Monday, March 12, 2018

Elizabeth Parker Extravaganza

The annual Elizabeth Parker Hut trip was a definite success. It was a bit of a quieter trip this year due to the smaller group, but the snow was excellent and it was fun to reconnect with Emily and Trevor's friends. Thanks to some decent stability, we were able to make a trek up to the top of Schaffer Bowl and ski some fantastic turns right down to the lake. So good in fact, that we lapped the lower bowl all Saturday afternoon and returned on Sunday for some more fresh turns.
Touring up towards McArthur Lake on our approach to Schaffer Bowl
I started the skin into the hut on Friday night totally emotionally exhausted from a long week of work and lots of driving back and forth to Calgary. When we arrived at the trailhead, I was tired and grumpy. I wanted to get back in the car, drive back to Calgary and go to bed. About 5 km in, my mental status had totally changed. I went from snarky and unpleasant to laughing and joking with Kyle. I felt energized and alive. It's amazing what a bit of exercise and night-time air will do to boost the mood. Being in the mountains helps me clear my mind and leave behind the stress of the week. I often forget how therapeutic my weekends away really are.

Kyle and I made good time into the hut on Friday night and stayed up late chatting with the crew who had already arrived. People had been trickling in all evening. The last to arrive were Emily and Trevor, who had left after work from Calgary! They didn't get in until after the last of us had gone to bed... sometime around 2 am. But, eager as always, they were the first ones up and were raring to go. We mobilized the group and made our way up to Schaffer Lake. The bowl above was untouched and very inviting. The ski up to Schaffer Bowl wasn't too bad at all. The light was flat and we had to be careful to avoid the large cornices on the ridge, but we made good time to the top with a huge group!
Epic reflection in Andy's shades

Getting psyched at the top of Schaffer Bowl
When it came time to drop in, we couldn't see a thing. Kyle went first and was surprised to find excellent snow. The group followed, whooping with delight and high-fiving when we regrouped at the bottom of the run.
Fresh turns and falling snow
Some of the group returned to the hut to investigate the beer situation, while others stuck around for a few more laps of the fluffy stuff on the lower slopes of the bowl, a quick 45 min lap. Eventually we all made our way back to the hut where we gorged on appetizers and swapped stories about the day. Extravagant hut dinners started to appear. Taking full advantage of the oven in the hut, Kyle and I had brought ingredients for flatbread pizzas. It was a feast and the festivities, including some watercolour painting, lasted well into the night. Fortunately, the other hut users were able to retire to the smaller sleeping hut once they were tired of our antics!
Saturday afternoon crew out for another lap
Sunday morning brought blue skies and a few headaches for those who had overindulged. We took our time making a big breakfast before hitting the slopes again for a morning pow lap.
Good morning Elizabeth Parker Hut!
Great views in the sunshine
Cooking up a fancy Sunday morning pancake breakfast
Conditions were perfect and we were all smiles after another great weekend at EPH. The 12 km ski out "down" the mostly flat logging road was a bit brutal with all the new snow we had received. Kyle and I ended up skinning up for parts of it when our arms got too sore from pushing along with our poles.
Heading out to Schaffer Lake for some more fresh turns
Emily is stoked to be out touring in the sun
Cory on the skin track
Cory getting after it
Emily finding some powder
Excellent snow, company, food and views! Thanks to Em and Trev for another awesome trip to EPH!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lightning Strike Hut - Kootenay Pass

Two weeks ago, we bailed on a trip to Fernie because it was raining to the top of the headwall. As a result, expectations were low for our trip to the Lightning Strike Hut in Kootenay Pass the following weekend. The hut had been booked for the Alberta Family Day weekend over a year ago so we were going regardless of the conditions but as the weekend drew near, snow started to fall. We arrived in Fernie Thursday night and spent the next day skiing the resort. It snowed 20 cm during the day and we skied stayed just ahead of patrol who was slowly closing down the mountain, skiing refill pow laps until we finally had to hit the road for Kootenay Pass. We arrived in the dark and skinned up the mellow logging road 3 km to the hut. There was significantly more snow than last time we skied the pass in awful conditions the same weekend 3 years ago.
Lightning Strike cabin - Photo Phil Tomlinson - click to see Phil's blog
No more space for snow in the pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Starting up the skin track in the dark
Snow was falling thick and fast when we awoke. Our group of 8 set out together to punch in a skin track up Baldy Rocks, before dividing into 2 groups of 4. Kyle, Christine, Phil and I spent the day together. It was really windy and snow had drifted across the ridge in deep pockets. We were a bit nervous about wind loading so opted to drop into the windward side of the ridge, cautious of the rain crust from the week before.
Scoping out the up track. Blue and orange were the official colours of the weekend
Woody also got the memo about the colour combo. Howling winds as we approach ridge top couldn't keep us from the pow!
Stoked to drop in on my amazing new/old set-up: Volkl Gotamas + Marker Kingpins
To say that the snow was better than expected would be a massive understatement. Kyle dropped in first. I heard screams of delight and surprise as he disappeared into a puff of snow. The skiing was magical. It was stable, it was deep and I don't really know where that rain crust went. Every turn delivered an over-the-head wave of snow that threatened to drown me. When we regrouped at the bottom of the run, everyone was grinning ear to ear or laughing hysterically. We quickly skinned up to head back up for another, then another, then another.
Getting into the white room off Baldy Rocks. Photo Phil Tomlinson
Kyle coming up for air. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Gasping for breath before another face shot. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Smiles for days. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Christine getting after it as Kyle waits to drop in. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Should have brought a snorkel. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Kyle in full storm mode. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
I don't think we saw anyone else all day. We found out later that avalanche conditions had been high across the board. It had started off pretty stable but the wind continued to blow and it snowed heavily all day. Things were getting touchier near the end of the day and Kyle remote-triggered a 1.5 when we went to drop in off the wind-loaded eastern slopes. Keeping this in mind, we returned to western aspects of Baldy Rocks on Sunday, joined by Woody who skinned in to meet us for a few hot laps. The snow was a bit heavier and a bit deeper. The temperatures plummeted but that couldn't keep us from getting after it, especially since we had a nice warm hut to return to for lunch. It wasn't the same blower conditions we had the day before and we played it safer due to the changing conditions, but we still had amazing turns in waist deep snow all day. 
Windy conditions in the valley below Saturday afternoon. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Surprise pow is the best pow. Pure bliss in Kootenay Pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Kyle and Woody can't believe their luck, more fresh tracks ahead
Looking down at the goods from Baldy Rocks
So stoked!
Heading up for another lap
Back at the hut, we swapped stories of face shots and amazing turns with the rest of the party. Raina and Ed snowshoed in Sunday night to say hi but despite all the dietary restrictions (dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, vegetarian?!?!) of our group, we still had nothing that Raina (vegan?) could eat!
Endless starts at Lightning Strike Hut. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Sunday night crew. Visits from friends always welcome!
Monday morning it was bluebird. Despite the long drive we had ahead of us, we got out for one more sweet lap before packing up and heading home. The snow had been so deep all weekend that you needed to find steep slopes in order to get any speed at all. Tobias, Adrian, Julie and Nicole had found a run down to the powerlines that was still steep enough to ski but was protected from all the wind effect of the weekend. End result: more face shots!
At least 3 bluebirds were seen on Monday
Tobias getting after it
Leaving was bitter-sweet. We could finally see all the terrain that we have yet to explore and the snow was getting more stable. But, we had just had some of the best powder skiing days of my life. I guess we will just have to come back next year to do some more exploration. I arrived with low expectations, and left with the knowledge Kootenay Pass sure can deliver!
Significant overhead hazard at the trailhead
Deep snowbanks in the pass

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Daddy Cool and Puff Daddy in Rogers Pass

Does it ever stop snowing in Rogers Pass? I doubt it. I have never been up there on a clear day, its always dumping. With over 100 cm of storm snow on the ground and 70 cm in the forecast through the weekend we somehow managed to sneak in two amazing days with surprisingly stability. We took advantage of our good fortune to bang out a couple of laps in the Puff Daddy area with Heath and Alan. Jordan, you missed out big time buddy!
Stoked on the skin track
Kyle called Alan up an hour before he left for the pass and like a good ski buddy, he dropped everything and came along for the weekend. I was driving down from Red Deer and meeting the guys at the Petro Canada. When I got there I realized I had left the keys for my Thule...uh somewhere else?! Splitting time between three towns makes it difficult to keep track of things. Fortunately, the only thing I needed were my ski poles as Kyle was bringing my skis from home. Who needs poles anyways right?
Kyle surveys the drop in to Daddy Cool
It turns out, I need poles. I am still in the process of getting my new system dialed and as a result, my skins don't really fit my Gotama's. Sliding backwards down skin tracks was the name of the game until Kyle and Alan each loaned me a pole so it all worked out. They managed to tour better than me with one pole. This weekend, I was rocking my new Marker Kingpins for the first time. It was an amazing upgrade from the old Dukes I have used for years. I am so psyched on my new pow touring set-up. Its going to make touring so much more fun.
One pole in deep pow!
We skied Daddy Cool on Saturday with two german guys we met on the skin track. It was a great lap through pillows and tight Christmas Trees, but it looks really scary and committing to drop into as the terrain just keeps rolling over. Once we were into the line it wasn't as bad as it looked. The snow was excellent and we encountered only a small amount of sluff in the steep zones.
Our new german friends and their sprinter van
We camped in the Rogers Pass parking lot, our usual spot. I really hope that when the old hotel is torn down that Parks will continue to have free camping in the pass, or at least a budget option for people to stay up there. It is so nice to ski in/ski out from the trailer and much safer than driving back and forth to Golden or Revelstoke each day on snowy highways which can be more dangerous than the skiing.
Room with a view - perfect for scoping out our next lap
Not a bad way to spend the evening after enjoying the pow
We woke to about 10 cm of fresh snow and it continued to fall all day. The parking lot was empty and we were the first group on the skin track up Grizzly Shoulder towards Puff Daddy. Some very lovely people we had met the day before loaned me a pair of poles which was amazing, thanks guys! It turns out we had a few mutual friends too. Crazy small world.
Winter wonderland in Connaught Creek
We didn't end up seeing any other skiers until we were almost at the top of the skin track. Where was everyone?? Did they know something we didn't know?
Hiking up Grizzly Shoulder
The snowfall is getting heavier
Nope! Alan dug a pit on an east facing slope and found the storm layer to be light and fluffy. There was a layer about 60 cm down but we did not see any avalanche activity in the area and nothing was moving as we skied our run down Puff Daddy. The tracks from the day before were almost completely filled in and we had the place to ourselves. As the forecast had promised, it was a powder smorgasbord.
Alan stomps a sweet cliff on Daddy Cool
One of many pillow lines on Puff Daddy

Hammer offered to drive Heath home