Timing is everything. Take last weekend’s Making Tracks column, which was written on Thursday. Long-awaited snow was beginning to fall in the Okanagan, boosting the snowbase at several downhill resorts and especially at cross-country ski areas.

By Friday when the column was being laid out by editors, there was 15 centimetres of new light powder at Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club. And by Saturday when The Okanagan Weekend was distributed, Kelowna Nordic had 29 centimetres of new snow. That’s how fast the situation can change.

That dump immediately fulfilled the dreams of downhill skiers and boarders for deep powder during the Christmas-New Year’s holidays. It’s also the dream of resort owners and their dedicated staff who talk about Okanagan champagne powder and hope that it’s true during the busiest time of the season.

However, it can also be a challenge for cross-country grooming crews who struggle to keep up while the snow falls on the already-groomed and track-set trails.

On Sunday, as the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen headed to Kelowna Nordic with friends, president Ryland Garton posted this on the website: –5 C, 14 cm new snow. Grooming today but with the new dump, it will be only good for classic as we have had 29 cm in the last two days. Have to plow the car parks again.”

Some of our group skied the entire green Log Cabin Loop while others, including the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen, did the blue Riverside Trail back to the main cabin on McCulloch Road.

We usually ski Riverside in the other direction, heading for the Upper Meadow Cabin for lunch, so it was a reminder that if you ever get bored — doing the same trail in the same direction — to switch it up.

If you haven’t done that, you will be pleasantly surprised. With the change in perspective, it’s like skiing a brand-new trail.

We returned to Kelowna Nordic on Thursday when there was a skiff of new snow on all the groomed trails. Violet was preferred wax for a good glide, but the liquid wax applied the night before worked as well. We had a chance to check out the new cabin on Backcountry Connector and enjoyed lunch after lighting the wood stove.

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Only a small number of “brave souls” tested — but not literally — the frigid waters of Okanagan Lake in kayaks for the annual New Year’s Day Paddle by members of the Kelowna Canoe and Kayak Club.

“The weather was a little more overcast than anticipated, but not too cold, maybe about –2 C,” said Morag Stevenson, KCKC vice-president. “There was a little breeze when we paddled out of Okanagan Centre Safe Harbour and headed south, but not too windy. Paddled about 80 minutes in all, a little more than six kilometres. Did we enjoy it? Of course we did? Start the year as you mean to go on. We earned our lunch.”

About 25 members including the Sheriff showed up at her Lake Country home for lunch. So who were the smart ones?

The overcast skies were in sharp contrast to New Year’s Eve when Morag and her husband Drew Stevenson completed their last paddle of 2018. “Beautiful Hogmanay day on Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake,” she said, posting three photos on their Facebook page.

Kelowna Canoe and Kayak Club memberships for 2019 will be available soon with a slight raise in fees, said president Sue Harrhy. The early-bird yearly fee will be $25 and after March (exact date to follow) it will be $30.

This year, general membership meetings will start on Feb. 12. The topic will be Paddle Leaders when the executive goes over expectations, ideas, guidelines, etc.

“We would like all paddlers to have demonstrated a wet exit before they join us on any of the paddles. The pool sessions will be a great opportunity for new paddles or experts to practice wet exits. These sessions will be held in March. Details and registration will be available closer to the date. Wednesday paddles will start April 10,” she said.

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From the valley lakes to the valley hillsides.

On Dec. 28, Harvey Abraham of Kelowna was hiking along a trail below Kuiper’s Peak just east of the failed Kelowna Mountain development when he came across an individual sitting on a log and looking through his binoculars.

“We asked him if he saw anything interesting and he pointed out four elk, which were too far away to see without binoculars. The elk were foraging on a ridge just east of the Kelowna Mountain suspension bridge. I used the zoom on my camera to be able to see them. It is always more exciting to view wildlife such as elk in their natural habitat,” said Abraham.

And he forwarded enhanced photos to the Sheriff.

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Sticking to the hillside theme, Todd Ganie and a buddy were riding in gladed terrain near the Paradise Run at Big White Ski Resort on Sunday when the buddy fell into a tree well. They both had a good laugh about it, Ganie took a photo and pulled his buddy out. The lesson: thanks to the help of a ski partner, no one was hurt.

With more than 60 centimetres of snow falling during the past week and more in the forecast, these snow traps become increasingly deceptive and dangerous.

“Tree wells are one of the most dangerous potential hazards out there,” said Kris Hawryluik, head of Big White’s ski patrol. “Always ski or ride with a buddy, and remain in visual contact with each other. If that fails, stop and call out.”

More tips and tricks on how to deal with tree wells are posted at deepsnowsafety.org, he said.

For those not familiar with the terminology, a tree well is a hole or depression that forms around the base of a coniferous tree like a pine. The holes are formed when low branches stop the snow from compacting and settling around the trunk. The hole is hidden from view by the other branches on the tree. There is no easy way to identify if a particular tree has a dangerous tree well since the low-lying branches block your view of the hole.

“Therefore, treat any tree that you cannot see the base of as a potentially dangerous tree well situation,” said Hawryluik.

Quoting from deepsnowsafety.org:

“The easiest way to avoid tree wells is to avoid tree well areas. Stick to marked groomed runs. If you must venture into ungroomed terrain:

• Ride or ski with a partner and keep your partner in sight at all times.

• Ski or ride in control.

• Give tree wells a wide berth. Look at the open spaces between trees, not at the trees.

• Skiers should remove ski pole straps.

• In dense tree areas or in poor visibility, ski or ride short pitches and stop to regroup often.

• Carry safety equipment including, but not limited to: a cellphone with the resort ski patrol number (Big White 250-491-6160); transceiver/beacon, Avalung (designed to help significantly extend your fresh air supply in the event of a burial and allow you to breathe fresh air directly from the snowpack while diverting CO2 away), whistle, shovel, avalanche probe and Recco (a two-part system consisting of a detector used by organized rescue groups and reflectors which are embedded in outwear, helmets, boots and other gear).”

If you fall into a tree well:

• Yell or use a whistle to get your partner’s attention.

• Do whatever you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If possible, keep your feet below the level of your head.

• If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway. Resist the urge to struggle.

• Trust your partner is on their way.

• If possible, use your cellphone to call ski patrol. Save this number before you go out riding.

What to do if your partner falls into a tree well:

• More than half of all snow immersion suffocation (SIS) victims were with partners who did not see them go down. If you lose contact with your partner, assume that person needs help. Many victims died while their partners were waiting at the bottom of a lift.

• Don’t leave to get help. Stay with your partner.

• Call for additional resources. Use a whistle or yell for assistance. If possible, call ski patrol or the resort’s emergency phone number.

• Evaluate scene safety for yourself (so there aren’t two people who need help).

• Go directly for the airway and keep it clear. Be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Clear any snow from the airway and continue necessary first-aid or extrication effort.

• Do not try to pull the victim out the way that person fell in. Instead, determine where the head is and tunnel in from the side.

• When tunnelling for the airway, be careful not to knock more snow into the hole.”

“If we all follow these rules, we can all have a safe and enjoyable winter season,” said Hawryluik.

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The winter provides a new opportunity to discover regional parks in the Central Okanagan though Wild Walks. Participants should dress for the conditions, and bring poles and anti-slip/traction device.

A park interpreter will point out the natural features of various regional parks to turn an ordinary walk in the park into something extraordinary. Each outing lasts approximately 90 minutes, is suitable for all ages, including families with young children, and ranges from an easy to moderate fitness level.

There is no cost to take part, but those interested should pre-register for Wild Walks on the following dates and locations:

• Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. and Jan 16 at 1 p.m.: Mill Creek Regional Park which recently opened after undergoing repairs from the 2017 flooding; set out from the Spencer Road entrance in the Ellison area northeast of Kelowna International Airport.

• Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. and Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.: a tour of the 1.8-kilometre trail in KLO Creek Regional Park which connects Scenic Canyon Regional Park with Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park in southeast Kelowna; tour starts in the parking area located off McCulloch Road (past Field Road and near the bridge over KLO Creek).

To save a spot for your family on these free outings, drop in to the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan, email eeco@cord.bc.ca or phone 250-469-6140.

These free events are held in conjunction with the Community Recreational Initiatives Society (CRIS) to provide barrier-free access to regional parks. To request the services of CRIS volunteers, go to: adaptiveadventures.ca.

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Birds of prey will soon take over the EECO.

Jan. 22-27 is your last week to take in the Social Life of Water in the Okanagan exhibit at the Environmental Education Centre for the Okanagan. It wraps up its run at 3 p.m. on Jan. 27.

The EECO in Mission Creek Regional Park (Springfield and Durnin roads in Kelowna) will be closed Jan. 28 through Feb. 7 as staff install the new exhibit.

At 10 a.m. on Feb. 8, the doors will open once again with the Birds of Prey on display. This is a celebration of nature featuring the eagles, falcons, hawks and owls of B.C.

The EECO is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, visit regionaldistrict.com/parksevents.

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired reporter and an avid outdoors enthusiast. Email: jp.squire@telus.net.

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