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

Posts tagged ‘Sun Peaks’

Sun Peaks 2015

For the eighth year in a row, I spent the past week skiing at Sun Peaks Resort, outside Kamloops, B.C., with about 70 other members of our ski club. For the second year in a row, I had to put up with an inconvenient cold, replete with plugged sinuses which left my head in a perpetual fog. The fact that the hill was wrapped in its own fog layer all week somehow seemed appropriate.

Thankfully, the temperatures were mild, ranging between 0C and -8C depending where you were on the mountains. The cloud layer waxed and waned and drifted around the valley but almost always enveloped the middle of the lower runs. So skiing off the Sundance, Sunburst, Burfield or Morrisey chairs almost always started above the clouds, through a variable pea soup, then into the flat light of an obscured sun. The only perpetually sunny skiing all week was off the Crystal chair, which started and ended above the cloud layer. The West Bowl tee-bar isn’t open on weekdays, unfortunately, so we never got to enjoy that sunny area. Because of the sun, Crystal was busier than usual and, with no new snow all week, the few groomed runs got skied off pretty quickly each morning. The ungroomed ones were just slick hardpack.

No that's not frost on my smiling face. It's a winter beard.

No that’s not frost on my smiling face. It’s a winter beard.

Blue sky above the clouds. Top of Crystal chair, with top of Burfield chair just visible at upper left

Blue sky above the clouds. Top of Crystal chair, with top of Burfield chair just visible at upper left

Start of Blue Line run, all of it above the clouds hanging lower in the valley.

Start of Blue Line run, all of it above the clouds hanging lower in the valley.

Al getting ready to ski off the edge of the world, on Blue Line.

Al getting ready to ski off the edge of the world, on Blue Line.

As I have mentioned in the past, my favourite runs are on Mt. Morrisey. All of the blue runs except Showboat, under the chair, are cut and groomed between individual, or islands of, trees, giving you multiple options for a route down the hill. You could do the same run 10 times and not take the same route twice. That variability of terrain, plus the comfortable pitch and length of the runs – between 2 to 3 kms – is a perfect match for my ability. Moreover, the trees give a lot better definition of the ground in flat light and fog which the more open runs on the other mountains don’t provide.

Chairway to heaven. Getting ready to disembark from the Morrisey chair.

Chairway to heaven. Getting ready to disembark from the Morrisey chair. Didn’t find any bustles in a hedgerow, just great skiing.

The start of Mid-Life Crisis, my favourite run on Morrisey. I'm sure I identify with the name.

The start of Mid-Life Crisis, my favourite run on Morrisey. I’m sure I identify with the name.

A happy Al on I Dunno.

A happy Al on I Dunno.

The big Xmas tree on Morrisey. I counted 8 others on the ay up the lift but I'm sure there are more

The big Xmas tree on Morrisey. I counted 8 other smaller ones on the way up the lift but I’m sure there are more. Still don’t know how they got that star on top!

Other than the ever-present and mildly irritating fog layer hanging around all week, the only quibble I have about the trip is that the resort had the least amount of snow that I remember over the last eight years. Numerous runs had the tops of shrubs poking above the snow. The mid-level base was reported as 120 cm (4 feet) but I still managed to hit a rock (on Crystal Run), ski over a lot of shrub tops, and see more than the odd bare spot. Still, it is far and away my favourite resort. Huge number and variability of runs, great accommodation, good restaurants and compact and friendly village. I look forward to returning next year.

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Back to the Slopes!

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.

Downright balmy!

Downright balmy!

Lots of new snow to play in

Lots of new snow to play in

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.

There is a hill down there somewhere. Sometimes visibility was challenging.

There is a hill down there somewhere. Sometimes visibility was challenging.

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.

A warm and snowy Blue Line, off Crystal chair.

A warm and snowy Blue Line, off Crystal chair.

Art and Kathy by the snow ghosts on Blue Line

Art and Kathy by the snow ghosts on Blue Line

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!

Me and Al in the West Bowl.

Me and Al in the West Bowl.

Snow ghosts on Blue Line

Snow ghosts on Blue Line, taken from the Crystal chair.

View from Top of the World hut, top of Burfield chair. Clouds in the valley, sun on the slopes - just as it should be.

View from Top of the World hut, at Burfield chair. Clouds in the valley, sun on the slopes – just as it should be.

Mike in his happy place.

Mike in his happy place.

Back to The Mountains

My blog has been sorely neglected for the past few months 😦  That snow storm in November squeezed the life out of any further cycling in 2012 and , if it wasn’t for MG and her coffeeneuring challenge, it is unlikely that I would have even attempted that last ride in the snow.  It was an interesting experience, to be sure, but it was way too bumpy, slow and slippery for my liking.  So I had to resort to my fallback activities – gym workouts and squash –  to get my exercise-induced endorphin kicks.  It’s not all bad though.  I miss biking, but winter in Alberta let’s me do my other favourite outdoor sport – downhill skiing.

The local ski hill (Snow Valley) opened a few weeks after that November storm and I have been able to get out once or twice a week. It’s a small hill and not any sort of cardio challenge, unless I walk up instead of taking the chair – and it will be a cold day in hell before that happens – but it is great for practicing technique.  And, of course, for staying in touch with all the other Club bikers who have traded 2 wheels for 2 skis until next April.  After all, my biking friends are all members of the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club, which, in the summer, is known as a ski club with a major biking problem. In winter, though, we ski.

My first mountain trip of this year was to my all time favourite hill: Sun Peaks Resort, about 60 km from Kamloops, B.C. Sixty of our Club members spent 4 days last week skiing in great conditions – lots of snow, warm weather and, for one day at least, sunshine.  After last year’s arctic temperatures, this year we got to enjoy a much more skiable climate.

2012 temperature. BRRR

2012 temperature. BRRR

Jan 2013 - much nicer temperature!

Jan 2013 – much nicer temperature!

The trade off seemed to be the howling wind for the first 2 days. It was so bad at the top of the mountain that the Burfield and Crystal chairs were both shut down for Monday and Tuesday.  Talking with a local in the Sunburst Lodge, he said that it is the first time he can remember both chairs being closed for 2 consecutive days. Didn’t bother me much though. I don’t ski off the Burfield (a long, painfully slow chair  – 25 minutes from bottom to top on a good day – with mostly double black runs) and I was sure that Crystal would be open for at least 1 of our 4 days there.  So I spent a foggy and warm Monday and a sunny and warm Tuesday playing off the Sundance, Sunburst and Morrisey lifts. My biggest disappointment on Monday was realizing that, after 1 picture, I had loaded the wrong SD card in my camera – a 16 meg instead of 16 gig! Big difference there 😦  Luckily, I had a spare 2 gig in my netbook back in my room so I was able to take pictures for the last 3 days.

Being a gadget geek, I also brought along my gps watch that I use for cycling.  It’s great for tracking where I went all day, as well as distance and elevation skied, speed, etc.  I don’t bother with the HR monitor though – I don’t ski hard enough to push my cardio. All it would be measuring is the fear spikes when I do something I shouldn’t be doing.

GPS routes Jan 15, 2013. Yeah, I know - geek.

GPS routes Jan 15, 2013. Yeah, I know – geek.

On Wednesday, the wind had died down so we finally got to ski off the Crystal chair.  This is one of the higher chairs on the mountain and I expected the runs to be wind-polished armour plate after the past 2 days but I was wrong.  The mild temps had left the snow nice and soft and it was great skiing, the best condition I have seen those runs in my 6 years there. So we got to enjoy the snow ghosts – the eerie looking snow encrusted trees at the verge of treeline – and actually ski the runs without being in a semi-controlled skid down the usual hardpack. The only negative was a 15-minute wait on the chair while the maintenance crew fixed a minor breakdown, but we were out of the wind and in the sun so we didn’t mind hanging there and resting our legs.

Tony skiing out of the snow ghosts off Crystal chair

Tony skiing out of the snow ghosts off Crystal chair

One of the best things about skiing mid-week is the lack of people on the slopes.  Coffee time in the Sunburst lodge seemed to be just seniors and Aussies and there was rarely more than a 2 chair wait at any of the lifts.  Most times, we were able to ski right onto the chair.  Yes, we are spoiled!

On Thursday, our final day there, my group started with a few runs off the Sundance chair but since it was cloudy, with no sun on any of the slopes, Tony and I skied over to the Morrisey chair.  It faces north and never gets much sun anyway.  On dull days, the layout of the Morrisey blue runs – all of which are cut through groves of trees – provides better definition in flat light.  We ended up skiing the rest of the day there.  I didn’t even go in for lunch, just kept skiing right through until 3 p.m.  My gps said that I descended over 10,000 metres elevation and over 63 kilometres downhill. Not a bad day for our last day there. The 10-hour bus trip back to Edmonton on Friday seemed to pass a lot quicker than the incoming trip the previous Sunday, probably because my exhausted body was thankful for the rest!

The group coming out of the trees on Three Bears

The group coming out of the trees on Three Bears

The group on Cruiser, off Sunburst chair.  Sun Peaks village in the valley.

The group on Cruiser, off Sunburst chair. Sun Peaks village in the valley.

Tony and the Xmas tree on Showboat, off Morrisey chair.

Tony and the Xmas tree on Showboat, off Morrisey chair.

Brass Monkey Skiing

By far, my favourite ski hill – of the pitiful few that I have visited – is Sun Peaks, located near Kamloops, B.C.  This is the fifth year that I have joined the Rocky Mountain Seniors Ski Club in their annual pilgrimage to that resort and although the weather can charitably be referred to as “varied” over those years (cloud, snow, sleet, fog, and, sometimes, glorious sun – usually all in the same week), the temperature has always been comfortable.

Alan and Robbie on Grannie Greene's before beaming up to the mothership.

This year, the ski gods decided to test our resolve, our layering expertise, and our fondness for frostbite with an arctic high.  It was a cool -18C for our first day there, January 16th, colder yet on the 17th, then awoke on the 18thto -30C!  No rush to make the 8:30 a.m. lift, especially since they didn’t even start the Sunburst chair up until 10 a.m. and the Sundance around noon.  And they never ran the Morrisey chair at all.  Unfortunate, since the runs off Morrisey are my favourite of all, but there were probably only about 100 hardy souls braving the cold on all the hills! Might as well try to keep them confined to a few chairs, I guess.  So bundled up with two pairs of long johns, toe warmers in my boots, hand warmers in my mitts, three layers under my ski jacket and a balaclava under my helmet, off I went with my willing, and equally deranged, ski partners.  Luckily, our hotel was ski-in, ski-out which made warming up fairly handy.  So, with a late start, it was 2 runs, warm up, 2 runs, lunch, 2 runs, warm up, 2 runs, hot tub and beer.  A short but memorable day.

Brrrr!! -25C at 11:30 a.m.

The only good part of the cold, besides whole ski runs that we had all to ourselves, was that they had groomed half of the Morrisey runs on Tuesday night, didn’t run the lift on Wednesday but still groomed the other half of the runs that night.  So, by Thursday morning, every blue run on Morrisey was in pristine cruising condition.  The bad part of the cold was that, after sitting inactive for over 24 very cold hours, they couldn’t get the Morrisey lift to start until noon, even though it was a balmy -15C!  Nevertheless, Kathy, Archie, Al and I managed to do every run, and some twice, between lunch and last lift at 3:30.  An exhausting end to an invigorating week.

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