Lake Louise at the Olympics (and a Gold Medal!)

The involvement of Lake Louise in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games began with the arrival of the Olympic Torch in January, stopping briefly on its way back to B.C. and eventually Vancouver. Former Lake Louise patroller Peter Spear wrote about how Lake Louise had been involved in previous attempts to get the Olympics in Alberta, and now, working for the Vancouver games, he continues with this article, revealing how much Lake Louise is involved in 2010.

Lake Louise at the Olympics and a Gold Medal


On Friday, February 12, 2010, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games will officially begin. For the next 16 days, some 2700 athletes and their officials representing more than 80 countries will join 25,000 volunteers plus staff, participants and contractors who will work for VANOC. More than 10,000 media representatives will record the action to an international audience estimated at three billion viewers. Seven sports representing 15 disciplines will create 86 medal events at nine competition venues.

Lake Louise volunteers will play a significant role at Whistler Creekside, the site of the 10 alpine events. Lake Louise for more than 20 years has been the site of the Winterstart World Cup events in downhill and super giant slalom, hosting five races over a two week period in late November and early December each year.

The Canadian Ski Patrol System (CSPS) Lake Louise members have served an important role since the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.

Patrollers Brian Weightman, Rob Shugg, Rick Murdock and Ken Brown were the organizers and coordinators of over 250 CSPS members across Canada who worked all the outdoor venues during the Games, plus long track speed skating. Brian Honeywell, Ken Lukawy and Howard Anderson were involved in 1988 and again this year at Creekside.

Half of the 44 patroller ‘inside the nets” at Creekside are CSPS Lake Louise. Over the decades, various other Louise members developed the “Racer Down Protocol” which is a system that ensures the safety of competitors, officials and hill volunteers when an accident occurs during training and races. This protocol was originally put into print in 1978 by Bruce Hamstead, a Louise Patroller. It was fine- tuned by Bonny Mckendrick, Angie Alexander (Meyers) and Dr. Lois Torfasson and became so successful, that it is now the international standard for World Cup races and the Olympics. See for Calgary zone and for more information about this national first aid group with over 5,000 active members in Canada.

The Medical team also includes EMT personnel and doctors, several of whom will be at Whistler Creekside.  The Medical Team does simulations of accidents and the ensuing heli-evacs. The best time for “racer down” to evacuation is about 12 minutes. In November 2008, about 40 doctors from VANOC came to Lake Louise to experience Medical Team “reality’ and left impressed with the caliber of the CSPS .In all, there will be 200 CSPS members from across Canada working in various medical roles for VANOC. Tom Rich, an emergency room doctor at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, has done many World Cups and will also be at Creekside. Joan Maguire, Regional Medical Manager, Whistler, has also played a major role at Lake Louise for the Medical Team on World Cup events.

Race officials from the World Cup events at Lake Louise are also involved at Whistler Creekside. Their decades of experience will assist in the organization to make the alpine events run smoothly. They include Darrell MacLauchlan (Chief of Competition, Men’s), Craig Smith (Chief of Course, Ladies Speed), Mike Kirker (Chief of Course, Men’s Speed), and Jim Brewington (Assistant Chief of Competition, Ladies). They are part of Alberta Alpine. See Bruce Hamstead has represented the Lake Louise Race Organizing Committee (ROC) at all FIS World Cup committee meetings. He is also the contact/voting member for all Lake Louise ROC at the Club 5+ meetings.

Course crew members at Louise are nicknamed Sled Dogs and they do the course work of assisting with A and B net installation, course grooming and other race-related grunt work. Their moniker goes back again to the 1988 games. With high winds and temperatures at Nakiska, the course crew had to ‘work like dogs” to get the course in shape for the events. This morphed into “sled dogs” after Siberian Huskies for their persistence and dedication to work. Their website is for more interesting historical notes. For many years, they have worked side by side with the Whistler Weasel Workers who come annually from Whistler to help with World Cups. See for their history. Now, things are reversed, and the Sled Dogs have traveled to Whistler to work with and party at Weasel House at Creekside.

Maelle Ricker made Canadian Olympic history on Tuesday, February 17, 2010, as she was the first Canadian female athlete to win a gold medal at an Olympic games in Canada. Her father Karl was a volunteer ski patroller at Whistler for years as Maelle and her brother Jorle learned their snow skills. Quickly, both the kids emerged as premier snowboarders. Jorle almost made the Canadian Olympic half- pipe team in the past, and Maelle continued to excel at the international level. Karl has been a Whistler Weasel Worker for decades, and has been recognized at Lake Louise by the ROC as “the best course worker” several years ago. His hard work continued as he was preparing the downhill course at Whistler when Maelle won her gold at Cypress. Congratulations to Maelle, Karl, Nancy, and Jorle.

Of the 350 volunteers on course at Creekside, 150 of them are Lake Louise trained and tested. Indeed it is truly “Lake Louise at the Olympics”. All of these Medical Team, Course Crew and Race Officials are volunteers, and are taking their holiday. time to work at the Games. Then, many of they will go back again in March to do the Paralympics.

Dedication and service of the highest order. Congratulations to all of you!

Go Canada Go!!!

Peter Spear February, 2010

World Cup ski patrol practise a heli-evacuation (photo: Geoff Scotton)

CSPS patrollers at Lake Louise for the World Cup races (photo: Geoff Scotton)


More Beautiful Weather at the Lake

The sunny weather just keeps on coming at Lake Louise, as this weekend skiers once again enjoyed beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures. The snow we received recently has gone a long way toward improving ski conditions as well, and there’s nothing better than great visibility to make for some epic days.

Overall, snow stability inside the ski area boundary is good, allowing control teams to open avalanche terrain first thing in the morning. At the same time, anyone looking closely at the surface of undisturbed snow will have noticed the presence of surface hoar – those large, feathery snow crystals that develop in colder temperatures and during clear nights.  By itself, surface hoar isn’t an issue, and can even provide some nice soft turns, which is currently the case at Lake Louise. Hoar crystals, whether formed at the surface of the snow or deeper in the snowpack, are notoriously weak and unsupportive, and have been the culprit in countless avalanches, especially in the Rockies.

Surface hoar on Summit.

Surface hoar close-up.

Another significant development at Lake Louise this week was the completion of the cat road that accesses Boomerang from the top of the Summit Platter. Until now, the access across the top of Whitehorn II has been a ski traverse, and only this week was a cat finally able to make it all the way across. Building the road by cat is a long process, as the underlying terrain is steep and bouldery, and this work generally takes place in the dark.  Snow pushed by cats starts off quite soft, and may take days to firm up enough to support the weight of the cat. Baby steps is the name of the game, as the cat will advance five or ten feet at a time, then return a day or two later for the next push, eventually reaching the flats near the gate to Whitehorn II F,G, and H Gullies.

Nice new cat road into Boomerang.

The more snow there is to work with, the easier it is for the cats to fill in the side slope and create a flat and level skiing surface. The area around the Boomerang gate and the Platter lift hut usually collects a huge drift, and this snow is used to create the traverse. Usually on a steep side slope, lots of snow is lost as it slides downhill beyond the reach of the cat, so in order to prevent too much loss, the Trail Crew sets up a row or two of plastic fence to act as a snow catcher. Once the snow hardens, the fence can be removed and the road will retain its shape. In order to make room for the cat to work, patrollers at the end of the day must pull all signage and fencing in the area, then reset it all the following morning. Because this is all avalanche terrain, signs and fences must all be up early in the day, before any skiing public gets there.

Not only does the cat road allow for easier skier access to Boomerang, it also means that cats can travel the length of the run, laying down a few passes of corduroy in the process. In order for this to happen, though, another shorter cat road must be built across the bottom of Whitehorn III. Since this road can only be built from above, the traverse from the gate must be complete before work begins lower down. Only when both these roads are built can the run be groomed from top to bottom, which is when it truly becomes a blue run.

It isn’t uncommon for skiers entering Boomerang to see a black diamond sign at the entrance. This is in place whenever the lower traverse isn’t yet established or is closed due to avalanche hazard from Whitehorn III above. Because skiers are now forced to go around on ungroomed terrain, the blue run becomes a mostly blue run with a short section of black near the bottom.

For the lower traverse, snow doesn’t accumulate like it does at the top of Summit, so when conditions are right, cats will get a bit of help from the avalanche control team, who will blast as much snow as they can in Whitehorn III so it avalanches down onto the cat track and can be put to good use.

Another benefit of having cat access to Boomerang is the work that can be done in Windy Gap. As one of the consistently windiest spots at the resort, a big effort is always required in order to get snow to stay on the ground. Intensive snow fencing and constant maintenance is needed so that skiers can pass through the Gap without having to take their skis off – a reality in some lean years. Once a cat can get there, it can not only move around the snow collected by the fences, it can also move snow from a large wind lip, called Air Canada, that forms below the top entrance to West Bowl. This lip represents a huge stash of snow, but is too much and too far away to move by hand. That fact that Windy Gap lies between the two cat tracks means that it can’t get worked until both are in place.

In previous years, other plans have been developed in order to get a cat to Windy Gap before the roads were built. One plan involved leaving a cat in the Gap itself for the summer, so that once it snowed, it was already there and could begin work long before the cat tracks were in place. There were two challenges with this plan. The first was  that the battery in the cat lost its charge, and with no power supply even remotely close, a portable generator had to be brought to the site so the cat would start. The second challenge is that a cat is an important piece of machinery, and having it restricted to Windy Gap for the first part of the season means it cannot be used on other parts of the mountain, especially with big early season events like the World Cup needing all hands, and cats, on deck.

Another plan involved having the cat (and a very brave operator) travelling along the narrow ridge leading uphill from the top of the Summit Platter over to the top of Outer Limits (Peak) and down to the top entrance to West Bowl. This turned out to be a one-way trip, however, as it was steeper coming back, and the cat had difficulty making it up the grade.

Our efforts are now focused on how the snow fence is deployed, and while we met with some success this season in gathering snow, we’ve also seen our fair share of abnormal weather, so it may take a few years to see if this was a fluke or if it did indeed succeed because of the fence placement.