Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lightning Strike Hut - Kootenay Pass

Two weeks ago, we bailed on a trip to Fernie because it was raining to the top of the headwall. As a result, expectations were low for our trip to the Lightning Strike Hut in Kootenay Pass the following weekend. The hut had been booked for the Alberta Family Day weekend over a year ago so we were going regardless of the conditions but as the weekend drew near, snow started to fall. We arrived in Fernie Thursday night and spent the next day skiing the resort. It snowed 20 cm during the day and we skied stayed just ahead of patrol who was slowly closing down the mountain, skiing refill pow laps until we finally had to hit the road for Kootenay Pass. We arrived in the dark and skinned up the mellow logging road 3 km to the hut. There was significantly more snow than last time we skied the pass in awful conditions the same weekend 3 years ago.
Lightning Strike cabin - Photo Phil Tomlinson - click to see Phil's blog
No more space for snow in the pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Starting up the skin track in the dark
Snow was falling thick and fast when we awoke. Our group of 8 set out together to punch in a skin track up Baldy Rocks, before dividing into 2 groups of 4. Kyle, Christine, Phil and I spent the day together. It was really windy and snow had drifted across the ridge in deep pockets. We were a bit nervous about wind loading so opted to drop into the windward side of the ridge, cautious of the rain crust from the week before.
Scoping out the up track. Blue and orange were the official colours of the weekend
Woody also got the memo about the colour combo. Howling winds as we approach ridge top couldn't keep us from the pow!
Stoked to drop in on my amazing new/old set-up: Volkl Gotamas + Marker Kingpins
To say that the snow was better than expected would be a massive understatement. Kyle dropped in first. I heard screams of delight and surprise as he disappeared into a puff of snow. The skiing was magical. It was stable, it was deep and I don't really know where that rain crust went. Every turn delivered an over-the-head wave of snow that threatened to drown me. When we regrouped at the bottom of the run, everyone was grinning ear to ear or laughing hysterically. We quickly skinned up to head back up for another, then another, then another.
Getting into the white room off Baldy Rocks. Photo Phil Tomlinson
Kyle coming up for air. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Gasping for breath before another face shot. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Smiles for days. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Christine getting after it as Kyle waits to drop in. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Should have brought a snorkel. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Kyle in full storm mode. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
I don't think we saw anyone else all day. We found out later that avalanche conditions had been high across the board. It had started off pretty stable but the wind continued to blow and it snowed heavily all day. Things were getting touchier near the end of the day and Kyle remote-triggered a 1.5 when we went to drop in off the wind-loaded eastern slopes. Keeping this in mind, we returned to western aspects of Baldy Rocks on Sunday, joined by Woody who skinned in to meet us for a few hot laps. The snow was a bit heavier and a bit deeper. The temperatures plummeted but that couldn't keep us from getting after it, especially since we had a nice warm hut to return to for lunch. It wasn't the same blower conditions we had the day before and we played it safer due to the changing conditions, but we still had amazing turns in waist deep snow all day. 
Windy conditions in the valley below Saturday afternoon. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Surprise pow is the best pow. Pure bliss in Kootenay Pass. Photo: Phil Tomlinson 
Kyle and Woody can't believe their luck, more fresh tracks ahead
Looking down at the goods from Baldy Rocks
So stoked!
Heading up for another lap
Back at the hut, we swapped stories of face shots and amazing turns with the rest of the party. Raina and Ed snowshoed in Sunday night to say hi but despite all the dietary restrictions (dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, vegetarian?!?!) of our group, we still had nothing that Raina (vegan?) could eat!
Endless starts at Lightning Strike Hut. Photo: Phil Tomlinson
Sunday night crew. Visits from friends always welcome!
Monday morning it was bluebird. Despite the long drive we had ahead of us, we got out for one more sweet lap before packing up and heading home. The snow had been so deep all weekend that you needed to find steep slopes in order to get any speed at all. Tobias, Adrian, Julie and Nicole had found a run down to the powerlines that was still steep enough to ski but was protected from all the wind effect of the weekend. End result: more face shots!
At least 3 bluebirds were seen on Monday
Tobias getting after it
Leaving was bitter-sweet. We could finally see all the terrain that we have yet to explore and the snow was getting more stable. But, we had just had some of the best powder skiing days of my life. I guess we will just have to come back next year to do some more exploration. I arrived with low expectations, and left with the knowledge Kootenay Pass sure can deliver!
Significant overhead hazard at the trailhead
Deep snowbanks in the pass