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

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!