In Like a Lion, Out Like a LionPosted: March 31, 2012
With March 2012’s position as the best March for snowfall ever at Lake Louise cemented in the books well over a week ago, things never really let up, and skiers yesterday (Friday) enjoyed what many are now calling the best day in years. There wasn’t a dry jacket in the house after a day of wiping snow from goggles and faces, and we’re still a little in awe at how fast it all happened.
For me, it was another morning of doing the daily snow report before leaving my home in Banff for the commute to the Lake, and another near heart-attack as I arrived at work to find conditions nothing like what I had reported. An earlier post described similar shock a few weeks ago as our weather instruments had measured 21cm of overnight snow at our Pika weather plot, and I arrived at work to find maybe 1cm in the parking lot. That time it was temperature that resulted in such a discrepancy between base area and upper mountain snowfall amounts, and I need not have worried – we did indeed have lots of snow higher up.
This time it was the reverse – I reported 4cm of overnight snow at around 5:00am, and as I was speaking with Avalanche Forecaster Craig Sheppard as we got off the bus in Lake Louise at around 7:30am, he informed me that I had been way off, as our Pika plot was reporting close to 20cm. WHAT?!? I couldn’t believe it – how did I make that mistake? Did I forget to carry the 1? I sat down at my computer shaking my head, wondering what had happened. Logging on to our weather plot site, I saw once again that I shouldn’t have worried, as almost all of that snow had fallen in the short few hours between when I did the report and when I arrived at work. 4cm was indeed correct at 5:00am, and we all ended up hardly believing what we were seeing.
To get 20cm or more in three hours means we were experiencing a snowfall rate of over 6cm per hour, which is about as hard as I’ve ever seen it snow here. Heck, we’re thrilled when it hits 2cm per hour! It didn’t let up, and as we made our way onto the mountain for a little avalanche control work, the grins just got wider and wider as it sunk in exactly how epic this day was going to be.
The snow was accompanied by wind, but the extent to which it affected loading and slope stability had yet to be determined. Our control team headed over to Flight Chutes via Home Run, and our first few ski cuts there made it clear that wind loading wasn’t an issue, so we quickly made our way back to the Summit Platter. There were three of us, so we split up to cover more ground. Two of us took care of the Headwall area, and the other went to the Wave at the bottom of Sunset/Skyline. Same story here – drifts as deep as 40cm, and little reaction to ski cuts. The avalanche forecaster than gave the word for the upper mountain lifts to open to the public for front side access.
Whitehorn 1 was next on the hit list, and we made our way down the skier’s right fenceline to control any cornice that had built up overnight. In these cases one patroller will travel along the very top of the cornice. taking care of any overhanging sections, while the other(s) travel in the same direction a few metres below, aiming to trigger avalanches in what are usually the deepest deposits of wind-blown snow (in what we call the “immediate lee”). In a few places some soft slab conditions had developed, and small pockets slid short distances, but otherwise there were no notable results. hat’s one of the beautiful things about good stability – teams can travel much faster through the terrain and get it open to the starving masses that much sooner.
Other areas of the mountain, such as Boomerang, stayed closed longer due to the fact that they are much bigger pieces of terrain that require a corresponding amount of control work. With the heavy snowfall, it’s harder to stay on top of control work in larger areas, and often teams will leave these alone and concentrate on smaller pieces and return to the larger ones once the snow lets up or all other control work is done. Despite the fact that teams generally weren’t seeing significant results in most areas, we still must visit all locations to ensure nothing gets missed.
And now for some numbers. Once the heavy snow let up around mid-day, we were counting well over 30cm at our Pika plot, and close to 40cm on the upper mountain. With this recent storm, we’ve now cracked 2m for the month, a feat not seen in any month since the season of 1955-56 – almost sixty years! When this March beat all others a few weeks ago, this season’s total snowfall to date had us tied in 5th place for all time season totals, with over a month still to go. With this past week’s snowfall approaching 50cm, we’re now solidly in 3rd place. Another 35cm or so will put us in 2nd, and another 70cm or so will put this season at the top of the list.
While it would be nice to have been here for a record-breaking season, either way we’re thrilled with what we’ve got this year, and there’s little doubt that we’re going to have solid skiing right up to closing day on May 6.