Brewster creek gets you warmed up on a cold day

 – The tracksetter was preparing to set a new track on Healy creek –

I phoned out to PLPP and got the news I expected. The pocket of warm air which I enjoyed yesterday had been displaced and at noon the temperature was -15°C. If you were willing to climb to the Kananaskis Fire Lookout, however, according to Frank it was -9°C. That’s often the case when you get up into the higher elevations.

New tracks on Healy creek

I waited for a while, hoping the temperature in Banff would become more bearable, but with time running out and the thermometer at -17°C,  I headed for the Healy creek trailhead, with a new package of toe-warmers, hoping to ski a good chunk of Brewster creek. It was trackset three days ago.

Brewster creek starts here. It’s 1.9K from the Healy creek trailhead.

As I arrived at 3 pm there was lots of activity at the trailhead.  Most skiers were finishing their day including Helen Read who made it all the way to Sundance Lodge. Wendy was also finishing up. She left a trip report about Redearth creek yesterday which had me considering it, but since I hadn’t been on Brewster creek this winter, I was more interested in checking out a new trail.

About 20 minutes up Brewster creek, I was surprised to see another skier was still out on the trail

A couple minutes after I pulled in, who should show up but the Banff tracksetter. He laid down new tracks on Healy creek which I skied in for 1.9K to the Brewster junction. There’s been 8 cm of new snow on Brewster creek since it was trackset but the track is still in good shape.

Brewster creek has a lot of fast downhills and tight corners

From the Healy creek junction it’s a steep climb for the first 2.5K. You’ll gain 190 metres of elevation over that short distance. Ten minutes after starting the climb, I was down to my undershirt and a thin shell. (As Bernard said in his trip report today “Always amazing how -16 doesn’t feel quite so cold once you get up that first hill.”)    The snow temperature was -11, and I started out with Swix green(-7/-13), but I needed one layer of VR40(-4/-12) on top to get the best grip for climbing. A lady at the trailhead said she was using blue and I should have listened to her.

Sundance Lodge is at the end of the groomed trail(file photo from Jan 2011)

I was thoroughly enjoying the ski and saw a long stretch of trail inviting me to go further, but with daylight waning, I turned around at 5.4K.  The Brewster creek trail is 8.7K and ends at Sundance Lodge.

I can easily say the trip back down was the best skiing I’ve ever had on this trail. There are a lot of sharp turns on the steep section but they were negotiated quite easily with all the fresh snow. I’ve skied Brewster creek in icy conditions and it’s treacherous.

I noticed on the PLPP trail report that Tyrwhitt is open again, and it was trackset yesterday.

Beginner skiers & Skiing in cold weather

Good snow conditions can mitigate some of the challenges associated with the fast downhills and tight corners, but Brewster creek requires expert snowplowing ability in any event. Healy creek doesn’t have any big hills, but it sees a lot of foot traffic and the tracks get obliterated quickly. These trails are probably not the best choices for a beginner skier.

Skiing in -15°C requires different clothing than skiing in -5°C. For example, today I started out with heavier gloves, heavier toque, two layers on my lower body, toe-warmers in my boots, and a buff. I also threw a light fleece sweater in my pack. I always carry a down-filled jacket which I actually wore for the first 20 minutes. It’s important to shed layers if you start sweating, as you don’t want your warm clothing to get wet. As mentioned, after climbing for 10 minutes, I made a wholesale clothing change; lighter gloves, toque, no more buff, and my light shell in place of the down jacket. On the return, before I started the fast downhill, I put on all the dry, warm gear again.


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  1. Happy New Year Bob
    Enjoy your blog even though I don’t get out to the mtns much to ski these past few years.
    One thing I would like to comment on…”A couple minutes after I pulled in, who should show up but the Banff tracksetter. He laid down new tracks on Healy creek which I skied in for 1.9K to the Brewster junction.”
    Do the groomers ever ask you to let the tracks set up? Ski off to the side while they are fresh?

    From the folks at the Strathcona Wilderness Centre in this week’s trail report:
    “Please avoid skiing on freshly groomed tracks – as enticing as it is, the tracks need 20-30 minutes to set up, otherwise they are too soft and your skis will degrade the track quality. Thanks”

    You are in a fairly influential position with this blog and perhaps you should reconsider a practice which is hard on a new set of tracks and hence will affect many skiers.
    I know I prefer to see a couple of hours pass before fresh tracks see much traffic.
    Just a passing thought from a groomer and skier.

    I’m always cognizant of the fresh tracks issue. By the time I was ready to ski, the tracksetter already had a 20 minute head start. I have a question for you: Does 20 minutes really make any difference to the firmness of the tracks? I’ve been led to believe that it takes at least two hours for a track to set up, or is it dependent on the temperature and snow quality? Maybe some of the other tracksetters reading this can give us an educated opinion based on their experience. Although it was only 20 minutes, the tracks seemed very firm.

    I’ve never been asked to ski to the side, and in this instance, it would have made a mess because the corduroy was much softer than the tracks. -Bob

    • I think I answered your question already Bob.
      “I know I prefer to see a couple of hours pass before fresh tracks see much traffic.”
      The folks at SWC are asking for at least 20-30 mins. That is at a facility within half an hour of Edmonton city centre so their expectations are different than mine.

      “….Aside from the obvious safety issues raised by the possibility of skiers running into grooming machinery on trails, fresh groomed snow normally needs time to set up before it is ready to take skier
      traffic (usually 2 hours minimum ? as little as 1 hour in areas with high snow humidity). This normally means grooming at night or very early in the morning. There are also other considerations such as current weather and temperature conditions, and the general condition of the snow pack…..”

      I am not trying to get into a technical argument here, I see it more a matter of etiquette and skier awareness. I realize the situation is different in the parks, with paid groomers and lots of out of town traffic, than at a community based club and trail system, where the membership has some skin in the game.

      Happy trails and keep us posted on the 1000 km quest.

      “I know I prefer to see a couple of hours pass before fresh tracks see much traffic.”

      I’m sorry to say that we don’t live in a perfect world, and I don’t think it’s a question of etiquette concerning the situation we have in Banff. If Banff National Park will give us a schedule of when and where they do their tracksetting, we could time our visits accordingly. As it stands, if you arrive at a trailhead(after driving for over an hour) just as the tracksetter is starting, it would be difficult to ask a skier to go home and come back in two hours. What if you’re already on a trail, 10K out, and you meet the groomer coming towards you? Perhaps with the community based clubs, you can give out information more expeditiously than we’re used to around here.

      Believe me, I’m on the tracksetter’s side, but I’m also realistic about the limitations of the situation we’re faced with. -Bob

  2. I’m curious if you noticed anything ‘off’ in some parts of the tracks on Brewster creek trail. I felt as if my ski was tilting off to the outside at times whenever we could actually see the prior set tracks to try to ski in…I’m not sure if it’s because we were the first group on the fresh snow over the tracks, but most of us commented on the ‘wobbly’ /unsteady feeling in our skis (for me, it seemed my right ski more often), as if the track that had been there wasn’t wide enough to support our ski width. Maybe the snow got packed down better by the afternoon? Just curious if that’s normal when trying to ski on fresh powder over tracks.

    And it was great to meet you in person! Thanks for all your postings- b/c of your comment a few days ago, our group decided to head out to Brewster this morning 🙂 !

    Nice meeting you, too, Wendy. There are some benefits to going late in the day. If there’s fresh snow, the tracks will be well skied-in. I had no trouble, but I know what you mean. Many thanks! -Bob

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