It’s been a fantastic week at Lake Louise, with a big storm dumping lots of fresh powder all over the mountain on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by two days of bluebird on Thursday and today (nothing like a couple of sunny days on the slopes to recharge the ol’ batteries, eh?). The cats did a great job of laying down a whole lot of corduroy last night, and carvers had these groomed runs all to themselves for most of the morning.
When the avalanche forecaster arrived at work this morning, the weather data from our Paradise top telemetry station reported about 12 hours of 30km winds or greater, starting right when the hill closed yesterday. Upon seeing this, his initial reaction was to expect significant wind-loading on lee slopes, since there was lots of fetch (snow available to be transported by wind) after the storm, and 30km winds, especially 12 hours of them, can move a lot of snow.
Since it was a clear morning, the forecaster grabbed his binoculars to see if he could see any signs of wind effect on the front side of Summit, which can be seen right from his desk. Contrary to what he expected, there were no signs at all of any scouring, which is the usual result when the wind comes from the southwest. That could mean a couple of things – either the cold temperatures immediately following the storm stiffened up the snow enough so that the wind couldn’t move it, or the winds were just low enough to hit our weather station, but none of the terrain. Once we got on the mountain, it was clear that it was the latter, since the new snow was still soft and would definitely have moved had the wind been low enough to do so.
On avalanche control, my partner and I headed to B and C Gullies of Whitehorn II, and when we unloaded the Summit lift we could see without even entering the run that the wind had only blown minimal amounts of snow, which had settled between the bumps that lie in the first 15 or 20 metres of the slope. Below that, there was no sign of wind-transported snow at all. The photo below shows the gate into Boomerang, and you can see the snow that was blown onto the cat track overnight, which isn’t much.
Once we were done in Whitehorn II, we went to join another team over at North Cornice, which had developed a bit of its namesake cornice from the wind that circles around from Bare Ass Pass and hits it from behind. As in other places, the loading was limited to the immediate lee part of the slope, so for the most part our mission was to knock the cornice down before it had a chance to grow too big and become a safety issue.
When controlling a cornice, the first team member will travel along the top of the ridge, kicking the cornice with their ski and trying to get it so that there is no overhang. The second patroller will travel behind the first and a metre or two below, ski cutting the slope that received the loading. Although it wasn’t in this case, kicking cornice can be a little frightening, since you hope that you’re not standing on the piece that decides to fall! If there’s any indication this might be the case, a patroller will travel along with the one doing the kicking, hanging on to them so they can pull them back if needed. The photos below show three patrollers as they move along North Cornice towards Lake Pitch, which is the eastern end of the feature and so named due to the little lake that lies in the flats below but hidden from view by ice and snow in the winter (click the link for Summer 07 to the right to see a photo of this area in the summer).
When we arrived at Lake Pitch, we could see pillow of wind-loaded snow that might be a concern, and while nothing we had seen so far this morning indicated it would be an issue, it was decided that to be sure we should use an explosive. When the snow is firm, like it was here, you need to tie the shot onto a length of cord and hang it over the cornice – otherwise you risk the shot bouncing on the surface and ending up at the bottom of the slope, where it is of little use. In the first photo below, you can barely see the shot hanging in place (though you may need to click on the photo for a lrger version to see better).
As you can see in the last photo above, only the top 5cm or so of snow reacted to the bomb, and we were satisfied that Boomerang, Brownshirt, and North Cornice were good to open. As we made our way back to Paradise chair, we watched two other control teams put some more ski cuts into Upper ER 5, which is slowly but surely getting closer to being open. Not yet, but we`re hoping soon!
The latest storm has come to an end, and Lake Louise ended up with around 30cm of powder that was nice and light, thanks to both the lack of wind and the -25C mountain-top temperatures. The cold also made the snow incredibly sticky, making travel on flatter areas more of an effort. The hard pre-storm snow surface was still evident in some places, but as more traffic packs the new snow into a soft base, it should set things up nicely for the next system to come through – currently forecasted to reach us after the weekend. Things are also supposed to warm up right away, with clear skies expected on Friday.
Enjoy the great conditions, and for those attending the 5th annual Red & White Ball in Banff tonight, we’ll see you there!
Went out to my car this morning in Banff to find that a huge cornice had developed off the back edge of the roof from all the wind last night, making me wonder a) how much fun the drive to Lake Louise was going to be, and b) how much fun avalanche control was going to be this morning, since wind always contributes to elevated avalanche hazard when accompanying new snow, making things a little more exciting.
The drive was certainly interesting, with ten or so trucks and a few cars in the ditch and whiteout conditions. I made it, thankfully, as did our avalanche forecaster, and now starts the task of getting the mountain open for the day. When we arrived at 0700, it was still snowing hard, as the following photos show (compare the photo of the quad to the similar shot in yesterday’s post):
We’ve received well over 20cm since the storm started, with still more forecasted to fall. Despite the windy overnight conditions in Banff, it was a different story in Lake Louise with not much wind of note overnight and currently calm conditions at mountain top. This means that we’re likely going to find a whole lot of blower powder all over the mountain, especially since current mountaintop temperatures are around -24C with no wind chill.
So, dress warmly, drive carefully, enjoy the long-awaited powder conditions, and I’ll provide updates once the morning’s avalanche control work is done.
It’s always nice when forecasts for snow play out as they say they will, and, as of 12:00 Tuesday, with over 10cm on the ground since Monday night and more on the way, things are looking to take a turn for the better for skiers at Lake Louise.
I’ll try to post updates on this storm both at the start and end of each day that it’s happening, along with pictures, which are always great for providing a true glimpse of the situation. Let’s start off with another of my ‘unofficial’ snow measurement stations – the quad parked outside the Mountain Operations building at the base area:
Our excitement at the end of last week at the weather forecasts were calling for snow early this week seems not to have been in haste, as confidence is high that Lake Louise is about to get their first significant snowfall since the big storm in early January. Various forecasts are calling for 20-35cm of new snow, starting later today (Monday) and going through to Wednesday.
Along with all the excitement, there is some curiosity as to how this new snow will stick to the current snow surface, since with little snowfall over the last six weeks or so, it has become quite packed and, in some places, smooth. This could be a concern in steeper terrain, since the new snow won’t have much to hang on to and may react fully to avalanche control efforts. Of course, whether this happens remains to be seen, since things like temperature and wind have a way of playing with our expectations. In the end, there will be lots of good skiing to be found, it’s just a question of where. I’ll be posting updates as things progress over the next few days.
One benefit of new snow that usually escapes the notice of most skiers is how it can be worked into the man-made snow that exists on runs with snowmaking. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that man-made snow is more dense and has more moisture than natural snow, contributing to a harder and sometimes icier snow surface (the melt/freeze cycles we’ve had also contribute to this). When new snow falls on top of man-made snow, the groomers jump at the chance to mix the two together and get a better skiing surface. A snow cat will travel on a run with its front blade down, stripping the top few centimetres of man-made snow and mixing it with the new. The tiller and flaps on the rear “whale tail” then mix it further and produce the corduroy surface that carving skiers love so much. Care must be taken, however, since working the new snow too much by snow cat can break the crystals into smaller particles which pack more densely and have less air around them, defeating the purpose of mixing the two. There’s a fine line between working the snow too much and not enough, but when it’s done properly, the result can be a huge improvement in the skiing surface.
Another thing to consider when grooming a run, particularly with soft snow, is that it takes a few hours for the recently tilled snow to firm up enough so that it doesn’t get destroyed by the first few skiers. If you ski on corduroy immediately after it was laid down, you’ll leave deep ruts that will quickly mar the surface. After six hours, however, the snow has firmed up enough to prevent the deep rutting and still provide a very “carvable” surface. With this in mind, the runs that get the most traffic will see grooming first, so that they have all night to set and be ready for the following day.
You may remember a few years ago that Cameron’s Way would get closed daily around lunch time for its regular mid-day groom. We wanted to provide skiers with the chance to ride fresh corduroy in the afternoon. One of the problems we ran into when doing this was that the run had no chance to set, since we’d open it immediately after the cats were done, and the soft surface couldn’t stand up to the traffic.
For now, keep your eyes on the forecast, and be ready to enjoy some fresh powder at the Lake. Also, don’t ignore the forecasted temperatures, since they’re supposed to drop over the next few days as well. Stay tuned for updates as things happen.
At the risk of getting excited too early, click on the two Lake Louise weather links on the right to see what both are saying (I always use the 2636m elevation for snow-forecast.com). Keep your fingers (and skis) crossed!
Well, after probably getting a few people excited about the imminent opening of new terrain in Whitehorn II, I’m afraid I have to deliver a bit of a blow to those with ‘H’ Gully dreams. After a series of discussions on the matter, the plan for Whitehorn II has changed, and it will likely be a little longer before ‘H’ Gully and environs see their first skiing guest.
The main reason for this backtrack is that a lot of intensive control work is needed to get the terrain adjacent to ‘H’ ready to open, and this would be very difficult to accomplish in a safe and timely manner if there was open terrain immediately next to the slope being worked. Also, with the way the snowpack has been behaving this winter, the avalanche forecaster wants to ensure that every square metre of the terrain receives traffic and gets its snow packed onto the slope. And finally, we realised that opening such a large piece of terrain bit by little bit is not an efficient way to go with this year’s snowpack. Every time terrain is opened, we must ensure all avalanche closures and ski area boundaries, if applicable, are in place and signed accordingly. This can be very time-consuming, and constant changes to what is open or closed means the patrollers are spending a lot of time worrying about setting fences up when they could be making faster progress on control work and getting more terrain open.
On the bright side, stability overall continues to improve, which is a trend that bodes well for expanding the list of open runs at the Lake. The recent sunny weather has made skiing quite pleasant, even though soft snow is getting harder to find (but not impossible). North-facing slopes are generally softer, since they are less affected by the daily melt/freeze action that is more prevalent on south-facing slopes during warmer weather.