Whitehorn I Opens Today (and others, too)

The expansion of open terrain continues at Lake Louise, as recent snow and wind events have improved conditions on slopes that had either been too rocky to open or had lost the bulk of their snow to avalanches. As pre-opening control work wraps up in these areas, today will see, for the first time this season, the opening of Whitehorn I, Adrenaline (‘A’ Gully of Whitehorn II), Lipalian Chutes, and Rock Garden. Also opening recently were Kiddies Corner and Paradise Cornice (aka Cornice Bowl). Also on the road to recovery is the Brownshirt area. Most of the snow on that slope was lost to avalanching a few weeks ago, but now that the run has filled back in, control work is proceeding in all the areas that need it in order for that area to open.

Brownshirt is part and parcel with North Cornice, so the entire area across Brownshirt, over into Upper North Cornice (UNC) and Boundary Bowl, and down onto North Cornice itself requires control work. Yesterday, on a beautiful bluebird morning, I headed that way with my partner and eight explosive shots to see what kind of results we could get. Recent snow followed by wind had led us to expect a wind slab in leeward slopes, so we wanted to hit as many areas as possible to ensure these slabs didn’t pose a threat.

Riding the Summit Platter as the sun appears.

In order to get over to UNC and Boundary Bowl, one needs to cross the top of the main gully of Brownshirt. Early in the season, before the normal ski traverse is in place, control teams must climb up and over the ‘Sneak Attack’ – a ridge-top route that uses fixed ropes to allow patrollers to pass above the slope of concern. From above, shots can be placed directly on the slope below to control it before the traverse is set.

Kicking cornice at the top of Boomerang.

On steep slopes, and especially with wind slab, bombs can bounce off the surface and slide down slope to a point where they’re of little use. Of course, once the shot is thrown, there are no second chances, and the team must await the explosion before continuing. One solution to this problem is to tie the bomb to the end of a long string, with the other end getting attached to a ski pole stuffed into the snow as an anchor. The shot can then be placed precisely on the slope without fear of it bouncing or sliding away. The photo below shows a patroller preparing a shot for the top of Brownshirt main gully.

None of our eight shots produced any significant results, other than breaking up the thin wind slab that had formed. It was only a few cm’s thick, producing small avalanches of little mass. None of the snow below that top layer moved, and our confidence in the stability of the slope increased.

View from top of Brownshirt Peak, with bomb hole visible in foreground.

With control work proceeding nicely, the only other job that remains before that area opens is all of the avalanche and boundary fences that run along the top of the ridge and down Boundary Bowl to the flats behind North Cornice. Once these two jobs are done, skiers can expect Brownshirt, Boundary Bowl, and North Cornice to be added to the list of open terrain.

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