If first you don’t succeed…

The fitter and more confident I get the more I start to look further afield from the ski area backbowls, off into areas I can’t see from the ridges around my usual haunts.

Daylight savings rolls around in the last week of september in New Zealand and with the changing of seasons means more daylight hours, more time to explore. As winter days are short and I’m usually fairly slow, travelling 3-5km away from the ski hill isn’t the smartest of ideas and I try to be pretty cautious.

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Odds & Sodds

I’ve done a few day missions recently which I’ll throw up here.

First is a trip out to the Pisa Range in between Wanaka and Queenstown which over looks the town of Cromwell too. It’s mostly flat, rolling terrain at a decent altitude which is mostly famous for Snowfarm, New Zealand’s only real cross-country skiing area and of course the Mighty SnowParkNZ (RIP). The range was named by J.T Thomson after the schist outcrops on the summits resemblance to the italian leaning tower.

Of course it’s not all flat and rolling and the end overlooking Cromwell is any thing but!
We spent the night at Kirtle Burn Hut and set off for the highest point of the range, Mt Pisa. The eastern edge of the range is a series of cirques with small vertical but varied terrain. The normal west to east flow of winds means the area gets huge amounts of blown snow.

Rolling terrain at sunset

Rolling terrain at sunset

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Spring

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

Return of the pow pow

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.

My lady gets involved

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.

Skinning up for another lap

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!

Small rock drop

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!

Shit eating grins all round!

Warm…

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.

Looks ok, sadly cameras dont capture winds.

Looks ok, sadly cameras dont capture winds.

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.