The 5/6 Shoulder

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.

Not much of a cornice in Cornice Bowl.

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.

On the edge of the ridge with the howling wind.

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.

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One Comment on “The 5/6 Shoulder”

  1. Rob Butler says:

    Thanks for sharing this exciting work that keeps us all safer at the Lake. Great website.


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