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

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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.

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!

Old and the New

Two days ago i sold the first split board i owned. A 2011/2012 K2 Panoramic 168 i bought during the 2011 winter season. A hell of a lot of money to drop on something I wasn’t sure if i was going to enjoy. Skiing uphill, People enjoy that? I had been XC skiing before and enjoyed it, but this seemed like hard work.

The first day out

A huge “southerly outbreak” as the metservice refers to it, had left a hell of a lot of snow all around Queenstown, and even more up in the Remarkables. A quicker than usual climb had me standing on the summit of a peak above the Remarkables ski area, Known on maps as Pt 2035 or locally as Centurion. An awesome ride down on some creamy fresh snow. It wasn’t the last time i used the panoramic.

However it wasn’t all that i wanted, and now, 2 years later i turned my attention to finding something a bit more directional, a bit less freestyle, because in part I’ve accepted that I’m just some average Joe snowboarder who is never going to be throwing huge spins in the back country, but also because i LOVE shiny new gear.

Rossignol XV Magtek Split 167cm

Rossignol XV Magtek Split 167cm

The first serious snowfall of the season was just 3 days ago but today it is raining at most altitudes. I cant wait to take this out for a test ride.