On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘powder skiing’

Ski the Fish

That is the slogan for the Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Montana. But their slogan should more appropriately be “Ski the White”, as in (humungous dumps of) white snow and (vertigo inducing) whiteout.  Our large (121 people) ski group spent last week at the resort, housed in 3 separate condo buildings.  It took us a little over 11 hours to make the bus trip from Edmonton to the mountain, including a couple of coffee breaks, lunch, passport check at the border and a food shopping stop in the town of Whitefish. I find that the anticipation of the upcoming week of skiing seems to distort time, lengthening every trip to the point where even seniors revert to the patience of 5-year olds (Are we there yet??). But we finally got there and what a time it was!

Most of the group had not been to Whitefish before, or even skied in the U.S. for that matter, so it was an experience that we were all looking forward to.  I was one of the four volunteer tour hosts for this club trip, which entailed handling all the fine detail organization of the trip.  As this was our largest trip ever, as well as our first international trip, the planning was intensive and time-consuming. But, gratifyingly, everything worked out fine and there were no big problems over the course of the week.

Ah, the course of the week. We arrived Sunday night in a snowstorm. Interestingly, it wasn’t snowing in Whitefish, a short 10 km away. But it was dumping on the mountain and it pretty well didn’t let up for the next 3.5 days.  After a very nice welcome reception put on gratis by the resort, we all returned to our rooms and prepared for the days ahead. Two of the condo buildings, Morning Eagle and Kintla, were steps away from Lift 3 – ski-in, ski-out at it’s best. The other condo, Edelweiss, just required a short walk across the street to get to the lift.

We awoke Monday morning to 13 cm fresh snow and a shroud of fog.  What with the depth of the snow, the limited visibility, and an unfamiliar hill, the day was a challenge for most of us.  Of course, the people who were proficient in skiing powder were in their glory and couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces.

Visibility not the best but the snow was great.

Visibility not the best but the snow was great.

Whitefish refers to the consistency of their massive dumps of snow coating the slopes as “light cream”. Personally, I would label it heavy cream, especially after it has been churned repeatedly by hordes of skiers.  Maybe even Greek yoghurt. Whatever, as the day went on it got harder and harder to ski with any semblance of prowess or elegance.  Not that anyone would mistake me for a polished skier but by the end of the day I was reverting to stem-christie turns and lots of breaks. No top-to-bottom non-stop runs under these conditions!

An appropriately named run for this group!

An appropriately named run for this group!

By 3pm, I and the rest of my ski buddies were wiped. Even though the lifts were open to 4, my legs were jelly and we headed back to our rooms. After a visit to the Bierstube, a pub across the street from the condo, and some supper, I was out like a light by 9:15. I don’t think I have ever been that exhausted by a day of skiing. And I had 3 more days to go!

The Bierstube. Hop eit has good roof trusses, with that snow load.

The Bierstube. Hope it has good roof trusses, with that snow load.

Moose Drool - One of the local beers.

Moose Drool – One of the local beers.

Face Plant - a well named beer, considering the conditions.

Face Plant – a well named beer, considering the conditions.

Tuesday brought more of the same – about 10 cm more snow, fog and temps close to 0C. The fog drifted around, opening up sucker holes then closing in even more densely. The summit of the mountain was always in fog but visibility on the back (North) side runs seemed to be a touch better than on the front side. It was another day of ski-by-braille and lots of breaks.

A break in the fog! Let 'er go!!

A break in the fog! Let ‘er go!!

But not for long...

But not for long…

Had to get pretty close to the signs to read them.

Had to get pretty close to the signs to read them.

Keeping each other in sight.

Keeping each other in sight.

With the limited visibility on the front side, finding our route back to the lodge from the summit was a challenge. The run we chose, Inspiration – a blue (intermediate) run, looked ok on the map but had us all grouped within 20 feet of each other so that no one would get lost. The run traverses a narrow ridge with drop offs on both sides to black (difficult) runs. And when I say drop off I mean just that! Poles with orange reflectors were placed about 100 feet apart in the centre of the ridge to guide skiers in the fog but they proved to be waay too far apart. It was an expedition venturing from one to the other, stretching the crew out so that someone was always visible.

We're the fukowi! Guideposts hidden in the fog made some runs a challenge.

We’re the fukowi! Guideposts hidden in the fog made some runs a challenge.

After we successfully, albeit slowly, made our way back to the lodge, a hot tub and beer were in order! A bunch of us took the free SNOW bus down into Whitefish for supper at the Bulldog, a pub with – umm – atmosphere.  Cheap beer ($CDN at par!) and good pub grub. A fun way to end the day.

Limited soup selection at The Bulldog.

Limited soup selection at The Bulldog.

Wednesday – more snow and more fog – but the temperature, barely at freezing to start the day, steadily rose. By 10 a.m. the flakes were big and very wet.

A wet Wednesday - at the base lodge. No drier up top either.

A wet Wednesday – at the base lodge. No drier up top either.

It never turned to rain but the wet flakes were extremely efficient at drenching everybody. A BIG bonus in most of the condos was an insuite washer and dryer and they were well used drying ski pants, long johns, jackets, mitts and any other sopping item. Although many people had the common sense to call it a day, one of my room mates and I went out for a few more runs after lunch. We took Chair 1 to the summit, decided the fog was ridiculous and took the most direct blue route down (Toni Matt). Mistake. Skiing was like pushing wet cement and it probably took us an hour to make it down, exhausted and soaked again.

At least we had the excuse that the Club supper was at an early 5 p.m. and we had to dry out and rest up before the big do. No, we weren’t wimps – we were just good planners!

Heavy, wet piles of snow. Whew - what a workout!

Heavy, wet piles of snow. Whew – what a workout!

Thursday held the weather that everyone was waiting for. It started off foggy (what a surprise) but by noon it had lifted to reveal what the runs that we had been skiing all week really looked like. Some of the people who had skied Inspiration in the dense fog maybe would have preferred not to see how narrow that ridge was but the views from the top were lovely. To take advantage of the visibility, a lot of people didn’t even stop for morning coffee – just a break for lunch and back at it for the rest of the day. It was another exhausting day, but in a good and happy way.

Still with the fog. But at least not wet.

Still with the fog on the early runs. But at least not wet.

Hey - we can see!!

Mike navigating the slope while it’s still visible.

But 2 minutes later... Damn!!

But 2 minutes later… Damn!!

Pretty clear at the summit in the afternoon. Nice snow ghosts but signs still of limited use though.

Pretty clear at the summit in the afternoon. Nice snow ghosts but signs still of limited use, unless you have really long arms to clean them off.

The snow at Whitefish was the most plentiful that we have ever dealt with on a Club tour but, overall, I thought it was great.  I have never skied in anything that deep, let alone for 4 days running, and it was quite an exhausting experience. The place is noted for fog but I would like to return anyway. I’ve got to learn how to ski that stuff somehow!

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A Cruiser’s Lament

(Inspired by my humbling experience of floundering in 17 cms of fresh powder at Marmot Basin last March.)

Have you ever been up on a mountain top, when the air was crisp and clear,
And the new fallen deep snow lay as a blanket below, yet you felt that tingle of fear?
Though the chair up the hill was a scenic thrill, fast and smooth and relaxing,
The trip back down from that wintery crown was sure to be slow and painful and taxing.
“Eight inches of powder!” the experts cry, as giddy as with loving caresses.
With lightness and ease, and snow to their knees, they float into graceful big esses.
Through the trees, over lumps, around hillocks and bumps, their turns are fluid and curvical.
But when faced with a trace over top of the groom I flounder and fight to stay vertical.
As I howl out my woe to the bottomless snow, coordination and stamina failing,
I wonder why, as the experts fly by, I can’t do this without lurching and flailing.
I’m not that unique in my lack of technique, judging by others’ vexation,
Yard sales abound and the prominent sounds are the curses from sudden prostration!
The quads start to burn after but a few turns and the effort is making me queasy.
But there go the “pros” putting on their great shows, making it all look so easy!
What did they do to get so proficient? How did they learn this great skill?
Well, it seems that ability, grace and stability, comes from time spent on the hill.
The evolution of ski hills, or the slopes in particular, has a bearing on my problem at hand.
For to encourage more people to use their facilities, the hills had to greatly expand.
At first was the time when the slopes were ungroomed and all the snow was off-piste.
How and where the snow fell was how it remained until flattened by long skinny skis.
Aficionados grunted and skinned their way up the hills to enjoy their powdery dance.
Pisten Bullys and Sno Cats did not venture forth to pack down that fluffy expanse.
In capricious deep snow, with only one place to go, skiers learned how to adapt.
Adjusting balance and stance they pursued their romance until legs and energy sapped.
Eventually rope tow or teebar or detachable chair became the conveyance of preference.
And groomers packed snow into corduroy rows to provide a less toilsome experience.
Requiring less effort and skill, skiers flocked to the hill to take up this wonderful sport.
Now everyone could share in this wintery affair and enjoy a snow-filled cavort.
I have to admit, when it comes down to it, that I spend way too much time on the cruisers.
Carving into the hill, as long as I don’t spill, I find more fun than moguley bruises.
But to take full advantage, and deter future damage, I need to expand my repertoire.
With some practice on bumps, as well as deep snowy clumps, I may even raise my technical bar!
A slave to good judgement I never have been and this resolution will be no exception.
But if I take enough time on bumps more sublime, and off-piste with prudence and caution,
Then slowly but surely, if at first poorly, my expertise should gradually grow.
And, with luck on my side, I’ll someday soon ride with confidence in the deep snow.

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