Friday, November 30, 2007

It is that time of year again - winter! And sticking with the skiing theme of last weeks post, here are a whole bunch more ski-related pics.

But, really none of actually - skiing! Confused?

Well this is the time of year where we prepare for avalanche search and rescue, so we get our butts out of the office and practice search techniques.

It is always easier when you have some snow to work with, but that is in relative short supply so far this season. It is also more realistic if you can work in an actual avalanche deposit, as opposed to snowy field.

There are a few avalanche deposits in the 'not yet opened' areas of the ski hill, so that is where we went. The back side of the hill is not open yet, so we had to resort to snow machines to get back there.

It is also a good opportunity for our 'dog team' to practice their snow technique.

Although searching for buried tranceivers has always been a part of our recent exercises, this year things were even more high tech. We are working with a system of buried targets that can be turned on and off remotely from a control unit. This system also registers if it is hit by a searchers avalanche probe. The 'remote tragets' are the yellow boxes in the photo with 'easy searcher' on them.

I guess I should mention that these 'targets' are well hidden under several feet of snow when the search is in progress. The ones sitting on the surface have been dug out and 'rescued'!

In spite of all the high tech gadgetry employed, the rescue dog is still the single most valuable asset in an organized rescue.

And ... on the other side of the mountain - on Saturday, there was another historic moments as Canada's Britt Janyk had a podium finish, becoming the first Canadian woman ever to do so in the downhill at Lake Louise!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The first Men's Downhill World Cup Race of the season was held within sight of my house today.

I had to work (at the race), so took the opportunity to snap a few photos.

It's been cold all week, with no new snow - which is generally good for racing, but it was fairly changeable and blustery today, and everyone had to work at keeping warm.

Canadian Jan Hudec had finished first in the training run yesterday, and one of the Canadians had won the GS race here last year, so hopes were high.

But a Canadian has never won the downhill here in Lake Louise, and the only other downhill victory by a Canadian in Canada was Rob Boyd - back in 1989, I think.

Well today was a big day for Lake Louise, and the Canadian ski team.

For the second day in a row Jan Hudec put in a good run , wearing bib #5. He came in first, then had to wait around while all the American and European 'big guns' came down behind him.

But at the end of the day, the Banff local boy - with his parents in the crowd, stood on top of the podium as the first and only Canadian ever to win the downhill in Lake Louise.

So, as soon as the race was over, I went home, and CBC was just starting their broadcast of the race.

So I got to see the parts of the race I hadn't seen, complete with all the commentary.

Tomorrow - the Super 'G' race in the same location - and the Grey Cup game in Toronto.


(Click on any photo to see it in full size)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I took a lot of photos this week, and they are mostly self explanatory.

Many of the scenic shots I included in a slide show that should play automatically?
The slide show is in the upper right at the top of the blog. If you click on it you can control the show or see it in full screen mode, courtesy of Picassa Web Albums.

Most of these were taken on the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefields. There has been a lot of fresh snow in the last few days, then this day was very cold (-23C in the morning) and sunny and beautiful.
I was hauling an avalanche control gun north to Jasper Park and could not resist taking a lot of pics. I saw two very nice, sleek, large wolves on the side of the road, but they were a bit too shy for my camera.

We spent much of one night at a car wreck trying to get 4 backboarded patients back up a steep slope to the road where they could be taken to hospital by ambulance. It was kind of busy so I took no photos, but the next day there was another similar wreck (photos included) where the driver manged to make it back up to the road somehow - before getting transported to hospital.

Then there was the big fire one night. A large building burned to the ground at a local resort. It was already beyond saving when two fire departments arrived, but they managed to save all the surrounding buildings and a large propane tank nearby. This was difficult because there are no fire hydrants for mile around and they had to set up a 'truck brigade' pumping water from a nearby river that was doing it's best to freeze over.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Well, I think winter has arrived in this part of the world.
Reminds me that I should be planning the next trip south to where there is no snow!

But, alas I was still working last week and the snow was here.

My crazy day started with a run north of Lake Louise on the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper. I had heard that it snowed a lot there overnight and that there were some vehicles in the ditch awaiting tows.

The first few kms were OK, but the snow accumulation quickly built up and was in the 15-20 cm range after a while. My work truck is one of the few that has survived the down-size, two wheel drive 'tonka truck' move that seems to have taken over the government. So I was getting along fine, even though my 3/4 ton's belly was dragging in the snow in a few places.
I located the first vehicle in the ditch on it's side, but the people were out and the tow truck was attempting to get the wheels to the bottom where they belonged. I found another pair of vehicles and their occupants who had spent the night in a roadside pull off, now completely covered in snow. I continued on to the Warden station at the junction of highway 11, where I 'took possession' of a guy who had caught a ride there - to initially report the accident and request a tow. He had been well cared for and fed at the station, as is customary! (I know some readers from Ontario who are smiling now)

I then headed back south with this guy and met his party who had been successfully extricated from the roadside woods by Sammy's Towing. On the way south I checked another abandoned (or ice climbers?) vehicle on the side of the road, looked into the closed Waterfowl campground, retrieved a 'bump' sign that had gotten knocked over by the snowplow on it's first run north, and chatted with a bunch of excited skiers who were about to either enjoy a first run of the year, or trash their skis; or both.

On my trek south I came across another vehicle that had just gone into the ditch a few minutes prior. The driver did not speak any languages that I do, so I gave him a ride back to the nearest phone, so he could make his own towing arrangements. There is NO cell coverage in this area to the chagrin of almost everyone who discovers this fact AFTER they have run out of gas or hit the ditch!
Anyway, I was nicely back in town when I realized that my cell phone was not on my belt where I was sure I had place it earlier in the morning. Great! Just great.
After the usual pocket-patting, truck searching and memory replay, the phone still had not shown up. So I was pretty sure it had fallen off into 15cm of snow on the road in one of about 10 places I had gotten out that morning, and had since been blasted into the woods by the next plow to go by. And I was expecting a call!

Rather than have lunch, I decided that I would at least make a futile trip back up the road, and look in the likely spots - that I could remember.

The start of the road north was starting to improve, so everyone ignores the flashing lights on the sign that indicates the road condition is only one notch above closed; POOR.

I soon stopped at the vehicle whose driver I had earlier given a ride to town and poked about in the snow there, knowing the chances of finding anything were slim to nil. They were nil.

As I was just headed back north I observed a pickup truck coming towards me. Backwards - sideways - forwards - sideways - backwards, you get the idea. Snow was spraying everywhere.

Wow; before my eyes the vehicle hit the ditch and proceeded to roll - ending up on it's roof.
I made a quick call to dispatch in Banff to send out the 'troops' - which consists of the fire department, the RCMP, and some more wardens, and an ambulance. This surely would prevent me from continuing the search for my phone. What would I get to replace it?

Fortunately, I was able to get to the vehicle in seconds and cut some seat belts, and after ensuring there were no injuries to the occupants, managed to get them out and got them into my truck where they would have some defence against the next out-of-control vehicle to arrive.
Eventually the troops all arrived and took over control of the scene. This allowed me to free myself and put up some warning signs on the approach to slow down the speeders and hopefully prevent further carnage.
When I stopped to re-check the 'bump' sign that I had earlier moved, I grabbed a snow-brush to dig with, when 'who woulda thunkit', there was my phone covered in the fresh snow. It was not even melted or soaked - and is once again working just fine!

But the day was not over. I saw one of the snow plows coming down the road on the southbound leg and I was about to move my accident warning sign briefly off the shoulder so the plow could properly clean the road there. But the road and the shoulder and everything was pretty much ice, so before I knew it, even my good 4x4 had slid its behind to a position perpendicular to the edge of the road while trying to move out of the way of the plow. Even the 4wd was no match for the ice, so I backed off the road into an area that I hoped would have some gravel underneath and provide some traction for a run at the road. After a few minutes of 'driving' around in this area, it became clear that in spite of any direction I gave the vehicle, it was inevitably moving downhill towards the trees and some ugly rocks, and a small drop-off.
Fortunately, my good truck comes equipped with good tire chains, so I shovelled away the snow and put them on - making sure that my cell phone stayed in a safe location inside! Even with one set of chains on it was SO slippery that the front wheels pretty much refused to steer, so I had to do some creative driving to make it back to the road surface. But hey, I hadn't really hit the ditch, I hadn't needed a tow or any assistance, and more importantly, there were no photos!

But because of all the other action this day, the only pictures that I did have time to take, were a couple shots of the truck that I had watched hit the ditch and roll.

Later on in the afternoon, I was back on the road for the third time - but in this case it was a planned, uneventful trip to Jasper for a week-long course

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On the ranch road.

Nothing but work, this week.

But if you have to work, it would be hard to find a more scenic spot to do it.

We were out at the historic Ya Ha Tinda ranch on the boundary of Banff National Park, and west of Sundre, Alberta.

The ranch is operated by Parks Canada.

As described on the Parks Canada website:

The Ya Ha Tinda covers 3,945 hectares, running 27 km along the north bank of the Red Deer River. Approximately one third of the ranch area is natural grassland and two thirds is mixed forest. This productive montane area has an abundance of wildlife including grizzly bear, wolf, cougar, moose, deer, and bighorn sheep. Today the area is a major winter range for elk, with about 1,000 elk wintering in the area.

The Ya Ha Tinda is private property owned and managed by Parks Canada. It is not a National Park. This ranch is the only federally operated working horse ranch in Canada. Horses are wintered and trained here to be used as working horses for patrolling and protecting Canada’s Western National Parks. As an active working ranch, staff regularly use tractors, trucks, quads and other equipment on the property.

The ranch has a long and varied history:

In the early 1900's the Brewster Brothers Transfer Company obtained a grazing lease in the area. By 1908 they were raising and breaking horses here for their guiding and outfitting business. Horses were wintered in the area and trailed to Banff and Lake Louise for the summer.

The Ya Ha Tinda ranch area was formerly within the boundaries of Rocky Mountains National Park. The boundary changed a number of times before the present day Banff National Park Boundary was established. In 1917, National Parks took over the area as a winter range, breeding and training facility for park horses.

Regular staff at the ranch were short-handed, so a bunch of us went out there last week to assist with some big jobs.

Large numbers of elk winter on the ranch, and increasingly, spend much of the summer there as well. Research is ongoing, which requires that elk be trapped on occasion to be radio collared and studied. One of our jobs was to move a large elk trapping complex about a mile up the valley to a more suitable location. Much of the trap can be taken apart, but a large portion was moved in a single piece, requiring some heavy equipment and expertise.

All went well with the move - that is until a freak gust of wind caught us all by surprise, and blew several sections of 10' high fence down on us.

So the following day in dust storm conditions rivalling those of the dirty thirties, we put in posts for a new riding arena - right where the end of the rainbow appears in the picture that I 'borrowed' from the Parks web site.

It was far too dirty to risk a camera during the fence building process. Any of us could have started a garden with the dirt in our ears, and noses, and ...

As well as home to hundreds of horses and elk, the ranch also supports a population of bighorn sheep - who obviously like to visit with the horses as they take turns at the salt block in the main yard.

Location of the ranch headquarters, for your Google Earth exploration is
51.753671 -115.58273

Google Earth screen shot - looking west into Banff National Park.