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The Strange Season That Was

What a ski season that was!

Some people are still getting after it, especially on the Columbia Icefields, but when the lifts at Sunshine Village stop on Monday evening, all ski areas in Canada will be closed, and most people will hang their skis up. It was a strange season in many ways, and it’s worth taking a look back; we just might see how lucky we’ve been.

With the impacts of Covid-19 constantly changing and impacting various facets of life, there was no guarantee we’d have a ski season at all. Last spring, ski resorts were closed, and even backcountry skiers were being asked to stay home. But as autumn came and people the world over remembered how great fresh air and exercise were, our local hills devised plans to spin their lifts, even if they had to adjust the way they provided other services.

OurNovember 13, 2020 post reminds us where we were at that point, “First off, let’s be thankful we live somewhere that the lifts are spinning right now and somewhere that we don’t need to book appointments to use our season passes. There are a lot of skiers around the world jealous of us right now!” That was true most of the winter. As lifts shut down around the globe for different covid restrictions, ski areas near Calgary slid by and stayed open for the most part. B.C. resorts closed early with the most recent round of provincial health restrictions, but Alberta ski areas were able to keep operating with tightened protocols. 

 

Looking back at that early post, we were all trying to get used to wearing masks on the slopes and learning how to navigate the new lineups and corrals at our favourite hills. We were also just starting to glimpse how important tailgating and parking lot setups would be this winter. We tried to explain how indoor seating and dining would operate for the year, but of course, it changed almost constantly in the months that followed. The suggestions were good ones though, “Our recommendation is to embrace the winter picnic at Sunshine Village by hauling coolers and thermoses up the gondola and go big with the tailgating at Lake Louise and Norquay. If you plan all your necessities, nothing will get in the way of the fun.”

Another early takeaway, which only became more poignant as the season went along, had to do with resort workers. “Let’s all remember that these staff members have not created the pandemic and certainly don’t want to be the ones enforcing Alberta Health recommendations. Let’s treat them well, even if they can’t see our smiles.” It was an incredibly difficult season for staff at ski areas. Workers living in staff accommodation endured nearly inhumane isolation for much of the winter, and health protocols complicated their daily work lives. On top of that, they were often on the receiving end when guests, sick of covid restrictions, boiled over. 

So as we think back on some of the best days of our season, let’s take a moment to thank the resort staff that made it all happen!

 

Late November usually brings World Cup racing to Lake Louise, but travel restrictions prevented that in 2020. It was a loss but also a boon for most skiers, “On the positive side, Lake Louise used its snowmaking capacity to blanket the lower mountain’s main runs instead of the racecourse this year, leading to its earliest opening ever on Oct. 29, 2020.”

By mid-December, Rockies ski areas had great coverage thanks in part to buried early-season raincrusts.So our December 29 post took a look at how crusts deep in the snowpack can affect skiers all season long, “By Nov. 5, fresh snow blanketed this ice layer and mummified it; to haunt, or help, skiers later.”

The avalanche hazard associated with buried crusts never did manifest for very long and instead, backcountry skiers enjoyed a relatively deep, stable, and supportive snowpack for most of the season. It led to a lot of happy ski tourers and a whole lot of people telling us that it was the best they’d ever seen conditions in the Rockies’ backcountry. Previously unpopular zones in Kananaskis Country and on Highway 93 South saw massive increases in traffic. Luckily, the fantastic conditions kept even the most jaded smiling.

By mid-February, ski hill regulars were heavy into tailgating. February 17: “During this, our winter of Covid, it’s time to perfect the art of parking lot apres-skiing.So here’s our advice for the greatest skier’s tailgate party.

With health restrictions heavily impacting Albertan’s social lives, many turned to skiing for escape. And if nightlife was what you were missing,night skiing was the solution.  February 22: “The best way to brighten up a winter night? Lights and more skiing!”

And the season just kept rolling here in Alberta. March was its usual great-skiing-self, and it pushed right on into late April.April 28: “Don’t let the weather in the city fool you either; there’s still plenty of skiing to be done. This past week has been fantastic, as is often the case this time of year. There were soft park laps, carvable groomers, and a couple of great powder days.”

Spring fun on a monoski.

Yes, it’s been a long, long season, but don’t lose motivation now. Grab those skis and get out for one more day while you still can. You know you won’t regret it! 

Fresh-Friend, Rob Heule had a banner day last week skiing the Hole in the Wall couloir in K-Country, so we know there’s still powder out there for anyone motivated. Or enjoy the last weekend at Sunshine Village. If it’s sunny out, there will be corn and slush to carve, but the forecast looks like you might just get one last powder day this season!?

Rob Heule, May 11, Kananaskis Country

Dave W. put this question out on social media recently and the answers probably sum up most Albertan’s feelings:

“Was winter 20/21 better or worse than you were expecting? Why?”

Alex Eaton

Better! We got to ski all season and I think that saved so many people’s sanity!!

Jim Tracy

An entire winter season of just training, developing skills with massive repetition and a few timing races within the club and one other club! None of us have ever seen that! Good or not it’s what you make of it and for us it was awesome.

Evan Weselake

Better! Skied more than I have in Years! Spent more time at Cabin.

Met friends at the Mt, which is a pattern i sorely miss.

C discovered a new love for skiing, and he figured out the discipline of "Work to Play".

Lotsa Play Outside!!

Terry Tobey

Better than expected except for the road tripping part. 15 more days of spring skiing left if it stops snowing!!

Christine Davidson

Better: I was forced out of my comfort zone. I shadowed great Para Alpine Race Coaches and got to know the athletes, I passed the CSC Development Level Coach course

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