Opening in 10 Days

With ten days to go before the scheduled opening day of Lake Louise’s 2009-10 season, the mountain is humming with activity as all departments prepare for the big day. The snowmaking crew, working for a few weeks now, are getting more hours under their belts as temperatures continue to cool and the snow guns see more action. As I pass through the construction area on the highway east of Lake Louise early each morning, I can see the lights that dot the mountain, each one attached to an electric fan gun. If the light is on, the gun is blowing snow, and more lights means more snow.

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Fan guns do their stuff.

There isn’t enough snow on the mountain yet to begin run preparation, but snow is in the forecast through the coming week, and things will keep getting better. There’s still lots to do at  the base, as the momentum builds and new staff arrive daily. The trail crew has tied most of their fence to the steel rails pounded into the ground back in September, and the long fence lines are clearly visible from the village of Lake Louise.

Among the new arrivals in town are the members of the Ski Patrol, who have come from all over and begin their training tomorrow (Wed) and goes for seven days. Lift evacuation practice is the main focus, along with orientation sessions about all areas of the department and the resort. There is some first aid training as well, but since all patrollers already have an advanced first aid ticket, the focus is on essential skills. The same is true of their skiing – they have already passed a ski test or have previous patrol experience, so there is little on-hill training up until opening day.

Lift evacuation gets a lot of attention during training because the methods vary according to lift type. For chairlifts, the method depends on whether the chairs are fixed-grip or detachable. Different approaches are required to move the evacuation set-up from one chair to the next, as the grip on a detachable chair is much bulkier and will not allow the rope to pass over. Gondola evacuation is another story, with patrollers required to visit each cabin on the line, either by travelling down the haul cable Bond-style on a harness/roller device, or by ascending a rope directly to the cabin. To get the rope up and over the haul line (which can be 20 or more metres above the ground), a device called a line launcher is used.

Looking like a toy gun, the launcher uses a foam projectile to pull a thin pilot line over the cable, which is then used to pull the thicker and heavier evacuation rope up and over. The launcher uses a blank .22 cartridge to propel the foam and string. The other method, travelling down the line on a roller, requires a team of two to ascend the lift tower uphill of the cabin to be evacuated. One patroller rolls down the line, while the other belays from the tower. It’s exciting stuff, but complicated and physically demanding, too.

Don’t forget to check the weather forecasts linked to on the right of the page, particularly Lake Louise and Lake Louise Snow Forecast. They say different things, but they both say snow. For the snow forecast, the link now takes you directly to the page for the upper mountain (2636m). Scroll down a bit and look for the red numbers.

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