Article by Tennille Barber
Photos: Iphone photos taken by various other patrollers. Troy notes they are just snapshots because it’s more important to focus on the task at hand. We agree.
Let me set the scene. It’s a typical morning in the 2012 season, the sky is dumping fat flakes onto my face. Everyone is lined up at RMR and the IT crew at the hill pumps up the crowd, setting up the speakers to play some music from Stoke FM. We all squish into the gondola and ride it to the top to line up at the bottom of the stoke. As I get onto the chair the whole valley echoes. Bombs go off, pushing the excitement higher. I get off the chairlift and a patroller is standing at the top to greet me. He or she politely says “stay inbounds please, and have a great morning!” To the left, the north bowl is closed… to the right, the south bowl’s boundary is closed to the treeline. Some people wait in line at the north bowl boundary entry and eagerly ask the patroller how much longer until it’s opened, some rip down Hollywood gully to the bottom to squeeze in the first lap. I’m sure all of them have their lines down pat to inform the public that it may not open until later this morning, or not at all. I personally have my lines that I save for ripping while waiting for the bowls to open, something short and fast. The best problem in Revelstoke is too much snow. For the patrollers, I can only imagine that managing us all while the stoke level is high must be one of the more challenging aspects of the job. Let me outline for you what goes on the morning of a big dump at RMR, with the help of weather forecaster Troy Leahey.
6am- One Weather forecaster- Troy Leahey or Chad Hemphill- comes in to the hill with one of the level 4 route leaders (CAA level 2 or working toward it, as well as 4-5 years experience). It’s harder for two people to make a mistake than one, and this allows the forecasters to mentor the route leaders so they may cover the forecasting if need be. These are the factors they consider at this point in the day:
- weather observations from the sub peak telemetry station: wind, temperature, humidity, solar reading for springtime
- telemetry station at ripper top: new snowfall and temperatures, humidity, precip amounts, and Gnorm “the storm gnome”
- weather forecasts for the day to come
- what has happened at the hill since it closed in the last 12 hours
This helps determine what will be opened that day, or if it is a battle that can be won, for example if “30cm falls and 60km winds are blowing, it isn’t a battle you can win”, he says, “Mother nature will very much dictate what you can do. The main goal is always to get as much of our terrain open everyday, as quick as we can, and I honestly think we
do that better than most.” He credits the team’s experience, the type of weather we get here, and the terrain type for this statement, estimating that they keep avalanche terrain at RMR open approximately 90% of the time. All avalanche paths are named, and knowing the aspects and characteristics of each one, decisions are made as to where the instability is. They know what the weather has done and what it will do, then decide whether to ski cut or just go right to the big boys… explosives.
6:15-6:30 am– Guest forecaster jumps on a snowmobile and goes up to assemble explosives if needed. Up to 50 shots in a morning will be thrown. In that time the rest of the crew arrives.
6:45 am– The rest of the crew is present and starts to get ready. All the paperwork is done so everyone knows what happened last night with the weather.
7am– Control routes are assigned, teams made up and a briefing takes place on how they will go about the control sequence that morning.
7:20 am– Everyone jumps on the gondola, meets the guy or gal assembling shots at the top and they divy up the bombs, then head out onto control routes that are named and have specific shot placements. Troy says, “It’s a bit of a symphony to conduct, to make sure people aren’t on top of each other. The biggest thing is communication.” Knowing who the team is above and below you before throwing the shot is important. The nature of the terrain in Revelstoke makes it somewhat easy to do, just because there are big ridges and big bowls. There may be avalanche terrain on either side of you, but it’s safe on the ridge, for the most part, he notes.
Two teams traverse out and start controlling north bowl down, and three teams hike up the sub peak and start doing routes from the sub peak down. If there is a wind component that day, generally there will be a problem on either side, however if it’s a big snow with quick warming, there will be a more challenging control that morning because all of the terrain is likely affected. Troy added,”We haven’t had a day yet where we’ve had to close the Stoke for avalanche control… but we will. We’ve been lucky. We’ll probably have a day where just the gondola will run, it will probably be really good skiing.” We both laughed.
Last year apparently had the highest incidents of Greely closure. They had 3 previous seasons where the closures of Greely weren’t nearly as much. I personally, love the days that Greely is closed! If you come back and nail it on the right day, the skiing is epic with half a metre to be had and not much traffic mid week!
Having gotten the rundown on what happens the morning of a huge dump, I decided I was curious as to what makes a weather forecaster tick. I asked the following questions.
What do you like most about your job?
Troy says the challenge is the thing he loves best about being a forecaster. “Mother nature is infinitely hard to predict, you’ll never be perfect. Striving for perfection is something you can’t really attain. It’s fun to try to predict the weather and then you just err on the side of caution. Mother nature can be a bit of a b*&%h, and garners alot of respect.”
What would you saw to someone new to Revy for the winter?
It’s a huge ski area, just stay inside the ropes there isn’t much need to go outside the boundaries. But if that’s something you want to get into, do it with respect and knowledge. Take an AST course, and make sure you have the proper equipment, go with people with knowledge and experience. You have to make your own decisions, no one will hold your hand while a nice sunny day turns sideways super quick.
Why did you come to Revy?
Opportunity. For an avalanche forecaster, you don’t get to start a ski area in Canada very often, maybe once every 10 years. Setting up an operation from scratch is a unique opportunity and super rewarding. On the plus side, it snows a lot here. It’s a lot warmer here, coming from the rockies. I was at Sunshine for 13 years doing alot of terrain expansion. I’ve been here for 5 years.
I’m proud to announce, I was able to successfully operate a Go Pro. (why do they operate like an ancient camera?) I was able to get a recording of how Penny is rewarded when she completes a successful search! Note that when I hid for this search, I walked up the crazy carpet to get to a tower at the top of the tube park. Troy walked up the centre of the tube park run, and Penny kept zigzagging back and forth between the crazy carpet and Troy, catching my scent. She startled me quite a bit when she circled around from behind. Her favorite thing is to tear the reward rag up, so he purposely picks the rags that are easy to tear. This time it ended up being a pair of sleepy sheep pajama bottoms which we both had a laugh about. Thanks to RMR IT employee Jesse Cole for helping us fix the go pro camera so that it worked. Thanks also to Troy and Penny for helping me make safety week a great success!