Monday, July 17, 2017

Line of the Week: Hero Knob couloirs

The two twin Hero Knob couloirs, not visible is an option that connects the looker's right to the looker's left
The Hero Knob loop in K-Country is pretty popular and for good reason. Long fall line skiing in alpine terrain with some spectacular scenery. While most people are content with a "one and done", there are lots of options on different aspects and elevations to play on, and if that's not enough , the ski quality often merits a 2nd...or 3rd lap. Of course it is not without it's risk, a steep headwall to gain a hanging valley, interesting wind loading of the col and of course creek crossings all present cruxes, making Hero Knob best saved for early season before the persistent weak layers have had a chance to establish themselves or in early spring.
 While most are fine with a run down the main bowl, there are some interesting options available if one were to summit Hero Knob itself and continue along the ridge.
Ridgewalks, downclimbs, sidesteps, etc...
And after some sidestepping, downclimbing, etc... 
A post shared by Peter Knight (@peteyknight5) on

The twin couloirs provide consistent fall line skiing and a fan at the bottom to really open it up.

It is not uncommon for people to climb these lines, so keep that in mind when thinking about sending a cornice down. I believe the best access is from the top via the Hero Knob col.
The first couloir drains into the main bowl, lookers left of the summit of Hero Knob
Top Elevation: 2520m
Line Length: 300m
Round Trip Distance: 7.5km
Total Elevation: 700m
Other lines in the area: Aside from the main Hero Knob run, and the Purple Knob couloirs, I have enjoyed tree skiing on all aspects, accessed from both drainages. Most notable is the Dogleg tree run. The south face of Hero Knob provides higher consequence skiing with more complex gullies and cliffs to avoid.
Hillmap route

2018 Marin Wolf Ridge test ride

I was able to take a 2018 Marin Wolf Ridge for a test ride

And a Pine Mountain

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Protect our Wildlife not living in them!

You may have noticed that in my "Not List" on the right side of the page, I have "golf courses that go bankrupt AFTER clearing all of the trees". I am referring to a golf course at Three Sisters in Canmore, a second course in the Three Sisters/Stewart Creek area. Land that was once pristine, is now scarred and sits in a land use purgatory.


Looks mostly finished, although it's been this way for a while.
Canmore has seen tremendous growth and development since the 1988 Olympics as people move there to enjoy the scenery and activities available in the mountains. Being close enough to Calgary that it is essentially a suburb (lots of people commute the 1hr+ each way) and with the services of a major city close by, it is a gateway drug for both vacation home ownership and mountain life. In the late 90's/early 2000's, the Biosphere Institute, a Canmore based biological society decided that enough was enough and decided that it was time to get Alberta Parks or SRD to designate some areas off limits to development as wildlife corridors and habitat patches. Unfortunately, by this point, the cat was well out of the bag and much of the low angle terrain that animals love to travel through was snapped up for development.

What if we use the golf courses and steeper slopes of the valley as our "wildlife corridor?" The Biosphere Institute lacked the resources and the motivation to go after the developers, and instead turned against those with less clout and less money: the trail users. Rogue bike trails on slopes steeper than those preferred for wildlife were closed down. Off trail access and trail construction was now severely limited in these areas with stories of offenders being led out of the woods by Conservation Officers at gunpoint!

Recently, there was a story that was in the Rocky Mountain Outlook (and CBC) about how wildlife cameras in wildlife corridors around Canmore photographed much more trail users and off leash dogs (and their idiotic owners) than wildlife. While one conclusion could be that trail users have driven away the wildlife from the corridors, one could surely question the suitability of these corridors in the first place. Is the terrain in these designated wildlife corridors too steep for the wildlife.

And while progress on the golf course has stalled, they are talking about using the land, land that was supposed to be both a golf course and wildlife corridor, for even more development!

I would argue that development and not trail use has the biggest impact on wildlife movement in the Bow Valley. Groups like the Biosphere Institute and Yellowstone to Yukon instead turn on trail users because like any bully, they are too scared to take on something bigger. Biosphere Institute and Yellowstone to Yukon both have offices and staff taking up developed space in Canmore, adding to the pressure for more development. Maybe it's time they set an example and leave the valley and promote other places to live and recreate that will have less impact on the wildlife?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Line of the Week: Pocaterra Ridge

Another week, another Highwood Pass line. As with the other lines, this is a limited time offer, only available from June 15 until November 30. Get it while supplies last. When the skiing on Pocaterra Ridge comes into shape, good skiing can be found on the south ridge, with more committing, but classic lines on the SE, SW, and NW face, and creative skiing potential on the NE face.

Pocaterra ridge, with its S ridge route in front of Mt. Pocaterra.

As with the Tyrwhitt Cirque, it is important to emphasize that Highwood Pass early in the season is a busy place and it is common for human factors to push groups out of their comfort zones. So I will repeat:

"Beware of the human factors. The acronym FACETS is helpful, particularly the last two, Tracks and Social Facilitation. The skiing at Highwood Pass is extremely crowded early season, especially when word gets out that someone was able to ski without hitting a rock every other turn. This means that skiers might push above or beyond the current skintrack to get a fresh line, putting them into untouched and riskier terrain and new features. And if one group pushes into some gnarlier terrain, don't try to one up them without considering the spatial variability of the snowpack! Tracks are not a sign of intelligent life!"

Pocaterra ridge shares the same approach as the Tyrwhitt Cirque, but after passing by all of the chutes and contouring around the ridge that comes down between Tyrwhitt Cirque and Grizzly Col, trend more north into meadows and ascend the south ridge of Pocaterra Ridge.

SE Face and its higher consequence lines

West aspect of the north ridge

Looking down the North Side

Looking up the North Side

The tree skiing on the south side of Pocaterra Ridge is pretty good, but the runs are short. Rolling over the S ridge onto the lower part of the west face also yields some nice turns. If enough snow is covering the grass, the south ridge of Pocaterra to the summit is a good ski. But the north face is a true prize, requiring good stability with the reward of one of the longer runs in the area, and a drop into a more secluded valley. Climb back up over Little Highwood Pass.

Little Highwood Pass in June. A great run that fills in early drops over the ridge from where I am standing. SW face of Pocaterra dominates the upper right of the picture.

The SE face is also skied often if the coverage and stability is there, but with some high consequence terrain involving gullies and cliffs (similar to the SE face of Hero Knob), it is not really my cup of tea.

Grizzly Col. Snow is usually pretty windblasted.
Top Elevation: 2625m
Line Length: 150m
Round Trip Distance: 9km
Hillmap Route
Other skiing in the area: Little Highwood pass and fans below Mt. Pocaterra (people love being creative here), fill in earlier. Grizzly Col, East facing bowls off of Pocaterra ridge are best saved if there is good coverage and stability before the gate closes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Line of the Week: Arethusa S Couloir

Keeping with the Highwood theme, this week's Line of the Week is yet another classic Highwood quick hit. At under 600m vertical, you can be back at the Banff Film Festival or a ski swap spraying about your adventures.
Typical Highwood. Wind Loaded chutes above boulderfields. Not a great ride if you trigger the windslab...

The Arethusa Cirque is much quieter than the other Highwood cirques. Park at the next drainage south of the pass and ski up the creek. Head left towards Arethusa up a neat boulder filled valley to the base of the line. The top of the line gives you a bird's eye view of the madness going on in the Ptarmigan Cirque. The conditions when we skied it were quite sporty with breakable windslab!

Hillmap Route
Total Elevation Gain: 520m
Round Trip Distance: 5km
Top Elevation: 2700m
Line Length: 130m
Other Lines in the Area: The meadows on the approach to the line can offer some good, but short skiing. This line shares the same approach as the Mt. Storm couloir, so either the couloir or the fans below can be alternative options.

Video of Mt. Storm and Arethusa

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Highwood Pass lines

Monday, June 19, 2017

Line of the Week: Tyrwhitt Cirque Couloirs

Highwood Pass opened for the summer just before last weekend. So in honour of the opening, how about some Highwood lines?

If you haven't experienced the Highwood Pass initiation with a "ski" in the Ptarmigan Cirque side, I suggest you stop reading now, and check out that area first. It is an essential part of the Highwood Pass initiation experience.

The Tyrwhitt Cirque and it's many options. In Spring
On the other side of the road from the parking lot at the pass are the Tyrwhitt and Pocaterra Cirques. The trail in, trending north from the parking lot and contouring into the bowls does a fairly good job of weeding out those who are unfamiliar with bushwacking and sidehilling and descending on skins. Once into the first open bowl, the Tyrwhitt Cirque, there is a wide variety of lines topping out or almost topping out on the ridge. The lines are short, so you might want to do a couple of them before calling it a day. Those familiar with the Purple Knob area, might notice some similarities.
In Winter. When it gets filled in before the road closes. The first couple of chutes are accessed from the first bowl.

While more chutes can be found in the 2nd bowl. The aspect changes slightly so keep that in mind when thinking about snowpack, wind, etc...
Inside the cave

Beware of the human factors. The acronym FACETS is helpful, particularly the last two, Tracks and Social Facilitation. The skiing at Highwood Pass is extremely crowded early season, especially when word gets out that someone was able to ski without hitting a rock every other turn. This means that skiers might push above or beyond the current skintrack to get a fresh line, putting them into untouched and riskier terrain and new features. And if one group pushes into some gnarlier terrain, don't try to one up them without considering the spatial variability of the snowpack! Tracks are not a sign of intelligent life!

The ridgewalk between the chutes can be tricky, so it's best to climb the line you intend on skiing.

A surprise awaits if you are able to top our the ridge. The south bowl.
The South bowl

Hillmap route:
Top Elevation: 2550m
Line Length: 150m
Vertical gain: 450m (definitely do more than one), 720m if skiing the South bowl.
Round Trip Distance: 5km

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Highwood Pass lines

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Line of the Week: Mt. Buller "Crack of Noon" Couloir

A lot of the previous "Lines of the Week" are fairly self explanatory: If you can see it, you can ski it. The same can be said about this roadside hit. The couloirs and gullies coming off of Mt. Buller certainly catch the eye of skiers as they drive by along the Smith Dorrien road to ski something more appropriate in the winter. "One day", you say. While the broader gullies might catch the eye of the less imaginative skiers in your crew, I've avoided them for various reasons. Massive cornices, variable depth snowpack, and they get the snow blasted off of them for highway avalanche control work.

The "Crack of Noon" chute, is certainly one of the more aesthetic lines that regularly fills in on the mountain, though the thin choke at the bottom doesn't fill in to something wider than ski width until the spring snow sloughs into it. Despite the casual nature that the name "Crack of Noon" implies, this line can be hard to time. This area just doesn't get as much snow as the mountains to the immediate south and might have a faceted snowpack. The 2500m top elevation means that it is susceptible to high freezing levels. In the end, we blasted up this thing fairly late in the season (still not the worst freeze I've ever had) and found good coverage, but wind affected snow.

As I mentioned the highway avalanche control program earlier, one thing to note about these lines, and any on Buller is to watch out for the "AVALANCHE AREA. NO STOPPING SIGNS". It means that while these are pretty much roadside hits, you might have to park a km or two up the road and out of the avalanche path. But you're a skier who has done avalanche training, you should know that! You can either walk along the road or traverse up through the different avalanche paths. Then boot up the thing until you top out on the ridge!
Topping out on the ridge

Thin crux at the centre
The narrow choke at the bottom takes some slough to fill it in

It's a quick one. We returned our rental ice axes before the guy at the rental shop thought we had used them.

Line Length: 500m
Total Elevation Gain: 780m
Round Trip Distance: 5km
Top Elevation: 2500m
Other lines in the area: There are lots of other options on Mt. Buller if you are keen on them. Otherwise, I would keep driving to where there is more snow. There are endless lines in the Tower, Galatea, Chester, and Headwall drainages.
Hillmap route (the map is probably wrong as there is no snow for reference in the google maps image!)

Other Lines of the Week .
Other Kananaskis lines.