Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

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Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Feb 28, 2019 9:25 pm

From Mustang Tseeb and I drove 5 hours to Calgary airport, where I picked up a rental car. The next morning Tseeb left early to drive to Bozeman. I was pretty beat after 8 days of skiing, and since all the ski areas within easy drive distance of Calgary were calling for high temps in the zero F range, I did not ski Tuesday. I caught up some pictures and reports and took a noon hot tub break at the airport hotel.

I arrived at Castle about 5PM with this view of the mountain from the road.
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Castle is becoming more civilized. The 20km from Beaver Mines was paved last summer and the hotel now has WiFi. The day lodge and T-Bar Pub have had WiFi for some time.

A temporary break in the cold snap was expected by midday Wednesday, but at dawn it was -15F at the base with an inversion. I therefore took my time, had breakfast at 10:00AM and got on the mountain at 10:30, when it was still about zero F, so I triple layered. I did not stop for lunch after the late start, and it also seemed silly to go inside during the most comfortable part of the day.

The weather improved as predicted, clearing by 11:30 and remaining that way until 1:15. Temps rose to at least +15F before falling a bit after it became completely overcast about 2PM.

The Canadian snow drought of the past 6 weeks has been less severe near the US border, and Castle’s February snowfall has been average including 14 inches in the past week with consistent cold temps. Thus there was no hardpack or spring snow. With Castle’s low skier density and wind deposition, there were pockets of soft snow though not as deep or widespread as last year.

A few spots had wind stiffened snow, and I cleverly started my day on two of those runs, Sheriff and far skier’s right of Drifter. My feet needed a break so I took a groomer lap (Pony Express) on the Haig chair before returning to the main mountain. FYI Castle’s groomers benefit from the low skier density, remaining smooth with corduroy marks often visible to the end of the day.

There’s a good view of the south side from the Haig chair, at the time when the sky cleared.
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Drifter is the face right of center. Gambler is at center in an area that gets a lot of direct wind. The steeper chutes are at far left.

Riding the upper Tamarack lift, Sheriff is the bowl at right.
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Snow was softer on the left half of the picture above.

Huckleberry Ridge from the Tamarack lift:
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I skied Tamarack Bowl (open area with diagonal lift cable in front of it) and later the trees looker’s left. Both had some of the softest snow on the hill.

I alternated Tamarack laps and top to bottom runs. This time the long run was Siwash on the north side, groomed lower half and a couple of inches of lightly tracked powder higher up. View down when I reached the groomed:
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Next I skied groomed Bandito for the short run and the third south side chute High Rustler for the long run.
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Sometimes if there hasn’t been much recent snow the south chutes have tight chalk requiring deliberate skiing, but that was not the case here. Snow was very forgiving though not the deep windsift of a year ago.

View down the valley toward Beaver Mines from the top of Tamarack trees.
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The clouds are returning now, so I next skied the first and longest south chute Lone Star. View halfway down its 1,600 vertical:
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By the time I returned to the top it was thick overcast, though high with no fog on the hill. I skied first near the Tamarack lift then out to the far northern boundary to Double Exposure. View partway down that:
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This is the kind of steep cut through the trees that would be a mogul marathon at most ski areas. But here the bumps were barely forming and there was plenty of loose snow from the recent small refresher storms. Lower down it gets steeper but also opens up into widely spaced trees skier’s left or North Bowl skier’s right.

I got back up top just after 3PM and intended to ski all the down Huckleberry Ridge. But I was too tempted by the smooth and barely tracked Showdown falling off to skier’s right. View about 2/3 of the way down.
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The blue sign to the “Easy Out” traverse has always struck me as incongruous. It does get steeper below the sign and narrows into a gully in the case of Showdown, but few intermediates that I know would ski the ungroomed 1,500 vertical above to get here in the first place.

Showdown’s lower gully was very soft, welcome at the end of a 25,000 vertical day.

I hung around the base lodge from 3:30 to past 4:30. Manager Jason Crawford was in meeting all day, but I did chat with patroller Darrel Luco. Darrel now runs the cat skiing operation, which had 2 full cats of visiting Germans. He says they are getting quite a few Europeans, and about 700 total cat skiers over the course of the season.

The day cat operation costs $465 Canadian and is probably more efficient than any other day operation. The morning briefing starts at 7:45 so they are on the hill after transceiver drills about 9:30. The Haig lift is used for the lower 1,000 feet of vertical with the cat for the upper 1,000. Thus one cat is able to serve two groups. Darrel said Wednesday’s group was slower than average and skied 14,000 but the average is similar to Mustang’s 16,000. The major caveat is that the cat terrain is only 850 acres so snow was not that deep or untracked Wednesday. The Germans had a special reservation, but cat skiing is normally done Thursday-Sunday. So if you want to make an advance reservation, I recommend Thursday.

I had planned to drive to Fernie Thursday, ski there and then choose where to ski Friday. But I got out to my car a bit later than planned and couldn’t get it out of the hotel parking spot with maybe two inches of overnight snow. I then noticed the rental car tires had low tread and perhaps were not even all season tires though those at minimum are supposedly required in Canada.

The hotel desk person said they would get a maintenance person out to move the cat to a flat spot. Meanwhile I decided to ski Castle again Thursday and then drive to Fernie. Temps were in the 15F range most of the day but it was lightly snowing all day with some fog on top but minimal wind.

After skiing the day before, I knew where to find soft snow and adequate visibility. I started with groomed Centre under the Sundance chair to warm up before heading up top. My short upper runs were Tamarack, the upper chair liftline and Deputy, all framed with stunted trees. During a relatively bright spell I skied the wide open Bandito, which had the new snow over its groomed subsurface.

My first top to bottom run was skier’s left Drifter, better than its right side Wednesday but still not as soft the north half of the mountain. I did not try any south chutes due to visibility. Siwash and the scattered tees next to it were excellent and of course even softer than before. I continued down via Wolverine, a black run cut through tighter trees but it had little traffic and skied well with the new snow.

My third top to bottom run was Huckleberry Ridge, which gets even less traffic than most Castle runs as there are many tempting diversion off either side. Partway down its steep section no tracks are visible.
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My final top to bottom run was out the north side to Powder Horns and Northern Delight, probably delivering the most powder turns of the day. Overall there was probably a bit more powder skiing today than at Stevens or Apex. New snow at Castle tends to get tracked but not packed with the low skier density so these little refresher storms can deliver more powder than one might expect.

As on Wednesday I did not have lunch but quit a little earlier with 18,400 vertical so I could get that car on the road by 3PM. The lower mountain was in clear view from the parking lot as I left.
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The steep pitch at the end of Huckleberry Ridge is just left of center.

The north side runs with ideally spaced scattered trees are in the background here.
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Fortunately it did not snow on the drive and Highway 3 to Fernie had no snow on the road. To no surprise it resumed snowing when I reached Fernie.
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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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Re: Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby kingslug » Fri Mar 01, 2019 7:20 am

Nice report! Have to explore more of BC.
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Re: Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Mar 01, 2019 9:37 am

As Tony has contended, it looks like a place I'd enjoy.

2.5 hours from Calgary? Air Canada has one nonstop a day from EWR. Slug, from your report I'm guessing that you had to change in Toronto or Montreal.
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Re: Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby EMSC » Fri Mar 01, 2019 10:48 am

Castle definitely rocks. Starting to get crowds there on weekends though is what I hear...

I feel they under-report snow pretty frequently too. My last day there 2 years ago was on a reported 6" day... where ~2/3 of the hill was more like knee deep; and it is true that there was only ~6" ... at the base.
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Re: Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Mar 02, 2019 12:36 am

I believe snow is measured at top of the Haig lift. It's possible the main mountain gets more snow, especially up high. But there's no good way to measure there with the chronic wind. Wind deposition is probably the reason Castle skis deeper than what's reported. Also, not all of the previous storm may have been skied out before the more recent new snow. That was true on Huckleberry Ridge and some of the north side Thursday.
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: 10037
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:37 am
Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California

Re: Castle Mt., AB, Feb.27-28, 2019

Postby Tony Crocker » Mon Mar 04, 2019 2:48 pm

EMSC wrote:Starting to get crowds there on weekends though is what I hear...


This stellar but still quiet day last year was on a Saturday: viewtopic.php?t=12603

5 of my 11 days at Castle have been on weekends and only Feb. 1, 2004 was crowded. There had been 5 feet of new snow the previous week, though it was more like Mammoth, nearly all windpacked and not deep 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
User avatar
Tony Crocker
 
Posts: 10037
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2004 10:37 am
Location: Avatar: Charlotte Bay, Antarctica 2011
Location: Glendale, California


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