Onward and UpwardPosted: December 5, 2011
With a great early season at Lake Louise still rolling along, this coming week will see even more runs opening as crews work hard in all corners of the resort. The Mountain Operations department is running on all cylinders, with Snowmakers, Groomers, Ski Patrol and Avalanche Control all doing their part.
Immediately following Sunday’s last race of this season’s edition of the World Cup, crews got to the task of dismantling the course, from its start at the top of Sunset Gully to the finish just above the base area. What took months to construct will largely be gone in a matter of days, with priority given to any netting or fencing that blocked access to other runs. With that out of the way, Juniper opened today, thanks to snowmaking that was able to continue during the night throughout the World Cup. Once the run was cleared, it was a relatively quick job of having the cats do the final build and Ski Patrol placing barricades, fence, and signage in the right spots.
Men’s Downhill will take a few days longer to get ready, mainly because all of the 10m-high ‘A’ net that lines the sides of the World Cup course. This is the tensioned safety net that keeps fallen racers on the course and out of the woods, and is anchored into the snow along its entire length. If left in place when the run opens, people skiing along the sides quickly build up snow that buries the net itself, and it becomes a huge task to remove, requiring snow cats and a run closure to excavate and increasing the potential to damage expensive equipment. Once the anchors are dug up, crews can go about removing the netting and cables unobtrusively and without preventing the run from opening.
On Juniper Jungle, snowmaking is going at full tilt making enough snow for what will once again be the Showtime terrain park. If optimal snowmaking conditions continue, we could see a park there in a week or so. The likely scenario is that as much snow as possible will be blown by day’s end Friday. If forecasts predict ideal snowmaking conditions through the weekend, then it will continue non-stop. If warmer temperatures seem likely, then the guns will be turned off, the huge mounds of snow will be pushed flat, and Juniper Jungle will open as a groomed run for the weekend. The goal is to have a uniform covering of at least 45cm of man-made snow on the run, and once the weekend is over, this snow will be re-gathered and distributed into piles that will eventually become the take-offs and landings of the park features. The SBX (Skier/boarder cross) course also returns this year, with a slightly altered course in the same location as last year.
Higher on the mountain, control teams are moving further into avalanche terrain. A heli-bombing mission last week helped to defuse the bomb of a heavy load on top of a weak facet layer in the snowpack, and while much of the Lake’s double-black diamond terrain is in rebuilding mode after a cycle of natural and explosive-triggered avalanches cleared much of the snow out, crews have still been able to prepare a lot of our bread and butter single-black diamond terrain. Teams are aiming to have Ptarmigan Chutes and Lower Rock Garden open Tuesday, with 2/3 Shoulder, Crow Bowl, and East Bowl following hot on the heels on Wednesday. Of course, this is barring any weather that may decide to force a re-think of the plan.
Once these areas open, teams will move over to the North Cornice area to finish work there. Brownshirt and North Cornice are separate runs, but are treated as one piece of avalanche terrain. They both close and open together – if one is considered safe and the other not, then they both stay closed. Brownshirt is in better shape than North Cornice, but both are far enough along that not much more control work is needed before they can open. Please remember – almost ready to open does not mean open. Crews can’t get ahead if they spend their time worrying about people entering closed areas while explosives are in use.
And while places like Whitehorn II, ER6, and ER7 are rebuilding, it still pays off enormously for crews to head in there and continue control work, as every visit inches the runs closer and closer to their eventual opening. The more they can cut up and disrupt any troublesome layers in the snowpack, the more stable it will become. This bodes well for these runs opening on the sooner rather than later side, provided the weather cooperates of course!
On Sunday, after the race and before the helicopters that were here for the World Cup returned to Canmore, a few of us loaded into one of them and spent just under thirty minutes traveling around the ski area and across the valley on a photography mission, taking advantage of clear skies and great conditions for aerial photos.
One of the things I noticed in the few seconds I took to breathe every once in a while were the amount of ski tracks in uncontrolled terrain outside the ski area boundary. Despite consistent and significant avalanche hazard, and bulletins and notices stating such, people are taking their chances in questionable areas. There are tracks in the centre of West Bowl, which has recently slid, as well as in Deep Throat and Maintenance Gully. Skiers exploring the Corral Creek slide paths at the south-east end of Richardson’s Ridge found out the close and personal way just how touchy things were in that area, luckily with no negative consequences.
All anyone has to do is look up into places like Whitehorn II to see the results of natural avalanches. Natural means it happened on its own, with no human or human-caused trigger. If conditions are such that large avalanches can happen on their own, then adding the weight of a skier or two onto a slope certainly does not help the situation. Parks Canada currently states the backcountry danger rating as ‘considerable’ at tree-line and above, which means natural avalanches are possible, and that human-triggered avalanches are likely. Likely is a big word, and backcountry travelers must be ready to practise the careful snowpack observation, cautious route-finding, and conservative decision-making that the ‘considerable’ rating suggests. Looking at the tracks from the helicopter, it didn’t look like many were taking these essentials into account.
With in-bounds skiing so good right now, we hope that it’s easier to be patient and that people looking for good backcountry turns wait a bit to let things settle down a bit.