Makin' Trails

J.P. Squire

Cross-country skiers have always been a friendly bunch. New Year’s Day takes it to a whole other level.

It didn’t hurt that Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club had what skiers nickname a “bluebird day.” By definition, a bluebird day is the morning after a storm when the sun is shining bright and the world around you is covered in fluffy snow.

In Native American mythology, some tribes consider the bluebird a spirit in animal form that symbolizes the dawn of a new day; others associate the friendly bird with the sun.

The Iroquois believe the bluebird is a harbinger of spring that fights off the evil demigod of winter, Tawiscaron.

Kelowna Nordic filled all of those requirements: sunshine (despite the snow report) and three centimetres of new snow. Everyone on the trails had beaming smiles and a cherry “Happy New Year” greeting.

Jan. 1 also fulfills that symbolic “dawn of a new day” and “harbinger of spring” that fought off the record Okanagan cold before Christmas.

And don’t forget about the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions: deciding this is the year to focus on bigger and better outdoor adventures, trying something new and different, and challenging yourself to stay active even when you would rather sleep in and become one with the couch. A year ago, it was the Ski Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen learning how to play picketball in-between downhill and cross-country skiing.

Kelowna Nordic had the following report on its website: “Sunday Jan. 1, 8 a.m. update: -5 C, 3 cm new snow. Overcast. Grooming today from both ends of trail system, most trails will be done. Great conditions for classic and skate, will be an excellent ski day.”

Big White ski resort had similar stats: new snow (24 hours) 5 cms/2 inches; new snow

(7 days) 56 cms/22 inches; Alpine snow base 145 cms/57 inches; current temperature -7 C /19 F; visibility unlimited; skies overcast; winds moderate; lifts open 14; runs open 115.”

Everybody can read that on the website but what does it really mean? How do you interpret those numbers so they have relevance for your skills, your equipment, your clothing, your sustenance.

Big White put ‘new snow’ first because it knows powder hounds come for what locals nickname champagne powder. In other words, the best snow you can imagine: the lightest fluffiest powder that billows up as you effortlessly float down an untracked slope just like your best dreams and that ski movie every fall.

So look at the amount – Big White often broadcasts a powder alert when sending out its daily bulletin. But combine that information with the temperature. If it’s close to 0 C or above, the snow will not be light and fluffy.

Cross-country skiers want to know if there is fresh snow on top of the overnight icing from

yesterday’s mild temperatures which melted the track-setting and made the middle crusty for skate skiing.

If there is no new snow but 56 centimetres during the past seven days, downhillers who check the snow report daily will know if it fell two days ago or seven. Two days ago, you can still find untracked powder in secret places you have discovered. If it’s seven days ago, that fresh snow in the trees will be tracked out and crusty making it much harder to complete sharp turns. Cue the Sheriff’s famous saying: “I taught that tree a lesson my shoulder will never forget.”

The snow accumulation figures dictate which skis to bring: planks for deep powder or parabolic for groomed runs. Or all-mountain in case you find powder.

That temperature and any wind dictate your choice of clothing. The cardinal rule is layer, layer, layer. The colder it is, the more layers you put on. If the temperature drops below -15 C, our limit for skiing, covering every inch of skin on your face will prevent frostbite.

The general rule for cross-country skiers is that you should be cool, but not cold, in the parking lot since you warm up as you hit the trail. For downhillers, remember that any wind going up the Ridge Rocket becomes colder due to the higher speeds of detachable lifts.

The Sheriff could write an entire column on staying warm in cold temperatures from mitts to hand/foot warmers.

Lastly, the colder it is, the greater the need for snacks as cross-country skiers pause on the trail to eat an energy bar, bring hot chocolate for lunch or downhillers bringing energy bars to eat on the lift.

That is just the start of the Ski Sheriff’s introductory discussion on how to read snow reports, and personalize it. Questions? Suggestions? Email the Sheriff.

One more note about Kelowna Nordic’s daily snow report: Logging trucks will be on McCulloch Road from Thursday morning on for one week. If you want to avoid them, use the Summit parking lot on Highway 33 or Kallis Creek parking lot near Big White Road.

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired journalist. Email: