The Dark Season | The 1st Avalanche Report


Langdale Ferry on Howe Sound, BC

Howe Sound still raging toward the end of a major blow during The Dark Season

While living in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg, I knew the traditional temperate zone’s 4 seasons. Each was delightful with its own sensations, experiences, and drama.

Now, as an Islander in the Salish Sea, life is very different. While I recognize the astronomical boundaries of the 4 seasons, I have decided that I really experience 3 seasons that only slightly pay homage to the transitions caused by the solstices and equinoxes. [If you cannot see the rest of this article, please click the title… ]

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The picture was taken on Remembrance Day Monday. It was the first major storm of the season. Around 8 AM, after several brown-outs, the electrical power was doused. When I called, BC Hydro had already posted a recording on their line telling me that unless I was reporting an emergency to go away and leave the line for someone who needed it. Also, uncounted thousands in British Columbia were without electricity and it would be hours before there would be estimates of the time of restoration.

Everywhere else in Canada people value houses that are tight and well insulated. Not here. Weather, insects and small furry animals pass unhindered through the walls and membranes of these structures. As our home rapidly became an igloo, we learned that friends in West Vancouver still enjoyed warmth, telephones and wireless Internet. We made it to the 10:30 AM ferry in time to board. Although it was a holiday — Remembrance Day — it was overloaded with other islanders with the same idea.

So, although it was late morning when I took that picture, if you click that thumbnail, you will notice that the day is fairly dark. Bowen Island was lucky, and we had power by mid-afternoon. Others had a chilly night.

About the seasons. There is no winter.

Spring is amazing. Fruit trees are blooming and people are cutting the grass in February. This is when my backcountry skiing really begins.

Oh, I might have gone out skiing a few times in December or January. But I’ve learned that the daylight is brief and up there conditions can be wild and brutal. Unless the weather is exceptional, a trip has a high ratio of work to joy.

By Valentine’s the days are much longer, and while it is still technically winter, at sea level it feels like spring. I call the conditions in the mountains: toy winter. There are still frequent dumps of fresh new snow, many bluebird sunny days, and it is so mild that the weather is seldom painful. Spring is thrilling at all elevations and lasts until the end of June.

Summer here is underrated. The rest of Canada thinks that our rain forest conditions require precipitation almost all of the time. Actually, from early July to nearly the end of August we have a drought. Often weeks go by when not a drop falls. When that happens you can see the plumes of forest fires on the satellite images. Last summer was somewhat damper.

By mid-October the storm track has moved southward, and the Salish Sea becomes a battlefield for the endless warfare between the northern lows and the southern highs.

This becomes what I call The Dark Season. The days are short. Often there are several kilometers of cloud between the ground and the blue sky; and we do have a lot of precipitation. Even with a wall of windows behind my desk, it can be so gloomy at noon that I need to have the light on to be able to work. After 2 PM I notice that it is becoming even darker as the descent into night begins.

When I first arrived here, I found these short, gloomy, often wet days to be depressing.

It was the arrival on Monday of the first email report of the avalanche conditions that started me thinking about this. I learned to ski, not for the thrill of turns, but to be able to experience the mountains when hiking became impossible. After I paid my telemark dues of thousands of falls, I found that I was enjoying the business of skiing almost as much as the mountain travel itself. I came to realize that when it is dark and raining at sea level, a new layer of snow is growing in the hills. While some skiers might prefer more powder, I love our mild soft fresh pillows of snow.

So, now I know that there is not a lot of new snow up there yet: about 100 cm at the treeline.

You can follow that link to read the current avalanche conditions. If you are really thinking about going into the hills at some point, I recommend using the email service. Just looking at the current report is useful. I find that the growth of this year’s snowpack is a drama that unfolds in those emails. Some of the layers develop sinister characteristics as they are implicated in many avalanches throughout the region. When you are out there, and dig pits, these layers become familiar.

This year my ability to go into the mountains is reduced; but I find I am still eagerly reading the avy reports. I see them, not just for the value of the warnings, but for the promise of wonderful conditions emerging in the hills.

(Edited to replace the picture that vanished here when Web Shots’ Allyoucanupload service was discontinued. This broken promise is the reason I’ll never use Web Shots for anything again.)


2 Responses to “The Dark Season | The 1st Avalanche Report”

  1. 1 Dona November 21, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Thanks for sharing your insights Robert – nice writing and enjoyable reading!

  1. 1 Dark Season Ends - The year begins « Salish Sea Trackback on February 15, 2009 at 10:10 am

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