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

Posts tagged ‘winter’

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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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!

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.

Snow – The Good and Bad Kind

Our ski club held it’s annual Marmot in March trip last week and Bob, Al and I made the 3.5 hour drive to Jasper.  The forecast for Sunday was iffy, so I was anticipating snow-covered roads and a slow trip, but the snow didn’t materialize and the trip out was pleasant and uneventful.  I like the drive to Jasper but not when the roads are crappy.  If only the snow would just fall on the hill and not the roads! Unlike our trip to Marmot in January, where we spent a lot of time avoiding rocks, bare patches and gravel floating up through the barely sufficient snowpack, this time the hill had piles of new snow.  The base, 135 cm, was close to double what they had in January and it is certainly the amount they need to make skiing enjoyable.  This time there was nary a rock or bare patch to be found, on the runs that I ski anyway.

A sunny but windy view from the top of Eagle Chair. Jasper town site in the valley.

A sunny but windy view from the top of Eagle Chair. Jasper town site in the valley.

Tuesday was the highlight of the trip – just a spectacular bluebird day, the kind of day where you just don’t want it to end. We didn’t even go in for an afternoon coffee, as we usually do when it is colder.  The ski patrollers were busy that day too, setting off numerous charges for avalanche control, wiping out part of the Knob Traverse run at one point.  They had to bring up a groomer to re-open the trail after that slide.  Of course, that was the day that I forgot my GPS watch back in my room, so I have no idea how many kilometres I skied or the vertical, but my legs were telling me that it was significant.  The hot tub sure felt good afterwards!

Sunshine and corduroy at the top of Paradise Chair.

Sunshine and corduroy at the top of Paradise Chair.

View of Knob Chair from Solace run. Avalanche field on left.

View of Knob Chair from Solace run. Avalanche field on left.

Robbie standing at the bottom of an induced avalanche on Knob Traverse.

Robbie standing at the bottom of an induced avalanche on Knob Traverse.

Me on Basin Run, after coming down Solace.

Me on Basin Run, after coming down Solace.

There was another ominous weather forecast for Thursday, our departure day.  A system was moving in and supposed to pound Edmonton especially, but we skied until 3 p.m. anyway.  It was snowing heavily in Jasper when we left for Marmot, about a 20-minute drive up the mountain. But the higher up we drove, the lighter the snow got, until we broke through the clouds at the base of the lifts.  We skied in the sunshine most of the day, watching the clouds move farther down the valley and giving us a false sense of security for the upcoming drive home.

After a quick change out of our ski clothes at the Wapiti campground washroom (LOVE those heated floors!), we were on the road by 3:30 p.m.  The first half hour was sunny and the road was dry, then, within a kilometre, the snow gods decided to pummel us with huge snowflakes and whipping winds.  Just like that, the visibility dropped to a hundred feet and the road quickly disappeared.  I was just following the ruts in front of me for a while, hoping for a glimpse of the centre line every now and then. Thankfully, the squall only lasted for 30 km or so, then it cleared up as quickly as it hit.  We were listening to my “Drive” playlist on my iPod and didn’t have the radio on, so were unawares of the conditions coming up.  All was well until around 50 km west of Edmonton, when Highway 16 turned into a 1 lane icy track. The snowfall had stopped but the havoc was left behind.  Back following ruts again!  At least the traffic was light and most drivers were acting sensibly, averting anything like the 100-car pile up on Highway 2, just south of Edmonton, that occurred earlier in the day.  I only saw a dozen or so vehicles in the ditch, which was surprising considering the conditions.

All things considered, it was a great 4 days of skiing, although I was dog tired after getting home. The coupe-de-grace was then having to shovel the 25-cm of snow off the driveway! I slept soundly that night.

This is spring?

This is spring?

Panorama – more “Holy Shit” Moments

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!

Good sliding fun!

Good sliding fun!

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.

View from the top of Summit chair. Mt Trafalgar and Mt Nelson prominent.

Spectacular views from the top of Summit chair. Mt Trafalgar and Mt Nelson prominent. (Photo: Byron J.)

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.

Monday skiing routes, recorded by my Garmin 305 .gps

Monday skiing routes, recorded by my Garmin 305 gps

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.

Coffeeneuring #7 – Snow Problem

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  After coffeeneuring #6, I was sure I could pull this challenge off. I mean, two weeks – 4 full days – to make one measly ride to a coffee shop I hadn’t visited before on a previous coffeeneuring ride? Slam dunk, I thought.  Piece of cake, I opined. It didn’t start well.  Nov. 2nd and 3rd were just raw and ugly days – not cold, just below 0C – but windy and the trails were very icy, so I chose not to ride.  With warmer temperatures forecast and still 1 more weekend yet to go, I decided that I would be better prepared for my next opportunity.  I would build an ice bike!

I had recently changed out my tires for a new pair and still had the old ones cluttering the garage.  I read a bunch of blogs and watched some YouTube videos on how to stud your own tires and figured what the heck – I’ll give this a shot.  So I stuck a bunch (about 40) 1/2 inch screws through what was to be my front tire.  I took it out for a short test drive on our icy street and the front tire traction was great but the unstudded back tire kept sliding out.  So I went to work on the back tire.  The old rear tire was almost a slick so, with not as much tread to hold a screw, I decided to use pop rivets on it instead.  I was afraid that screws would just push right through the thin casing but rivets, with a washer on the outside, would give almost as good traction as the screws and stay in the tire.  The results are in the pictures below.  All I had to do now was wait for next weekend and complete the challenge.  Again, s’no problem. Well, kind of. Apparently, Mother Nature had her own idea of what s’no problem meant. And a nasty sense of humour.

1/2 inch screws through the front tire

My studly front tire

Pop rivets in the back tire

Rivet pattern: 2 on sides – 4.5 inches – 1 in centre, repeat

On Wednesday, the Edmonton area, and St. Albert in particular, had their first real snow storm.  Not so much of a storm, really, as there wasn’t much wind, maybe more of an inundation of snow.  A temp of just below 0C was enough to cause the initial layer of snow to melt and refreeze into solid ice. It was then covered by another 35 cm (that’s 14 inches for you non-metric people) as the temperature fell throughout the day. No giant windblown drifts, thank goodness – this was a vertical storm not a horizontal one. Still, nothing says “hello winter” like watching a 40-ft long bendy bus slide sideways down an icy street, which happened numerous times in both Edmonton and St. Albert. But I was ever hopeful that the trails and streets would be magically cleared and/or compacted in time for the true test of my ice bike.

Note my neighbors car just peeking out from under the snow.

Today was the day.  It was a bit cool, -11 with a wind chill of -18C, but I wanted to ride on a Friday because there would be a lot less traffic on the roads and fewer people on the trails and Saturday was not going to be any warmer anyway.  I had my route scoped out. I even drove part of it this morning to make sure that the one portion of the route that I was most concerned about was plowed.  It was, so off I went.  For about 20 feet.  Our residential street was a mess of deep snow and ruts, unplowed of course. I was hoping that the ruts would be compacted enough that I could ride in them but no way.  My 700×35 tires, even with studs, were no match for the deep, loose oatmeal. I had no traction at all, even with the studs. The sidewalks, having been shoveled by the homeowners, were in much better shape so I resorted to them (that’s legal here, btw).  I made my way down the sidewalks to a bus route street which was plowed. It was a little better but it’s not like they plowed right down to the pavement so I was still being thrown this way and that by the mealy snow.  Not fun when traffic is passing you.  When I got to the Red Willow trail and went to turn north, I found that it wasn’t plowed at all!  WTF!! Apparently, as I found out from the operator of a trail sweeping machine that I met on the trail and managed to avoid (during our chat, the operator called me “brave” for venturing out in these conditions on a bike. My wife used other adjectives), the city has a deal with the local X-country ski club to leave that portion uncleared so that it can be trackset and used by skiers. There was no other way to get to my appointed coffee shop without going onto busy streets. No bike lanes, no shoulders, not even any sidewalks. Damn. Change of plans.  I turned south and decided to see what else nature and the city could throw at me.  The trail was icy and incredibly lumpy but, with my new fangled ice tires, I had no problem biting into the ice and maintaining control. Unless I did something stupid, like make an abrupt change in direction to avoid an ice lump or deep rut. But this was a new experience for me, biking in these conditions, and I was learning on-the-job. I never went down on the entire ride though. I finally reached a decision point on the trail – I could turn off to a Starbucks that I hadn’t been to before but would have to do a bunch of walking/pushing the bike through unplowed streets and shopping centre parking lot OR I could continue on down the trail and go to the Arcadia Cafe, which I had previously visited (Coffeeneuring #3).  I figured that walking the bike would not be in the true spirit of a coffeeneuring ride so I chose to patronize an independent, locally-owned cafe that I could actually ride to.  I also have a much better idea of how to succeed in this challenge next year – with the vagaries of Edmonton weather in late October and November,  save the easy ones for last! With the revisit to Arcadia, I guess that I failed the challenge this year 😦 but it was not for lack of trying.

Getting set to go

On the snowy trail. There is better grip on the verges than in the centre.

Trying to stay on the straight and narrow (and less slippery).

Looks like the x-c skiers have been out already. On my bike trail!

Hot chocolate and granola square. And a complimentary gingerbread man (that I bit the head off of before I took the picture. Doesn’t everybody bite the heads off first?).

My unhappy, cold bike peeking in the window. I think it would have rather been inside with me.

I even saw another cyclist on the way back, on a mountain bike, and noticed that his tire tracks looked twice the width of mine, with a deep tread.  My hybrid won’t take mountain bike tires (I’ve already tried) but I think I’ll keep an eye out for some 700×38’s with a more aggressive tread that I can put screws into.  They definitely work better than the pop rivets for traction.  I was worried about getting a flat – a screw backing out into the tube – but they held really well and were not an issue.  Just the damn deep snow!

Thanks MG for coming up with this idea!  I doubt that I would have ever tried winter biking if not for accepting the challenge. It was great fun. Although I think that, with the ski hills opening, my biking season is finally over. But I’ll leave the bike in the garage just in case I get the urge.

Coffeeneuring 7

Date: November 9, 2012

Place: Arcadia Cafe, St. Albert (revisited)

What: Hot chocolate, granola square

Distance: 9.7 km

Details: 2 days after a 35 cm snowfall, on homemade studded tires.

Coffeeneuring 5 – In the snow

The weather forecasters finally got it right, much to my dismay, when we awoke to a blanket of snow this morning.  Not much, only about a half inch, but enough to provide icy lubrication on the streets and trails.  My 700×35 bike tires are not suited to winter, having almost no tread, which makes them great for pavement but not so much for traction in mud or snow.  I went out for a 3-mile walk first, to check the trails, and found that the city was in the process of sweeping them clean.  It was still cool, at -6C, but the sun was shining and it was just too nice a day to pass up a ride.  So trepidation and care was the order of the day when I set out.  I often push the season when I head out in spring as soon as I see a bit of pavement showing through the ice and snow, so I figured that this wasn’t much different.  And I was pleasantly surprised!  I had no problems with traction, even on the areas that the sweeper hadn’t got to yet.  By noon, the sun had melted some of the open stretches and, with the swept areas, about 60% of my route was snow free.

Some parts of the trail were still snow covered…

Some parts of the trail were partially melted off…

And some parts of the trail were fairly clean!

The snow has covered the ice but the duckweed patch is mostly snow free. Ominous clouds in the north.

The snow on the duckweed had melted off, except in the shadows of the deck rails!

Bye geese! Have a nice trip – see you next year.

And I was able to get in my coffeeneuring requirement too.  After my usual ride out to Big Lake, I headed over to the Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe.  It is located in The Enjoy Centre, which is the new home for Hole’s greenhouse – one of the largest greenhouses in western Canada.  I enjoyed a very nice vanilla bean latte and warmed up for my trip home.  On the way out, I passed a guy dressed as a marshmallow who was just entering.  The cashier looked over at me and said “And so it begins…”.  Ah Halloween.  And here I thought I would stand out dressed in my biking duds!

Vanilla bean latte at Glasshouse Cafe

Coffeeneuring 5:

Date: Friday, Oct. 26

Place: Glasshouse Bistro and Cafe, St. Albert

What: Vanilla bean latte

Distance: 18 km

Details: 1st ride in the snow.  Probably not the last.

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