Another big day at Lake Louise! Big snow and bigger winds made for an interesting morning on the mountain, as Trail Crew spent most of their time replacing all the snow fence that got blown away from the winds that gusted to 100km/h, and avalanche control teams went out on their routes expecting big results from the thirty-five explosive shots that had been prepared for the morning.
One of my favourite control routes at Lake Louise is the ER 5/6 Shoulder, which begins at Cornice Bowl near the top of Paradise chair, and follows the ridge that divides ER 5 and 6. This is terrain that only ever opens when Upper ER 5 is open, so it offers a perspective of the mountain that is very different from those we get to see every day. It’s also a pretty rugged descent along the ridge, which is wind-exposed and usually scoured, meaning one shouldn’t take their best pair of skis when doing that route.
My partner and I, having been assigned to that route, made our way to the top of Paradise and then over to Cornice Bowl, where we’d usually remove any newly formed cornice on our way across. This is done as often as possible in order not to allow the cornice to grow too big, which could pose a hazard if left unchecked for to long (sort of like cutting your hair a bit each day, rather than waiting for it to get too long). We were a bit surprised to see that there was little if any cornice development overnight, especially given the new snow and accompanying high winds, and made our way to the top of the ER 5/6 Shoulder control route.
We had nine shots between the two of us, with placements planned along the length of the ridge. When placing charges over a cornice, we’ll first tie the shot to one end of a pre-measured length of parachute cord, and a ski pole inserted into the snow to the other. This helps place the shot exactly where we want it. (Why not just hold the one end of cord in one’s hand? Well, it’s considered a good idea to have a bit of distance between oneself and the shot when it goes off, and the cord isn’t all that long. The ski pole can be left in the snow while the patrollers retreat and await the blast). The wind was still howling as we made our way down the ridge, so it was a little tricky trying to keep our balance as we prepared the shots to throw onto the slope, and visibility was wildly variable.
The video below shows some of the action from the route. In one clip you can see the patroller attaching the ignitor to the fuse, lighting it, then setting his watch to count down the two and a half minutes it takes for the fuse to burn and set off the charge. It’s also possible to see him listen to the fuse. On rare occasions the ignitor will not light the fuse, so it’s best to ensure a good burn before throwing the shot. A burning fuse has a unique sound, and this is one way to ensure the bomb will go off, rather than having a “dud” that takes a few additional hours to deal with. At one point, the patroller turns to me to confirm a burning fuse (though it’s hard to hear over the sound of the wind). And then, finally, watch the ravaging hordes descend en masse as control work wraps up and Paradise Bowl opens to the public.
With over 25cm of snow in the last 24hrs, and with the clouds breaking, Sunday is shaping up to be another fantastic day of skiing. Poor visibility kept some of the crowds off the upper mountain on Saturday, meaning much of yesterday’s snow remains untouched, with the overnight snowfall covering everything.
Along with the snow, the wind was a major factor overnight. They started blowing in the 25-30km/h range in the evening, then around 10:00pm picked up to the 30-50km/h range with gusts hitting up to 100km/h. Long-time Lake Louise skiers know what this means – lots of snow blown into our leeward slopes, in places like Whitehorn I and Boomerang. There will some delays getting avalanche terrain open today, as those kinds of winds can create slab conditions that are more problematic to control, and take longer for crews to become comfortable with when considering opening terrain for the public.
Nevertheless, skiing will be great again today – enjoy!!
After a day of continuous snowfall at Lake Louise, things just keep on getting better. This current storm has dropped 19cm of snow at our Pika weather plot as of around 3:00pm, and with the snow still coming down and expected to fall straight through the night, Sunday could be another in a long line of epic days at Lake Louise this season.
Weekends certainly seem the time to be at Lake Louise so far this season, as almost every storm that’s hit this area has come late in the week, and this weekend will be no exception. With almost 10cm of new snow at our Pika weather plot and up to 15-20cm in some alpine areas (and still snowing!) weekend skiers and riders will again be treated to great conditions.
Avalanche crews have made some great progress in the last few weeks, as breaks in snowfall have allowed them to spend more time in terrain that has yet to open. This includes places like Brownshirt main gully, Boundary Bowl (aka Out of Bounds Bowl), Whitehorn II ‘B’ Gully, ER 3, ER 6, and Elevator Shaft. Recently opened was ER 7, all the way from Big 7 over to the ER7 gullies, and Kiddie’s Corner, allowing access from that side over to Lower ER 5.
As mentioned in previous posts, all of the snow received at Lake Louise in the new year has improved our black diamond terrain considerably. Avalanche control teams were unable to save most of our double black diamond runs, however, as they avalanched down to the November rain crust that has provided a sliding surface all season long. This is hard to stomach, knowing that a near-record January’s worth of snow has cleared off of a slope, but this is the only chance the runs have of opening. Crews can now go into these areas and attempt to break up the crust and other weak layers, so that any subsequent snowfalls have a chance of staying on the slope and we can finally open up some of our marquee steeps. Stay tuned…
Leaving Banff this morning after brushing the new snow off my car, I was hopeful on the drive that the height of new snow would increase as I approached Lake Louise. Alas, it was not to be, and the forecasted 30-55cm overnight failed to materialize. We did get 8cm at our weather plot near Pika corner, however, which means skiing conditions will once again be fantastic, especially as the new snow sits on top of the soft snow from a few days ago. With light winds blowing during the night, the new snow should cover the mountain in a nice even layer, and places that saw good conditions on the weekend, will be even better today.
Not just big, but really big, according to the computer models used by our avalanche control department.
Avalanche forecasters at Lake Louise use a number of different models from different sources when trying to come up with an accurate view of what weather is headed our way. Like any forecasts, there’s always a margin for error, sometimes much wider than others. Along with the models we use, one can find critiques of these models, and they don’t always agree with what the models are saying.
This time, however, there seems to be widespread agreement that a significant storm has just hit the B.C. coast and will arrive over the Great Divide around lunchtime today (Sunday), and will continue overnight and into tomorrow. One of the more difficult components of weather to forecast is precipitation amounts, so there are varying opinions as to how much this area will receive. However, the most conservative of these forecasts is calling for 30cm of snow, while others are predicting up to 55cm.
Exactly how much snow falls in Lake Louise remains to be seen, but confidence is high that we’ll get lots, and skiers who hit the slopes Monday and Tuesday will find out exactly how much.
UPDATE: Started snowing at Lake Louise shortly after 9:00am – ahead of schedule!
7:30am Friday at Lake Louise:
After getting up onto the mountain, we were happy to discover another 10cm of new snow had fallen overnight. This amount had not been recorded by our remote weather station at Pika Corner, and the suspicion was that the measuring board had been blown clear by the high to extreme winds the area saw during the night. We knew there would be some snow, but exactly how much would require crews to see for themselves. Around 8:30am, the day’s avalanche forecaster paid a visit to our informal plot near the base of Top of the World chair and saw that 10cm had accumulated since the end of day yesterday, and the snow was still coming down.
With more snow in the forecast for this weekend, great conditions at Lake Louise just keep getting better, with another stellar weekend knocking on the door.