Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 7-10: Avo Days

More from the road... Avalanches, warm temps, and not a frost on the car, what is up with winter?!

We hit Mt Cheeseman on Friday the 14th August, which is now the memorable "avo" day... Cheesy was great. Self loading T-Bars was something new. Good viz, the snow was soft all over, and the place is a lot of fun. We loved our first "cheesy" experience. At the end of our day we were removing our chains at middle hut (on the road) when the roadie yelled out "LOOK" and we spun around in time to see an off piste skier triggered avalanche break away and pass over the two zig-zagged sections of the road we had just driven on!!! To see the brunt of the fall hit the road and soar into the air before carrying on down the face was quite something, and we were rather relieved to have passed by just moments before. Talking to the cafe staff the next day they said it took about and hour and a half to clear the road before they could come down. (No camera handy as it happened, so I just have a sketchy 'after' pic)

self loading T-bar @ Mt Cheeseman

Avalanche across the rd at Cheeseman

Back at the lodge in Springfield we were telling our new Australian friends about it, and they some exciting stories too. One of the guys spent the day at Porters where Big Mama had shed her snow dress, and at Craigeburn two other guys had their day cut short when the face below the Remarkables gave way to gravel. Then, flicking on the news that night, we hear someone lost their life in an avalanche near Methven. Sad news indeed.

Conditions the next two days were warm and moist underfoot, and most nearby fields were closed. We spent the Saturday and the Sunday riding back at Cheeseman and Porters. Our 2nd day at Cheeseman was cut short due to the warm moist conditions and patrol not wanting to risk another slide for a second day in a row. Riding was already restricted on Cockayne Face and Ridge Tow, where we had ridden on Friday. And our "fill in" day at Porters on Sunday ended up being our best day at Porters yet. Sunny skies, spring snow (in winter), and weekend party atmosphere with music blasting from the bottom of T1.

Cockayne closed on our second day at Cheesy

3 slides on Big Mama (Porters)

We'd booked 2x nights at CV, so were hoping riding was on for the Monday before we headed south. Sunday night is kind of an orientation night at Craigeburn, where we got introduced to the staff and they talked about their roles and a bit about the field. The question on everyone's lips was would it open tomorrow? Another large avalanche had self released in Middle Basin while they were closed on the weekend, but patrollers Irene, Larry, and Iwao were keen to get up early and check it all out and hopefully open at least for us lodge guests. We learned that even if they didn't open, they would issue us with tickets so all were accounted for should anything happen.

Craigeburn - access tow and slide below the Remarkables

avo's in Middle basin

Whew, Monday was on... kinda. We tracked in at the ticket office, and informed staff if we were wearing transievers or not. (we weren't, gulp) Riding was restricted to close by the top two tows only. Closer inspection of the avo in middle basin by patrol revealed it was actually a grade 3, rather sizable. Nutcracker riding went without incident - CV is frontside for me on all 3 tows, so that was great! The sun was beating down most of the day, and we realised too late that we had forgotten to apply sunscreen with all the nutcracker and avalanche nervousness.The goggle tan was now set. To descend we had to carefully make our way down on the acess tow line only. It was extremely soft down here on this day, and we were happy to track back in to the ticket office and have our named checked off the mountain. At dinner that night we were told of more avalanches nearby, of particular note was one at Broken River that day in the Allen's basin which thankfully the skier rode out/away from. More guests had arrived to stay and again the question was would riding be on.

back country avo risk was deemed considerable!

....For us it was a no to that question. We'll be back to CV one day but Tuesday was the start of our tiki tour south, more new fields to explore, and the physical comforting thought of being back in the land of the chairlift, ye haa. Oh and a PS on the nutcrackers... we discovered that different people all have different ideas and tips and ways of teaching. But the best advice I have is for us snowboarders and that's to try and keep your gloves as dry as possible... That darn rope got more and more slippery as the day went by.

me on the middle tow @ Craigeburn

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 3 - Porters

Day 3! and 3rd day riding

It was an exciting start to the day. 1st day on the Chill Pass. The group of Australian lads we met last night at our lodge were leaving... we scurried round packing the car... got used to getting ready round each other in our small room... visited Chill HQ at Ned's Cafe for our first great morning coffee... and we were off! Porters today, to get our T Bar legs on.

View from Ned's Cafe, Chill HQ

Not really knowing how far away everything is, it was a drive filled to the brim with anticipation. We're not used to expansive vistas of hills and mountains covered in snow. Beautiful! Heading over Porters Pass, there were still small snow patches on the hills in the shade from the last low snowfall. Porters Pass road hugs the side of the hill winding it's way to the summit 940m and then opens out, running briefly alongside Lake Lyndon. "It's very Lord-of-the-Rings" we said.

Finally, the sign for Porters Ski area came into view and we were there! The road was snow and ice free, till we got to the top and parked on an ever so slight angle... on ice. Feeling nervous we reversed back a little bit, at the same time some guys next to us lept into their ute as it was starting to skid forward, and they too reparked back a bit, while all our hearts fluttered a little.

Booting up, I discovered that my snowboarding jacket was still at Springfield Holiday Lodge!! Well I could have worn my fleece I was wearing or hired a jacket... but my chill pass was in that jacket. Grrrr. It was not quite 930am, but realising that Springfield was not too far away, the roads were ok, and it was a weekday so not too many people would be here, we decided to head BACK and get my jacket and pass. At first I couldn't see it in our small room cos it was draped over the end of the bunk and kinda behind the curtain. There would be a super thorough gear check before leaving from now on!! Back at the capark at Porters, the same roady parked us. Hope he didn't recognise us from before...

We "tracked in" at 11-ish. First tracking in on the Chill Pass! Woop Woop. And the first day of T-Bar's for the whole of winter... We rode all 3 T's right to the top. It was very windy up there. Following the cat track along the top was tricky in the wind as we were getting blown backwards. There were great views over the back to Lake Coleridge despite the low hugging cloud. So we were heading to McNulty's Basin on this cat track, the wind was blowing stones into our path and it was very firm. Heading down the cat track was an interesting game of dodging stones and staying on the cat track in somewhat flat light. Suddenly were were out of catrack, hmmm. T2 loading zone was right there, so we just traversed over and down a bit. Sounds easy, but it was firm and lumpy and iced over, so the old legs were getting bumped about and a getting a total hammering.


Up T3 again to the top, and this time we stayed on the blue run right next to the T. There was nice patches of wind blown from the wind blowing over the top, but it was a quick run and then back on the T again. Each time I got slower and slower. The T legs were getting a quick intro for the season! There was no other way up but to persevere, we'd be riding nutcrackers before too long, so we stuck at it and let the legs regain their T bar memory. Before lunch we tried something different, and rode down Julian's Bowl to get to the bottom. This was firm and lumpy too! Nothing to it but to reward ourselves with a mulled wine with lunch. Lots of Kea's here. Cheeky Kea's, entertaining birds.

And.... back into it. All 3 T's to the top. Little rest, and then the quick T3 runs through the windblown patches. Flat light much of the day, but we knew the bits we liked and stuck to it. Had our eye on Big Mama, but it was closed. There was still time, maybe another day... Tried that Julian's Bowl again, but sill hurt and hard to see in flat light -we finally called the day at 3pm. We like Porters, the lifties and the vibe on the slopes was nice, met quite a few Australians today too!

top of T3

We really needed food. Things were going to get expensive buying meals all the time, and we headed straight to Darfield to stock up for the next week. For our "apres" we tried out the Springfield Pub. There was an old woman in there with sunglasses on and interesting teeth who looked like she'd been there forever, and there were some younger people who looked like they worked at Porters. It wasn't exactly humming... Maybe cos it was a Monday, or people headed straight back to Christchurch or Methven instead. Who knows.

Back at the lodge we met our new (Australian) lodge-mates. Gabe/Phil/Rick... they didn't know each other, and they were on a "tour". The whole outfit sounded dodgy, and they had interesting time of it so far. (Stories for another day.) Rick was the youngest and had a hire car to himself and we offered that he could carpool with us tomorrow if he wanted.

Looking at the weather report, things are looking worse. After 2x sunny days, and 1x ok day it's closing in tomorrow. It would be nice to get as much riding in as we can. Porters is the closest, and could be the go for a "one run wonder" if the weather closes in. We're anxious to get into the nutcrackers and get them mastered, but the weather may foil things for the next few days. Don't mind a day off as long as we get fresh snow???

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 2 - Mount Hutt and Springfield

day 2! and 2nd day riding

WORST SLEEP EVER. Now I am thankful we went to sleep so early, cos at least I got a few hours in. I was aware of the band, but expected the noise, and lived with it... but the real party seemed to start somewhere about 3am when it was all over downstairs and all on out on the street below. At some point a guy was on the balcony outside my window and right by my head - and just as I was sleeping again (I think) - he yells at the top of his lungs "WHAT THE F*** ARE YOU DOING HERE?!" Now I know it wasn't aimed at me, but I was dying to say "what do you think I am doing? I AM F***ING SLEEPING YOU MORON". Then there was all the loud conversations 2 doors down and the knock on our door at 4 or 4.30... sleeping in didn't happen at all! Don't get me wrong, nice pub, nice food, simple but cosy rooms, recently done up bathroom, but best not to stay on a weekend if you intend to sleep? We should have known better.

the view from our room

Rant over. We packed up and went to a café for breakfast at 9am. Methven seems quiet compared to Ohakune at a similar time of day. I guess we are used to the constant stream on traffic up the only mountain road, it just wasn't the same here. Even the ski/board shops were quiet. We weren't even sure if the mountain we were looking at was the one we were about to ride on, there's so many to choose from with the alps right there. But the mountain shaped street lamps and park benches are just like home in Ohakune!

Heading up the mountain road the drive was more familiar this time. There was a bit more time to take some more photo's while we killed the hours. I was particulary fascinated with the wind clouds. Hoped it was gonna be ok up there. As we waited for the morning to tick over we went souvenir shopping, purchased some lunch, and looked at some cute dogs playing in the snow. It's a bit of a novelty as Ruapehu is in a National Park and dogs up the mountain is a big NO NO. I guess it's accepted at Hutt?

our car on the road up

worrying wind clouds out over the plains

We rode the Towers Triple Chair, all the way at the bottom, before the afternoon shadow started its journey over the field. Then with our friends from up north we hit our favourite run combo of the day up top several times, which was something like Fascination/Hubers/Johnny Doles/Broadway. Not sure, it's all new! There was a bit of a cool wind across the tops, and some snow swirling round, but not too bad and the sun/vis was perfect.

punters on the pack, in the wind, near top of 6

Top of the 6

Today's aprés of choice was a mulled wine, and a steaming hot strong brew at that! On the way down we stopped by some unusual snow fences for pictures saying goodbye to our time at Mt Hutt. At the bottom of the road there was Mr Whippy (icecream truck) PLUS a fundraising bbq. As we still hadn't gone shopping for supplies, a sausage wrapped in bread was going to be dinner for the night as we drove onward to our home for the next 7 days in Springfield. (Yes, just like the Simpsons, and they even have a doughnut sculpture) The second half of our dinner ended up being chips and dip from the general store. Yum.

healthy dinner

Well, we checked into our tiny little room, but managed to stack and poke stuff in such a way that would could live in each others faces for the next while. The bonus is a TV and DVD player in our room, so it was just perfect to lie in bed and watch telly, getting excited about the days ahead. We had done 2 out of 2 riding, and tomorrow will be the first on the Chill Pass. Porters ski area, and time to get the T bar legs on.

home for the week - little eh?!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Day 1 - Mount Hutt and Methven

Last night I packed and squished as much as I could into my snowboard coffin. Who knew how cold it was going to be down there, and how long I would need to make my clothes last, ie how many times I'd need to recycle a thermal or two. Ewwww. I thought I managed to keep the weight down too, but @ 26kg it was over the 25kg weight limit on Air NZ and I had to repack and move things into my hand baggage twice at 8am at the airport to comply. Perhaps those coffins aren't such a great idea when you can only have 25kg per piece on Air NZ...no exceptions.

CHCH Airport, our luggage but not our car

We arrived at Christchurch after a rather beautiful flight. The skies were clear over the North Island and you could clearly see all the familiar volcanoes. Bye Bye Ruapehu, we'll be back soon.

Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu

Organising the car seemed to take an age, but it was only an hour, and by 11.30am we were in our trusty hired Subaru station-wagon en route to Methven. The pub where we were staying wasn't hard to find at all, it's blue and called the "Blue Pub". The first bag explosion occured to find the snowboarding gear, all checked in, some beer supplies purchased and back on the road at 1.30, to be on the slopes by 2. Whew. We have 15 potential riding days, so we made it our mission to make tracks at Mt Hutt as soon as we possibly could!

The Blue Pub, and Methven's street lamps just like 'Kune!

It was the first of many unfamiliar mountain roads we were to drive on and WOW! While it is rather wide for most of the trip up, it sure was rough and bumpy! As we went up people were starting to come down. We thought maybe it was cos it wasn't that great up there, but turns out that the runs were being swallowed by the fast encroaching afternoon shadow. (Riding on the western slopes of Ruapehu, you forget that we get all that afternoon light.) The snow was actually rather nice today. We got warned by some helpful Australians "watch out for that ice". I couldn't see any blue anywhere, it seemed to be rather firm snow, and we could slice through it sweet as. It tricked us on our first warm up run on the Quad tho, as we came across bald white patches we thought it was going to be slick ice for sure. People don't know what ice is down here!

Top of the Summit 6, view of the road and the plains

We met some friends from up north who were in Christchurch for the weekend at the same time, doing runs off the Summit 6 and exploring the place, finishing off with an aprés in the shade at the café. Another bumpy ride back down the road, and I stupidly managed to delete all of the first days photo's hitting the wrong button while bouncing around in the car. DORK. Thank goodness I had a travel buddy on this trip so I could share her pics.

empty Hutt, a cool beer in the shade

We met our friends back at the pub, and as we hadn't yet been shopping for any supplies we treated ourselves to a feast of lamb shanks and other fine pub fare. After feeling earlier in the day that Methven hardly felt like a ski town, now the opposite was true. It seemed like the whole of CHCH had slid off the mountains and into the bar. Ahhh this was more like it. The sweet swish of snow pants and loud hubub of post snowtime chatter. We got talking with some locals next to us and explained that us 2 girls were about to embark on a tour of the clubbies. They raved about the area, but also said that more snow was needed as it had been a while since any freshies and things needed topping up.

By 8 we were all tucked up in bed at the pub. The band downstairs didn't start till later. We'd had a relatively early start to the day, and knew there were many more days ahead, and a rest up was needed. The next day we had hoped to hit our first field on the Chill Pass (Porters was the aim) however we are pleasantly surprised with the current conditions at Mt Hutt, so have decided to meet our friends there again. We'll do a half day again, as we didn't plan on paying for lots of day passes. So a big sleep in tomorrow hopefully!

our room

Friday, August 7, 2009

Licenced to Chill

The northern girl heads south to chill out, literally....

Soon I'll be en route to Christchurch to start the long awaited "Club Field Tour". (I see in the Winter 09 issue of the NZskier mag they have dubbed it "the Hot Tub tour" - hmmm, maybe we need to rethink this plan...)

It all started way back in Spring 08. The epic long season that sadly had to come to an end on the slopes of Turoa in the middle of SNOvember. It felt like we'd only just hit the beach when the Chill Crew announced a Christmas deal on the all mountain Chill Pass, so we dove straight in!

To date my only other trip to the southern fields was in Winter 08. We got fresh powder night riding at Coronet peak straight off the plane, 12 of us based in a huge house in QT for an awesome week at the local fields, plus a day trip up to the most beautiful Ohau. It seemed right to go back - but we wanted to see more and the Chill Pass was a perfect fit.

It's gonna be quite a journey. Two girls, a skier and a snowboarder, and we're about to master nutcrackers. The learning curve is gonna be steep, the scenery (and the snow) is going to be awesome, and I am really looking forward to visiting new places and meeting new people along the way.

Nutcracker and Harness - let the fun begin!

More Chill info here...

I'll post if/where I can, so stay tuned. Chonnie.