Skiing ’til sunset on the shortest day: A Maiden Voyage

Although it looks pink in the setting sun, this is the 5K Green loop at Mt Shark

After finishing up with an appointment I had this afternoon in Canmore, I figured I could still get in an hour of good skiing on the new tracksetting at Mt Shark. It’s normal for me to start out skiing on the shortest day of the year at 3 pm.

Making the “right” turn onto the untracked snow from WRL to the 5K Green loop

Two surprises were waiting for me. 

The first surprise was… no tracksetting. Strong winds earlier in the day and 3-4 cm of new snow had obliterated any hint of yesterday’s new grooming and tracksetting. 

Breaking trail in the untouched snow on the 5K Green loop

On the plus side, a few skiers had already broken trail, the snow was clean and cold with good coverage in the spots where it is normally thin. 

Caroline, Jean-Francois, and Justin

The air temperature was -6(-9 when I finished), the snow was -5, and VR40 worked perfectly for me the whole way. VR40 is rated at -2/-8 in fresh snow. A stiff breeze was blowing, but probably lighter than it had been earlier in the day. 

Alex was returning from the Spray River bridge

Starting out on Watridge Lake road(WLR), the skier-set tracks were wobbly. I don’t even think the tracks followed the original tracks. The first skiers probably couldn’t detect any hint of them in the wind-blown snow. 

5K Green loop at Mt Shark

I soon ran into Caroline, Jean-Francois, and Justin, who were crossing my path as they were finishing up the Yellow trail..and they seemed to be having fun. 

There are a few steep hills where I had to herringbone on the 5K Green loop at Mt Shark

At 2K I talked to Alex who had been all the way to the Spray River on WLR, which is where the grooming normally ends. 

5K Green loop at Mt Shark

Surprise #2: At 2.4K I made the best decision of the day. Not having much fun on WRL in the wobbly tracks and wind, I made the right turn onto the 5K Green loop which was just incorporated into the grooming schedule late last season. It was completely covered with fresh snow but looked s-o-o-o-o inviting. 

5K Green loop at Mt Shark

To describe the pristine, undefiled snow, and with Christmas around the corner, I would use the words angelic, immaculate, and dare I say it, virginal. 

5K Green loop at Mt Shark

It’s rare for me to say I’m skiing a trail for the first time in my life, and it brought back cheerful memories of my first adventures on the xc ski trails during the first couple years of my skiing career(it DID turn into my career!). Exploring, anticipating, with a new surprise around every corner. I had the time of my life today. 

Not knowing what was around each corner, I reluctantly had to snowplow a few times on a couple of the steepest downhills. Believe me, there are some steep hills on this trail, but 3-4 cms of fresh powder is all-forgiving. There are no sustained climbs, but some of the hills are crazy steep. 

Halfway through the loop I encountered a few twigs and uneven spots. A minor inconvenience. 

From trailhead to trailhead, I skied 9K, so 4k of it was on Watridge Lake road. 

The Smith-Dorrien road is in excellent winter driving condition: hardpack snow with very little gravel to kick up. My favourite time of the year to travel this road. 

The iconic trailhead at Mt Shark

After turning off at Mt Engadine Lodge,the 5K access road to Mt Shark was not plowed and had a ton of snow. Thankfully some other vehicles had been over it. Hopefully it gets plowed tonight. is forecasting about a half-cm of snow tonight at Mt Shark and at Elk Pass. 

That brings me to the next bit of reconaissance. 

I checked the trailheads in PLPP for grooming activity. I’ll tell you what I found, but be sure to check the PLPP Live Grooming Report in the morning for an update. Big Tex(the rig used to haul the snowcat) was at the Elk Pass trailhead. Opening up the PLPP Live Grooming Report tomorrow will be like Christmas morning!

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