Day 17 Thur Feb 7. Fernie 5100m vertical (45000 total)

Always strange when you arrive at a new place in the dark, and went for a wander around the compact village a bit after 8 after picking up my lift ticket.  This place is supposedly ski in / ski out – I can see see the ski in but they’d have to have a lot more snow down low to ever have any ski out option.  Like with the Banff ski areas no new snow here since the weekend and they’ve also been struggling to open areas with the extreme cold.  I’m envious of Doug getting fresh powder back in the US of A but I really was keen to have a look at this place. 

Started off on the left side of the mountain with the plan to work across the hill.  Firm groomer at the top but with a bit of give in the ground was quite nice, but half way down the hill it got VERY firm – and that’s being kind to it.  This turned into the theme of the day – there was a very distinct line about half way down the hill where I assume the snow had turned to rain.  Above that was well worth the effort, but below meant LOTS of edge control.  Finally figured best option was to take the easiest way down each time for the bottom half – might not be very challenging but it meant skiing rather than just skidding.

With Polar Peak lift still closed, the White Pass chair was the highest lifted point and not surprisingly provided fine skiing.  Top of Currie Bowl was also very nice but once again as you hit the firm stuff it got less interesting and when I tried to cut across to the trail to the Bear chair I hit horrendous frozen crud that took several minutes to back my way out of.  Nice run in top of Lizard Bowl then a long and somewhat more pleasant easy trail back to base and the novelty of making coffee and a sandwich in my room.

Back out and headed for Cedar Bowl.  The highpoint of the day.  Just on the edge of my comfort zone in terms of steepness but a nice slightly soft top to the surface and a wide open slope.  And you definitely couldn’t complain about the crowds – I think I only shared one chair for the day and you often couldn’t see another person on your trail.  A nice long run led to a novelty – a t-bar the only way back out of the bowl.  A LONG but quite enjoyable cat track back to base through the trees then a final loop back up to White Pass.  Was just on 4 by the time I was de-booting in the lodge and I was well worn.  An enjoyable enough day, and like any area it would be fantastic under fresh snow, but I’m not completely convinced it’s any more ‘legendary’ than many other ski areas.

Did a quick drive downtown to fuel the jeep and have a quick look around, grabbed a coffee and headed back up.  Have been starting to look more seriously at forecasts for next week as I still try to figure out where to spend the final stanza, but it looks like more local weather may have snuck up on me.  Forecast is for just a few cm here overnight, but it looks like Montana – where I need to drive through late tomorrow and Sat – will get more snow out on the highways than we’re going to get here on the hill.  Just about sums up how well I’ve been timing things the last couple of weeks.  Oh well.

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Day 16 Wed Feb 6. Canmore – Sunshine – Fernie BC. 3600m vertical (39900 total)

YES !!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course it was with some trepidation that having started to lug all my gear out to the Jeep, I went to start it but it kicked over without a moments hesitation.  SO glad I managed to find someone who both knew what they were doing and were willing and able to do it.

Brilliant clear morning, still frigid of course but that’s not changing any time soon.  At the Gondola car park about 9.20 and emerged from the bubble at Sunshine Village at 9.45.  Figured I had about 4 hours skiing time given the drive this afternoon, so got to it.  Headed for Wawa not realising it was just about the only non-express lift out of the village.  Lovely open aspect from the top and snow had MUCH more give in it that at LL, but boy was it slow!  After a nice groomer warmup had to negotiate some ‘interesting’ terrain to get across to Standish.  Riding that up there was lovely looking open ungroomed areas off to the side of the lift.  Some of it skiied quite nice, but again the dry slow snow meant you couldn’t hit the relatively untouched low angle stuff, and there were LOTS of rocks lurking.  But I was skiing, not standing around my car.  It’s all good.

Grabbed a coffee and crepes and adjusted the clothing then it was off to the top of the mountain on Great Divide lift.  I have a quite clear memory of standing here 29 years ago stunned by the view and time has not diminished it.  The vista is just jaw dropping.  Headed out left to the rope line and started down.  The first couple of turns were a bit scraped but then it settled down into lovely chalky small bumps.  Toward the bottom it opened out into wonderful soft fluff – tracked but still skiing terrific.  A long run out on a trail with an unavoidable uphill was the only downside to it but a nice fast soft groomer finished up the run back to the chair.  So good that I effectively spent the rest of my day there.  Every time I got back up the top I just wanted to stand there and gawk.

When I came back out after an early lunch it actually felt warm enough to bring the nose out of hiding from behind the neckwarmer that had been its home for many days.  Of course a little cooler once back on the lift – frozen nose hairs and all, but it really did feel almost comfortable with sun and no wind.  Great snow, challenging skiing and sensational views – doesn’t get much better.  Easily the highpoint of the trip along with our powder day at Alta.

Finally headed back to base and onto the long trail back to the Gondola base.  A few more flats to negotiate but no way I was catching a lift down when I could ski.  Back on the road I retraced my trip on Friday back to Radium, this time in brilliant sunshine.  Followed the Columbia upstrean then the Kootenay downstream till the last stretch through to Fernie in the dark.  Only a short drive off the highway up to the hill where I checked in to The Slopeside.  Well after 9 by the time I was eating dinner after a most satisfying day.

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Day 15 Tue Feb 5. Canmore

Frustrations part 3, 4, 5,  ………

Of course it wouldn’t start this morning either would it.  On the phone to my favourite roadside assistance number and now they tell me there’s an Enterprise depot in town and they’re willing to give me a new vehicle.  Wish they’d told me about the depot (or that I’d thought of it myself) yesterday.  So now sitting here waiting for the tow truck.  On the bright side lifts are slowly opening at Sunshine, it’s heading for a tropical top temp of 15C below and if I ever get there the views look like they should almost make all of this worthwhile ??!! 

So was meant to arrive within 90 minutes and turned up promptly 3 hours later.  Towed to the Enterprise office for the new vehicle and of course they know nothing about it.  While the Enterprise man and I talk to Alamo about non-existent replacement cars, my car is dropped off at the local Jeep dealership which is thankfully just across the road.  So across to the Jeep dealer where I’m told they couldn’t even guarantee looking at it tomorrow.  So more phone conversations with Alamo road assistance and Alamo Salt Lake (who have about as good an opinion about the road assistance mob as I do) with still no real solution in sight.

As an afterthought figure I’ll try starting the car for the umpteenth time and of course now – in the middle of the day and after sitting in ‘warm’ sun for a while – it reluctantly starts!  I ask Jeep people for a suggestion on who might be able to look at it – their suggestion doesn’t pan out but they forward me on to the local lube and muffler shop who are now my favourite business in the world.  Not only are they willing to look at it in the next half hour, they quickly come up with a possible reason / solution to the problem.

Now this is a modern car and I’ve waxed lyrical about the heated seat etc, but one ‘modern’ feature that I think I can now do without is the keyless ignition system – where you just have to have the keyless fob in the car, press a button and voila – it starts.  Only problem is it would seem is that when you combine extreme cold weather (what are the chances of that?) with a battery in the fob that is even slightly flat, the whole system just won’t work!  They tested the car battery and reckon it had more than enough cold crank amps to do the job and say this is not the first time they’ve seen this situation.  

So with fob battery replaced and it now being 3pm I’ve had my second day of trying to get a ski in at Sunshine thwarted. Grrrrrrrrr. So went for a drive to Banff partly because I wanted a look and partly to make sure the battery really did have plenty of charge.  Wandering along the main street my mind was wandering back to my first visit to Canada and sampling a beaver tail on the frozen canal in Ottawa and lo and behold, a beaver tail shop loomed up in front of me!  Once I’d dusted that off I then tried imagining finding $100 lying on the street, but no go.  Oh well.

So I’m all ready for an early start tomorrow and finally get in a few hours of skiing at Sunshine before heading on to Fernie.  That is of course assuming that my new best friends actually know what they’re talking about and the car actually starts.  If it doesn’t, I reckon you may hear the swearing from half way around the world.  Stay tuned …….

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Day 14 Mon Feb 4. Canmore

Frustrations, part 2

Figured I’d have a creatively slow start and this time check the snow reports a bit more carefully.  At 9am Sunshine was again closed, but based on forecast temps and yesterdays discussion I figured / hoped things might start to get moving by late morning.  By 11.30 still nothing, though Lake Louise has one more lift open.  Figure I’ll go do some shopping and if nothing doing at Sunshine by then I might head for the nordic trails instead.

10 minutes later I’m back inside having failed completely to get the car to exhibit the slightest interest in starting.  Almost know the Alamo roadside assistance number by heart now.  Helpful lady got me to try a couple of things but nada.  So then waited for almost 3 hours for Canadian RACV equivalent to turn up.  The man was not impressed with a new car set up in such a way that you needed to wade through the manual to figure out which battery terminal was positive, but eventually he connected the jump start kit and voila, we had action.  Have no idea whether I’d left something on or whether the battery was just reacting to the cold like the rest of us.

By this time of course there’s not a lot left of the day, so went for a drive for a bit to get some charge back into the beast.  The one saving grace is that the cloud has finally dropped away and the surrounding peaks have been revealed in all their glory.  A person could be stuck in worse places.

I wonder what tomorrow has in store ….

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Day 13 Sun Feb 3. Lake Louise. 3000m vertical (36300 total)

So it turns out yesterdays temps were just a taste of things to come – about 25C below as I headed out.  Had thought driving might be pretty nasty and was considering heading to Banff and catching the bus, but apart from around town and the entrance ramp, the highway was actually in pretty good nick,  a much shorter drive to Sunshine than to Lake Louise and very little traffic.  I thought the guys pulling cars over after taking the turn for the ski area were checking for snow tyres, but they were actually informing people that the Gondola – the ONLY access to the ski area – was on hold with no estimated opening time.

Figured as I was here anyway might as well drive up to the base anyway.  Bitterly cold and quite windy as I scampered across the virtually empty car park to grab a coffee inside.  Asked whether Lake Louise was open – nup.  Not looking good.  Wandered outside and talked to one of the lift crew who said it was 35 below up top and that lifts physically couldn’t run – never mind the death defying windchill.  He said he thought Louise was open, so I figured I didn’t have a lot to loose, so north I headed.

By the small number of cars at Lake Louise I wasn’t hopeful, but they at least had 2 lifts running.  And with 450 or 700m vertical to choose from at least it was something.  Figured I wasn’t going to get much better than this so what the hell.  Had 2 thermal tops, 2 layers of down and an extra layer on legs and figured I’d take a break after every couple of runs.  Actually did one long run off the gondola then had to head back inside due to – amongst other things – ice forming on the inside of the goggles, and the tiny amounts of exposed skin screaming at me.  Added a fleece hat under the helmet and dried the goggles properly then actually did manage to do 2 runs before the next break.

I’d like to report that the skiing was wonderful but it was actually pretty disappointing.  Snow was very dry, very slow and had been groomed to within an inch of its life just about everywhere.  Except of course on some of the steeper runs where the bumps were even bigger and firmer.  They had Top of The World spinning but never opened it – and I suspect never intended to – so the area I was most interested in skiing – along with the summit poma – were a no go zone.  They hadn’t even left much soft stuff on the sides of runs except on some of the beginner trails which actually skiied the best.

After lunch headed back up the gondola and tried a long traverse thinking that maybe I could get to somewhere with a bit of soft.  And I wasn’t the lone ranger.  Very ‘interesting’ bumpy traverse through trees and over very large bumps finally got me to an open area with soft snow – and surprise, surprise – EXTREMELY big bumps.  I give up.

One more run to make it seem worth the trip up and back down the highway.  Had to keep the heater on full bore on the windscreen to stop it icing up inside.  How do you reckon I’m feeling about the heated seat now!

At least the weather’s clearing and the temps should SLOWLY start to rise tomorrow. 

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Day 12 Sat Feb 2. Canmore.

POWDER DAY (and I’m not skiing it !!??)

Up relatively early still trying to convince myself it was practical to head for Sunshine today but gave up pretty quickly.  The legs would have probably won the argument with the powder hound in me even if there wasn’t the practicality of getting the tyre seen to. Had looked out the window just before going to bed to see lovely light snow wafting down.  Several cm settled at the motel in the morning and temps have continued to drop into the negatives.  Checked with Alamo and thankfully they had a contract with the tyre dealer I was planning on visiting anyway, so just after nine and after another pump up I was driving very cautiously to the end of town where I found yet another job I don’t ever want to do – changing tyres outdooors in sub zero temps!

They got the job done very quickly and so back to the motel to check out.  Because I’d booked the additional night quite late it meant changing rooms but at least much less mucking about than changing motels. Drove into downtown and went for a wander.  Still snowing lightly and temp now down to about 15C below.  Now I LIKE cold weather but I found today pretty challenging.  Normally at these temps its sunny and calm, but with wind and falling snow your choice of neckwarmer becomes a major issue.  Occasionally the cloud would lift a bit and you’d get a glimpse of the truly stunning backdrop this town has to offer.  After surveying the scene headed into Good Earth for coffee and cake and, more importantly, a warm up. 

Even without Robyn to guide me by recognising curtains in establishments she remembered (?), I had managed to recognise a venue from my time here with her and Trevor.  So after a token few minutes more wandering around kicking the pixie dust off the pavement, I was heading into The Grizzly Paw for lunch.  I have often waxed lyrical about the quality of the wings I had here many years ago, and I believe the local honey wheat beer kick started my fondness for wheat beers and heffeweitzens in general.  I am happy to report that both items lived up to both memory and expectations.  The fact that the beer is called ‘Grumpy Bear’ has absolutely no bearing on my enjoyment level of said product.

After such a repaste I had lost what tiny inkling I still had left to do something productive with the day, and as the novelty of walking around freezing my arse off had well and truly worn off it was back to the motel to hang out in the warmth of the lobby until the new room was ready – which actually only took about 15 minutes.

Last nights room was pretty good but I am now ensconsed in luxury.  A full kitchen including oven and not one but TWO separate bedrooms.  Given that the temp has now dropped somewhere south of 20C below, I could be tempted to never set foot outside.  Thankfully spared from being able to truly relax by a series of technological issues surrounding phones and ATM access during the afternoon and early evening.  But eventually I was able to access cash which meant I could get coins for the washing machine and I could then settle down to cook up a stack of roast veges and crab cakes.  Now if I can just convince myself to actually ski tomorrow ……

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Day 11 Fri Feb 1. Radium Hot Springs – Lake Louise – Canmore. 3600m vertical (33300 total)

Return to (proper) winter.

For once I was actually happy to look out the window and NOT see snow on the car this morning.  Packing the car a bit before 8 it was still almost pitch dark – weird.  Just below freezing but actually drizzling as I started the climb, but didn’t take long to turn to snow and it hasn’t stopped all day.  Steady climb up through Kootenay NP.  Right lane reasonably well plowed but left lane fully snow covered so thankful I didn’t need to pass anyone.  After only a few km climbing had a relatively significant downhill which required manual gear shifting to keep the speed under control.  At this rate it might take me all day.

But from there the drive got pretty benign as the road rejoined the Kootenay and followed it up to Vermillion Pass, and from there a surprisingly quick trip down to Hwy 1 and on to Lake Louise.  Snowing steadily as did the long trudge to the day centre and after spending a few minutes getting pass organised I had to queue all of 15 seconds for my first chair of the day.  Warmed up on a groomer off the lower chair and so nice to have the sting out of the ground.  Up again then took the aptly named Top of the World.  Pretty clagged in at the top but some open trees had caught my eye on the way up.  Surprising amount of soft snow given they’d only had a few cm.  Once I got to the trees discovered there were some BIG bumps hiding under the fresh.  Somewhat challenging but a nice change from endless groomers.

Headed around the back, dropping off the cat track for some skiing by braille with absolutely no definition then back on the track which actually got quite enjoyable once it got back in the trees.  Lovely soft snow on the sides of the run.  After a fine bowl of chilli headed up Larch for a couple of runs – nothing too adventurous but most enjoyable. After returning to front side and a break for coffee and cake then another trip through the trees off Top of the World.  Not stylish but much fun.

Had been getting tyre pressure warning on the drive this morning but wasn’t too worried – has happened in the past when get too much snow build up in the wheel arches.  Realised it was a bit more than that when I went to start the car and found it was basically flat.  Finally found the printed manual for the car – it was in the cavity where I expected to find the spare tyre.  After getting over the shock discovered rather than a boring old tyre they had supplied a 12V pump which could also inject foam to seal a major leak.  As it seemed to have only been a slow leak opted for the air only approach and 10 minutes later was ready to hit the road.

Snowing steadily all the way to Banff but still managed to do close to 90 most of the way.  Had to stop half way and do another tyre pump but eventually managed to make it to Canmore and checked in to my home for the next 5 nights.  After a soak in the bath and a cointreau, rugged up for a walk down to the supermarket and the liquor store. 

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Day 10 Thu Jan 31. Kalispell – Whitefish – Radium Hot Springs BC. 3000m vertical (29700 total)

 

Another overcast morning and even the occasional flake wafting down as I packed the car.  After the failed attempts to ski off piste in the first two days I was firmly in the cruising camp today.  Not sure if I just had suitably reduced expectations or if the snow was a tiny bit softer, but had the most enjoyable ski of the 3 days this morning.  Once again started on Grey Wolf  and then caught Flower Point so I could do Ridge Run – not the most challenging run in the world but really enjoyable.

After an early lunch thought I’d give Hellfire a go.  Normally this is a run I’d do as soon as possible after it opened with fresh snow, and not used to seeing it fully groomed.  Lots of lovely little rollers, tree islands, relatively soft snow – in a word it was FUN!  So much so that despite needing to catch 2 lifts to lap it I did it a second time and after the slow ride back up was able to do one last Run Home back to the car.

Back down to town for a final visit to MCT for coffee and scone then it was on the road again.  Temps  were soaring up into the positives for the first time in many days as I headed for the border crossing.  Roosville is a relatively minor crossing point so you can’t see wait times on the web, but I needn’t have worried as I was through in just a couple of minutes. 

Spectacular mountain backdrop through the afternoon drive following the Kootenay – a major tributary of the Columbia – upstream.  At Canal Flats have the weird situation where the Kootenay heads off to the NE and just a few km to its north – separated by pretty much flat ground – is Columbia Lake which is the source of the main branch of the Columbia which heads North from here for a long way before turning around to head south and eventually pick up all its major tributaries – including the Kootenay.  (OK I admit I’m a bit (?) of a nerd when it comes to the rivers in this part of the world).

Was well and truly dark by the time I made it to Radium.  After checking in did a quick shopping hit then drove a short way up into Kootenay NP to the Hot Springs for a most enjoyable soak.  Even managed to score some Huckleberry Wheat beer from Fernie at the liquor store.  Snow forecast to start overnight so hopefully get over Vermillion Pass in the morning before it sets in too hard.  

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Day 9 Wed Jan 30. Whitefish. 3900m vertical (26700 total)

Overcast morning but still pretty chilly.  With the firmness of snow figured there was absolutely no point in rushing up the hill, so relaxed start.  While I knew it wouldn’t be soft I figured it was still worth trying East Rim Face – flawed thinking of course.  Firm bumps on relatively steep ground is really not my forte.  Oh Well.  At least Moe Mentum – the run you drop down on to – was skiing quite nicely.  So more groomers then one last try – a long traverse across Big Face.  Funny how it looked quite smooth from the chair – doesn’t seem very smooth once you’re in there.

So reset the brain to cruise mode and stuck to the groomed.  Don’t get me wrong – still fun – just not what I expect when I come here.  A little warmer than yesterday – about 8C below at the summit – but with a bit of breeze felt quite nippy so a good day to head inside every few runs.  Yesterdays ‘crowds’ – I’d had to wait at least 30 seconds to get on a lift at one point – seemed to have dissipated.

Back at the motel decided to bring forward the shift to Canada by a day – partly to capitalise on what will hopefully be some fresh snow next week and partly to get over the pass to Canmore before the weather turns

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Day 8 Tue Jan 29. Missoula – Whitefish – Kalispell. 3600m vertical (22800 total)

Grumpy start when I couldn’t get the shower to issue anything remotely resembling hot water only slightly tempered by being able to grab a decent coffee at Liquid Planet before leaving town.  Cold but sunny drive up the Flathead valley and on arriving in Whitefish, before thinking about minor things like skiing made a beeline for Montana Coffee Traders to reacquaint myself with their world famous (well it should be!) lemon and blueberry scone – and a fine coffee to go with it of course.

Looking at a pretty dry week and after much procrastination had finally opted for a 3 day ticket here rather than sample one of the smaller hills en route.  Did a warm up run on the north side of the hill and was surprised just how firm it was – a sign of things to come.  Once the legs were suitably primed ventured into the ungroomed section of Ptarmigan Bowl.  Looked OK from a distance but was a little firm for me.  Next off trail excursion was above the  Snow Making Ponds – gentler and softer – encouraging.  Then headed for Good Medicine trees where after a long traverse across some big firm bumps I decided to give up on this whole ungroomed concept.  Even Big Ravine was firmer than I’d ever skiied it – thankfully just about deserted.

Well the snow may be a lot firmer than I’m used to but the views today were stunning – probably the clearest I’ve ever seen it here.   If you’re not skiing powder this isn’t a bad second.  Finished up with a nice run down off chair 2 into Home Again – a long easy but fun run around the back of the runs that lands you back at the car park.  Back through Whitefish then back up the valley for about 20 minutes to just about the best value motel going around in Kalispell.

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