Finally! Winter in Edmonton has been particularly brutal this year – over double the amount of snow that we normally receive coupled with a roller coaster ride of temperature highs and lows (a long spate of -35C, followed a few days later by rain which, of course, froze into glare ice, followed by another bout of frigidity. Repeat absurdly). I am not a winter cyclist and I bow in my unworthiness before the hardy souls (other adjectives could be used) who take their bikes out in this weather. Me – I prefer to strap on downhill skis and hit the slopes. At least if I hit a patch of ice I’ll have sharpened edges to deal with the unexpected slidiness!
Doubly frustrating this year is that the closest mountain hill to where I live – Marmot, just outside Jasper – did NOT receive a record snowfall in Nov and Dec. Up until last week, they only had around a 60 cm base, which is not enough to compel me to drive 4 hours one way just to rasp off the bases of my skis with jutting rocks and gravel. So I have been almost patiently waiting for our ski club’s trip to Sun Peaks.
Last Sunday was travel day for my first mountain trip of this year. Leave Edmonton on our chartered bus at 7 a.m., stop in Edson (2 hours west) for a coffee break, on to Valemount (another 3 hours away) for lunch, break for coffee at Little Fort, then the rest of the way to Sun Peaks. The road from Edmonton to Jasper was in good shape but from Jasper to Little Fort, BC, was not. The Valemount area had received 2 feet of snow on Saturday and, although a valiant attempt was made at clearing the road, it was not altogether successful and many cars were taking it very cautiously. Our bus could have probably gone a little faster, if not for the cars, but I’m glad the driver was cautious. As it was, we only arrived about 45 minutes late to Sun Peaks after driving/breaking for 11.5 hours. On Monday morning we heard that HWY 16, the route we took, was shut down for the day by a 400-metre (or 40-metre, depending on the news source) wide avalanche in the Mt. Robson area between Jasper and Valemount. Timing is everything. Unfortunately, I have been fighting a cold that decided to plug up my head on Saturday, so the trip was not only long but also kinda drippy and sneezy. I’m sure that I made the people around me a little nervous but I was pretty good at keeping the snot droplets contained.
Skiing Monday was fun but exhausting. It usually takes me a few days to get my “mountain” legs again. Skiing at Snow Valley is good for finding edges and playing with balance but not so much for building stamina for the long mountain runs. There was a lot of new snow, mild temperatures and never a wait for lifts. The day was overcast and the lighting was pretty flat, making it a challenge in open areas. A 1-hour squall that drove stinging snow pellets into our faces and coated our goggles was another irritant, but we persevered. Ah, the things we do to have fun. Although we never saw the sun all day, and my gps failed to record for 2 hours in the morning (if the runs aren’t documented, did they really happen? Yup, based on how my legs feel), it was a fun day with great skiing buddies.
Tuesday was more of the same, without the squall but with more cloud cover of the face-level variety. Almost the same pattern as the day before – Sundance, Sunburst and Morrisey lifts – hitting as many of the blue and black groomed cruisers as we could.
The runs off Crystal chair were hidden in cloud so we didn’t bother going over there. My favourite area of the resort is Mt. Morrisey – most of the runs there are cut through the trees and offer great visibility in flat light and fog. The variability and pitch are perfect for me and I could ski there all day. We ended up descending over 42 km, almost 7700 metres elevation, and my legs and stamina were shot by the end of the day. In bed, lights out, by 9:30. What a party animal – I blame this damned cold, since my head is tighter than my quads😦
Wednesday was the ideal bluebird day. A few scudding clouds cleared up after the lifts opened and we enjoyed lots of sun and warmth for most of the day. As expected, my legs felt much better today even though we skied longer and farther than on the previous 2 days. Surprising to me, the snow on the higher runs, off the Crystal chair, was a lot softer than that on the lower runs, especially in the afternoon. The lower runs were either lumpy mashed potatoes (a technical skiing term, I am told) on the sun facing slopes or like skiing on broken cobblestones in the shaded areas. I expected to see a sign saying “these runs brought to you by your local orthodontist”, they were so teeth-jarring. With temps just below freezing, I expected it all to be soft. Thursday, I’ll stay high, elevation speaking.
OK, I was mistaken. Thursday was the ideal bluebird day. Again, sunny and warm with soft snow even on the lower slopes. Jim took Al and I over to the powder area in the West Bowl. The snow ghosts at the top of Crystal chair were glowing against the blue sky and, unlike every other time I have been to the top, the wind was actually gentle and warm. Not melting warm, thankfully, just not the usual bone chilling gales that are normal there. I haven’t had much experience in powder and the area around the West Bowl T-bar is a great place to practice. Lots of untracked snow, about 3-4 inches deep, yet the slopes aren’t so steep as to scare the bejeebers out of me, especially since turning in powder is the skill I have to work on. Ergo, the practice needed. The only problem is that the T-bar is not open during the week and 1 practice run involves a cat track, side hill traverse, another cat track, lovely gentle powder slope, a long cat track to the Burfield mid-station and a 10-minute ride up the chair – altogether about 20 minutes of mundane to get 5 minutes of powder practice. If the T-bar was open, I’d spend the day there but I felt I was wasting valuable skiing time for not much gain. I guess I’ll have to get my powder practice elsewhere :( The rest of the day was spent on the cruisers in the sun. I have come to Sun Peaks for the past 7 years and this has been the best weather we have experienced. A thoroughly enjoyable trip with a great group of friends!