Getting Ready for Some Snow

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.

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