(Note: This is from earlier in the year and I was going to submit it to some magazines. To be honest, I don't have the time or energy, and I think I would rather share it with you all for free than make it so you would have to pay to read it. Enjoy!)
Craig, Jerrett, Wanda and Pete at the Col above the West and North Bowls - December 27th.
Day 1 – 25 December 2011
I arrived later than I had planned. It was just dark but it was snowing! My Christmas “duties” had been discharged through my hands free phone device on the drive up, and it was time to ski. I convinced my buddy Jerrett to skin up that night. Of course, 50 steps up the hill my head lamp failed…and then one of my heel lifts snapped off my binding…but it was still fun. Some quick battery swapping and we made our way down enjoying the “dust on crust”.
The 2012 ski season wasn’t starting with a bang. This time last year there was twice as much snow. In fact, I don’t recall seeing the lower runs as “bushy” as they were ever. At least it was snowing…
Day 2 – 26 December 2011
It was storming again. This is good as it rained to the summit on Christmas eve. It was also windy. Any slight convex roll was fracturing. A good thing to see when you are somewhere safe, but not very encouraging when you want to head into the back-country. Let’s face it, that’s why most people come to Mt. Cain. Two bowls right at each boundary with ridge lines leading to four more within an hour’s tour.
I stayed in bounds and even dug a pit. As I expected there was a foot of wind affected fresh, the Christmas Eve rain crust, another foot of powdery stuff and then the December 10th rain crust. It was all a little touchy. I did see some tracks going in to West Bowl, but as I haven’t skied here that long, I decided to play it safe.
That night I checked out the local party spot – “The Robin’s Nest”. Went for a sauna and some smoke in this not so legal haunt just outside the official ski area boundary. I got out of there before the big party crowd arrived…
Day 3 – 27 December 2011
Visibility is good! It was actually possible to see some of the lines…so we headed out. I hooked up with my long time (well, three years) Cain ski partner Pete and we dropped the West Bowl, the North Bowl and then the West Bowl again and a final two runs in “3 o’clock” trees. Conditions were still variable in the open terrain, with the North Bowl’s snow being “chalky”. The trees! Oh those trees! Steep, stable, deep. Some of the best snow I have skied in my life! On my second run I had a classic ski mountaineering moment. I dropped a steep chute between some cliffs and everything sluffed down to the rain crust. I felt like a ski movie star as I picked my way down 50 feet of 50 degree snow with my sluff going all around me. Stoked!
I tried to be smart and have dinner at Pete’s and go to bed early…still didn’t get my head down until after midnight…
You can just make out Pete under the rocks on the left. Spooky thing is that a couple of weeks later Pete triggered a size 2 avalanche on this exact same line...
Day 4 – 28 December 2011
Some lodge mates offered dish washing for breakfast, and there was no way I was going to let them down…
No vis – lots of snow – and temps shot up over night. Just another day of skiing on the West Coast of BC. I hooked up with the local “extreme skiers”, Todd and Neal and banged out quick runs in the East Bowl and “just out”. Hugging the eastern boundary of the ski hill like grade five students slow dancing, lines snake down the ridge and off the bowl around small cliffs and weather beaten groves of yellow cedar and hemlock. Flat light and blowing snow called for skiing “loose” to flow over and absorb half seen rolls and drifts. It was both hard and easy to find fresh snow as skiing in someone’s tracks added definition, and no one could see the fresh patches. I managed to auger in pretty hard and it looked like I had busted a ski brake…more binding troubles. I needed a two and a half hour lunch break. I finally headed back up, sort of with Jerrett and Jessica. No friends on a powder day prevailed and I proceeded to hit run after run of light and fluffy changing to slightly wet and grippy by the bottom of the upper tee bar.
Yes, I just said “tee-bar”. That’s all you’ll find at Mt. Cain. One tee bar on the lower half of the mountain and a second on the upper half. Sitting almost in the middle of Northern Vancouver Island, Mt. Cain is a throwback to skiing’s beginnings. Two tee bars, beds for 50 on the mountain in four buildings of variable age with variable levels of décor and washrooms…or no washrooms.. 52 private cabins for the locals and an old school bus that will pick you up from the bottom in time to get your lift ticket and ride the first tee, and take you home at 4 pm.
Relaxing in the lodge after another hard day...
Day 5 – 29 December 2011
The temperature has dropped. Its minus 1 at the lodge. There’s a line-up and some arguing for first tee…on the eastern horizon the next storm is rolling in. My legs feel like they will explode at any moment, but I line up anyways. Up to the top and there is visibility; the storm hasn’t hit yet. I see all of my usual ski partners in the line up and ignore them as they ignore me. No friends on a powder day.
I scream down just off the upper tee line for my first run. It’s about 10 am and I only cross two tracks all the way down on a line that is easily visible from the tee bar. Next run, out into the east bowl for a quick rope ducker and then another. I run into my main touring buddies and we make plans. I take a break and wait for them half way down and watch the storm roll in making the mountains disappear on the horizon. If we want to hit some back country lines we had better go soon or we won’t be able to see anything.
I hook up with Pete, Song and Lisa. We head out to the easily accessible West Bowl and hit the main gully. Some wind impacted snow but pretty damn nice. Run two in the West bowl is door #3. It’s untouched and everyone get’s face shots. The storm is getting closer so we rush for one more. We had planned to hit door #4, but its tracked. There is still room in #3 so we drop again. One at a time to be sure. Epic.
I can barely stand and almost every muscle in my body hurts. Back to the lodge and coming off of the west part of the hill I see that the storm is now here in full force. Wind howling and snow flying. I’m not sure I will be able to do this again tomorrow…
Song drops one of the doors in the West Bowl.
Day 6 - December 30th, 2011
It snowed all night…again. I was up extra early to take on one of the volunteer duties – shovel crew. With tee bars, while you don’t have to worry about people getting stuck way up in the air, you do have to groom the tee line. The thing is, on the upper tee at Mt. Cain there is a section that the groomer can’t get to. It is also on a side slope. And wind affected. Therefore, it gets done by hand. While this is a lot of work, you do get to the privilege of skiing one run (and only one) before the public starts loading, and if you’re quick you can get in another two after the hill opens before anyone makes it up to the upper tee bar. On a powder day, it’s all win.
Today was a powder day. You actually get two half runs in on the lower part of the upper tee where the groomer has already done the work. I had first tracks all over the place and banged out seven laps before my lack of a real breakfast combined with getting up before 7 am caught up to me. I have to go home now, but I am so content it doesn’t matter.
I’ll be back…
Author's Note: The Mt. Cain Backcountry is not patrolled and not controlled in any way. Just because it is right next to the ski hill and appears to get a lot of traffic, it is very dangerous to assume it is safe. Read the following blog posts to see the sort of things that can happen to even the more experienced locals:
The Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin regularly updates the avalanche risk for Vancouver Island and has some pretty good trip planning information.