After months of intensive control work and less-than-ideal cooperation from this winter’s weather, the Lake Louise avalanche control department has been able to open a couple of marquee pieces of terrain on the backside.
First to have its gate cracked was Fallen Angel (ER 6), off of the top of Paradise chair. A good part of the run was skiable long before it opened, but the narrow chokes through rocks near the top weren’t holding enough snow to allow the run to open. Recent snowfall changed all that, and the gate was peeled back for the first time this season.
Next on the list is a much more visible piece of double black-diamond real estate – Upper ER 5. This area needs alot of things to go right before it can be considered for opening, and like ER 6, the stars finally aligned and Upper ER 5 opened on Sunday.
One of the things that makes Upper ER 5 such a tricky place to open is the fact that it is a very complicated piece of terrain, with rocks, cliffs, gullies, and cornices requiring diligent and meticulous avalanche control. Especially in a season like this, the control team wanted to ensure that every square metre of the slope received control work, whether in the form of ski cutting or explosives. To paint a bit of a picture of the work required, Upper ER 5 this season has seen 69 single explosive shots and 33 double (“nukes”), as well as 13 avalauncher rounds and hundreds upon hundreds of ski cuts. Only after all of this work and observation did the control team feel confident that the terrain could open.
Those who spend any amount of time skiing Upper ER 5 will already have seen that some areas do not stand up to traffic that well, specifically at the entrance off of Paradise Bowl and through the narrow chokes at the transition between Upper and Lower ER5. As long as they remain viable ski lines, however, the run will remain open, avalanche conditions permitting.
This morning at Lake Louise it’s snowing lightly, and forecasts are calling for some more snow Thursday and Friday – let’s hope they’re right!
I posted an aerial photo of Eagle Ridge on Dec. 29, but ER 1 & 2 at the eastern end weren’t visible. This shot, also taken May 10, 2007, shows the same area from a different angle. Even though ER 6 & 7 are hidden from view, you can still see both ends of the ridge – from ER 1 on the left to where Saddleback hits the very bottom of the Chunky’s cornice in Whitehorn I at far right.
When I started patrolling at the Lake in the mid-90’s, ER 3, 6, & 7, as well as Upper ER 5, were permanently closed avalanche areas. This was a remnant of the days when the parks service performed all avalanche operations for the ski area. Since then, the avalanche forecasters have done a great job of learning about and getting open the areas which had previously always been closed.
Upper ER 5 is the closest thing we have to a permanent closure on the back side of Eagle Ridge, and that’s because not only is it steep and rocky terrain, but it’s also huge, consisting of a large number of micro-features, all requiring their own analysis and plan of attack. Upper and Lower ER 5 are divided by a cliff band that crosses the entire slope, with a few narrow chokes that are slow to fill with snow and can be the one thing preventing the terrain from opening, since there must be skiable lines from top to bottom in order for it to open.
Lower ER 5 opens sooner, since it consists mainly of a fairly even scree slope, which is much smoother than the boulder fields that lie above the cliffs and requires less snow to fill in. At far skier’s left of Lower ER 5 is M.G. Gully, a steep, narrow, tree-filled chute with a drop exit, and is a place that gets lots of snow. To get there you need to enter from the Saddleback/Split Rock area and traverse across the top of Kiddie’s Corner, and if you stay high enough you’ll end up right at the top of the gully.
Below is a shot of the top of Upper ER 5, for those hoping to scope out their lines for the Big Mountain Challenge taking place this spring (don’t forget, these photos were taken at the end of an exceptional snow year, and all areas of the mountain are currently much less filled in).