Spring Snow

The weather report predicted that Thursday would mark the end of the amazingly long bubble of cool sunny bluebird weather. This has produced ideal spring skiing conditions and at 10am I made a snap decision to head for the snow on Mount Strachan. They squeezed my Jeep onto the back of the 10:50 am ferry sailing from Bowen Island.

I stopped briefly at the look-out on the Cypress Bowl Road (elevation 427m, 1400 ft). In spite of the apparent clarity of the atmosphere the city looked grey and smoky. There are a few distant wildfires in the region, and I couldn’t decide if this low-level gloom was due to smoke or smog. Mount Baker, only 118 km away, was invisible.

A panorama of the view of the City of Vancouver from the lower lookout on the Cypress Bowl Road
Vancouver from the lookout at the 1st switchback on the Cypress Bowl Road
click to see full-size image

The top of the Cypress Bowl Road is just above the snow line at 915 m, (3000 ft). At this altitude there was no haze and a dazzling sun was shining out of a dark blue sky. Time to put on sun screen! The temperature was 9ºC and rising.

While there was lots of snow on the three mountains that make up Cypress Bowl on this day, for the first time this year, I saw that there was evidence of the end of the season.

On this huge cruising slope, there is small roll-over about 1100 m, 3600 ft). You can see it as a small dark spot in the upper right of this picture (blue arrow).

A cruising snow slope on Mount Strachan with an open patch of ground.
A patch of ground that will speed the melting of the surrounding snow (blue arrow)

Why does this small feature attract my attention? It has to do with the way the snow melts in the spring. On bright sunny cool days like this the top centimeter or two snow becomes soft, but the base stays hard. Much of the sun’s heat is reflected away by the dazzling white crystals. In fact the snow pack is constantly changing, and at ground level the temperature is just below freezing. So, even with above freezing air temperatures, on most of that slope not much melting is happening. However, wherever there is a rocky outcrop, or a tree stump, that dark feature easily becomes warmed by the sun, and melting around it is fairly rapid. So, I expect that tiny patch of exposed soil to grow rapidly on sunny days. On wet days, the water percolates down through the snowpack and that seem to cause more rapid melting than on warm sunny days.

Days like this, with a very firm base and a few inches of soft snow, allow for very easy skiing.

This is exactly what I need as I transition from years of telemarking to Alpine Touring. It is like learning to ski all over again. When I know more, I will report on my new gear and how much I like, or don’t like, the new experiences.

8 Responses to “Spring Snow”

  1. 1 Lynda April 24, 2021 at 4:39 am

    Good on you. Skiing was really never my thing like my cousin, Joey Trenholme. I am the horseback rider like my grandfather, Wilfred Trenholme🙏. Stay safe we are back into a scary time with these variants.

  2. 2 Robert April 24, 2021 at 7:47 am

    Lynda, when I lived in Montreal, the mountains were far away and skiing seemed like an expensive sport involving long trips to the ski hills, special gear, paying for the lifts, and an après-ski scene that was never attractive to me. Now, the mountains are all around me. On a clear day, I look out my window and see the summit of Mt. Strachan less than 10 km away. When I arrived here I began to hike to experience the local lofty hills, the high altitude old growth forests, and the almost alien-world landscape of alpine tundra and mighty glaciers. When the winter arrived I asked hikers what they did for exercise. “We ski.” “Where?” “Same places you hike.” At my age I’ll never have the muscle memory to be a good skier, but I love to be out and up there. And now, after two foot operations, I’ve lost so much fitness, and my surgeon says I must not telemark, so I am trying to learn alpine touring ski technique. I cannot do what I was capable of just a few years ago — but I’m still alive, and the mountains still welcome me.

  3. 4 Judith Marguerite Perry April 24, 2021 at 7:58 am

    No snow here in Hlaifax, no snow all winter except for a couple of days and then it melted. It was the warmest winter on record.

    • 5 Robert April 24, 2021 at 8:15 am

      Judy, there is no snow here at sea level. The snow line is above 2500 feet. Part of the magic of going into the mountains at this time of the year is watching the season seem to reverse itself as I travel up. At low altitude the spring flowers and trees are blooming and the fresh light-green deciduous leaves are emerging. Higher up, there are only buds. And then, the snow.

    • 6 Lynda April 24, 2021 at 8:47 am

      Lucky you. I am glad because It seemed you were hit by all the storms🙏

  4. 7 Robert April 24, 2021 at 8:01 am

    On the subject of staying safe, two comments. First, I’ve had the initial shot of the Pfizer vaccine.

    Second, when I’m around people, I wear a mask. Most cheap masks are okay for ducking into a store, but they are very uncomfortable and not really suitable for the breathing that goes with an aerobic sport. I’ve found the better mask, and it was designed here in Vancouver. The Dropgard mask is light, comfortable, prevents my glasses from fogging, allows for heavy breathing, doesn’t block my mouth — so my speech is intelligible, and more. Read about it at their web site, but buy it from Amazon.ca because there the shipping is free. After that endorsement, I should mention that I have no connection with Dropgard.

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