The magic of winter is approaching! In fact I think it is here!
I am one of those who loves winter; skiing, skating, ice climbing, warm fires and red wine. I love summer too, however in our neck of the woods winter lasts 5 to 6 months so you need to embrace it. The joys of winter are many in the Canadian Rockies and one joy I eluded to in a past Journal article was skating on the local frozen ponds and lakes. You can do this any time the ice is thick enough to safely venture out and you are willing to shovel the snow off to make a rink. There is a special time though that only lasts for a very short period of time. It comes early in the season when the cold temperatures set in prior to the major snowfalls. That time was a couple of weeks ago.
People were out to Carrot Creek and the “Back Swamp” near Banff as evidenced by the cars parked along the highway at the access points. The creme de la creme though is the expanse of Lake Louise with its bookended back drop of the Victoria Glacier and the Chateau Lake Louise. For two consecutive days we laced up our skates and made Lake Louise our palette as we etched circles and lines with our skate blades. A skiff of snow covered the surface when we were there although earlier in the week its surface was clear creating an erie feeling as one glided over its surface while the fish coolly swam in the depths below. Pure magic.
What Gear Am I Using?
Literally and figuratively, in the off season, the cobwebs can accumulate on your winter gear. You always want to be prepared for the backcountry with a packing checklist. In early November I pull out the skis, boots, avalanche gear and check it out.. Did I hang it up in haste last spring after the last ski of the season? Did I ever get to that repair job I had planned or fix that part on the boots which was giving me grief? Now is the time to fix it before you head off on your first trip of the season. It is also the time to check out how the gear and clothing is holding up. I seem to rip through a pair of gloves each season between all the use they get skiing and the multitude of maintenance jobs which pop up every day at the lodge. I am a big fan of gloves from Black Diamond Equipment. I am no slave to one particular clothing line when it comes to ski gear. I mix and match jackets, pants, shells and puffs. Patagonia & Arcteryx tend to be my first choices when it comes to clothing. This year I am trying out the new Arcteryx Whiteline Sawatch pants, I will keep you posted on what my verdict is as the season progresses. A Patagonia synthetic puff jacket lives in my pack all season. It is compressible and I don’t need to worry if it gets a little wet or damp. Arcteryx makes some great ones too, the Atom Line, so check them out as well. After trying a few different boot lines over the years I am pretty stuck on Scarpa right now. They fit my feet really well and allow me to ski all day, come back to the lodge and light the sauna, shovel the paths and eat some goodies all before feeling a need to get them off. Boots are the most important thing to get right so don’t compromise when you are in the shop trying on boots. And also don’t let anyone tell you that they can make the boot fit and that you shouldn’t worry if it isn’t comfortable right now. Not true! The fitting can tweak it, not take it from poor fitting to perfect. If you choose not to heed the advice you just might be cursing the sales person 3 k into your first tour when you get the feeling that you just might lose your toe nails as a result.
Skis!!! Holy smokes there are almost as many skis on the market as jackets. How do you decide? Not sure that I have the definitive shopping guide to skis just a few points of advice. Skis are getting bigger and bigger these days and tend to be more condition specific; powder, crud, etc. I try and find a more all round ski. I love touring and turning as much as anyone but I don’t need to lug a huge surfboard wide ski around all day either. It is hard on the hips and the body. So if you are just yoyo skiing close to the car that might be ok but when you start touring then losing the pounds pays off. The other often overlooked thing is the extra fiction you get when you add a pair of skins to those 120 mm under foot skis. That puts a lot of strain on your knees so if you are out over 60 days a year like I am that all adds up. So think it through. I have been using a Dynafit Stoke these past few seasons and am happy with them. I hear word on the grapevine about the DPS skis, so maybe?
Its not always about turns!
I got into skiing through cross country skiing. It was the 70’s and cross country skiing was hitting its heyday. Dressed in wool knickers, long red socks and a runny nose the family hit the trails. Admittedly I wasn’t always into it at the time, however over the years I grew into it progressing from gliding along on the wooden skism smelling of pine tar to my first pair of ASNES Telemark skis (super wide at 55 mm under my foot!), to plastic telemark boots and eventually switching to an Alpine touring setup. In the early season I still spend lots of time on a pair of skinny cross country skis taking advantage of the Canmore Nordic Centre. I choose Classic or Skate skiing depending upon the temperature and grooming conditions. With the potential for man made snow at the Nordic Centre it is often one of the first venues open for skiing in Canada. Yeah Canada! They store a huge pile of snow over the summer months buried beneath a layer of wood chips and then move it around in October to create a 2 km ski loop for our National and local cross country ski team to train on. By November the man made snow is often supplemented with some of the fresh white stuff and the network of trails expands exponentially. The Moraine Lake road in Lake Louise is another early season ski location which we frequent although the convenience of the nordic centre for a quick ski after the office closes is pretty invigorating.
I am pretty lax on the waxing and ski tuning of my Touring skis. A coat of wax here and there and that is about it. However the cross country skis need a little more attention so I am told. Actually since it is all about the wax on those skis you better take it seriously or else skiing becomes an exercise in frustration. In fact I am sure most people who get turned off cross country skiing do so because they have either the wrong wax or the skis are not appropriate for their height and weight. All of this came to light a little more clearly recently when I hooked up with Geret Coyne, ex Canadian National Biathlon Team coach and now partner in Grinders Ski Service , a ski tuning and prep business here in Canmore. As they say on their website “Our objective is to bring world class expert ski tuning expertise to everyone who wants to go fast and enjoy skiing.”
This is accomplished through ski testing; making sure the ski characteristic matches your height and weight as well as grinding the bases of your skis. How they grind the skis is no secret, it is accomplished by a state of the art Italian grinding machine, which would probably make you a cappuccino as well! The secret though lies in the way the grind is done. Cold snow, wet snow, man made snow all have different characteristics and therefore different grinds that allow you to get the most ou of the skis depending on where you are skiing. All actually contribute to making you faster. Obviously they cater mostly to the elite racing athlete however with many recreational skiers investing in some high end ski gear, taking the time and energy to keeping that gear in the best shape possible is a worthy endeavour. So whether you are a serious racer, do the odd loppet or just like doing it for the exercise, these guys can get your ski bases into top shape and I would say that the two partners in the business are probably two of the most experienced guys in our country when it comes to cross country ski tuning.
As the temperatures warm up after last weeks snow dump and Arctic cold front it looks like the skiing should be pretty good. The Nordic Centre in Canmore has lots of trails open, Lake Louise and Kananaskis Country are grooming their trails and people are starting to venture out into the backcountry. Just remember it is still early season in the backcountry; hazards abound and the threat of avalanches is always real. Be prepared and check out conditions at avalanche.ca before heading out. Other places to check on local cross country ski conditions are Skier Bob.
The winter season at Lake O’Hara begins January 29th 2015. Call 403-678-4110 to book your stay!
Enjoy the Winter!
Travel the back country with confidence knowing you packed properly.