be boilerlplate ice, which is a result easier to obtain given that man-made snow is generally moister and denser than its natural cousin. Every year, our snowmaking system fires up on October 15th, and goes non-stop (provided that temperatures cooperate) until the course is complete and all equipment is removed prior to the start of race training.

What does it take to bring the World Cup to Lake Louise? To make a long story short, here are a bunch of facts and figures that shed a little light on how big an operation it really is:

Safety Equipment

  • 4m-high “A” net – 4,000m
  • 2m-high “B” net – 11,000m
  • 2,600 pulleys
  • 20,000m braid rope (to tension nets)
  • 6,000m plastic snow fence
  • 300 air-filled bladders (to pad hard objects outside but close to course)
  • 30 F1-style air fence (large air bladders for larger objects)
  • 6,000m of 1/2″ cable
  • 6,000m of 3/8″ cable

The course set-up is supervised by Equipment Manager Doug Savage, who organizes everything from helicopters to porta-potties. Randy Pruden is the Chief of Safety, and along with his crew of ‘net monkeys’, oversees the installation of nets and other safety equipment, provides on-scene crash expertise, and supervises course preparation and repair during racing. Net installation begins at Thanksgiving, and after approximately 2600 race runs involving World Cup and NORAMs, tear down commences in January, and takes three weeks. At the height of course construction, there are up to 500 volunteers on site.

Snowmaking & Grooming

  • 5000′ water hose (longest single set-up: 2300′)
  • 12 snowmakers per 12-hour shift, working 24 hours a day until done.
  • 16,000,000 gallons of water to make snow
  • 20 snow guns running at once, with 53 possible placements
  • 600-700 snow cat hours

And finally, below are some photos from various stages of course set-up:

Randy Pruden

Rolls of net await a helicopter to be flown into place. Photo: Randy Pruden

Randy Pruden

Nets are flown to their respective locations. Photo: Randy Pruden

Randy Pruden

Nets are strung and await tensioning. Photo: Randy Pruden

Early stages of snowmaking.

Early stages of snowmaking.

Randy Pruden

Snowmaker dragging hose. Photo: Randy Pruden

Nets are tensioned, now waiting for more snow.

Nets are tensioned, now waiting for more snow.

Randy Pruden

Anchoring bases of nets into the snow. Photo: Randy Pruden


More World Cup action to follow…

Terrain Photos – E.R. 6 & 7

Here’s the first in a series of aerial photos of mostly alpine terrain at Lake Louise with runs and other significant features labelled. In May of 2007, I was lucky enough to have the chance to fly around the resort in a helicopter and take as many photos as I could in two 25-minute flights. The right-side cabin door was removed, and I strapped myself into a four-point harness that would allow me to lean out for an unobstructed view. Needless to say, that was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done! Aerial photos are valuable tools, and are used for avalanche control, ski patrol, snow farming, and other operational applications.

These shots were taken May 10, almost two weeks after Lake Louise closed for the 2006-07 season, which had been one of the best for snowfall in a long time. The week preceeding the flights had been very warm, which explains the wet look of the snow, as well as the “snowballing”. Also, because the winter had seen so much snow, many surface features normally evident were smothered, and the terrain looks a lot smoother here than it actually is. Nonetheless, I like the fact that you get a view that you otherwise wouldn’t, and it makes it easier to piece together all of the many and varied pieces of mountain that make up the ski area.

What had started as a blue-bird day had begun to cloud over by the time the helicopter arrived, and a number of shots ended up being slightly spoiled by cloud shadows, as seen in the second photo of the area around the base of the Summit Platter. I auto-bracketed each of the 300 shots I took (3 different exposures for each one), since I didn’t have the luxury of time to constantly fiddle with the settings.

This first labelled photo is of the area called “The Wall” on the trail maps. Runs marked in black text are as they appear on the Lake Louise trail map, and the red text represents each individual mountain face as it applies to avalanche control. Each face of a mountain is subject to its own weather and avalanche-related conditions, based on elevation, slope angle, exposure to wind, and aspect (which compass direction it faces=amount of sun exposure). The control names are based on the name of the mountain or ridge, and are numbered left-to-right looking up. “E.R.” stands for Eagle Ridge, and there are seven distinct faces, starting with East Bowl (E.R. 1) and ending with the gullies that make up E.R. 7. Some run names at Lake Louise still use their control names, and others do not.

The Wall  (click on photo for larger version)

The Wall (click on photo for larger version)


Summit Platter base covered by cloud shadow

Summit Platter base covered by cloud shadow

Boomerang and Paradise Bowl Open

With little fanfare, Boomerang opened early this morning, and after a brief rush of seven or eight keen skiers, only 20 or so came through in the next half hour. Perhaps it was the white-out visibility that kept skiers away at first, but nevertheless, everyone was treated to excellent conditions on the run, and as the light improved during the day, more and more people showed up. “Fantastic” said one. “Creamy” said another. “I’ve been waiting since May for this!” said a third, and so on. Also opened for the first time on Summit was Outer Limits, which was a great test for those early season legs (mine failed).

On Boomerang, Yves Drouin was first through the gate once it dropped, followed closely by Tom Fry and Will Larooi. Both long-time and enthusiastic Lake Louise locals, Yves and Tom were able to squeeze a few laps in even before others got there for their first run.

Tom Fry (l) and Yves Drouin (r) signal their approval.

Tom Fry (l), Will Larooi (mid), and Yves Drouin (r) get first tracks.

Later in the day, the avalanche control team was able to complete the set-up of the avalanche closures in Paradise Bowl, and it too was opened, much to the delight of a hooting and hollering crowd. Conditions there were also excellent, and despite a few rocks being discovered, all seemed to have a great time. I took as many photos as the generally poor light would allow, and once I have a chance to apply a little digital trickery to make them look better I’ll post them.

Stay tuned for more terrain openings, as the avalanche control team moves further down the Corridor and looks to open Bankhead (2/3 Shoulder) and Crow Bowl in the coming days.

Lake Louise Powder !

For those lucky enough to be at Lake Louise today, conditions did not disappoint, as skiers and riders venturing onto the the upper mountain were greeted with great early-season conditions. Early season in Lake Louise usually means rocks, but for those not too worried about a few new dings in their bases, there were lots of powder turns to be had. While the Snow Safety weather station reported 4cm of new snow overnight, the wind was once again our friend as amounts were often greater, especially on the backside. The following photos were all taken today:

A rider enjoys a great powder run in Saddleback this morning

A rider enjoys a great powder run in Saddleback this morning

One of the first skiers into Saddleback waves before dropping in

One of the first skiers into Saddleback waves before dropping in

Mirkwood, Top of the World chair and Lake Louise in the distance

Mirkwood, Top of the World chair and Lake Louise in the distance

Grizzly Gully shines in the afternoon sunshine

Grizzly Gully shines in the afternoon sun


If you feel like you missed out today on some great conditions, fear not – tomorrow marks the day we open Boomerang for the first time, and in case you missed the photos in previous posts, here’s what it looked like today, which is also what it will look like right before we open it Saturday morning. With only a little work to complete before the gate drops, be there early to ensure some epic turns:

Undisturbed Boomerang, waiting for you!

Undisturbed Boomerang, ready and waiting for you!

While Boomerang is in terrific shape, the approach through Windy Gap is still bare, and will require that skiers and boarders remove their planks and do a short walk to get across the flat rock patch. After that, it’s in great shape all the way to Paradise chair. Also opening Saturday morning will be Outer Limits, which is always a solid early-season performer. The long permanent snow fence has done its usual magic and created a nice wide drift to enjoy, as shown in the photo below, taken this afternoon:


Outer Limits, looking uphill toward the top

The Mountain Operations team has been working at full tilt getting all of this new terrain ready, and while they may be tempted to pause and enjoy the fruits of their efforts, they’ll continue working to get even more terrain open. Look for Paradise Bowl and Crow Bowl, among others, to open in the next few days.

Reminder: the new Ptarmigan chair is still under construction, so for those going back side, Paradise chair represents the only means of returning to the front side of the mountain. All upper mountain terrain (as the patroller will tell you before loading Top of the World lift) is ‘experts only’, and there remain many marked and unmarked hazards. Tread lightly in places of less snow.

Enjoy the weekend !