Sunday, January 30, 2011

Aus-tangi celebrations

I'm not sure that neologism is proportioned correctly as I was the only Kiwi there, but more of that lately.  A Chinook blew through most last week & it was ridiculously warm - which made for some nice evening skis at the Nordic Center & a nice break from having to scrape ice off the car in the mornings.  But it was a little annoying as all the snow melted & there were big puddles everywhere which soon refroze & turned walking out of our driveway treacherous.

By the end of the week a big snowfall warning was in effect & another powder Saturday was in the offing - the fourth in a row.  I drove Pete & Donna (Melbourne-ites visiting Megan & Alex) & their friend Mark up to Sunshine nice & early & we quickly had a good few runs in.  It was pretty cold (~-15ºC) which worked out nicely as it wasn't all that busy.  We all had a few little falls negotiating the powder & the average light, but they were rather inconsequential.  Well they were until I somehow fell directly on my right shoulder on snow that wasn't so soft.  It was a little sore & while I collected my skis & poles (after having slid 10 metres down the steep slow), the adrenalin wore off & I realised I'd popped it out again.  It was a little hard getting off the run as no-one came down it for ages & it was steep; eventually I made it to a flat section with the help of a couple of boarders & Ski Patrol finally turned up.

There were a few bright sides of this - firstly I got my first ride on a Ski-Doo (even if it was rather painful).  It was a little while before the doctor turned up at the infirmary & they wouldn't give me any food even though I was starting to feel pretty weak.  I was also complimented on my diet - my blood pressure was 104/60 or something like that when my shoulder was still out & my body was pretty traumatised still.  Eventually the doctor arrived & put my shoulder back in with some method that he called the Captain Kirk method - for reasons that were lost on me as I'm not a Trekkie/Trekker.  With that nice popping sound, I was a lot happier - especially compared to the next guy they brought in.  He'd managed to dislocate his shoulder above his head & was in what could only be described as excruciating pain.  I haven't heard someone scream so loud & for so long for a long time, if ever.  After the nitrous oxide failed to calm him, it was time for the IV - eventually they got his shoulder back in.

So I had the afternoon off skiing, but wasn't alone for too long as I went & camped in Trappers - Alex came & visited briefly and then I had a nice long lunch with Anya & Greg before meeting my carload at three & heading off the hill (always fun being in the passenger seat of your car while people drive stick on the wrong side of the road [for them] for the first time.  With Australia Day just passed & Waitangi Day (pretty much NZ Day for those who don't know) coming up next week we had a little celebration at Joel & Kristy's - six Aussies, two Canadians & me.  There was Aussie paraphernalia everywhere (amongst it all one NZ flag & I had a stuffed-toy Kiwi pinned to my sling) & much Aussie music completed a great roast lamb dinner & then Aussie & NZ themed cupcakes, pavlova, lamingtons &ANZAC biscuits.

So today was one of those annoying enforced rest days as I contemplate having to rehab my shoulder again & try not to play what-if scenarios over in my head.  I think it's most irritating as it had been so good over the last few months.  It has been pleasant having a day off watching movies however & relaxing on the couch - although I was looking forward to getting out back-country today.  It's a gorgeous day out, if a little chilly.  Canmore is looking particularly beautiful today, so it wasn't too much of a hardship wandering to the grocery store.

Mt Rundle didn't look too bad either.

So I face a couple of weeks doing not much active - if it doesn't snow next Friday, I might cope.  Just as well I've got great friends here - even if it is a stink way to go to get people to do your shoelaces or jacket up for you.  With February approaching there's only three months left here for me - can't wait to get on the bike again (haven't hurt my shoulder doing that) & doing a bit more travelling.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Running out of titles

My imagination is running out of ways of saying "I went skiing again yesterday & it was great" in an appropriately succinct & witty manner.  After a pleasant little skate on the pond Saturday night, I finally slept like a log & was up & ready to head back to Sunshine Sunday morning- not about to turn down any potential ski buddies.  We were a just a little late getting up the gondola after Anya had a bit of fun on the drive out from Calgary - the vehicle she was following decided to shed its skis from the roof, they came flying towards her, thankfully hit the ground & were promptly run over.  A little too much excitement for such an early hour, but no lasting damage.

The hill wasn't too busy (apparently it was on Saturday) & there was a nice little dusting of fresh powder to cover the runs up.  As we were both feeling the effects of the previous day's exercise, it was a pretty relaxed day of skiing.  Visibility was a little poor in the morning, but the snow falling was nice & it was a very pleasant -5ºC.  After a nice long lunch (which was deserved after I went flying off a didn't-see-it-until-it-too-late little bank in the trees - that powder's nice, I just had to turn around & get my poles) we were back out for the afternoon off Divide & then lower down the resort.  It cleared up nicely as we spent the rest of the day around Goat's Eye & Wolverine before skiing out to the car at four & a extremely long, much needed & deserved soak in the Banff hot springs.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


This weekend was work's Winterfest - really just the Christmas party delayed by a few weeks to avoid the craziness of December.  There aren't too many places in the Bow Valley that can cater for the Lafarge crowd, so after eliminating the others in Banff & Canmore because they're rubbish, this year we were at the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis.   Kananaskis Village is about thirty minutes drive from home & I hadn't been up this way since the snow came & mountain-biking was stopped.  I enjoyed the drive up & back in the moonlight picking out various peaks & passes I had biked up to & over.  Dinner was as all good Christmas dinners should be - huge & delicious.  The highlights of 2010 were amusing & I was somewhat bemused by the plant manager identifying housekeeping as the biggest challenge for this year.  Things must be going pretty well if the largest concern is making sure the piles of clinker & cement & raw mix are kept under control.  Since I'm saving for the next adventure I passed on staying the night, so left all my colleagues at the bar in order to get home for a bit of sleep before another day's skiing.

My cunning plan of actually getting some sleep didn't work out so well - but I seemed to have survived the day OK.  Driving back out to Nakiska, I was pleased to be avoiding Sunshine as the traffic from Calgary (opposite direction) was very heavy heading to Sunshine & Lake Louise.  Nakiska is a nice little ski hill that is a legacy from the 1988 Olympics - they held the alpine skiing events there, the skifield was built for that purpose.  The Bow Valley has done pretty well out of those Olympics - the Nordic Center in Canmore is world class & Nakiska seems to be quite popular too as it's great for beginners & the closest hill to Calgary.  There were insane amounts of kids learning to ski & tweens racing - it was best to avoid the lower slopes.

Accordingly, we (my sort-of boss, Viviane & her fiancee, Alex [yes, yet another one]) spent all morning doing runs off the top lift as the runs were good & the queues were non-existent.  Viviane is one of those people who learnt to ski when they were two years old & Alex was pretty handy too.  So it was good fun trying to keep up with them & learn a little.  All the runs were groomed nicely - it was pleasant to be able to try & concentrate on my technique a little more rather than just trying to stay upright as was the case last weekend (not that I'm complaining about powder).  It was another gorgeous & warm day - didn't need a down jacket all day, this was helped by my remembering to bring my soft-shell this weekend. 

 Looking across the Kananaskis valley.

 Alex - I actually managed an action shot.

 There's Skogan Pass behind me - where Alex (C) & I biked over a few months ago.

The wind really picked up in the afternoon up the top & blew a lot of the snow off near the top of the lift leaving some pretty nasty ice, so we dropped down the hill a bit for the last couple of hours before I returned home & had a nice big nap, dinner & an hour of skating on the pond with friends & friends of friends (Adele you'll be intrigued to hear I met a climbing GP from Wanaka here for a few days on vacation).  Must sleep before Sunshine tomorrow (avalanche risk is still pretty high this weekend - so no backcountry for me again).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Confusing weather, but more powder.

Just when you thought I couldn't make this any more boring, I'm going to talk about the weather a bit.  It's been really weird this week.  For pretty much most of the working week, the mercury sat at or around -20ºC - which wasn't too unusual or unpleasant.  I managed to get one enjoyable XC ski in at the Nordic Center, where I was surprised to find I wasn't really all that cold.  Then come Friday, it was still just as cold but a whole lot of moisture actually made it this far (from the Pacific) & dumped a whole heap of snow in the valley.  We don't get a lot of snow (in Canadian terms, not NZ terms) here in town & it doesn't usually snow when it's really cold - somehow we ended up with twenty centimetres on Friday.  I was glad - not least because I finally had cause to wear my winter boots when walking around town (shoes have been fine all winter).  They got a lot up at Sunshine too - I think it took quite a lot of work for Alex to free his car after work, looking at the photo I'm not surprised.

Of course, I was back at Sunshine on Saturday for the second powder-Saturday in a row.  This one was even better than the last.  I joined Megan, Alex & Finn for a morning camped at Goat's Eye enjoying the powder.  Well, it was me & whoever wasn't watching Finn at the time.  Here's everyone waiting for the gondola & looking either happy or unaware & confused at the prospect of all that nice powder.
Alex managed to get quite a nice little break from work, so Megan & I got quite a few good runs in.  My powder skiing is slowly improving - at least this week it was a little denser so one didn't sink quite as easily (visibility was much better too).  With such good skiing conditions(& it was warm, around 0ºC - the temperature inversion had it much warmer than in town for the second day running), there were more people on the hill than I'd seen all season; consequently, the runs became rather scoured out & bumpy by the end of the morning.  Naturally, I had a few more little falls as Megan merrily lead me through trees & down some new runs (for me).  Can you tell she was excited to be out skiing on such a great day?

With a baby-sitter change, I got in a couple of runs in with Alex and then Megan before we skied out (I enjoyed it again, what's going on?) around lunch time.  A great morning's skiing & I was pretty tired out - all that turning in all that powder & the heat really took it out of me.

After a lunch & shower stop at home I was walking around to entertain Finn while Megan finished off her rather elaborate rendition of the Settlers board in cupcakes for Alex's almost-birthday dinner.  Here's the creek just out side our backdoor, the ducks seem to have come back now that it's not -20ºC.
It seems now that Finn has a much better idea than he did six weeks ago of who Mum & Dad are - I no longer cut it as an agreeable person to be holding him for extended periods.  Still Megan finished her masterpiece & cooked a casserole before Joel & Kristy got in from skiing Lake Louise.  The cupcakes looked fantastic & tasted pretty damn good too.

With all the snow in the last few days & the warming of the temperatures, the avalanche risk was high all weekend at & above the tree line.  I wasn't keen to head out back-country, so decided to go to the hill again with Kurt, whom I'd met before Christmas at an Alpine Club event - I mention that only to show that I do actually know a Canadian here & not just Aussies.  Beside, when you wake up & see this, how can you stay at home?
Sunshine conditions have definitely improved a lot in the last few weeks!  The crazy temperature variations were in full swing today - so much so that even though I stood outside for quite a while waiting to be picked up, I didn't even notice I had forgotten to put my soft-shell on.  It wasn't until we were in the parking lot that I realised that I didn't have my jacket.  I survived the day with my down jacket on the outside, I was a little concerned that the high temperature would have all the snow that was landing on me melting  - this turned out not to be the case.

Kurt, it turned out, had been skiing for most of his life - he comprehensively left me behind on many occasions.  At least I was able to entertain him with two big crashes on some more of those really bumpy runs off Goat's Eye.  By lunchtime I was keen to head up to the village to try out some different runs.  We managed to meet up with Joel & Kristy (in Trappers of course) for the afternoon.  By now the clouds had really come in & it was snowing quite heavily again.  We split up shortly after - I figured Joel could give Kurt a better run for his money & I was happy mucking around on some blue runs with Kristy & Ryan.  It was a good afternoon as we stayed away from the white-out on Standish & kept to some of the lower lifts.  By the time we got back to the gondola base, it was fair puking down - as it was so warm, the flakes were huge & pretty wet.   It snowed all the way back to Banff & then strangely turned to rain - I haven't seen rain for months.  Near the park gates the temperature had dropped slightly to -1ºC, a few kilometres later nearing home it had plunged to -11ºC.  That was pretty crazy - all the rain water had instantly frozen to the side of the car.  I haven't mentioned the freezing rain yet either.  Alas, it seems all is back to normal now - it's touching -20ºC again, in time to go back to work.

Going to local news for a while: I'm now extra pleased that we didn't go back-country this weekend.  Two skiers got buried in an avalanche up Burstall Pass way yesterday - Adele, you may remember we were up there a few-days-shy-of-a-year ago.  They didn't survive & weren't easy to find as they were up there with out avalanche transceivers.  I don't know a lot about avalanches, but that doesn't seem particularly smart on many counts.  Interestingly, emergency services were alerted by others in the area activating the SOS function on their SPOT - nice to know it works.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Railway Ave events - well, just one really.

I never knew the sleepy little mountain town of Canmore had so many police cars until this afternoon (admittedly, some may have come from elsewhere).  I haven't seen so many decked out glorified-Crown Vics in one spot since the San Diego mugging incident that kicked my travels off eighteen or so months ago.  At least this time, I'm not nearly as involved - although the result is somewhat more shocking, but also strangely distant (literally & figuratively).  This story kicks off over the weekend with a couple of armed robberies around town coming out of nowhere.  One was of a tanning salon just off Main Street; I'm still confused why one would hold up a salon for cash, surely they don't have that much.  But then I'm not sure I could ever start to understand the mentality that says it's a good idea to rob someone using a pistol or anything else, or nothing at all for that matter.

First I knew about all this was yesterday when we were wandering around town looking at/for various pieces of gear & there seemed to be an unusually high number of Mounties wandering around (without breaking into chorus).  This was pretty much the police going around warning the local businesses of the fact that there was a gun-toting robber around town.

Fast-forward to this afternoon & I was thinking nothing more of it & I was happily ensconced at home finishing Watership Down (which was brilliant, nothing to do with shipping & everything to do with rabbits) & doing my shoulder exercises when I noticed something about a RCMP shooting on my Canmore feed.  Low & behold the cops had pulled over the robbery suspect, he fired a couple of shots & they shot him back.  Just as disturbing was that this was right at the end of our driveway - Steve had to get an escort through the cordon just to get home.  Once again, I'm mystified why you would be out robbing people when it's -20ºC outside.  As this was only a few hours ago details are still a little hazy, but it seems that it was the robbery suspect that was shot & who subsequently died.  So at least it wasn't someone more innocent, as such, but it still fairly stinks. 

So after all that, here's how close it was.  At the start of this video you can just see my car, that I'd parked twenty minutes beforehand, just behind that little white Chevy SUV on the left.  In the second photo in this story, you can see our driveway on the far side of the road.  A little close to home - so it's nice to be sitting around with friends doing nothing in particular.  Also, Finn was gracious enough not to return some of his dinner on to my trousers, drool on to my head or slobber all over my sweater tonight.  Considering someone jabbed him with all sorts of immunizations today, he's been rather good.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Powder Day finally & Ethel.

Snow had been forecast for the start of the weekend all week & just to keep us guessing, the forecast was actually correct more than a few days out.  As I woke up at my normal get-up-for-work time & I had no one else to pick up, I was out at the hill ridiculously early.  The snow was fair coming down as I left Canmore, tapered off a bit around Banff & then came back once on the access road.

One of the only advantages that I can see to riding the gondola alone is that it gives you plenty of space to stretch, so that's what I did before sitting in the day lodge for a little while waiting for the chairs to open.  Before this morning, I was completely unused to skiing powder with any degree of competence; so, I started off on the smallest lift - actually, I always start there being a creature of habit & some sentimentality.  It was good fun having to ski in a slightly different way & I was thankful for my big wide skis.  The light was really flat & I finally understood what this means - it was so hard to see any sort of contour in the snow.  Often I would hit a little rise, jump or drop without seeing it - my knees got a good workout.  It was also hard to pick the steepness of the slopes & all of a sudden it could change & be a little surprising.  Nonetheless, it was a blast & I enjoyed putting some of the first tracks down a few of the runs.  I'm not sure I should have headed up Divide so early as it was pretty windswept & the crust was easy to find.  Wawa provided my best runs of the day.

After an early lunch, I headed off to the Goat's Eye area & quite enjoyed it over there.  By now I was starting to miss having someone dragging me off to different runs.  My ability is not such that I'm overly keen on throwing myself off unknown black runs - but I gave a few new ones a go.  By the early afternoon most of the powder had been scoured out in to big piles - I found it interesting going from hard packed snow & then all of a sudden hitting a big clump of powder.  This I blame for my only good bail of the day.  By two o'clock I'd had enough (twenty-six runs in five hours is not bad going) & I enjoyed the ski-out for the second time in a row - what's going on with that?  I'm not entirely sure why I carried my camera around all day, but I did & felt obliged to take at least one picture.  So here's my car, which was clear of snow when I left it, looking nice & clean on the top half.  And that ends the best day I've had skiing yet.

As suspected, I bought a SPOT first (before the GPS & helmet-cam).  I think this was mostly because I could just wander downtown after work yesterday & get it - GPSs & helmet-cams offer significantly more options & will therefore require research.  So now can I check-in & also have a way of getting help if I ever need it in the back of beyond.  I don't think it'll get much use for a few months, but come roadtrip time it'll get a thrashing.  For now, you can see where I've been in the last couple of days - first in Canmore, ice-skating on the pond & today, the Sunshine parking lot.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A short ski & a long soak in the hot pools.

I managed to drag myself out of bed after another restless night's sleep ready to head up to the slopes again.  This afternoon while I was vacuuming I realised that my mid-night attempt some weeks ago to jam the heating vent under my bed closed had slipped out - with the help of daylight & being fully awake, I've rectified this & hope to sleep a little better now.  After the last two days packed with skiing of various forms, a slightly lazier day was planned.

We were at the parking lot well before nine & it seemed reasonable busy, but getting off the gondola the village was pretty sparse.  Luckily for us, all those we had seen below seemed more interested in the day lodge or the parking lot.   Alex (that's new-Alex, I'm sure it would save a lot of confusion if I just called everybody Bruce) & I were both more than happy to take it easy on the groomed runs we could find.  Again with no new snow around, it was a beautiful day - & I had a willing photographer.  So here's a view you've seen before, but with me (I assure you) standing by.  We had some difficulty picking out our skin tracks from the previous day, but I was finally able to provide evidence that we had actually gone across the meadows.

I think it was shortly after this photo was taken that we hit a run that had been chopped up a lot since Saturday.  I did a very passable impression of someone trying to hurl themselves off their skis at speed on hard pack, but somehow managed not to.  Time to change runs.  Best run of the day (for me) was the last one off Goat's Eye & then the ski-out (which for the first time ever was almost enjoyable, as it was only 11.30 & empty).

The afternoon was even more chilled out, with Alex continually trying to warm up, an introduction to Barpa Bill's (great burger), a little shopping at Monod's before the final attempt at recovering circulation - a good long soak in the Upper Hot Springs.  Another great thing about only skiing half the day is that the Hot Springs are not very busy - & you can actually see the view as it's before five o'clock & consequently it's not dark.  A short little drive around town was what passed for a tour of Banff & it was off home with still plenty of time left to do those boring weekend chores that have been mostly neglected since the skiing took priority.  Apparently I have to go back to work tomorrow - that may be a bit of shock; and it'll be January the Fourth - happy anniversary Mum & Dad.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sunshine Meadows touring

Up too early after all that skiing & hardly sleeping, I picked up Alex & we were back out at Sunshine by nine o'clock.  This time we took the gondola up, one lift & then went out of bounds on to the Sunshine Meadows for my first decent ski-tour this winter.  It was slightly warmer than the previous day, & the still-rising sun slowly warmed us as we skinned across the meadows.  This was a similar route to that which Alex, Megan & I hiked at the start of July to kick off our three-day hike to Mt Assiniboine & Mt Shark.
It all looks a little different to what it did in the summer (but just as beautiful):

Anyway - back to the snow.  We were aiming for Citadel Pass & slowly worked our way towards it picking whatever route looked good - it was difficult to see any previous skin tracks to follow.  This made some of the climbing a little difficult as all of a sudden whoever was trail breaking would fall an unexpected foot or so in to a void.  Well, it was difficult for me at times being unused to such occurrences.
Alex skinning across another flat patch.

We had a few downhill runs here & there.  I think these were just to show me that I can't really ski all that well off-piste.  I took a few more dives - at least landing in soft snow doesn't hurt.  We veered off from our path to the Citadel (that's that big hunk of rock in the centre of these pictures) & headed up another ridge that looked nice.

The route we chose didn't look so inviting half way up, so we turned again & skied back to Howard Douglas Lake (which we had skinned across no so long before) before skinning up to our lunch spot.  The skin on my left ski managed to frustrate me no end as it managed to come off five times, even after I'd tightened the fastening mechanism.  At half past one, I was fair starving so pleased to sit in the sun & mostly out of the wind that had picked up here.  It didn't seem too cold, but at -10ºC it turns out your sandwiches freeze to the bottom of your lunchbox.  After I made a few more rookie errors on the small run down we had, we turned & headed back to the meadows & the ski resort.  Most of this was skinning, but there was a little cruising downhill.

Here are a few pictures, courtesy of Alex (I can't keep writing 'shamelessly stolen', even if it's true).
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That's me taking it easy & not falling over for a change.

Oh look, I'm putting my skins on again.

Eventually, we were back across the meadows & heading in to the resort boundaries (that's that blue sign there).  
After six of so hours of this excursion, I was exhausted & my feet were starting to hurt.  When I found the small blisters on the inside of my feet (above the arches) I learnt the importance of loosening my boots while skinning.  For a pretty busy day as Sunshine (the beauty of where we were was that we didn't see another soul for five hours), we managed to time it right & missed chaos on the ski-out.  So tired, I couldn't really be bothered making turns so snow-ploughed most of the way back to the car.  Another great day here in the Bow Valley & 2011 doesn't seem to have slowed down yet.  Thanks Alex for taking me back-country & not having to put my shoulder back in.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

If 1-1-11 is anything to go by.

This year is going to be a cracker - a sentiment that has been echoed quite a few time today already.  I couldn't believe how many people (a couple of thousand at least) were out skating on the pond at around -20ºC, but the ice was chocker for New Year's Eve.  The fires around the side were pretty popular & my skating is slowly getting better - even if I did take my first, & due to the date - last, fall of the year.  After the rather cute fireworks & suitable oohs & aahs, it was time to retire for a nice big sleep before the first ski of 2011.  Here's a picture shamelessly stolen from Alex, that goes a little way to showing how crowded the ice was - avoiding all those people had its moments.
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I was pleased to see the weather forecast was predicting slightly warmer temperatures & even more pleased to have a ski buddy in town who wasn't working.  Alex (got to love the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend connection when you are travelling; another Aussie too, have I met a single Kiwi since I've been living here?) [& yes, that is another Alex, just to confuse things] is over here putting in a few months of intense boarder-cross training & competition.  The twenty centimetres of snow over the last week had the hill in a much improved condition than previously this season.  Skiing a whole day with only one other person & that person being much more experienced than me was great for my skiing.  I went on a whole heap of runs I haven't been on before & was regularly challenged by some of the terrain I found myself on.  Not really related to that, I somehow took my biggest dive yet - I hit one of the few sections of crusted powder left untouched a little too fast & somehow lost my skis & went flying a couple of metres forward.  Thankfully Alex didn't see that & could only watch as I, rather bemused, turned & recovered my skis & poles.  Goat's Eye was also perhaps the most improved part of the resort & there were quite a few runs to be had down there in relative peace & quiet.  Other/original-Canmore-Alex (to me anyway) also joined us for a couple of runs.

Back in town we headed to the Hotel (more of a pub really) for (new)Alex's first poutine & some beers.  I believe I have already declared my love of poutine here before a number of times - this particular incarnation didn't disappoint either.  Now after a little relaxing, dinner cooked & eaten it's off to bed to rest up so I can do it all again tomorrow.  Well, not quite the same - Alex (original, I'm getting confused already) & I are going backcountry off the back of Sunshine to Citadel Pass.  I'm not sure I really know what that means either - but then I am slightly tired.