Saturday, 24 March 2012

Snow West 2012 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland

by Keith and Heather Nicol
       We had enjoyed dog sledding with Les Skis Doux in Wiltondale earlier in March (see our post dated March 3, 2012) and were keen to head out again with Elaine and her dogs. For Snow West 2012 they had arranged to be at the base of Marble Mountain and this is an ideal place to get a feeling of dog sledding. We joined another family and it was clear that the young boy was so excited to see the dogs and go sledding. Les  Skis Doux will be at Marble Mountain for Sunday, March 25 and perhaps even next week so contact them about this dog sledding sampler. Elaine can be reached at: 709-636-9080 or
Heather mushing the dogs at the base of Marble Mountain
       After a quick lunch at Marble Mountain we headed out to the Blow Me Down Ski Club where they were having half price trail passes and rentals. The Blow Me Down Ski Club is just one of several places offering cross country skiing in the area and it was like a day in mid winter. One minute the sun was out and the next minute it was snowing heavily. We ran into triathlete Scott Ledrew on the trails and he was skate skiing to stay in shape through the winter. We also saw a group of kids having a great time sliding on sleighs and toboggans. Although winter is over for most of Canada, it is still going strong in many places in Western Newfoundland. For more information on other Snow West events check out:

Scott Ledrew heading out on the groomed trails

Sliding at the Blow Me Down Ski Club

Friday, 23 March 2012

Snow West 2012 in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland

by Keith and Heather Nicol

         On Friday, March 23, 2012 we decided to head to the Ocean View Hotel in Rocky Harbour in Gros
Steve Watson with his icy creation
Morne National Park to see executive chef, Steve Watson, do his magic with a block of ice and watch him in the kitchen preparing Newfoundland mussels. This event is part of Snow West 2012 which is running in various locations in Western Newfoundland from March 21-24, 2012. Steve Watson hails from St. John's and has been carving blocks of ice for the last 15 years. He uses an amazing collection of tools and in just 45 minutes he created a fish sculpture out of a 400 lb block of specially prepared ice.

       After that he led us upstairs to the Ocean View Hotel's kitchen where he cooked up a mountain of local scallops. His recipe included beer, garlic, onions, fennel and cream. "The cream really tops it off" said Steve Watson, grinning as he poured in a quart of cream. He then served up heaping bowls of scallops for all of those that turned up for the event.
"The cream really tops it off" Chef Watson told us

After lunch, we watched him create another ice sculpture for a group of school children before heading off to check out the ski trails near the Visitor's Centre. There we went on a fine cross country ski on the freshly groomed trails. For more information on Snow West 2012's events and activities check out the following web page:

Gros Morne National Park has groomed ski trails in Rocky Harbour, NL

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Snowmobiling in the Lewis Hills, Newfoundland

by Keith and Heather Nicol
   We recently had a great snowmobile trip to the Lewis Hills, also known as the "Roof of Newf", since it is the high point of the Island. The main purpose of the trip was to check out the avalanche activity that had recently occurred and to look at how to better map the avalanche hazard in this area. The weather preceding our mid March trip had been warm with rain and then temperatures had dropped below the freezing mark. There had been a few centimeters of snow accumulation on top of this rain crust so riding on the groomed trail leading into the Lewis Hills was ideal. Once in the Lewis Hills we had to be careful of some of the steeper wind swept areas since the icy conditions would have made snowmobiling treacherous.
Secret Bowl had an impressive overhanging cornice and you can see several small avalanches on the lee slopes
      Our group consisted of Cam Campbell (an avalanche mapping expert from B.C.), Rick Wheeler, Mike McCarthy (our guide) and myself. Rick and I had been mapping avalanche locations for several years in various parts of the Long Range Mountains of Western Newfoundland and Cam wanted to show us another way to map avalanche hazard that they are using in B.C.Although Mike McCarthy thought that snow levels were down by 1-2 meters this winter compared to last year, we still saw 8-10 recent avalanches on our tour of the Lewis Hills on this day. All of them were on lee slopes where new snow had been deposited over the slick rain crust and had either slid naturally or had been triggered by snowmobiles. Most of them were small but we saw some larger ones in Rope Cove Canyon and other locations. The Lewis Hills is a fabulous place to snowmobile since it is so varied with lots of nooks and crannies but be aware of steeper slopes when the snow is unstable. If you plan to get into these areas it is suggested that you carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. For more information on avalanches and where they occur check out the following web site for on line maps and videos of avalanches in Newfoundland:
From there you can click on the Hazard Map and then pan or zoom to the area you are interested in. You can turn on various layers like previous avalanche locations, the groomed snowmobile trail network, common backcountry routes etc.
Scenic Rope Cove Canyon with the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the background



Thursday, 8 March 2012

Checking out Marble Zip Tours in Winter

By Keith and Heather Nicol

      What a great afternoon ! The sun was out, the sky was blue and we were going zip lining at Marble Mountain. We met our guides Reg Flynn and Daniel Kean at the Marble Zip Tours (MZT) office (conveniently located at the base of Marble) for the 2 pm tour.  We had enjoyed zip lining with MZT previously but had not experienced their newest zip line which brings you back to the base of Marble Mountain via their longest and fastest zip line yet! We were fitted out with all the safety gear including harnesses and helmet before heading to the staging area above Steady Brook Falls.
The scenery is spectacular in the winter since Steady Brooks Falls is covered in ice and snow
       Marble Zip Tours has developed their zip lines with safety front and centre. Reg told us that each wire cable can support 16,000 lbs and at MZT they use 2 cables! Zip lining involves attaching 2 wheeled trolleys onto both wire cables and then you launch yourself off the platform whizzing through the air supported by the harness fitted to your body. It is a bit unnerving at first since even the smallest zip lines are dozens of feet above the ground but then the real magic happens as you soar over Steady Brook Gorge on progressively longer zip lines. The ground slips away and you are suspended 285 feet above the ground!  MZT lays claim to the highest zip line in Canada! You get a unique perspective on ice caked Steady Brook Falls as you zip right over top of it and the views down the Humber Valley are spectacular.  Marble Zip Tours has been running for four years and has catered to groups from all over the world. Last winter a bride zipped across in her wedding dress to be married on a platform overlooking the Falls!
The view down is just as amazing since this is the highest zip line in Canada!
        The final zip line is 2000 ft long and with a 9% grade is excitingly fast. “In the right conditions people have hit 80 km/hour” Reg told us. The atmosphere of the whole tour is very congenial. We couldn’t recommend it more highly for a fun event offered 7 days of the week all year round. To book your tour phone 1-887-755-5463 or check them out on the web at
The tour ends at the base of Marble with the ski runs in the background

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Try dog sledding in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland

By Keith and Heather Nicol

The dogs are especially photogenic
         Dog sledding was more exercise and more challenging than we originally thought. It was also a whole lot of fun! Elaine Pinard (owner of Les Skis Doux) has been taking people dog sledding for the past 6 winters from her base in Wiltondale at the entrance to Gros Morne National Park. She offers a variety of tours from 1 hour to overnight but we opted for the 1/2 day tour. We arrived at 10:45 am in Wiltondale and Elaine met us with her yellow skidoo to take us 2 kilometers to the staging ground for her operation. There we met her guides Neil and Merel as well as a couple from St. John's who were just as keen as we were to try dog sledding.
The dogs can pull 3 times there own weight!

      After a briefing on how to control the sled and use the brake (very important on the downhills!) we were off along a series of trails through the woods which gradually climbed to Angle Pond. "Be sure to give the dogs a break on the uphills by walking or mushing (using a scootering action)" said Elaine. We saw some snowmobiles to start but after we headed up on Elaine's trails we were alone with just the 3 dog teams. We traversed Angle Pond to Smelt Pond with the Long Range Mountains providing a scenic backdrop to our tour. We then circled back to our lunch spot at the end of Angle Pond, where we had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit, juice and maple syrup dipped snow for dessert. We tried ice fishing for brook trout but had no luck and then all too soon it was time to start our trip back The return was especially challenging since the descent meant that you had to really steer the sled and brake at the right time to stay under control. Easier said than done! Our sled swung wide on a couple of turns and we had to push it back on the trail through the deep soft snow. Back at the staging grounds, Elaine showed us where the dogs live and with 49 separate dog houses it is like a small community in the forest! Dog sledding is an activity for the whole family and they are taking their dogs on the road so that you can sample dog sledding at various events. March 9-11, 2012 they will be in Grand Fall-Windsor for "Mid Winter Bivver" and on March 23-24, 2012 they will be at the base of Marble Mountain for "Snow West 2012". For more information on how to book your dog sledding trip phone: 709-636-9080 or We can't wait to try the Tablelands Tour in April.
The dogs are very friendly and love to be patted

Friday, 2 March 2012

Sampling Ski Touring in the Blow Me Down Mountains

By Keith Nicol
          The Blow me down Mountains are on Corner Brook's door step and are a fine place to explore on a cool, sunny winter day. On a recent trip on Friday, March 2 I saw a couple of snowshoers and but it is also an ideal place for ski touring. I wanted to test some equipment-new Intuition liners for my telemark boots and a new Backcountry Access Avalanche Probe (I was interested in determining the snow depth along the way) so this was a perfect excuse to head into the backcountry. With the spectacular Bay of Islands in the background I followed a broad bench above Blow Me Down Brook through the open forest of pine and fir. It took me just over an hour to ski (I used skins to grip the snow) and get across the brook draining a huge alpine bowl and then after a quick lunch I headed up the slope.
The Bay of Islands are a brilliant backdrop as you ski tour into the mountains

         After ascending for another 20 minutes uphill it was time to rip off the skins and make some telemark turns in the soft powder snow. The snow was easy to turn in and I could hardly believe this amazing setting.  Views were great is all directions, there was good snow and not a soul to be seen. I  put on my skins at the bottom and decided to head higher this time. However, the further up the slope I went the snow was more wind swept and crusty so after taking some pictures I worked my way down to more skiable snow. Snow depths were variable on the slope I skied on - from 80 cm to bare rock in the exposed areas. This area is ideal for exploring on skis or snowshoes and I fully recommend spending some time here on sunny, winter day. Here are the UTM coordinates for anyone wanting to do this trip: park your car at 21 0410023 E 5434985 N (on the South Shore Highway just past the bridge which crosses Blow Me Down Brook) and my highest descent started at 21 0410840 E 5431942 N. There is lots of terrain here to explore and I  plan to be back again before the winter is out.
The bowl behind would offer some great steep skiing when snow stability is good