After the storm

It happened again.

It’s been the worst winter for snow since I moved here almost ten years ago. Yet somehow, when the storms finally roll in the timing just keeps lining up. This time, a big dump of snow on Thursday was immediately followed by my day off Friday, and the last day of S’s Christmas vacation. C wasn’t around Friday, but was into skiing Saturday. And thus followed two of the best days out that I can remember.

Dawn patrol, Howe Sound viewpoint

We kept it simple, since most of the snow was forecast for the Sea to Sky and all three of us are familiar with the evolving snowpack there, so we headed back out to Diamond Head on both days. It was like being plunged right back into the kind of winter we’ve been so sorely missing: the trail was skinnable from the parking lot, and the forest was full of snow ghosts.

On Friday S and I skipped the hut and headed straight up to the shoulder just below the peak of Round Mountain. We knew the big risk with the new storm snow was wind loading, so we found an aspect which was obviously wind-affected and dug a pit to check on conditions. The new snow was well-bonded, and a slightly stiff slab at the top wasn’t large enough to cause concern. We took the first run through the bowl cautiously, riding one at a time and waiting in safe zones, but things rode well and from there it was all systems go.

It was a glory day. The new snow – at least 25cm of it – was soft and powdery where it hadn’t been affected by the wind, and we were able to tear through the bowl over and over again. We hit up our drop-in spots from the last big storm, flew off little rises, and sent clouds of coldsmoke flying up in our wake.

Coldsmoke(Photo credit: Sierra Laflamme)

I had to be back in town for a memorial event in the evening, so we’d planned to start early and finish relatively early. On our final run, high on the side of Round Mountain with Garibaldi towering ahead, I tapped my poles and dedicated the turns to Cheryl – someone who knew so well how to make the most of every single moment, and never stopped smiling. It felt like a much better way to honour her memory than sadness, though that’s still inevitable when I think about how much of a loss her amazing spirit is.

Tantalus views

Saturday began with another dawn patrol, since I was seriously concerned that with a ton of relatively scarce new snow and a bluebird forecast the whole area would be a zoo. The parking lot was about half full when we arrived, but most of those were Elfin Lake overnighters since they’d been there when I left the day before.

Once again we skipped the hut, and this time headed straight on around the ridge to give ourselves a chance of getting away from the crowds. It was an absolutely perfect bluebird day, and I loved watching C’s reaction as he saw the jaw-dropping vistas from Paul Ridge proper for the first time. I’ve gained a great deal from having C and S as touring buddies this season, and it’s nice to be able to give a bit back to them.

Paul Ridge

C and I had had an interesting discussion about powder skiing technique in the car on the way out, which turned into an unprecedented opportunity. When do you ever get to take a lesson in powder skiing (he used to be a ski instructor) and then put it into practice on untouched snow all day long? The key point was that I was turning my body too far across the fall line on each turn. I tried to remember this as I skied, and the difference was dramatic. Turning from the hips down, trying to keep the upper body quiet, suddenly I was full of confidence on steeper slopes and leaving a much neater series of s-turns in the snow behind me.

Paul Ridge skiing

We stayed on north faces where the snow had been perfectly preserved by the cold temperatures overnight. It was basically a second full day of skiing perfect storm snow. C and I were completely on the same page about trying to maximize every moment, so I grabbed quick bites of food on transitions and we just kept skiing down, hiking up, and moving along as each we tracked each zone out.

The really weird thing is that we barely saw a soul out there. Two snowshoers heading back from Elfin, and one skier who’d stopped to rest a hot spot. That was it. It made sense later, when we dropped back into Red Heather Meadows and saw snow so torn up it could have been in a resort. In this lean winter, folk saw the fresh powder with just a few tracks and went full-on hungry for it. Hardly anyone made it past Round Mountain. I wish they’d seen it the day before, when S and I laid all those tracks down on completely unbroken snow.


It was an amazing day. While we didn’t ski anything particularly hardcore, it was new for me to feel so completely confident on steeper faces. I think C’s instruction is going to be a game changer. I could literally feel my technique improving on each run.

At the very end of the day we hauled ourselves out of the drainage one last time, and then hiked back through the forest to find ourselves on the meadows just as the sun was sinking. Our final run back down to the forest was golden, glowing with the day’s last light.

Howe Sound sunset

I honestly can’t imagine back-to-back days much better than this. My cumulative stats were 37km of distance, and just over 2,500 metres of vert. I’m almost as stoked about the distance and elevation as I am about the turns. There’s still a ways to go, but it’s great preparation for the goal that we’ve set ourselves for the end of the season.

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