A 21st Century Conditions Report

By Cody Lank, FOW

New conditions, new opportunities... Interior BC. Photo: Carson Meyer (@carsonmeyerphoto)

Predictions of a La Niña winter echo true in regards to general weather, and storm patterns along the continental divide of the Canadian Rockies. Continuous storm systems and above average temperatures have climatically created a well settled, evenly bonded snowpack. Not the typical shallow, depth hoar ridden, freeze dried, wind hammered usual scenario. 

The new normal?! An overused phrase globally, yet greatly appreciated locally by Rockies skiers and climbers. All the ice lines are fat too, I’m sure there are multiple picks being sharpened right now as I write this. But those aren’t the lines we seek. Those warmer temperatures have also allowed the snow to stick in certain mountain terrain features. 

First Attempt

4:20 am. Not that early compared to alpinists, but we’re dirtbag skiers! It’s a strong crew. Our tactic is to climb the line. Classic Cham steep skiing style. If you’re going to commit to the face regardless, why not climb it so you know exactly what the conditions are?

The forecast isn’t perfect, the summit and upper face are in the clouds, and it’s windy in the basin. We continue the approach. We tour up the triple-soccer-field-size east shoulder, I feel like an ant on a wall. The snow feels good and stable. 

We regroup under a small rock face, hypothetical ‘safe’ spot, and start bootpacking, which isn’t easy. While 30 centimeters of storm snow on flat ground is boot top, 30 centimeters of storm snow on a 50-degree slope is knee deep. And so we continue up into the clouds. The upper face is intricate and the light is flat. Our confidence is not high, and that gut feeling emerges. We regroup under a large rock protruding from the slope. This kind of shelter is welcome at this point in the day. 

It’s not an easy decision to make, but the weather’s not cooperating, the upper face feels loaded with storm snow, and we don’t want to push it in marginal conditions. We ski down. The weather forecast looks hopeful; clear, calm, and cold in a couple days.

Second Attempt

5:00am, -21° Celsius, and the stars are crystal clear. My Intention 110s are finely tuned, and we’ve got a new tactic this time around. Bootpack/climb the south ridge, and drop in on the southeast face. We don’t want to be climbing that upper face in knee deep snow if the sun starts to really radiate heat, so the decision feels like a better approach to this puzzle. 

Topping out in paradise. Interior BC. Photo: Cody Lank. 

Winds are calm, and we enjoy overall straightforward scrambling under a super blue sunny sky… until the summit block. The nicest climbs usually feature a crux near the top, which I see as an opportunity to gain the summit stoked and satisfied. We have a rope and harnesses, which we incorporate to climb through a short but steep rock climbing problem. 

The views are incredible on such a clear day, and the perspective looking down the southeast face is adrenalizing. This is the real deal. A visual inspection of the surface condition on the face indicates no signs of wind effect. It appears to be preserved powder. There’s a fat blob of cornice just overhanging the entrance above the main part of the face. We dig around it and send it down the line as a preliminary slope test. It’s probably 500 lbs. and barely initiates any sluff. The face is good to go.

Sluff and glorious tracks after a glorious alpine descent. Interior BC. Photo: Cody Lank. 

These are the moments when we truly feel alive and free. It’s not necessarily escapism from everyday life, but more an expression of the human spirit being creative and in tune with nature. These situations also form relationships with our ski partners, tempered through trust and respect. Deep friendships that last a lifetime. These are the moments...

…Okay, my toes are cold. I leave my buckles loose just until I drop in. I need my feet to feel. I mentally visualize. My partners are skiing the main shot, and I’m skiing skiers left diagonally to the second shoulder and gouging a deep ski cut into the storm snow. It cleans out the guts of the steep terrain feature below. It’s all low density, with no cracking or wind slabs. The sluff runs fast but doesn’t really pick up mass. 

Now, it’s on to split second decisions, on-sight freeskiing, and the conditions are good enough that it’s possible to ski fluidly. That's the “simple” goal!

Wherever you are, I hope everyone’s been making some nice turns on sweet peaks!

Cody Lank, FOW