Open for Summer

Just in time for the May long weekend, Lake Louise has opened for summer operations. And, while the weather has warmed enough to melt most of the snow around the base area of the resort, it’s been too cool to get the real spring melt going, and the rest of the mountain is still mostly covered in snow. The electric fence surrounding the base area has been inspected and approved, Glacier Express (Grizzly Express in summer) has been converted to summer mode and is ready to provide visitors with a great view of Lake Louise.

One of the bad things about melting snow is that all of the garbage thrown or dropped from lifts and on runs over the course of the winter is now becoming visible, and it never ceases to amaze me how much garbage finds its way to the ground, and not to proper containers. I know that not all of it is intentional, since I can’t imagine people throwing money, cell phones, iPods, etc from the lifts on purpose. As mentioned in the previous post, me must limit the number of trips we make on the lower mountain, and since the snow recedes slowly, we must bear the site of newly exposed garbage under the lift for a week or two until we’re permitted to travel by foot to get it. The promise of treasure always makes it easy to find people for this job!

Even though our winter season ended almost two weeks ago, we still have snow cats hard at work on the mountain. Since snow is the one limiting factor for projects on the upper mountain, the sooner we can clear roads and work sites, the sooner we can get started. Vehicle access to the mountain is limited to road location, but for the most part, roads exist in the right places to get us were we need to go.

On the front side, there is one road that branches off of the Temple road and goes to Whitehorn Lodge. From there the road splits, with one branch going up Eagle Meadows to the top of the Grizzly Gondola, and the other going up through mid-station to Upper Wiwaxy, where it passes the base of the Summit platter and ends at the top of the old Olympic chair. This second road is the one generally used for access to the alpine. On the back side, the Temple road continues past Temple Lodge and up to the base of Paradise chair. The road above the lodge is used mostly by lift maintenance workers, since access to the upper mountain, even on the backside, is faster from the front.

When work is being done on, for example, the Home Run permanent fence, crews must drive to the top of Olympic chair, then hike 25-30 minutes up to the work site. Throw in tools like sledge hammers, generators, etc, and that short hike all of a sudden seems a little longer. In cases like two summers ago, when the entire Home Run permanent fence was dismantled and re-built in a new location, all of the fence supplies (metal pipe and lumber) were flown into place by helicopter.

Another cat project is flattening any areas of deep snow, such as the big jumps in the terrain park. The deeper the snow, the longer it stays, and if the jumps were left untouched, we’d have a wildly varying “green-up”, which is when all the new plant life emerges for the summer. The goal is to have all the vegetation in an area arrive around the same time, rather than have a big pile of snow or brown spot surrounded by deep green grass. Spreading snow around allows it to melt faster, helping us to attain that goal.

When the new plants show up, so do the grazing animals, and there’s nothing better than loading the lift on a quiet summer morning and spotting bears or elk or deer on the way up. Just as driving at dusk or dawn increases one’s chances of spotting wildlife, riding the lift earlier in the morning (9:00-10:00am) is best (we’re closed by the time dusk rolls around). There are also fewer people around, and the ride up and down the lift can be very peaceful and pleasant.

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