It would appear to be spring. I love spring. Its warm enough to BBQ and cold enough I can still snowboard. Freak southerly outbreaks are almost assured as soon as lambs start to be born, stable weather that lasts for weeks not days. I love winter too, but spring is my favourite season. Continue reading
The internet, and Facebook are a bit of a funny thing. The level of connection between people in different parts of the world, different time zones amazes me. I love being able to keep in touch with what people I meet on ski seasons are doing, in most cases knowing we probably wont ever meet again but that contact is always there.
I often also seem to keep in contact with people I haven’t ever met before over forums and the like. I was fortunate that one such person thought of me recently when Kyle Miller was looking for a place to crash in Queenstown.
I would have previously said I was lucky, but as Kyle might say its fortune that I happened to have just quit my job and then someone who is as interested in splitboarding around this snow-covered isle turns up out of no where.
Perhaps all those nights scanning over Hillmap and topographic maps dreaming about the “What if I could get in there?” will become “How the hell do I get in here?”
Last time i wrote was about how warm it was, that didn’t really change much for all of July. Apparently it was the 4th warmest July on record for New Zealand. Corn turns in July was common and i wasn’t quite ready for it. Luckily i was busy working for most the month.
However its gotten cold and started snowing again, not much but some is better than none. The ski hills all stated around 10cm, the perfect amount to cover up all those rocks, tussocks and exposed patches of ice. I went into a local ski shops workshop on monday night to pick up some parts and they were busy fixing a whole heap of core shots.
Myself and my lady made it up to the Remarkables and it all looked a bit grim. A crusty skin up to the ridge line revealed that the grass was greener (pow was whiter?) on the other side. Deep wind drifted snow, still dry and prime for the shredding!
We played it safe with our terrain choice today, mixed conditions sadly claimed a life the previous day so ever cautious we rode a small gentle rolling valley that was easy to lap but still fun!
Its been warm. Too Warm. 14 degrees in Queenstown and a steady stream of northerly winds have created wet heavy snow conditions in the back country. Crappy conditions combined with a stressful new job have seen splitboarding opportunities diminish.
I made it up to the Remarkables ski area for an attempt to ride wye creek but the wet heavy snow was a bit soul sucking. Snow sticking to skins and ride time so slow it wasn’t even worth the effort. Should have waxed!
Myself and my partner made it to the ridgeline only to be buffeted by strong winds and a shitty time changing over and a general retreat to the inside.
Hopefully we see some cold temps and fresh snow in the not so distant future.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.