Friday, 22 February 2013

Canada Part 2

Checking the snowpack on the ridge above the Kootenay Highway. The highway runs up a deep valley below the figure. The best way to get a feel for the snowpack is to get the skis on, skin up the hill and go an have a look. It had been quite a dry cold year, and the snowpack was basically a metre of facets with a bit of slab on top. I imagine it will all start getting quite interesting in the spring when the temperatures rise a bit. 

Today (Friday the 22nd) is my last full day in Canada. Due to a combinations of factors, not least being offered a lift from the door of my accommodation straight to the airport (which is 420km away) I brought my flight home forward a few days. I have spent the past few days in Nelson which is quite close to the border with the USA. Although close to Revelstoke on the map, the drive to Nelson still took me about 4 hours. Some people from the Nelson area told me that for their holidays one year they had driven North for two days, and still didn't make it to the Northern Border of British Columbia.

 Heading back down after snow pack analysis. Go skiing when it is sunny, start avalanches with bombs and Gasex guns when it is snowing. Not a bad job. 

As expected my few days down in Nelson were interesting and enjoyable. On the Tuesday and Thursday I was out with Nelson Highway avalanche control team, and on the Wednesday with the Kootenay Pass avalanche control team.  I found that some aspects of what they did in terms of snowpack analysis and recording very similar to what we do in Scotland. Also they also felt that despite the large amount of real time snowpack data they have access to (a lot of mountain weather stations, and a professional avalanche information sharing network that about 100 companies and organisations post on), the best way was to get out and get a feel for the snow.

However, due to different objectives (to keep the highways safe from avalanches and open as much as possible) and, in the case of Nelson the huge extend of their area, some of what they do is very different to what we do in Scotland. For example at Kootenay Pass they have about 22 Gasex devices. These are large pipe things which are built in the starting zones, and which at the press of a few buttons can produce a blast to release the slope. For a better explanation of Gasex have a look at http://pistehors.com/backcountry/wiki/Avalanches/Gazex, or this little You-Tube clip of these devices being tested elsewhere during the summer  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_eTO_7g9HE  The folk at Nelson don't think twice about call for a helicopter to take them to where they want to check stability. They had been planning to fly yesterday, but unfortunately the weather was too poor, so we went skiing instead (which wasn't too bad).

Anyway back to sunny Scotland soon, hopefully the nice weather and good ice will still be there when I return.

 One thing I notice was how popular OR kit is in Canada. I found the Outdoor Research trailer in the carpark at WhiteWater ski area, and stopped in for a quick chat with Maddy the OR rep. It was lovely inside with a  small wood burning stove keeping it well toasty. Probably a bit more suited to the Canadian climate than a Scottish one, I am not sure how long it would last parked in the Cairngorm carpark.

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