Early Taste of Winter at Lake LouisePosted: September 10, 2011
The Labour Day weekend is usually when thoughts really start to turn to winter at Lake Louise, but even without that spot on the calendar reminding us that opening day is only two short months away, the recent weather provided a brief sample of what’s to come.
After weeks of (finally!) genuine summer weather in August, the forecast took on an ominous tone, with predictions for steeply falling temperatures and snow. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, and the mountains around Lake Louise received a nice crisp dusting of snow, and when the sun emerged again a few days later, everything sparkled. Frost coated the ground in the mornings that followed, cooled by the clear nights, and there were reports of some windshield scraping in Lake Louise and Banff.
We still have another month of operation for our summer sightseeing lift, and while some staff continue to provide our guests with amazing scenery and possibly a bear sighting or three, others are getting ready for winter. The holiday weekend generally marks the arrival of permits to begin our annual program of brush cutting and other trail maintenance work, and weather permitting, will continue as long as possible, ideally until the day the snowmaking system roars to life on October 15.
Other work about to begin includes the installation of more winch anchors, which are used to hold grooming cats firm to the snow as they build runs and perform the nightly grooming. Winch anchors are usually six-foot lengths of steel I-beam or large-diameter pipe, buried six feet deep into the ground with cables extending up and suspended over the ground surface by posts for easier locating. Each year the cat drivers identify spots where anchors would improve the ability of the cats to shape the snow surface exactly how they want, especially on steep and uneven terrain.
A large part of the summer was spent making repairs to most of the large permanent fences that line areas of the upper mountain. These fences are used to collect snow, and suffer a fair amount of abuse over the course of a winter. It is vitally important they remain in good shape, as any broken boards result in a reduced ability to gather snow.
So, with the Labour Day weekend behind us, the Mountain Operations department at Lake Louise switches to jobs that are always a part of the ramp-up to winter – installing snow fence and brushing/clearing of runs. With thousands and thousands of t-posts to pound into the ground before it freezes, the Trail Crew likes to get as early a start as possible. With the ever-present danger of poor weather forcing a change in plans, the team likes to take advantage of nice dry conditions to get as much done on the upper mountain as they can, and the beautiful weather we’ve experienced lately has allowed them to make great progress.
Likewise, the tractor and hand-brushing crews get a lot more done in dry weather, so we can trim the grass and bushes on our runs, helping the snow that falls over the winter last longer into spring. Skiers never get to see the direct results of this brushing and cutting, since the evidence gets buried under the first snowfall of the year. Skiers would notice, however, if this work wasn’t done, since dirt and grass would appear much earlier than usual on the runs, and we’d have a challenge maintaining viable runs to the base area right up until closing day in early May.
These days, it doesn’t matter that the temperatures climbs to 25C every day – it’s September, and there’s lots to do to get ready for the winter.