Rocky Mountain Blues

Back to skiing at Lake Louise on Tuesday and 3 major changes.

First major change, the bus to the ski resort has changed timetables and is not only more frequent but stops outside the hotel our apartment is attached to so we only have to walk across the car park with our clobber not to the middle of town.  There has been a bit of a local protest about the limited number of ski bus pick-up points.  Not only were the bus companies owned by the same people who owned the hotels chosen as the ski-bus ‘hubs’ which then advertised themselves as the only hotels in Banff with a bus shuttle from the door, but senior managers of the companies also sat on the governing body of the Lake Louise resort.  All a bit of a scandal really.  On a personal level, the new arrangement is much to be preferred.

Second major change, the temperature has increased.  When we went out this morning it was a mild -15 oC in Banff.  It was colder on the mountain but once again it was clear blue sky and sunshine.  That makes it 6 consecutive days of sunshine which apparently is rare in these parts.

But that has its adverse side-effects.  It has not snowed at Lake Louise now for a week (despite what it says on their website). The snow-making machines have been working overtime.  There are large mounds of artificial snow waiting to be spread out over the pistes in time for the Christmas rush.

Which had consequences for the third major change which is that I have started skiing Blue runs.  In the Alps runs are divided into Green (easiest), Blue, Red and Black (most difficult).  Here in Canada there are just 3 categories, Green, Blue and Black.  From what I remember of the Alps 20 years ago, some of the Greens here are comparable with the Blues there and the Blues here are comparable with the easier Reds there.  In any case it was a significant step up in difficulty which I was reluctant to take until I felt I had honed my skills sufficiently to come down runs under control without taking undue advantage of the force of gravity.

Yesterday I skied my first Blue run at Sunshine Village.  Very good snow, fairly short run, very enjoyable.  Today was quite a different kettle of fish.  The runs are much longer and more sustained at Lake Louise and because of the artificial snow have a tendency to become icy.  I warmed up on a Green run delighting in the name of ‘Wiwaxy’ and then met up with Ruth and Tim to ski a Blue run called ‘Juniper’.  It was steep, it was sustained, and it was icy.  But I both managed it and enjoyed it.

Then after dinner we went up on the gondola to ski runs on the other side of the mountain. As a warm-up after stopping to eat we first did a Green run called ‘Pika’ (named after a small mountain mammal also known as a rock rabbit) which we had done several times.  But today it was appalling.  It is basically a very narrow trail and snow cannon’s were operating over it so that it was covered in mounds of ice/snow.  I had planned to do a couple of laps on that but it wa so bad I decided to knock it on the head and went up another mountain with Ruth and Tim to do a Blue run which has a good reputation.  That was very icy.  There were steep slopes of sheet ice so it was a matter of sliding down sideways in some places.  Again I survived which was satisfying but it apart from achieving that it wasn’t fun.  No incentive to do it again today.

So we took the chair lift back up to the top of the main mountain to do a series of Green runs back to the main lodge.  I was running the Greens while Ruth and Tim went off to do a Black run.  The top Green run, delighting in the name of  ‘Eagle Meadows’ despite the steep slopes it entails, was very icy too and the long steep bits were physically taxing.  So was the lower Green run, Wiwaxy.  All the way down, about 2.500 feet of descent, was strewn with ‘cool dude’ snowboarders lying or sitting in the middle of the piste, as is their wont, and with quite a few injured people waiting rescue by the ski patrol. Meeting up with Ruth and Tim at the bottom I found out that the Green runs had been reclassified for the day as Blue because of the adverse conditions.

All in all I found my introduction to Rocky Mountain Blues quite challenging but ultimately very satisfying.  I completed them all without falling over or crashing.

Back at the ranch, or in this case the ‘Lodge of the Ten Peaks’ I took a couple of photos across to the ‘Bunny Hill’, the shallow slope where novices are introduced to skiing or boarding and up the main piste down to ‘base’ which is the run-out for many of the main runs.

Looking across form the Lodge to the 'Bunny Hill'. The white trees in the middle ground are covered in 'snow' from the snow blowing machines

Looking up the main piste to the Lodge, the run-out from many of the pistes back to base

It led me to reflect.  The lower part of the ‘Wiwaxy’ Green run is marked for ‘Beginners and learners only’.  I had seen injured people in various parts of this run and at the pinch point at the bottom, where it is narrow, curving, icy and steep, the piste had been almost completely blocked by recumbent snowboarders.  I couldn’t help wonder at how people who had only done introductory runs on the ‘Bunny Hill’ could possibly cope with this, the next step in their learning process.


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