2 Years worth waiting

In 2011 after I purchased my first splitboard (See here) I decided I should build on my basic skills for backcountry travel and I partook in a New Zealand Mountain Safety Council course about backcountry travel. Probably one of the better decisions I’ve ever made as it really boosted my confidence about getting out there after I was caught in a large avalanche while snowboarding in the backcountry near Lech am Arlberg in Austria.

The course was taught by the head of ski patrol from the Remarkables Ski area and took place in the Wye creek and Doolans areas behind the ski area. The first day out in wye creek i spotted it, Looming above us from our lunch spot. Motivation if I ever saw it.

The Couloir at the end of the south face of Single cone in 2011

The Couloir at the end of the south face of Single cone in 2011

I got home and a photo of it became the wallpaper on my computer. Motivation to get out there and ride it. For various reasons last year wasn’t to be the year.

After seeing it in prime condition earlier this week, I had to get out there and ride it. Everything lined up and saturday was to be the day.

My usual BC buddy Todd had seen a photo of it i put on Facebook and was keen to get involved. After a late start we were skinning up the South Wye col above Lake Alta towards single cone. Saturday was busy in the back country. A lonely snowboarder post holed away above us and when we reached the col, 3 skiers entered from the valley below. The thought crossed My mind, But I brushed it off. Upon reaching the plateau below Single cone we skinned over to where I thought we could ride down to gain entrance. Skier tracks in a similar direction, Again I brushed it off. We changed over and rode down some fantastic deep dry snow in fun, gully style terrain with banks to slash and rocks to pop off, the only negative was the chunks of water ice that had blown onto the surface of the snow in places from near by rocks.

My thoughts to stay high on the ridge were terrible and after a bit of billy goating we had found it. And the skiers tracks were straight into it! Oh well. Its still gonna be fun. I wanted to check the pack as I like to be cautious about these things. A 15cm surface layer broke from 5 taps from the elbow on the isolated column. I wasnt too worried. Todd got to be guinea pig and drop in first as i snapped a few photos from the top. The light had gone flat at this stage and we both rode it rather cautiously. Bits of breakable crust sloughed behind but it wasn’t enough to be an issue, Just an annoyance in the flat light.

The one line had taken a bit longer than we had anticipated but it was a fun day out and I got to tick something off the bucket list thats been on there for a long time!

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Wye Not?

I was pretty tired getting home on sunday after the low altitude fun, so tired that i walked in to the house and left all my gear in the car. Not cool. An overnight low of -4°C left my wet gloves with surface hoar. So monday was a day off. Ive been trying to make the most of my current unemployment which unfortunately ends tomorrow. So something had to be done!

I decided late morning that i needed to go slide somewhere nice and mellow as I was to be on my own. Luckily behind the Remarkables ski area is a nice area called Wye Valley, its a glaciers equivalent to writing “I WOZ HERE ’93” in your desk at school. Undulating slopes, dotted with tarns with steep arêtes rising up on 3 sides, glacial horns fashioned from classic otago schist. A bit easier on the eyes than a scratched name on an old wooden desk!

After a quick skin to the col above the Alta chairlift it became apparent that it was very windy, and a lot of snow was transporting leaving patches of soft wind blown snow, etched snow, exposed melt freeze crusts. I ummed and ahhed for a minute or two whilst getting scoured by the blasting southerly winds before I decided to give it a whirl. A big +1 for the magnetraction on my new board! The snow was at least fast on the descent into the valley, I crossed over a large plateau and into the nice long natural halfpipe which leads down to the tarns, the head of Wye Creek. I snapped a few pictures of a couloir I spotted a few seasons back, it was bare when I first laid eyes on it but this time it was just asking to be ridden. Maybe when the Avalanche risk drops!

Looming above this couloir was the mighty Single cone, hidden behind its sibling Double cone when viewing the eastern face of the Remarkables from Queenstown but forming one side of the impressive Grande Couloir above Lake Alta in the Rastus Burn. It has a rather impressive southface, 300 odd metres of near vertical rock.

The couloir and Single cone

The couloir and Single cone

I fixed my crampons for the skin out in the blowing winds, skirting around tarns and climbing back up towards the col i decided to have a look over another small col with views into the Doolans. The Doolans is the 3rd major catchment at the northern end of the remarkables and home to some long and very fun runs. I was greeted by some of the best coverage ive seen since i started backcountry snowboarding a few seasons ago.

Looking across the Doolans to unnamed peak 2008.

Looking across the Doolans to unnamed peak 2008.

After reaching the col and being battered by the winds, I changed over into ride mode and descended back into the ski area via Curvee Basin for the best snow and best turns of the day, I could have stayed in the sidecountry and ridden a few laps down Curvee Basin but was glad i made the effort to tour around wye creek. It was nice to spend a few hours in complete isolation away from anyone, or anything.

Adventure in Garston

Garston doesn’t usually spring to mind if you mention snowboarding. Its probably more off the radar than whatever the latest international destination is. But when a massive polar outbreak covers half of the south island in 30cm or more of snow it makes for adventure!

We probably could have found a better spot to go, we could have had a nice alpine start, who cares, no crowds, fresh lines, 5km of skinning, sounds ideal!

Todd and I met up in at the Garston Hotel, cruised up the nevis road after chucking on some chains and promptly dug out a car park. The farmer crusing up the road in his tractor was a little baffled, “you arent gonna try drive up there are ya?” Hell no! Just as well, as the drifts were metres deep in places.

Entrance to the nevis road

Entrance to the nevis road

There was a lot of skinning, and breaking trail was hard work. After about 2km the farmer arrived with his tractor again, “Should have stuck around, would have given ya a lift” Bugger! An attempt to short cut out of some of the long traversing sections of the road found us wallowing in deep snow, some terrible skiing later and we were back battling the skin track. Luckily it was a nice flat road. By the time we had gotten about 4km up the road the sun had turned the top 1-2inches of the snow into slush and wet skins werent working so well anymore. We stopped at about 900m and changed over. Sadly the sun affected NE facing slopes werent steep enough to get enough speed up and after about 300-400m down hill we headed back to the road. It wasnt the most exciting riding ive ever done but 6km down hill on a winding cat track style run is still fun! The lower sections of the road ended up being the most fun, dodging cattle and using the compacted snow in the tractor tracks to gain speed for some fun slashes and ollies into the untracked snow.

A very snow Southland

A very snowy Southland

Here comes the snow…

Its been about two weeks since i last went splitboarding.

Terrible I know, A large number of factors attributed to this, I’m a great procrastinator is one of them. One of the largest snow storms this country has seen in a while is another. I also had a little bit of man flu, weak I know!

Its been quite a storm for some parts of the country, most parts besides here in Queenstown. A change from the usual, this storm came in from the eastern quarter putting us out of its reach somewhat. It seemed as if everywhere around us got heavy snow and we escaped! Well at least down here in suburbia anyway, at altitude there was plenty of it.

During the past few weeks I also bought my other half a splitboard from the lovely folks at Firstlight Snowboards. Finding a womens specific splitboard (or even a smaller mens) proved quite difficult, I suppose most girls that snowboard arent exactly that stoked on climbing for hours up hill to slide down it for a few minutes.

As the storm encroached and airports and highways and nearly every accessible route into Queenstown was systematically shut down we wondered if the board would arrive intime for us to go ride on her days off. Thankfully we had a knock on the door from DHL on friday afternoon!

Saturday morning and everything wasnt looking too exciting. It was actually snowing in town after two days of promised snow showers, low cloud was everywhere and the visibility seemed terrible. Excitement prevailed and after some snow chain fitting we were up the 13km of dirt road to the Remarkables ski area. Due to the relatively high snow line in New Zealand, access is usually the biggest issue, and ski areas usually provide the easiest access. Thankfully most are public lands and designated as recreation reserves so uphill traffic is allowed.

High avalanche risk, bad light, snow and a newcomer to the sport meant we wouldnt be riding anything very exciting. On leaving the ski area boundary we met a friendly telemark skier who asked if he could tag along.

My lovely other half leaves the ski area behind

My lovely other half leaves the ski area behind

As i was trying to be a good teacher on the way up, it was actually rather eventful as the variable conditions meant that we came across a lot of tell tale signs for avalanches on steeper slopes. Wumphing, stiff snow, crust, wind slab was all encountered on the way up.

Change over time! Wye Dome and Double Cone in the background

Change over time! Wye Dome and Double Cone in the background

One quick ride down on some very nice cold dry powder, a little wind affected but 15-20cm deep in places, a quick change over and we were on our way up. Our telemarker got offered a ride home and quickly made a beeline for the car park. as we made our way up we decided to eat and then dig a pit just to have a look at what was going on beneath our feet.

Pretending i know what im doing

Pretending i know what im doing

Snow was a little lean where we dug which wasnt too bad as i didnt really feel like digging a massive hole. The layers were still all there and it was pretty obvious that things would move. Luckily the snow that fell before my previous trip has consolidated well albiet with a bit of a rain crust on top now.

The vis cleared up a bit and we had one last run down, this time back into the ski area and to the car and then off to the hot pools for a nice long soak. Best of all i know have a new buddy to go riding with who is just as excited as i am!

Day 2

The weekend saw plenty of rain. My driveway was replaced by a river. Luckily however, at altitude this meant plenty of snow. Plenty is a bit of an understatement.

The norm here in Queenstown is that Coronet Peak opens first, usually first in the southern hemisphere (Although El Colorado in Chile have taken that title this year) because of a large snow making system. The storm left coronet for dead at one point but everyone was surprised to see it extremely white on Monday morning, which just happened to be a public holiday so the place was tracked out in mere hours. Coronet peak’s higher,gnarlier sibling, The Remarkables was spared this mass early season powder day.

I woke up late, had a leisurely breakfast and drove up expecting to be left with tracked out crud. It was a glorious bluebird day today and very cold temps over night meant that the snow was keeping nice and dry.

Did I mention I had the place to myself?

2 cars and a skidoo pulled up while i was putting my boots on but went another direction to me. I was feeling pretty fast skinning today until i ventured away from the skidoo tracks and snow making of the ski hill.

Snow drifts. The “wind packed powder” is a staple of skiing here in NZ and it was everywhere. I was wallowing pretty bad, breaking my own trail in what would have been thigh deep snow had I not been on my split. My original planned zone for the day was wind swept so i looked to a small out crop below Wye dome. Mellow enough to be safe riding by myself but still fun enough.

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Wye Dome 2050m to the Left Double Cone 2319m at Center

After the hard slog to the top I changed to ride mode and dropped into a wide, wind loaded slope dotted with schist outcrops. The snow was a little sun affected on top but mostly dry and very fun to ride but a little be strange as I’m still getting back into riding and trying to get used to the new board. As I neared the bottom a few cheers rang out and I noticed a large group of snowboarders walking towards me. It just so happened to be the guys who film Diaries downunder.
I watched them huck a few tricks for a while before setting a new track up near my previous line, It was stupidly hard but got up quick enough besides an embarrassing fall whilst trying to do a kick turn. Second run was a little better but I was a bit tired and hit a small patch of rocks which slowed me down a bit.

First 2 runs of the day

First 2 runs of the day

A quick lunch and watching the guys do some amazing tricks (double back flips anyone?) I got my A into G and ascended up my now nicely packed out skin track. I was filled with energy after lunch but after noticing the impact of the sun on the snow due to the slopes north facing aspect I decided higher was better.

Wye col East

Wye col East

Wye Col East (or north) is a gateway to some fantastic touring. Its usually my main access for getting out into either the Wye Valley or into the Doolans Catchment. Its also a fun ride and fairly easy to set a skin track up. Its also around 2000m high and almost always windy! I took a few happy snaps at the top and changed over. A little bit more energetic I was really amped for the long ride down. I think I did better than I had expected. Suddenly the new board felt great. REALLY great. turns were easy and the ride was super responsive. I was getting pretty stoked with every turn whilst always looking out for sharks teeth lurking below the surface. I missed most of the rocks and had one of the better runs of the last 12 months.

Skin track and my swiggles!

Skin track and my swiggles!

It Begins…

The trouble with having new gear is simple. You buy it, it sits in eye view. You want to use it, NOW. Sadly the trouble with early winter is that their isn’t always enough snow on the ground. And new bases and New Zealands infamous shark teeth dont really go hand in hand.

Yesterday morning it rained. A lot. It stopped about 11. My new splitboard stared at me from the couch. Screw it, lets check the webcams. Success!

Blue sky above coronet peak. A few who had time off earlier in the week after the storm had told me conditions at coronet were pretty average, fresh mixed with man made. 9 inch breakable crust made its way into conversations. Sounds shit. Good thing about rain is it makes all these inconsistencies a little bit more soft.

The car was packed, i was on my way. It was still raining, only lightly. After ignoring the bewildered stares of tourists in the carpark i was on my way. Holy shit am i unfit. The climb to the same altitude as the beginners lift was riddled with stops for breath. The good news? Skinning on my new board was so much nicer. its hard to tell what the difference is, New skins, new board, the only thing remaining from my old setup was my Volie light rail bindings.

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Brow Peak 1454m

A Quick change over and a few snaps and i was on my way down. It was soft, but variable, Fast natural snow, very slow man made. Did i mention i was unfit? More of a hanging on for life than a nice run. The board handled well, better than expected actually. Small drops were nice to land, it had nice pop, turned a lot quicker than expected of a 167cm.

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The elusive splitboard in its natural environment

This weekend sees a large system track in, And sunshine on Wednesday my day off. Until then ill be watching these.Image