Castle Mt., Alberta, Feb. 23-24, 2017

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Castle Mt., Alberta, Feb. 23-24, 2017

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Feb 26, 2017 12:06 am

My last visit here in 2014 was challenged by arctic weather and no recent snow, but on this trip Castle returned to its usual excellent form. About 4 inches of snow fell Wednesday night and another couple of inches during the day Thursday. A bigger storm earlier in the week had started as rain. Patroller Darrel explained that it turned to wet and then dry snow on the upper 2/3 of the mountain, bonding the snowpack and leaving a firm base only below that where it didn’t snow as much and in a few wind stripped areas. There was almost no wind either day I was there, as I moved up my dates to avoid predicted high winds Saturday. Thursday had a fog bank at the top of the upper Tamarack chair and it snowed off and on, so it was not great for pictures. This was the most sun I saw Thursday:
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Visibility was not ideal but on most runs there are scattered stunted trees to provide orientation.

The message board at the base of the Tamarack chair tells you what kind of area Castle is.
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The reality is that when lifts cover lots of vertical in a relatively short distance, they don’t need to be high speed. I skied 53,000 vertical in the two days, both of them roughly 9:45 – 3:30 with a lunch break. If you get powder on the weekend there can be serious lift lines with the low capacity. But midweek it’s not an issue, and with the extremely low skier density I was skiing some of the earlier powder in addition to the 5 inches that fell when I was there.

I started Thursday with my powder skis immediately on the main mountain. On my seventh consecutive day I should have taken a warmup run or two, and the snow on Sheriff and Drifter while soft was not bottomless so I switched to the Bonafides and took a couple of groomers on Haig to loosen up the legs. Returning to the main mountain I skied Tamarack Bowl in much softer snow and next chair headed north looking for more of the same. I found some but after getting below the fog line I realized I was on Outlaw heading back to the Tamarack chair again. Next time I went farther out north to High Noon, where I had mostly powder down to 5,500 feet and an easy bailout to the groomers when the subsurface got firmer. Before lunch I skied a south side chute Desperado, which also had soft snow.

After lunch I skied in the stunted trees near the Tamarack liftline plus two top to bottom runs to the north and one to the south. The first northern run was Double Exposure.
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There is one snowboarder in a blue jacket at distance in the second picture, not easy to spot.

The south chute was High Rustler.
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My final run was through Powder Horns to Northern Delight. Thursday total was 25,600 vertical, about 5K of powder.

I stayed two nights in the hotel across the parking lot from the base facilities. There are 10 hotel rooms for $146CDN per night and 52 hostel beds for $30CDN per night. The other buildings you see are all private homes. There are a couple of B&B’s 15-20 minutes away near Beaver Mines, but otherwise the next nearest lodging is 35 minutes away in Pincher Creek. Nearly all of Castle’s clientele are daytrippers, mostly from southern Alberta plus a few from Calgary who have figured out that Castle has more snow, similar acreage and far fewer people than the Banff areas.

Friday morning started out fairly sunny. Here’s the view of the main mountain from the hotel.
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And here’s the view of Haig and its mellower groomers.
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Castle’s $350CDN per day snowcat skiing is just out of view above and looker’s left of Haig. There were some happy customers from Colorado in the T-Bar Pub where I had pizza dinner Thursday night. Using both the lift and the cat for laps on Haig, they got 14K vertical, which is well above average for a day skiing snowcat operation. The snowcat acreage is relatively small and can get skied out in a week with no new snow, but Darrel told me they will cancel if there is not enough powder.

I stated with a Haig groomer warmup Friday, which has a good view of the steep south side of the main mountain.
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Upper chair with Tamarack Bowl at left and Sheriff at right:
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I took a lap skier’s left of the chair then went back up to Drifter.
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Around 5,500 feet I came across this sign.
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It’s amusing to see the blue sign because anyone who gets this far has skied ~1,600 vertical of ungroomed snow. I have never taken this exit traverse before, but I did this time because I knew the firmer subsurface would emerge just below.

Next time I skied along Huckleberry Ridge to some steep but decently spaced trees just before Showboat.
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View from the top of that run to the lifts and down the valley toward Beaver Mines:
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About 11AM the Great Gray North weather returned for the rest of the day, but the cloud layer stayed above Tamarack for better visibility than Thursday. Temperatures were about 15F Thursday and a bit cooler Friday so I had to wear mittens for the first time in quite a while.

For the rest of the day I skied top to bottom runs, starting with the first south chute Gambler:
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This was a rare instance where a couple of people came close by.

Siwash on the north side:
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Per the liftie’s recommendation I skied to the end of Huckleberry Ridge for a short stash of nearly untracked snow.
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This pitch ends just low enough that you can’t get back to the Tamarack lift and have to ski a firm groomer under the Sundance chair to the base.

I thought I would get lunch but it was 12:30 and the cafeteria had a line so I went back up for another run. This time I went farther out to the south. The traverse had a dropoff where I almost lost it. I skied Havey’s Dream. The farther out you go the steeper it gets and thus the more you’re skiing subsurface rather than the new snow. View from below of the farthest south chutes:
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Now I went in for lunch, an excellent salmon salad. After lunch I skied Goat Run, far skier’s right of High Rustler and the trees skier’s left of North Bowl. Friday total was 27,400 vertical, about 6K of powder.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
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Tony Crocker
 
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Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California

Re: Castle Mt., Alberta, Feb. 23-24, 2017

Postby EMSC » Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:16 am

It's always been confusing why Castle isn't more popular for the experts out of Calgary vs Banff areas. Must be the extra hour-ish of driving each way.
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Re: Castle Mt., Alberta, Feb. 23-24, 2017

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Mar 04, 2017 12:01 am

EMSC wrote:It's always been confusing why Castle isn't more popular for the experts out of Calgary vs Banff areas. Must be the extra hour-ish of driving each way.

Calgary skiers also make up the majority of Kicking Horse clientele, which is just a touch farther drive than Castle. And surprisingly they also make the schlep to Revelstoke in fairly high numbers. Locals say both Kicking Horse and Revelstoke have chronic gondola liftlines on weekends. Castle has liftline issues on powder weekend days, but not nearly as severe as what I read about at Revelstoke.
http://bestsnow.net
Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
Season powder: 291K in 2011-12
User avatar
Tony Crocker
 
Posts: 9777
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:37 am
Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California


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