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Skiing is (not) a Race

Simon living the dream: Soft pillows of fresh powder

From the moment the first snowfall showed up in the forecast last week, there was excitement brewing in the ski community - there would finally be the opportunity for fresh lines after two weeks of either looking hard, or skiing hard-pack. (Sometimes known as packed-powder - the classic term for snow that was once powder, but has since become packed.) The storm delivered, blanketing the mountains in a fresh layer of snow, with amounts anywhere from 20-40cm of snow. There was a sudden onset of the 30cm flu.

For some, skiing is a serene experience - floating down the mountain on pillows of soft, fresh powder. Lake Louise: Jan 13, 2013

For some, skiing is a serene experience - floating down the mountain on pillows of soft, fresh powder. A moment of pure joy as skier and mountain become one. For others, the lead-up to this experience is fraught with anxiety as their experience becomes contaminated with the stress of having someone else poach their line: it's a race! Typically, Eastern rockies snow in the Banff / Lake Louise area is quite dry and light, known by the term of blower or champagne powder - often in less quantity as compared with interior BC - but even when tracked, this blower pow is soft, needing only some wind gusts to blow in the tracks and reset for the next day. 

Here's a shot from Eagle Ridge at Lake Louise this Saturday:

This past snowfall, however, fell as (relatively) warmer temperatures arrived dropping a layer of moist, heavier snow. This snow tends to get packed down quicker and tracked into choppy snow which is much less forgiving. Over the next few days, temperatures dropped as cooler weather came in from the North. By the time the weekend crowds arrived, temperatures were in the -24 to -15C range, and pockets of powder were getting tough to find. This snow will help maintain the base until the next snowfall, but the dream of floating through untracked snow will remain just that for this week - unless you look in obscure places where patches of fresh untracked snow can be found. There's still a little fresh in 'H'-Gully on Whitehorn II at Lake Louise - Here's a shot looking up 'H' Gully:

At Lake Louise this weekend, we observed several results from avalanche control - several on looker's left heading up the Larch chair & some shooting cracks along the top of North Cornice. In a video from Kananaskis Public Safety, you can see the result on the Jan 6th surface hoar / facet layer:

In the backcountry, the layers that had formed due to the cooler temperatures, wind & sun are resulting in decreased stability, which will be compounded with the potential for temperature inversions warming the alpine over the coming few days. The lure of fresh tracks should be carefully offset against the risk until the snowpack settles. Sometimes skiing isn't a race - this is a good time to let things settle out before venturing beyond conservative lines.