I’m a little amped. Ok, I’m completely stoked. I’m not going to lie. I love winter, I’m that weird guy that hates summer, loves snow and would live in the arctic if it meant never being too hot. I mean it’s easier to warm up than to cool down, and wearing lots of coats, are you kidding me?! I LOVE COATS. Hoodies, beanies… Enough of that… It’s that time of year when the mountains turn from dark brown schist and golden tussock into majestic snow-capped peaks. Winter even makes getting up early great. Alpenglow coating the peaks as the sun rises between them, it’s so still, so cold. We have had a bit of snow, But as the local words go “Snow in may never stays”. Hopefully that will all change this weekend, We have our first winter storm, It looks like a good un. Snow down to near sea level, high winds, all the good stuff. But we wont know how much or how good untill it all clears a few days later. Untill then I’m going to sit at home looking at weather forecasts, studying maps. Planning My Attack.
It’s been nearly a month since I last touched snow. And that last final hurrah of winter seems so out of place now with the 25c days, sunset at 9pm, BBQ for dinner and my garden getting taller and greener by the day.
I guess I stalled writing this post because I didn’t want to admit the season was over, when it felt like it was just getting going.
The last weekend of october is labour weekend here in New Zealand, a long weekend is always cause to celebrate. My 2 months of not working were coming to an end with a predicted return to full time work approaching fast. A southerly outbreak was forecast for the weekend and it seemed winter wanted to go out the way it came in by snowing to low levels in epic fashion. Not as big as that first big snow fall of the season but for late october I’m not going to turn my nose up at it.The trouble was temperatures had already been rising and the snow was already melting in a big way. Fresh snow on top of that usually results in core shots, and lots of them.
The weekend was fantastic, cold, snowing briefly in Queenstown. The cloud would part to reveal the mountains wearing winter white for probably the last time this year. I was getting pretty excited.
Apparently so was everyone else in town. Monday morning dawned as clear, crisp and cold as the middle of winter and we rushed towards to the Remarkables. the drive up was extra sketchy due to the ski area being closed and the roads not being cleared but we made it up passed the halfway marker before needing to fit chains. The first misfortune of the day came when jumping out to fit chains and seeing a rock punctured through my rear wheel. After chucking on the spare tire and fitting chains we were on our way again. Now I’ll say at this point that I don’t have a 4WD or a 4×4 so I never really lost traction but ground clearance can sometimes be an issue with small Japanese station wagons. A few guys that got stuck behind me gave me a push through the worst of it and I parked up just below the bottom of Homeward bound. At least we can skin up I thought. Which was true, and most people only seemed to get the homeward pick up.
The People with the sleds were the smart ones. But we got up fairly quickly. Although it was hard to watch sleds blast past, tracking that fresh before we had even got to the car park. I felt slightly better and slighty sympathetic when one persons sled had broken down at the base.
We pushed up towards Wye Col, hoping to enjoy some nice long runs where ever cover dictated but we foolishly didn’t bring ski crampons, I stupidly had one of those “Hey I don’t need my ice axe it’s a pow day!” moments and the crust below the 2 inches of wind scoured fresh snow towards the top of the col just felt like too much effort. I gave up and rode down as the snow seemed deeper lower down anyway.
I ended up hiking over towards a small plateau in Curvee basin, Site of the new chairlift currently being installed at the Remarkables. I hiked up a bit higher and dropped back down, getting in some nice turns. Second misfortune of the day came when I ollied, albeit very small off a blind rollover. The landing looked like fresh snow but when I tried to put my tail down it slipped out from under me and I fell in a sitting position at speed. I felt a sudden pain in my lower back before I rag dolled over a few times smashing my thighs against something below the fresh white blanket. I don’t know if it was a rock or a chunk of ice, old avalanche debris or what, All I knew is it hurt like hell. I pulled myself back up and rode down a way further to watch my girl ride down.
It hurt like hell but I kept on riding, not being that guy that lets one stack ruin his day. There is a large wind lip feature that forms most winters up there and it looked particularly rideable today so I hiked over to it without my pack to try to slash the top of the lip before dropping into the gully below. The first attempt was a bit miserable on the speed stakes so I decided it was worth a second go before we headed back to the car.
The road was still covered enough so that we could ride it all the way back to the informal trail head, filled with cars, sleds and people celebrating an awesome day up the hill.
I sat down in the boot of my car to take my boots off and realised it hurt like all hell. The drive back down wasn’t very pleasant either. The next day I decided I was in too much pain and went to the hospital to get it checked out and had an X-ray to which I was told I had fractured my Coccyx. A week later that was changed to a sprain but either way I’ve been unable to start working for the last month and have been sitting around, painfully watching the snow melt away.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.
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.