Portrait of a Ski Area – Trail Maps Reinvented (part 3)

Part 1

Part 2

With the revised comprehensive sketch for the back side now in my possession, I continued to find areas that required changing. Like the first round of edits, there was nothing major, but I thought that since we’re only doing this once, let’s do the best we can. With some of the items I thought I may have been a little nit-picky, and communicated this to James, who quickly assured me that nothing was too nit-picky. If anything, he was as interested as I in getting it right, down to the smallest detail. I sent James a second list of revisions, and he replied that he would incorporate them onto the final painting rather than do another sketch, which would add time to the process. Even on those paintings, changes could be made, even if we discovered something years after the fact!

I now waited eagerly for the front side sketch. As this view was going to show both the south face and Larch areas – a view we had not attempted before – I was keen to see how it was going to turn out. James’ first rough sketch (below) had used a perspective that viewed the resort from a more westerly aspect than previous maps, allowing the inclusion of Larch.

Of course, such a view in real life would still not allow one to see the north side of the Larch area. Runs like Lynx and Wolverine would be hidden from view. But, using his clever use of terrain warping, James planned to make these runs visible, as they are in the sketch above, even if it makes Larch look flatter than it is.

When the comprehensive sketch arrived in my inbox, James wrote that he had encountered more difficulty than expected in making this view as planned. As he put it, he had to think outside the box in order to render what would otherwise be an impossible view. He felt the angles were just too extreme, and he had to come up with a way to indicate that the views of the front side and of Larch were from different angles, while still showing how they related to one another.

One of Jim’s solutions was to show the south half of Larch on the front side map, and the north half on the back side map, but we felt it would make the Larch area seem too disjointed. Another solution involved adding ‘breaks’, or white lines, to indicate the change of angle, and these are shown in the comprehensive sketch below.

Even with the breaks, James was able to preserve the connection between Larch and the front side by lining up the Ski Out and road which join the two. Those familiar with the Lake Louise area mountains, however, will notice that most of Wolverine Ridge and parts of Mt. Redoubt behind it are gone, their places taken instead by the upper of the two breaks. Having not expected this twist, I was nonetheless impressed with James’ ability to solve the problem without reducing the map’s effectiveness.

Like the back side sketch, I used one of our current maps to ensure every named run was visible and in the right place with the right attributes. Again I made a list of required changes, marked them on a copy of the sketch, and sent it back to James for revision.

With revisions to both the front and back side sketches now underway, the only one that remained was that of the overhead view. The emphasis on this would be more of providing a ‘big picture’ view of the ski area, rather than a detailed navigational aid, so I wasn’t expecting the detailed revisions that existed for the first two sketches.

Coming soon: Part 4


Here Comes the Snow!

Lake Louise – Oct 19, 2012

Yes indeed, things are looking a whole lot whiter around Lake Louise after last night’s snowfall. We’ve had a number of days with snowfall over the last few weeks, but this is the first that resulted in significant accumulation not only at the base area, but in the village of Lake Louise at valley bottom as well. And while winter preparations have been well underway since the Labour Day weekend, having the white stuff on the ground really adds to the sense that the 2012-13 ski season is just around the corner. With three weeks to go until opening day, there’s still lots to do.

The larger summer projects are starting to wrap up. The Sunny T-Bar was removed in early September, and now the finishing touches are being put on the two new beginner carpets that will take its place. One is running, the other is close. T-Bars are becoming an exception in the ski industry, and fewer people are familiar, or even comfortable, riding them. Carpets are becoming increasingly common, and present a much less intimidating experience for those starting out on the skiing and snowboarding careers.

Sept 30, 2012 – Only the top bull wheel of Sunny T-Bar remains.

Oct 19, 2012 – Carpets are in!

The Trail Crew have also been busy since Labour Day, as they are every year. With thousands of t-steel to pound into the ground before the snow flies, the race is always on to cover as much ground as possible as quickly as possible. Then, when the ground freezes (and can therefore support the force of the wind), they can begin to tie fences to the steel, which is now about two-thirds complete. The first fence to go up every year is that which runs parallel to the Summit Platter lift line, from the very top down to around tree line. Quick access to the upper mountain by trail crew and avalanche control is critical at this time of year, and the sooner they can switch their hiking boots for skis the faster they’ll move around. It’s no secret that the wind is very much our friend here at Lake Louise, and by putting up kilometres of snow fence, we help get the snow to where we need it the most.

The Avalanche Control department has come to life this past week, and now that there’s snow on the mountain, the big job of observing and recording the life of the snow pack over the course of the winter begins. Even with only a few centimetres on the ground, how that snow is affected by weather conditions can have huge consequences on the long-term stability of the snow pack once it gets deeper. Weak layers may not contribute to avalanche hazard when there’s only a few centimetres of snow, but if those layers are allowed to remain once more snow falls on top, then those layers become stressed from the added burden, and can result in conditions that makes avalanche professionals’ hair stand on end. The key is getting to these areas of early snow and disturbing the layers that have formed and reducing the hazard before it becomes one.

We’ve had a number of snow fall events over the last few weeks, and while any snow that fell on the front side (south-facing slopes) melted away each time, that which fell on slopes with northerly aspects (back side) was slower to do so, and some remained leading up to the bigger snowfall we received last night. Our Pika weather plot recorded around 15cm of new snow overnight, and with temperatures not dipping far below freezing, the snow is denser than what we usually get. This bodes well for the formation of a stable snow pack, as the ideal is to have heavier, denser snow below, and lighter  snow on top. Those in the biz refer to this as a snow pack being built “right-side-up”. An upside-down snowpack, all too common in these parts, is exactly that – heavier denser snow on top of lighter snow. It’s late enough in October for there to be confidence that much of this snow will stick around, especially higher on the mountain.

Lower on the mountain, our permit to blow man-made snow came into effect on October 15th, as it does each year. With snow guns, hoses, and generators all in place, and sufficient water in the Pipestone River, all that was required were freezing temperatures, and it wasn’t until yesterday that it got cold enough for there to be a sustained snowmaking effort. White dots began to appear on the mountain and grew over the course of the day. Even with lots of early-season natural snowfall, we still rely on our extensive snowmaking system to allow us to open early in November.

Another staple of our fall season is brush-cutting, where crews trim the growth that has appeared on ski runs over time. This has traditionally been performed by ski area staff and equipment, but this year the job was contracted to a professional outfit out of Golden, BC, as it was felt that the job would go faster and more efficiently if done by experts.

For a number of reasons, we aren’t permitted to begin brushing until after Sept 1 each year, so the window of opportunity can be short, particularly if the weather doesn’t cooperate. Luckily the weather behaved throughout September and into October, and crews were able to completely brush Ptarmigan, Raven, Old Ptarmigan, Lynx, and Larch Poma. Lynx in particular has me excited, as it is one of the steepest runs at Lake Louise that lies below tree line, and other than the knee- to waist-high trees that have sprung up in the last bunch of years, is smooth and grassy, requiring only a little snow to make it an excellent early-season contender.

There’s some more snow in the forecast for the near future, along with temperatures that are expected to remain below freezing. Provided all the planets align, we could be well on our way to a great start to the 2012-13 season. Stay tuned!

Portrait of a Ski Area – Trail Maps Reinvented (part 2)

Link to part 1: Portrait of a Ski Area – Trail Maps Reinvented (part 1)

Now that the perspectives to be used for each view were confirmed, James got to work on the next step of the process – the comprehensive sketches. These would also be done in pencil, but with much more attention to detail. I was excited to see this next stage, as I felt this is where the real feel of Lake Louise would come through.

When going through countless aerial photos earlier in the process, I was continually reminded of how many places on the mountain look like they might be ski runs, but aren’t, such as old lift cut lines, summer roads, power lines, and abandoned runs. For example, on the front side alone, there are six old lift lines – Olympic, Glacier triple chair, Friendly Giant, Whitehorn gondola, Eagle chair, and Eagle Poma. I was curious to see if these red herrings would throw James off the scent of the current and active layout of the mountain. As it turns out, a veteran ski map artist doesn’t get distracted that easily.

The first sketch to arrive in my inbox was that of the back side. My first thought was that calling it a ‘sketch’ was a disservice, as I was looking at something that would happily find a place on my wall. Before diving into the details, I was struck by how the mountain was lit. James managed to capture a look that skiers get to see on those mornings where there’s a perfect mix of sun and cloud, and the mountain and all of its features are cast in a beautiful glow.

I was also happy with the perspective, as everything from Ptarmigan Chutes to Boundary Bowl was clearly displayed. I was particularly pleased to see that the North Cornice area, barely a lump in our current maps, finally had received its place in the sun (literally).

Eventually I got to work going over the fine points of the sketch. I opened one of our current paper trail maps, then went through every run in order to make sure it was present and in the right place, and with all the right attributes (steepness, width, etc). I made a list of changes as I went along, then made a copy of the sketch with my marks and notes on it and sent it back to James. The changes were all little things – shade this in here, add a cat track there, and so on. He had done a remarkable job of getting it right, especially since he had not come to the resort at the start of the process. James quickly made the edits, and shortly after I had the revised sketch. My marked-up version and the revised sketch are shown below so you can see what changes were needed, and how they were made.

Even though it lies outside our boundary, we both felt that showing the Hidden Bowl and Corral Creek areas accurately was important. I hadn’t thought to include photos of those areas at first, but did once I saw the first sketch and decided they should be done right, and James got them pretty much bang on.

Part 3

Blast From the Past

In today’s post I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at those innocent days of stretch pants and skinny skis. To back up a bit, last year ski area staff were poking around in one of our various storage rooms and came across some items buried deep in a dark, dusty corner, covered in cobwebs and surrounded by human skeletons (not really). The items were a 16mm film projector and a few stacksl of film reels. Jason MacQueen, our present-day video guy, managed to get the projector working after who-knows-how-many years of neglect, and set to work discovering what lay hidden on those reels.

After an hour or so of viewing, Jason wiped the smile off his face and sent the reels to Calgary to have them converted into digital files. We were then all treated to the contents, which turned out to be a collection of Lake Louise promotional films from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, in all their retro glory. The longer films have been chopped down into shorter segments, all of which we plan to release regularly over the coming season, and beyond. Check the Lake Louise Ski Area Facebook page every Thursday starting this week for a new installment. For now, please enjoy the video below as a taste of what’s to come and try not to get excited about the coming winter.