Christmas in the Kootenays is a special time for me. Being born and raised in Fernie has profoundly directed my passion for mountains and snow, and this holiday season has been a perfect example of why. This week has been referred to by many as the Snowpocalyse, with the title being warranted by the ending of the Mayan calendar, the massive amount of snow, and the near-devastating Class 3 avalanche that we set off on Christmas eve – more on that later.
The snowpocalypse began in Vancouver with 15cms of snow the morning I was supposed to leave. That amount of snow is equivalent to complete societal meltdown and I delayed my travel until the next day. The next morning I picked up my Kootenay Rideshare companions and motored towards the heart of the West Kootenays – Nelson. After celebrating the alleged end of the world and crashing with some old and new friends, (thanks Kat, Brook and crew!) I attacked Kootenay Pass solo with the intention to slay some pow and make it back to the Volvo in one piece. Success! Mad pow was slayed and I made it to Fernie for dinner and the 23rd annual family tree-trimming party.
The next morning I woke up plans for more solitary lines in the backcountry, but this time I at least had spotters. With well over a meter of new storm snow and a skin track put in by by Luke and Henry the day before (more thanks!) we were overlooking a pristine Fish Bowl – only one bowl North of Fernie Alpine Resort but without another track in sight. Jimmy joined Luke, Henry and I up the 2000′ Ridge, but those three carried on to Thunder Meadows cabin. Before they left, they watched me drop in on one of my favorite fall lines in the Lizard Range. It was so good, I went back up and did it again – mine were the only two tracks laid that day.
After a day off, it’s Christmas eve and I get the call to ski Mt. Fernie. Some friendly folks had broken trail up the day before (even more thanks!) and offered to take us back up to the goods. As we made our way closer to ridgetop, we started to notice some windslab and snow pockets. Jimmy dropped in with some ski cuts below the ridge and when it looked solid he made a few turns down to a snag on the ridge. His sluff set off a 10cm crown that slid down another 15m before it loaded the windslab pocket, stepping the avalanche down to a 150cm buried rain crust, which somehow managed to propagate across the ridge and even over into the next gully. Once we realized everyone was safe on the ridge above, the cameras started shooting the massive, raging powder cloud that plowed down the gully towards the town.We all skiied the same ridge and then down over the icy raincrust. From the other side of the avi path, we got dropped back into some beautiful snow that was unaffected by the wind and carved epic pow down through the Moccasin.
The crowns from the bottom, ski tracks stop in the trees 15m up the ridge.
In my opinion we skiied the face as safely as possible, as evidenced by the fact that no-one was caught or injured by the slide – other than a widespread pooping of pants. I think we all learned a little more respect for the effect that wind loading can have on a slope, but I’m still going to go and harvest more kootenay blower tomorrow. For more info, Ben posted a video of the powder cloud, and the CAC has posted up a great incident report on their recent Lizard Range forecast… Stay safe out there, and cya on the slopes!