The ski club that I belong to, the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, organized a trip to Panorama Mountain Village again this year. Although I found the mountain a tad icy and even a little intimidating last year, I decided to chance a return visit. And am I ever glad that I did!
As with most of the other mountain resorts in B.C. and Alberta this winter, Panorama is suffering from a distinct lack of snow. I didn’t record the snow levels last year for comparison but the packed base at the bottom of the Mile 1 Quad this year is a paltry 66 cms. It was a little better at the Summit, with 121 cms, but still far less than what is preferable. There were more than a few bare patches on the runs, although mostly avoidable, and the occasional rock/gravel/grit area that tattooed the bases of my new skis with undesirable patterns, but the overall conditions were surprisingly good. I think that the warm weather, sunny and around 0C every day, had a lot to do with it. The snow was soft and, even in areas that had been skied off or wind blown where I did a lot of skidding last year, my edges had no problem. That was a nice change since I generally dislike chittering sideways down the hill on armour plate!
Monday was Family Day in B.C. and there were more kids and families on the hill than we are used to seeing. One of the joys of being retired is that we can go to resorts in mid-week and almost have the hill to ourselves. Spoiled, for sure, and selfish to a degree but having to wait more than one or two chairs to get back on a lift is not something that we are used to! The hill sucked them up pretty well though and long waits were never a problem. Most of the 50-plus members of our club who made the trip to Panorama went out with the Mountain Friends, a group of locals who volunteer to show visitors around the mountain. I just wanted to refresh my memory of how to get to the various lifts and runs so only went with them for the morning. After lunch, it was time to play and explore with 3 or 4 other ski buddies. After a few cruising runs, we took the Summit chair to the top of the mountain to enjoy the spectacular view.
During our morning run with the guide, we had descended on a blue cat track trail from the top (Get Me Down), which connects with a number of other trails to eventually bracket the south and west extent of the resort. Deciding to complete the circle, this time we took the black run (Stumbock) which connects with the blue Taynton Trail cat track to bracket the resort on the north and east side.
The next 3 days got progressively warmer, maxing out at maybe 3 or 4C, and we skied longer distances and more vertical each day. We explored every area of the mountain, with the exception of the double-black Taynton Bowl – far beyond my capability and that of my ski mates. We definitely had our favourite runs, mainly groomed cruisers off the Mile 1 Quad and Sunbird chairs, and did those numerous times, but we also got adventurous and tried a few friendly moguls in the Alive Glades and more challenging ones – the type of moguls that bite – in Founder’s Ridge and on the Stump Farm run. Thankfully, we were the only people there at the time since a mogul run, in my estimation, is akin to a mine field and I treat the two similarly – with “Holy Shit” trepidation and slow progress. Watching me ski moguls is probably as wince-inducing to the viewer as it is for me to manoeuvre them 😦
Thursday, our final day there, was abbreviated in 2 respects. We had to load our bus at 3 p.m., so we had to quit early anyway to change and move our gear. But in mid-morning, Al, Byron and I came across an injured snowboarder alone and prone on a flat part of one of the lesser used trails (the runout at the base of Schober’s Dream) and we stopped to attend to him. It was obvious that the fellow was concussed (thankfully, he was wearing a helmet or it could have been much worse), as he lay on his back in the middle of the trail. Neither he nor us had any idea how long he had been lying there, but it was probably only a few minutes at most. I called the ski patrol on my cell while Al, a paramedic, checked him out. Byron kept going downhill to tell our other mate that we would be delayed. While waiting for the patrollers, Al kept asking the fellow (Jerome) questions to assess his condition, which improved steadily. It turned out that he was a priest from Calgary, up with another priest and some families for the upcoming Alberta long weekend. It took about 15 minutes for a ski patroller to arrive – pretty fast considering that the location was not well trafficked, only accessible by black runs, and she was snowplowing a sled. Shortly after she arrived, another patroller came up the trail on a snowmobile and yet another patroller skied in with a back board under her arm. Luckily Jerome had no broken bones but, as a precaution with a head injury, he was immobilized with a cervical collar. They then slid the board under him and wrapped him up in the sled. A funny part to the incident – the patrollers dug Jerome’s cell phone out of his pocket, put it on speaker (he was immobilized and couldn’t hold it) and asked him who they should call so he could tell them about his impending trip to the hospital. Jerome gave them the name of the other priest in the group, the patroller dialled and Jerome told the other priest he was coming down in the sled. “Holy shit” was the response, much to the amusement of the patrollers, who obviously thought that “dear me” should be a more appropriate expletive from a Catholic priest . The original patroller then skied off with him to the Sunbird chair, with a tow from the snowmobile to get her started on the flat trail. It was very impressive how these patrollers handled the whole situation. It took 45 minutes off our skiing time but it felt good to assist. My first good deed of the day, and Valentine’s Day to boot! My second good deed was later that evening, back at the parking lot when we arrived back in Edmonton. One of the ladies couldn’t start her car so I gave her a boost. Tame in comparison.
I have to admit that, even though I still find some of the steeper black runs intimidating, I have grown to really like this mountain. I’m not fond of cat tracks (who is?!) but I realize that they are a necessary evil when the runs are so widely spaced. And sometimes they have saved my ass when the only alternative is down a double black. As I mentioned after our visit last year, the staff here are noticeably friendlier than at any other resort we visit. I know that lifties are not well paid and that they probably have a lot to grump about but these guys and girls still greet everyone with a smile and a friendly comment and actually seem to enjoy their job. It’s a nice touch and brightens everyone’s day. I look forward to going back again, hopefully next year.