Sunday, October 21, 2012

Skiing in New Zealand

In a frantic attempt to do something fun this weekend, I thought about heading up to Arthur's Pass to do some "tramping" (i.e. hiking). It turns out a lot of the tracks (i.e. hikes, paths) up there are still rather avalanche prone, so I decided otherwise.

While conversing with a guy working in a bike/ski/climb store, he starting talking about the few remaining ski clubs still open. October is really, really late in the season for New Zealand - think mid-April for North America. However, there have been a couple recent heavy snow dumps, so there was still a 2-meter snow base in some places, including a place this guy mentioned called Broken River. He suggested I do a "mission" up there* to hike up to the base.

I started reading the website when I got home and discovered there's still plenty of skiing to be done there. By the time I decided skiing was a possibility it was about 3:00pm on Saturday. Somehow, through some stroke of luck, I emailed a ski rental place, that happened to have a guy working, and happened to be open until 6pm... long story short, I ended up skiing this weekend!
New Zealand ski clubs are different.

Small ski clubs are different in New Zealand than in other parts of the world. For one, there are no chair lifts; they use rope tows that require the use of "nutcrackers". I'll note that I just happened to have gloves, pants and a shell for skiing since I had packed my mountain gear. I also had my harness, which I learned I should bring to use the rope tows more easily. I even lent a spare carabiner I had to a man and his little boy for the boy to be towed up. As someone I met there described it, "there's a do-it-yourself attitude to skiing in New Zealand," and I have to agree. Want to go jump off some rock outcrop? Go ahead! There's a different attitude to personal responsibility here, and I like it.

I was even encouraged to ski down to one of the bowls way out north, which I was assured reached the car park at the bottom (way, way down - about 500m). "It'll be a great end to the day" as well as pretty convenient since I was staying the night at the lodge just a tram's ride away from the car park. As it turns out the snow has melted at the bottom so skiing right to the car park isn't really an option any more, so I had to hike down a little ways to the bottom of the tram - no easy task in ski boots. However, it made for about the greatest spring ski run of my life.

I experienced more in one day than I can believe. The snow in New Zealand is apparently heavy anyway, and in spring it is downright cement-like. I had stop mid-run several times, and it wasn't a terribly large bowl I was skiing in most of the time. There were dozens of Kea hanging around, which is pretty common, but novel to a foreign skier like me. Lucky for me the staff decided to do some night skiing, which is basically just keeping one of the tows open and having a party at the lodge, complete with a bon fire and lots of beer. The whole experience was just surreal.
Kea, just hangin' out on the cornice.

I had to forego skiing on Monday, since the tows were closed until the evening due to gale-force winds (~80-100km/hour) and heavy snow causing low visibility; plus said snow was beginning to accumulate on the steep dirt road that led to the car park, and I didn't have chains (a big no-no around here) so I had to make a quick exit. Who cares, I went skiing when I thought the ski season was over.

*I've heard people use the term "mission" a couple times, and I can only guess the rough equivalent is "trip", "quest," "adventure," or if it's a really a big deal, perhaps an "epic". I'm still trying to figure it out exactly.

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