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| | |-+  Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
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Author Topic: Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC  (Read 7418 times)

Posts: 124

Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
« on: 01/10/17, 10:35 PM »

Day 1

We decided to start at the Whitewater Ski “Resort” and do the White Queen Tour to get acquainted with the area. This tour can either be done via lift assist or from the Hummingbird Pass pullout. We went with the lift assisted option. One great thing about Whitewater is you can purchase a single ride lift ticket for a reduced price. After signing the waiver, we did just that, and rode the Silver King lift. Then we skied to the skin track only 30m to the right of the chair and transitioned to skinning.

It's straightforward to the top of Silver Queen and we followed an existing skin track the entire way. At the top, we met a local who came up from Hummingbird Pass. He was very friendly and offered a lot of advice and conversation. We learned the snow pack was a little below average for this time of year. He also described hazards in the area (avalanche, brush, alder, low coverage, etc). We asked about the White Queen south facing run and he said it wasn’t quite in yet because of the wall of alder at the bottom which wasn’t buried yet. We also noted he skied down the west arm, so it wasn’t a lie to get the tracks for himself.

The weather was socked in and we did a couple of runs of the north side of White Queen down to the bench. When coverage is better, you can continue down from the bench to the bottom of Five Mile Creek. There was a thin rain crust about a foot down, but it didn’t really impact the skiing, which was super soft and low density. We both were amazed and how light the snow was. At the end of the first run, we found our rhythm skiing the snow and well-spaced trees. We had to break trail for a little bit on the way up before gaining an existing track. The snow was deep and trail breaking laboring.

After the 2nd run, we angled back to a saddle below White Queen and Half Dome, instead of going back to the top or White Queen, then traversed the skin track partway back to the resort before dropping in and connecting with the groomed runs.

Looking back towards the ski area

Day 2 (Christmas Day)

Since Whitewater had a rain crust and Whitewater had holiday hours, we decided to go to Kootenay Pass, which is purely backcountry. We started with the easy introductory tour here as well: Cornice Ridge. We skinned around Bridal Lake, following the existing track, which isn’t necessary and less direct, but to check things out. From there we followed the track all the way up Cornice Ridge summit. Towards the top, we passed by avalanche control artillery which appears to all be operated by a remote computer. It was a complete whiteout on the top, but after we dropped a little, we got some visibility. Then we skied an east facing run down to the lake\pond NE of Cornice Ridge. The snow was again super light and had no rain crust – bonus!

We broke trail again until connecting an existing skin track about halfway back to the top. We would re-use this skin track on 4 additional days. The track took us to the Cornice Ridge – Buzz’s Ridge saddle. Then we did 2 more laps off Cornice Ridge. Then we went back up for a last run of Buzz’s Ridge. The run off Buzz’s Ridge was longer, a consistent pitch, and blower. We knew we’d be coming back to Buzz’s Ridge tomorrow. Given the holiday, we didn’t see a single person the entire day.

Back in town, hungry, everything was closed. I called about 10 different restaurants with no luck. We munched on snacks for the evening and learned to better prepare for Christmas Day in the future.

Your Christmas presents are here!

Day 3

A few more people were out to play this day. We saw about 10 on the skin up but after that only heard woo whoos in the distance. There is a lot of space here to spread out. Instead of going to the top of Cornice Ridge, we stopped shy about 200 feet from the top and skied a north facing run down to the pond. Then we connected with our skin track the day before and went back to Buzz’s Ridge. Our tracks from the previous day’s run down Buzz’s had re-filled. We skied the same run again, then explored a little more, and found another run with another 400 feet or so of vertical down to another flat area. From there, we connected with existing skin tracks that would take us back up the east end of Buzz’s Ridge.

At the top, I noticed the feel piece on both of my newly mounted Black Diamond O1 bindings were loose (Day 5 on the setup). Apparently Pro Ski in North Bend doesn’t know how to mount tele bindings they sell. I was unhappy and disappointed with their service in this regard. Visibility improved for our next run down Buzz’s. It was epic blower. We skinned back up for a final lap, and at the top, my heel piece came off the ski completely. WTF! Fortunately, the heel piece isn’t critical when skiing tele, and I was able to ski ok, though my balance was a little off when that ski was downhill. After that run, we headed back to the car in hopes we could get back to Nelson while some ski shops were still open to get it re-mounted. For those that don’t know, the day after Christmas is “Boxing Day” in Canada, the equivalent of Black Friday in the states. I lucked out though, and was able to get my heel pieces re-mounted from 4:45pm – 5:30pm when the store closed. BTW, most shops in Nelson close around 5:30-6pm – it’s not skier friendly in that regard at all! I tipped the gentleman who repaired my heels – what service!

A man without heels

Day 4

It snowed about 8 inches overnight in Nelson and the stoke was high. Since the day was forecast to be stormy we decided to go to Kootenay Pass again where we knew we’d be able to get some trees for visibility. There was a slight density shift at the pass with the upper few inches of new snow being heavier than the rest. Not wanting to break a complete new track, we broke trail over the existing trail around Bridal Lake, which is less direct to Cornice Ridge (when starting from the east parking lot which is where backcountry users are encouraged to park).

Part ways up the ridge I noticed someone had put a shortcut trail in and soon enough we ran in to them. They were a pair from Sandpoint and after talking with them for a bit they knew the few people we knew in Sandpoint. Small world. We bid farewell as they skied down from the first saddle since they were heading out towards the powerlines. We continued up Cornice Ridge and visibility continued to deteriorate. We explored a few new runs near the laps we did from our first day at Kootenay Pass and never saw anyone the entire day. There was a slight fog-mist crust developing along the ridge. The snow was too deep to ski any of the lower angle forested tree runs which were cruiser and fun on previous days.

Day 5

Since the snow at Kootenay Pass had slightly deteriorated, we went back to Whitewater and the plan was to check out Five Mile Basin. We bought the one-way Silver King lift ticket, transitioned shortly after getting off, and did the 15-minute skin up to the ridge. Most people were dropping right off the ridge north in to the steep treed runs known as Acidophilous. We decided to continue up along the ridge east to an open slope we’d seen in pictures. By the time we go there, it was still completely untracked. The snow was much better here than Kootenay Pass and the first run down was blower.

After skiing down about 1000’ we transitioned, intending to follow the already-set main skin track back to the ridge. As we were transitioning, a local came by and chatted briefly. She said, “Well, it’s not like this every day.” We both had a hard time believing her. I responded, “Oh? Just every other day?” She merely grinned in response and said to enjoy our stay in Nelson. We noted other people were going further in to the Five Mile Basin and skiing west aspects. We decided since no one else was skiing our line, we should just keep doing it. We skied 3 more laps on this slope, not a single person touched in. It’s satisfying looking at 8 tracks on the last skin up knowing who they all belong to. Also, on the last up, we noted a pair coming down on the west aspects. It was hard not to. “F#$% YEAH! WOOOO WHHOOOOOO!” resonated throughout the entire basin. We vowed to ski that run the next day.

Palm trees? Nope. Larches!

Day 6

Another day in Five Mile Basin. We dropped in via the same run as the previous day. It has been mostly re-filled from wind transport and a small amount of new snow. Then we decided to check out the west aspects deeper in to the valley. They all skied great! Fewer people today that the day before. The day was quite stormy and windy. The wind-crust was noticeable at tree line and it was important to find sheltered slopes for optimal snow. Our final run was the one we watched the pair come down the day before. This was an excellent slope, sheltered from the wind, and re-filled from the previous day. Great run to end the day. We also noted no one else had skied our initial line of the day and the one we yo-yo’d yesterday.

The anatomy of a face shot:

Day 7

Back to Five Mile. On the way up, a south aspect, we noticed a crust had developed. Rain crust? Fog-mist crust? Rime crust? It was sad for sure. Lots of people out being Friday before New Year’s weekend. We did our usual line in to the basin – still only our tracks on it. That would end quickly though given the 50+ people in the basin today. Our north facing line didn’t have the crust though.

We decided to go back to the west aspect runs. The crust was present. We asked various locals – no one was entirely sure what had formed it. Some suggested solar affect. We said, nope, we were here all day yesterday and the sun never came out. I asked if they have some telemetry stations that would have shown the crusts’ existence before the drive up. Nope – we check your guys’ radar to see what the weather is doing! Everyone was a big baffled by the crust since they said it was unusual.

We did 2 runs on the west facing slopes. The crust wasn’t too bad where the snow had been sheltered from the wind, which led me to believe it was a wind-rime crust. At the bottom of the 1st lap, we ran in to the couple we had talked to on the way up. They said because of the crust they were going to pack it in and play with their puppies for the rest of the day. Then laughed and said how spoiled they were living here. The 2nd run was the same as yesterday’s last run and the snow was better there.

The end of the day brought better visibility – we saw the sun for the first time in over a week. This enabled us to check out one of the popular slack country runs known as Goat’s Slide, without worry. A south facing run, it had the worst of the crust, but was still great to get over there and check out.

Abstract trees

Sunset run

Day 8 (New Year’s Eve)

Back to Kootenay Pass since Whitewater had the crust. That night was also our last in Nelson and our plan was to stay in Creston tonight. It’s a about a half hour drive from Creston to Kootenay Pass. The town appeared to be a little smaller than Nelson but has an interesting variety of micro-climates. Unfortunately, the pass also had the same crust, but fortunately it was basically in the same places more or less - wind exposed south and west aspects. We did a run down Cornice Ridge and then Buzz’s Ridge. After Buzz’s Ridge, which wasn’t full of the usual excitement, we decided to ski further east back to the highway. It’s really low angle terrain but quite fun once we got moving on it. A few hundred feet above the highway, it got pretty flat, but at the same we crossed an existing skin track. We decided since the skiing wasn’t great, we’d explore some new terrain and follow the skin track north, towards the powerlines.

The skin track went to an area known as Camel’s Bump. East of here is a permanent avalanche closure area. To the west, excellent tree skiing that ends in a clear cut. Once we hit the clear cut though, a sheet of breakable icy crust was hit. We saw 2 people skinning back up, and traversed over to the track. In better conditions, another couple hundred feet of low angle skiing could be had. We followed the skin track back up to the saddle that separates Buzz’s Ridge from Camel’s Hump. Then decided to ski fall line down to the highway. The snow was soft and had a mix of tightish trees and open trees. We lucked out getting to the highway since we managed to find an open area amidst all the rock blasted cliffs. It was about a 40-minute skin along the highway back to the parking lot.

Solar corona

Day 9

The drive up from Creston to Kootenay Pass was rather blustery. We stopped at the Caribou sign to take a quick photo. We had planned to park at the pullout about 2 miles east of the pass and hit Camel’s Bump again. But it was so stormy we continued to the pass. At the pass, no one was in the backcountry lot. We stopped at the main lot “rest area” and decided it wasn’t worth getting out today and we could just drive home a day early and to check out the Red Mountain\Rossland area on the way. The drive down from the pass was interesting. At times, visibility was reduced to 0, from fog and wind drifting snow. The only guideline was the snowbank along the shoulder. Definitely the worst visibility either of us had ever driven in. It’s kind of scary when an oncoming car simply appears 5 feet away from you!

The drive back from here all the way to Ellensburg was in the storm. We saw 2 cars off the road along I-90, one on its roof. We were glad to have purchased new tires before the trip. Despite the final 2 days of deteriorated snow conditions, the skiing was the best we’ve ever experienced. What the locals say is ok is still an 8 or 9 in the PNW. It’s possible a Christmas trip to the Kootenay’s may become an annual thing.

More pictures here:

Posts: 30

Re: Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
« Reply #1 on: 01/11/17, 08:58 PM »

Well that looks unbelievable. I particularly like the flip book effect of the "anatomy of a face shot" series. Thanks for the post!

Posts: 760

Re: Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
« Reply #2 on: 01/12/17, 09:10 AM »

Sounds like a righteous Christmas experience, thanks for posting

Posts: 139

Re: Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
« Reply #3 on: 01/23/17, 09:46 AM »

Looks like a very happy holiday!

Posts: 605

Re: Dec 23-Jan 1, Christmas in Nelson/Kootenay Pass,BC
« Reply #4 on: 02/03/17, 01:12 PM »

Thanks for such a detailed tr!  What a!
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