Tales of a Powder Day…
It’s what every skier & boarder is searching for, a powder day. A day where a huge blanket of snow covers the previously skied out mountain, and allows you to have some “fresh” tracks without the cost of a helicopter ride, cat lift or manual labour to get to the top.
The day seems like a normal ski vacation day or mountain town day. Some powder days you are prepared for by checking the forecast & satellite information, some powder days catch you by surprise as a forecasted 10cm turns to 30 plus and you need to read the 6:30am snow report twice to believe it. This was the case recently at Fernie Alpine Resort as we went to bed thinking we would have a nice dusting in the morning but to everyone’s surprise & excitement, 35cm came down! There’s no time to dilly dally now…eat, dress, and get to the hill! Drop the kids at daycare & ski lessons, then get in the line up for fresh tracks.
Every mountain town has their powder standard for locals. “Powder Snobs” won’t budge for a certain amount of snow, sometimes its 10-15cm or greater needed to get them to the ski hill. If a powder dump hits on a weekend, it’s amazing how quickly and how many folks will make the drive. The steady stream of vehicles snake up the hill and flood the parking lot and attendants. The lucky ones are the ski in/ski out folks who can be first in line for first tracks.
A powder day is no time to start planning your day, it’s a day where you react to the day and the conditions. If luck is on your side your kids have pre-booked morning ski lessons/daycare, your powder skis are ready to rip and you don’t having to wait in a line up to get some fat ski demos. Your pockets are filled with snacks and you were careful how much you drank that morning because there is no time to pee. Hopefully your morning goes well and you are standing close to the front of the line waiting for that lift to open with hundreds of your friends. Although truth be told, there are no friends on a powder day and you are standing in line secretly hating the people next to you and are trying to will them away.
The truth of the powder day is that it comes with a serving of stress and a side of anxiety. You don’t want to share the mountain today, you want all the fresh tracks run after run. It can be a head game wondering where you should venture first, based on what is open on the mountain, and which areas are going to open next, and when that might happen.
With some planning and a lot of luck you can time it perfectly and the day works out great.
I remember a ski trip at Snowbird in Utah, there was great snow all week but we hit the mother load with 40cm of snow dumping over night. There was so much snow that the highway up to the hill was closed for Avalanche danger and we experienced “interlodge” (being confined to the ski hill with only the folks already on the hill.) Fresh tracks run after run and fortunate enough to time the opening of areas perfectly. So perfectly on the one area that we saw them dropping the rope as we got off the chair and had a sliding start compared to the people standing, and easily got to the front of the traverse. Aside from some epic cat skiing days, that day at Snowbird ranks at the top of my personal favourites!
Back to this recent Fernie powder day… we had our youngest in daycare, our 5 year old skier in morning lessons, so my wife Regan and I were in the lift line ready to rip. Normal lift lines are pretty orderly in North America, a far cry from my European lift line experience where folks will pole you, ski over you, and elbow you out of the way to get ahead. Still it’s best to pay attention, stay sharp and make sure you get full chairs heading up the hill.
I have seen some pretty crazy behaviour on powder days over the years. One of the strangest was in Lake Louise lined up waiting for the first chair on Larch area. A couple snowboarders budded in front of us and were taunting us on the chair ride up. We responded with telling them they would be sitting on their butts doing up their buckles so we would still get fresh tracks. This concerned them for a while until they started to buckle up each others boards to coast off the chair and get down the run first. This plan almost worked for them had it not been for our poles, and some skate skiing to speed past them and hit the run first.
A powder day can put some stress on friendships and relationships too. I am lucky that my wife Regan can ski very well and I am not standing or waiting too long for her at the lift or on a run. On this most recent powder day I was most impressed. We got off the Great Bear chair at Fernie and poled past the people to hit the run. It was deep, fresh and fast and I proceeded to ski down. Halfway down I remembered I was skiing with Regan. I was worried she might be far back but as I slowed to shoulder check to find her, she was directly behind me, so with a grin I pushed the pace a little more on the way to the bottom. She was right there with me… awesome!
The legendary Griz was in fine form filling the Elk Valley with snow this last trip to Fernie, perhaps rewarding us for staying positive despite experiencing two weeks of snow drought in January. This week brought 35cm, plus 8cm, plus 13cm, plus 37cm of fresh powder… now that’s 4 pretty amazing days. It was all fluff too, no wet, dense snow to create avalanche panic. The last day of our trip was the 37cm day and we had planned to only ski the morning with our little ripper, she’s 5 years old. Lucky for us we had some amazing days leading up so our minds and bodies were okay with a slower pace of a powder day with our girl. Besides, she needs to learn to ski the fluff too, right?
Our first run with her was off the Deer Chair and the snow was pushing her waist, slowing her down so much she couldn’t turn, she had to straight-line to keep any momentum. It was super fun to watch her smile and grin. She didn’t like that she couldn’t see her skis! (that was too funny.) She likes the Bear and Arrow ski runs off of the Great Bear Chair so up we went to get some longer runs. No fresh tracks by this time, but still lots of fresh snow to hit. After a few quick tips to let her know to turn less, and “point them down more” and she was skiing from fresh pow to fresh pow, laughing and smiling all the way! We hit a little snag on the next lift ride up when she asked about her routine “hot chocolate break” and we had to explain there were no breaks on powder days. A few more powder turns later and she forgave us. Powder turns are a lot of work for a little ripper, she did really well to ski fast enough all morning that Regan and I were also entertained.
The best advice for a great powder day is to just relax, don’t over think it and don’t stop until you hit the lift line for the next lap. I hope you get to enjoy a powder day or two this winter, (just not shared with me.)