The Torch Touches Lake Louise

Weeks of planning and anticipation finally came to an end last week as the Olympic Torch was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd at the Lake Louise Ski Area. In the wake of the torch visit, and only a few days before he heads to Vancouver for a month of work with the upcoming Olympics, Peter Spear has prepared this article about a special day at the resort. Peter, who is also contributing articles about the history of Lake Louise, was involved with the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary as a Manager of youth programs, a job that kept him busy for over three years. Peter is familiar with the excitement that surrounds the Olympics, and has a deep appreciation of the planning, logistics, and emotions related to the event.

The Torch Touches Lake Louise

January 21, 2010, was a special day at the Lake Louise Mountain Resort, as the Olympic Torch relay that had crossed Canada, spent its last afternoon in Alberta before continuing its westward journey to the host province. A crowd of over 500? people were there to enjoy the spectacle of Olympic history in the making and join in all the related fun activities.

The day started out in spectacular fashion, as those of us coming from Calgary were treated to the early morning sunlight touching the peaks in the midst of a deep blue sky.  This was the omen for a great weather day. As we cruised around the area on the blue runs, everything was in top condition as the groomers had done an extraordinary job of treating us to special “corduroy surfaces”. The weather was mild, the Continental Divide peaks were in all their glory, and we all had a great time slope side.

The crowds began to gather around 2:45 to get prime viewing spots along the fence edges of the celebration area and filled the balcony areas of both lodges. There were young children and adults having a marshmallow roast and chatting excitedly about the upcoming event.

At 3:35, the Torch arrived at the front of the Lodge of the Ten Peaks as it had been relayed by runners from the Lake Louise town site. The Torch was handed off to Charlie Locke, the owner of the Lake Louise Mountain Resort and he ran down the stairs, under the passageway and entered the open area where the crowds cheered the arrival. Entering the enclosed area, Charlie climbed to a special box that was on the back of a Bombardier grooming machine (Bombardier had also built all the Olympic Torches). The groomer then travelled 150 metres to a special jump that had been constructed earlier. The groomer came to a stop parallel to, and at the base of the jump face.

That was the signal for the Lake Louise Ski and Snowboard School to descend Easy Street from the Loretta Lumber site and the skiers put on a display of synchronized skiing until they reached the jump base where they formed ranks. From the same high point, skiers and snowboarders in pairs descended at full speed cleared the jump, Charlie and the burning Olympic Torch and landed on the painted Olympic rings just beyond the groomer. When that display  was concluded, the groomer descended to a low point, at which time Charlie got off the groomer, waved the Torch to all assembled, and an emotional singing of “Oh Canada” was sung from tight throats ( some misty eyes). The Torch journey went to the end of the enclosed area where the flame from the Torch was transferred to two miners’ lamps, and the Torch extinguished. The Torch custodians then left the area and went to the top of Kicking Horse Pass, relit a new Torch and former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, passed the Torch to Wally Buono, coach of the B.C. Lions.

Meanwhile, the party began. Literally, hundreds of photos were taken by guests with the Torch over the next few hours. Two hundred guests rode the Grizzly Express Gondola, and ski instructors led them in ability groups to Whitehorn Lodge. There they were treated to snacks, beverages, and the Suds musical duo at their best. Yes, proud parents Charlie and Louise, saw their daughter Robin win the limbo contest for the umpteenth time. Just after 6:00, ability groups were then formed outside and the diligent instructors led the Torchlight Parade back to the base area.

At 7 PM, the Alberta “flaming beef” dinner started with the chefs rolling in the meats on a cart with 60 cm. flames catching everyone’s’ attention. Yes, the dinner was superlative!

Then Suds got the group of over 250 involved with dancing and line dancing.

Thanks to Charlie and the hill staff at all levels for putting on a wonderful day for all guests. By the grins on your faces, you had fun too!! Until the wee hours, the celebration continued. Bring on the Winter Games !!!

Peter Spear

One of the activities available around the base area. (photo: Peter Spear)

Ski School demonstration makes its way to the torch. (photo: Peter Spear)

"Witches" circle the flaming beef! (photo: Peter Spear)

Suds and their backup singers get the crowd rockin'. (photo: Peter Spear)


Whitehorn II and Elevator Shaft Now Open!

Things keep on getting better around Lake Louise, and this weekend was no exception as skiers enjoyed a couple of the best days of the season so far. A nice dump of new snow on Friday followed by sunshine on Saturday allowed control teams to spend a bunch of time in both Whitehorn II and Elevator Shaft, completing the bulk of the control work needed to allow them to open.

And open is what they are – Whitehorn II opened all the way to H Gully (which includes I Gully) on Monday, and today will see the opening of Elevator Shaft once control teams have finished their morning checks. Not only will this be the first time this season that Elevator Shaft is open, but it’s also the first time in three seasons.

The wait is over.

Looking Back Pt 2 – The Olympics and Lake Louise

This Thursday, January 21st,  marks a special day at Lake Louise, not only for this season but also for the history of the ski area. En route to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympic Games, the Olympic Torch will arrive at the Lodge of the Ten Peaks, where it will be handed to Lake Louise Ski Area owner Charlie Locke before making its way to B.C. for the final leg of the journey.

This isn’t the first time Olympic fever has hit Lake Louise. Recently-retired CSPS patroller Peter Spear presents the next installment of his history of Lake Louise, and looks back on Lake Louise’s Olympic ties. 

The Olympics and Lake Louise

Few skiers other than longtime locals and Calgarians, know that there is a direct tie between Lake Louise and the Olympics that have been part of three bids by the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) going back some 50 years.

 CODA proposed Lake Louise as the site for alpine events. Runs had been cleared and a lift put in place that all reflect the Olympic heritage. CODA in 1959, seriously studied the situation in Squaw Valley where the 1960 Olympic Winter Games were to be held. Squaw Valley had been “built with no roads or facilities” when they got the bid, and was a blueprint for a Lake Louise site.

The Sedan lift had been built at Louise from the valley floor to Whitehorn Lodge in 1959, the first development on the Bow Valley side. CODA put in their first bid for the 1964 Games, and knew it was to get exposure on the international scene. Brad Geisler, a CSPS patroller assisted by starting and keeping continuous snow records during an eight year period, as Parks Canada had not yet started collecting data at Louise. This data was important to support the bid.

The meeting in Munich awarded the 1964 Games to Innsbruck, but Calgary was encouraged to return. In the 1962-1963 period, Parks Canada cut a road from the Bow River valley bottom to the Fish Creek bench. European experts had helped design the Men’s and Ladies Downhill courses as the Eagle Poma had been built in 1960. The top of the Eagle Poma was the start of the Ladies Downhill which started at the top of Eagle Flight, descended over the Springboard, then across Eagle Plains and then down the present day “Ladies” to Boulevard and the present base area.

From the Poma top, a high traverse across the present Flight Chutes led to the top of the old Olympic Chair and the start of the Men’s’ downhill at the top of Wrong Turn. The course took its present course across Upper Wiwaxy, then Coaches’ Corner and down Double Trouble and the same finish area as the Women’s. The Olympic Chair was built in 1967. CODA put in their second bid for the 1968 Games and felt confident in their preparation and sites A Banff citizen’s negative letter was read to the delegates, and that perhaps was the turning point as Grenoble was selected over Calgary by two votes!

CODA put in their third bid for the 1972 Games at the meeting in Rome. Excitement was building for the CODA team as Parks Canada staff attended as well as prominent Canadian politicians. A group of environmental groups and universities protested the CODA bid in Rome, but their concerns were dealt with, so CODA thought. The Olympic Winter Games in a National Park was considered a sacrilege by many. To CODA’s dismay Sapporo in Japan was selected, in a National Park, with the proviso that the facilities would be destroyed and the area rehabilitated afterwards.

Vancouver put in a bid for the 1976 Games and lost to Denver. Calgary was successful in winning the bid for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, but the alpine events were held at Nakiska in Kananaskis Country. The games were considered the “best ever Olympic Winter Games’, a standard all following games tried to emulate. Now Vancouver in 2010 has the Games and Whistler has the alpine events. January 21, 2010, will see the Olympic Torch finally arriving at Lake Louise, 46 years after the initial bid.

Peter Spear, January, 2010

Powder Everywhere!

After the nice snowfall we received overnight at Lake Louise, it kept on coming, leaving a lot of people smiling at the end of the day. With drifts up to 20cm deep in some places, and 10-15cm everywhere else, today was a great day to see how those legs held up over the holidays. The forecasts are still calling for the snow to continue until tonight, so we may have even more by the time tomorrow rolls around.

Tickety Chutes


New Snow at the Lake

Had I left work to return home to Banff at the usual time last night, I would not have been around to see the snow start falling shortly after 8:00pm last night, and would have been more surprised to arrive back in Lake Louise this morning to discover almost 10cm of snow had fallen overnight. With little wind to accompany it, the hill is now coated in a nice new fluffy layer of snow. Things will pick up a bit in the avalanche control world at Lake Louise, especially if we get wind in the next few days. Following my last post about Elevator Shaft, crews did have a chance to get a good start on the control work needed to be able to open that area.

Due to the size of the area, many explosive shots are needed to cover everything. To get a head start on things, control teams began with an avalauncher shoot, allowing the deployment of many rounds in a short period. Starting in the Shaft itself, the gun was then aimed to the areas above and on skier’s right and left of the main pitch. After the last shot was fired over towards Wolverine Ridge to cover the exit from Purple Bowl, crews took apart the gun, then returned to the explosives magazine to prepare some hand charges for the afternoon hike up to Elevator Shaft. Another nine shots were deployed by hand, but like the launcher rounds, produced few noteworthy results.

Preparing the avalauncher for a shoot.

To help the projectile find its intended target, the avalauncher gun is aimed in three ways. First, the gun is rotated on the platform so it’s pointing in the right compass direction. The gunner then consults a laminated photo that indicates the other two components: pressure and barrel elevation. These determine the arc of the shot, and are based on experience and assume calm weather, meaning the gunner must make adjustments for wind speed and direction if needed. On the occasions a shot misses its target, adjustments can be made for a second attempt.

The rounds used for the avalauncher are similar to hand charges, but have plastic nose cones and tail fin assemblies added at each end. The nose cone is a simple piece of plastic shaped to make the round aerodynamic, but the tail fin assembly is a much more complicated beast, as it has the firing mechanism and a two-stage safety system in addition to the fins themselves. The safeties work in progression – removal of the first allows the removal of the second. Ignition also happens in stages, with the firing pin igniting a grain of gun powder, which then lights the blasting cap, leading finally to ignition of the round.

The safety system is simple to use, and is effective in making the rounds safe to handle and fire. The firing pin is held in place by a magnet until impact with the ground dislodges it and starts the ignition sequence. Blocking the firing pin is the two-stage safety. The first stage is a pin that is removed by hand once the round is placed in the barrel of the avalauncher. This frees the second stage to be removed, and while also a pin, it gets removed in a different way. It’s attached to a base plate, which looks like the top of a tin can at the rear of the fins. When the round is fired from the barrel, the rushing wind pulls the base plate away from the round, and the second safety pin with it. The firing pin now has clear access to the blasting cap, though this doesn’t happen until the round is well clear of the gun and platform, accomplishing the job it’s supposed to in keeping staff as safe as possible. If you ever have the chance to watch an avalauncher shoot, you can see the round exit the barrel, and then the base plate falling to the ground thirty or forty metres uphill of the gun.

Aiming the avalauncher.

Finishing off the shoot with a few for Wolverine Ridge.

Inversions & Elevator Shaft

I’ve just returned from a post-holiday week off, and found a few questions lurking in the comment section of the Lowdown.  Since they were both pertinent to what’s happening now at Lake Louise, I thought I’d address them here in a post.

The first question regarded the temperature inversion we experienced for a few days around Christmas, and its effect on the snowpack.

Warmer temperatures do indeed affect the snowpack, and while our recent inversion saw temps go above freezing, that’s not always the case. In other words, an inversion alone doesn’t necessarily have implications with regards to snowpack stability. What’s more important is the above-freezing temperatures.

The degree to which warmer temps affect the snowpack depends on both how warm it gets, and how long it stays above freezing. For the most part, we only experienced warming in the top cm or so of the snow, resulting in a softer skiing surface but not penetrating deep enough to really affect the stability. In general, an increase in snowpack temperature is bad for the short-term stability, and good for the long-term, but it needs to affect more than just the surface of the snowpack.

At the other end of the scale, snow becomes least supportive and stable when it becomes isothermal, which means that the entire snowpack, from top to bottom, is the same temperature. This is usually a springtime occurence, as the sun shines more directly on the snowpack and for longer. Towards the end of the ski season, it is common to find that the maximum heat of the day happens around 6:00 or 7:00pm, long after skiers and staff have left for the day. It can be difficult for the snowpack to recover after a long day baking in the sun, particularly if the overnight temperatures do not spend much time below freezing. If the mercury does go below 0C, the surface of the snowpack will begin to freeze, and the longer it stays cold, the deeper that freezing will go, adding to stability. If another hot sunny day follows, then avalanche control crews must continually monitor snowpack temperature on all slopes, as stability can change very quickly, and slopes that were good skiing on one run become unsupportive and dangerous the next.

One could also ask that if melting is limited to the snow surface, can it still alter the stability of the slope’s snowpack. The answer is it can, since any sort of melt/freeze cycle results in a few conditions that can add to avalanche hazard. First of all, a melt/freeze crust is a poor bonding surface, and means that any snow crystals added on top, whether through natural precipitation or wind-loading, don’t have good snow underneath with which to bond. The harder surface also provides a smoother running surface for avalanches, and snow will always be more likely to slide on a hard, smooth surface than on a rough, softer one.


The second question asked what avalanche control work has been done so far this season to get Elevator Shaft open.

The simple answer to that question is that because Elevator Shaft is not lift-serviced terrain, it lies pretty far down the priority list for avalanche control. Big avalanche slopes require intensive work to make ready for skiers, and crews will perform lap after lap after lap to ensure all parts of the slope have been controlled. In a place like Whitehorn II where patrollers can be on the slope literally seconds after getting off a lift, that kind of work is much easier to do than in a place like Elevator Shaft, where crews must hike for 20 or 30 minutes just to get to the top of the slope.

Ease-of-access also means fewer people ski the slope, so naturally more attention will be given to slopes that more people want to ski. Easy-to-access avalanche terrain abounds at Lake Louise, especially now that places like Whitehorn II and ER 6 & 7 open regularly. All of these places require the same intensive control work, and the more frequently avalanche control teams can get in there to do their work, the sooner these places can open.

Having said that, there were some explosive rounds placed on the slope during a shoot with the Marmot avalauncher gun earlier in the season, and that represents all of the control work done in that area so far this year.  With the busy holidays over, control teams expect to resume work there as early as this week, provided of course that Mother Nature cooperates!

A Great Start to 2010

As the Christmas holidays near an end this year at Lake Louise, there are many smiling faces around the resort, thanks largely to the generally warm and sunny weather we’ve been lucky to experience at a time when it can be anything but. On top of that, we’ve received over 20cm of new snow in the last few days, with another 8cm falling overnight last night.

None of the recent snowfall was accompanied by wind, resulting in an even coating of soft fluffy snow all over the mountain. At the same time, a wind event is the only thing we’re missing to create a significant increase in avalanche hazard, both inside and outside the resort boundary. This is due almost exclusively to the weather we’ve experienced since Christmas day.

On the sunnier days earlier in the week, there was a pronounced temperature inversion, and the upper half of the mountain saw daytime temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. This has the effect of melting and adding moisture to the snowpack, and when the mercury drops well below freezing overnight, all that moisture freezes up. The result is a snow surface that is hard and smooth, providing a good sliding surface for any snow that may fall on top of it.

If that wasn’t enough, we also had temperatures that were cold enough to produce both a surface hoar layer and faceting, both of which are weak layers that have little ability to support much of a load, making it easier for new snow to slide on top of it. We now have that new snow, but since it came with little to no wind, there are no slabs, and avalanches are therefore unlikely to occur on those layers.

Wind will change all that, and when it does come (and it will), leeward slopes will see additional snow deposited, creating the slab conditions that will respond much more easily to any load placed upon it. While that load could come in the shape of a skier or snowboarder, we aim to get there first for control work, getting the slopes to avalanche before anyone gets through the gate.

Jan 1, 2020 - The goods in ER 3 (photo - Dave Petch)

Jan 1, 2010 - Patroller finds a stash (photo - Dave Petch)

Happy New Year!