My final final blog
Seems like I prematurely ended my winter blog season a couple of weeks ago so here’s an extra one for you guys out there wanting an update. The skiing has been above average for this time of year (in New Zealand terms) if you ask me. Typical Spring conditions with overnight freezes have meant the hard pack starts softening around 10am and progresses into corn as the day passes, and in some sunny aspects – glue. Snow can be totally hideous first thing in the morning then turn to total glory skiing in the afternoon.
A few of the ski areas around here have closed now for the season with Porters, Olympus, Dobson and BR still operating. Daylight saving has hit and the days are getting longer – it’s certainly the time of year when the more adventurous skiers break out their skins, transceivers, shovels and probes and start looking beyond the ski area boundaries for some clean lines. That’s one of the awesome advantages of the Craigieburn ski areas, they offer such easy access into the backcountry.
From Mt Olympus you can pop over the back into the Ryton. There are numerous lines off Porters into the backcountry including Crystal Valley which may have its own gondola in a few years time.
From Mt Cheeseman backcountry lines are endless and with the addition of the Hogs Back track which runs along the base of the valleys, it’s a relatively easy hike back to Castle Hill Village or the Cheeseman road.
At Broken River there is easy access into the Avalanche chutes, Hamilton Peak and the Yukon. At Craigieburn Valley you don’t need to hike far to find some gnarly lines in the Remarkables or wide open lines towards North Peak. Exploring the backcountry can be a lot of fun but it requires a certain amount of wisdom and respect. You should always travel with someone, carry the correct equipment (and know how to use it), and get some training so that if anything does go wrong you are in the best position to deal with the problem. You need to have a good knowledge of the snow pack and talk to patrol before you leave. I recommend taking a course. There is a wealth of up-to-date info on the Mountain Safety website www.avalanche.net.nz
Personally, I’ve had some amazing missions with some good friends over the last couple of weeks. I’d have to say the best day was at Craigieburn. A bit of hiking to some long sustained corn runs all day long – exhausting.
It’s hard to believe the season is almost over. I’m up to 57 days so it looks like my goal of 60+ will be realised. Despite the whole roller-coaster weather and snow conditions, overall I’ve had an amazing winter. One thing I do find hard about this time of year (apart from watching the snow disappear) is saying good-bye to all my winter friends. Ski field staff, clubbies and locals become almost like family over the duration of a season – close nit. Romances can even blossom. But as the weather warms up everyone starts talking about what they are doing for summer. Generally, they spread far and wide around the globe. For me, I’ll be staying put in Castle Hill playing with all my mountain-bike friends. We’re developing more single track in the area so if you’re sticking around the area, come out to one of our work parties. You can find more info on www.castlehill.net.nz. Even though the skiing may be coming to an end, there is still lots of fun to be had in these mountains around here.
Have a great summer and might see you out on the tracks.
My Final Blog
The last couple of weeks have been more of the roller-coaster that has been the winter of 2012. After my last blog the snowpack was again drenched by yet another Nor’wester. As the rain poured I have to admit, I had a doom and gloom moment – surely this would bring an end to the season. But no. Even after the saturation some ski areas were still open and even the Grom-fest at Roundhill went ahead. I went up to Broken River to check out the snow status along the Craigieburn Range and although there were a few sticky spots, the skiing was generally great (albeit a bit of a thigh burner).
By the time we had left BR the winds had picked up and the next front was on its way. This time bringing the better type of precipitation – snow!
So it was back up to BR for some powder frenzy. There was a good foot of snow on the cars in the carpark so it was time to break out the snowboard (which really hasn’t had much use this season). The snowboard ended up being a good choice for the day because my legs would never have survived the whole powder day on skis. Last run down Allan’s was particularly fun – the snow bridges across the river created some great features, we could ride to the carpark, and it started dumping again.
The snow continued and set up Big Wednesday to be, quote, “the day of the season” by many. It was pretty epic. I ended up at Porters with a crew and we just slayed Bluff Face. Pure ego powder skiing, total rock-star material. Once the ski areas got trashed the backcountry became more attractive and I had an amazing run into Crystal Valley with Dallis, John and John. I have to admit that Groomer driver John had the pick of the runs.
It was awesome to have a few good days of winter before spring returned and a mandatory attendance at the Oktoberfest.
And the skiing is still fantastic. If yesterday was anything to go by, my recommendation would be to have a leisurely start to the day, enjoy a nice coffee and hit the sunny slopes at around 11am – you should find some great soft spring skiing.
Well this is my last blog for the season. It’s been fun. Hope you still manage to get a few days in before it’s all over, and have an amazing summer.
Haere Ra, Amanda
Cookies and Cream
Well Spring is well and truly here. In fact, I think it’s been here for most of the season. Apart from that early cold storm in June and a couple of other brief cold spells, the winter season has pretty much been spring throughout. But although the temps haven’t been that cool, the skiing hasn’t been that bad, in fact I think it’s been awesome. The conditions may have been variable, but it’s all been skiable.
Even after a couple of significant rainfalls (and a bit of snow) over the last couple of weeks the snow pack has held out amazingly well. There’s been “excellent packed powder to your right” and “superb spring corn to your left”, with a little cookie action in-between, and other days (rain dependant) things have been quite different. The snow has been a little funky at times but there have been plenty of bluebird days to enjoy.
It was only last Friday when this photo was taken over the West Face. A very nice run indeed, perhaps the run of the season for me – a consistent 40 degrees for at least 350 vert.
Magic all the way down, and not a bad boot pack all the way back up – thanks Scottie.
I’m up to day 43 (gloat, don’t tell my husband) and not one of them has been bad. Even yesterday when I thought the snow would be pretty average, I ended up having yet another legendary day in the hills with some great people.
Cheeseman really turned it on. I even had my own personal guide for the morning – groomer driver Chris showed me some great fresh lines. Cream-cheese all day long.
So apart from some great skiing over the last couple of weeks, I also managed to catch up with a few inspirational people.
Grant Guise after his dominting performance at the Canadian Death Race – Grant won. Nice to see his feet survived (even if his toe-nails didn’t).
I also got accosted by the Japanese ski team. These guys come to Porters every year to train. I love Japan so when I saw the opportunity I just had to jump into their team photo. From that point on it was game-on, I was their new best friend. After a weak attempt at speaking Japanese I learnt that the team had two elderly woman aged 81 and 77years training alongside the teenagers. How inspirational. I’d love to think I’ll still be skiing when I’m that age.
And some words of wisdom from Cheeseman – Slow Down on the access roads. Last week a Dunedin Uni Student took a corner too fast and ended up 150 vertical meters down a 45degree pitch. He is lucky to be alive after the vehicle rolled 3 times and he was thrown out. The truck is still down in the bush after a couple of unsuccessful winch attempts.
So yes it’s Spring and although the snow is starting to look a bit past-it in places, a little bit like cookies-and-cream, don’t cry. There is still a lot of good snow out there, and it’s a going to be a long summer so get out there everybody – while you still can.
My birthday wish did come true – it dumped Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights…….the super- sized powder order was definitely delivered. The good times pretty much started with a party – any excuse in Castle Hill. Dress-ups are always a good icebreaker but I have to say I think it may have added more fuel to the already burning flames. From some full-on breakdancing, rave dancing, gymnastic splits and a whole bag of party tricks, my party culminated into a freestyle ‘dance-off’ ’and has restored my faith in middle-aged partying. I had an awesome time and don’t think I was the only one.
Come the morning I’d have to say that some of the party goers were secretly happy that Sunday was not the ultimate bluebird powder day that we would all miss out on. It was drizzling in the village and we could all sleep in. But for those who could handle-the-jandal apparently the skiing was fantastic and although visibility may have been marginal the skiing was, I quote, ‘epic’. It kept snowing Sunday overnight so for Monday I broke out my snowboard and took on the almost 4-chain drive up to Craigieburn with Anna and Scottie.
There was a lot of snow but also limited visibility and a ‘considerable’ amount of avalanche danger so we were kept well in bounds on the field. The snow pack thickened during the day and each run got heavier and harder but it was heaps of fun, a free all-body workout. Limited visibility has become a common term until late, ‘soup’ is another term. Much of the good skiing has been during the storm in a white-out, before the snow becomes wet and heavy. These were typical of the conditions at BR on Tuesday. After more snow on Monday night I had some beautiful, fresh, clean lines up the top of Main Basin and Downhill all day, although this was in a complete white-out. But boarding down Allan’s Basin to the carpark was a different story. As we dropped down in alleviation we gained better visibility. As visibility increased so did the wet sticky snow – glue.
Despite the lack of visibility and heavy snow it was great to be back up at Palmer Lodge, mixing up a brew of powdered milk for the masses. There were a few new visitors who were having their first club field experience, they’d never seen milk mixed up from powder before, never skied a rope-tow, never skied ‘NZ’ powder, never washed their own dishes at a ‘resort’ – they were quite entertaining, and they were super stoked. For one guy mastering the nutcracker was like winning an Olympic medal, he was his own champion.
After two days of hard work in heavy snow I couldn’t believe I’d wake up to another 10-20cms of fresh snow on Wednesday morning. But this snow was different – it was dry and fluffy. There were lots of ‘whoop whooping’ around the valleys and that sound continued throughout the week. There was an increase in avalanche danger but as the week progressed and the weather fined up the snow pack consolidated and became more stable. For the experienced backcountry skier and boarder there were unlimited lines to be had.
By the end of a great week of skiing I took a break and walked up to Kura Tawhiti (Castle Hill rocks) with visiting family. The sun was warm and the tarn was full. There were some spectacular photo opportunities one of which I just have to share.
Over the weekend I got some more fantastic creamy lines down Dome Face at Porters with a crew of local high country folk and then headed to Cheeseman on Sunday for the Canterbury Primary Intermediate Ski Races.
The Canterbury Ski Races are mayhem. Parents and kids for Africa. There is a sense of fever about, particularly as there are medals at stake and as all of the kids have been watching the Olympics, winning a medal became a big deal.
The event ran well and Mt Cheeseman has to be congratulated on fine tuning the logistics of smoothly getting around 250 kids through the gates twice. A big congratulations to all the kids too for their participation and great sportsmanship.
Well it doesn’t appear winter is over. It poured last night (Sunday) here in the village and there is another 5-10cms of fresh along the range. We could be in for yet another week of freshies! Hope you get the opportunity to enjoy them. Haere Ra, Amanda.
Milestones and more
The last couple of weeks have flown by. Again the weather and snow conditions became critical. As the clear weather days passed and as the snow pack became more solid it was becoming more and more obvious that the Range seriously needed some new snow. Temps did remain cold on the shady slopes which meant where the snow guns were blazing the snow was holding, and where it was warm there was corn.
There were still good turns to be had and after a fresh 1-2cms on the 25th of July I headed up to Craigieburn for some good old dust on crust. There may well have been more fresh snow in the carpark than on the field but Craigies still had good coverage and Middle Basin was skiing top-to–bottom nicely and definitely was the run of the day. But it was back to the groomed slopes for me until there was new snow. I had a good day at Porters with Springfield School on the Thursday then headed to Cheeseman on Saturday for the postponed Gromfest. The Swiss instructors put up a ‘gromastic’ dual slalom and the kids had a blast racing alongside each other. There was also a bit of facepainting, a yummy BBQ and prizes for all.
After the weekend it was back to the Moon Man. The Moon Man has his place, and I’m not one to judge but when he’s predicting snow, I’m on his side. As it was, the end of July (as predicted by the MM) actually did result in a salvaging storm. In good old NZ style it rained, it snowed, it froze, it snowed.
There were freshies everywhere, you just couldn’t see them. Every day I could, I headed up to Porters just to check out the storm. Each day I thought I’d be having a coffee and driving back home, but not one of those days I did. Visibility was definitely an issue but it’s amazing how much terrain you can access from the top of T-1. Traversing over to Lower Bluff accessed freshies after freshies, you just had to pick the moments of clarity amongst the blinding white-out.
Once the cloud did disappear (4 days later) it was game-on along the range. Fresh tracks for everyone.
Even days after the snowfall there were still some great lines up at Craigieburn. For a 20min hike you could still be rewarded with untracked lines. Broken River also looked awesome, even from the road – great coverage over Main and Allan’s Basin.
There’ve been quite a few other highlights over the last couple of weeks including a few milestones – young guys nailing 360’s for the first time, old guys hucking the ‘massive one’, a 10 year wedding anniversary, kegs been almost drunk dry at the BR Freeheel Fest, the Olympics, and most impressively fellow villager Grant Guise winning the Canadian Death Race, congrats Grant.
There’s another massive milestone coming up for me on Monday. This year I’ve put in a super- sized order for pow. It’s snowing up in the hills as I write and forecast to continue snowing on and off for the rest of the week so it’s quite possible I may get the birthday present I’m asking for. I’ll let you know how I get on…………
The Grim the Glory and the Gromfest
My early predictions of a heavy snow season were literally washed away by a nasty Nor’Wester early last week. It absolutely poured down on the West Coast, across the Main Divide and over the Eastern Ranges. The Buller Gorge was completely flooded, Westport was cut off due to slips, as was SH73 to Arthurs Pass. All that lovely snow we were skiing over the school holidays was running down the rivers and out to sea. Once the rain clouds cleared the scene was dismal. The word ‘grim’ was to be echoed throughout the ranges as some ski fields closed, and others waited for a freeze so they could start moving snow onto tow lines. But you can look at the glass half empty or half full. You can despair at how much snow was lost, or you can get out and enjoy the snow that’s there. When I woke to a bluebird morning and apparent ‘dusting’ on Tuesday last week, despite the lack of snow I decided it would be better to be up in the mountains than not. I called around a few locals but most were cynical about the conditions and no one was keen on skiing. So after a leisurely morning in the village I headed up to Porters alone intending on a very quick recce. I ended up skiing until the last possible moment, the skiing was that good.
I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with some snow in the carpark, and not many cars. T1 had frozen solid but the upper mountain had some wind-blown fresh and the firm pack was just softening into spring corn. T3 and Julian’s Bowl were still well covered and looking over to Mt Olympus things didn’t look completely grim.
I ended up skiing with some of the staff and Craig from Oxford and the consensus of the skiing conditions was unanimous – ‘magic’. It was one out of the bag that no one had expected. As the day went on the sun continued to soften the snow and the skiing just got better and better. Unfortunately Big Mama was closed because of access but Craig and I were lucky enough to join the Patrol on their inspection of the conditions. Yes access was thin but the snow on the face was fast and fun rain-groomed corn – smooth speedy skiing.
The following few days were the same and I was determined to get as much glory out of the grim as I could. On Wednesday I skied with my good friend Alison Marsh and we agreed to meet again on Thursday because the snow was so nice. Yes, Corduroy was back in fashion – the groomies were skiing fast, very fast – Head of Porters Ski School, Dan, clocked himself at 95km/hr on T3! Off-piste wasn’t too shabby either once the sun did its softening thing.
Thursday ended up being a bit of a ladies day, something we dub as ‘The Mid-Week Mothers Ski Club’. The ladies of the day included Alison, Anna Keeling, Suzy Tapper, Kim Sykes, Claire Newell (from BR) and Ildica Boyd. Springfield School came up in the afternoon and while the kids were off in their lesson, the Mamas were skiing the Big Mama (chaperoned by Patroller Matt Ftiz).
It got quite cold over the weekend but that didn’t stop the Grommets having an awesome time at the Dynastar Gromfest up at Porters. Saturday was the Big Mountain Workshop and on Sunday there was a Slalom and Park Jam.
The Porters crew, Stu and Ryan put on a great event with yummy BBQ and prizes for everyone. The turn-out was great and the kids had a blast.
So the snowpack has had held out and apparently the Moon Man has predicted 15 snow cycles from the end of July through to October. In fact it’s snowing up the tops as I write – the Moon Man could be right this time. If Monday’s forecast from Metvuw is anything to go on, we could be in for a decent dumping next week……….
Well, have a great rest of the week. I’ll be up at Mt Cheeseman for the next Gromfest this weekend, but my pick for today is Craigieburn, I’ll let you know how it is in my next blog.
Haere Ra, Amanda
The last couple of weeks have been pretty much perfect school holiday conditions. Dry packed powder over the whole range with softening snow on the northern aspects in the afternoon and a nice big fat high sitting over most of the country bringing bright blue skies and no wind.
BR and Mt Cheeseman have had amazing dry snow with sun all day. Porters has had low temps at times so they’ve been able to make extra snow and all their big runs have been skiing nicely. Broken River and Craigieburn Valley kicked off the school holidays with some awesome powder. Mt Olympus is well covered, and Temple Basin Lodge has pretty much been booked out with kids and families. It’s great to see families spreading themselves around the range and beyond, many are new first time Chillers, which is awesome.
Being a parent myself, I have had first-hand experience of the joys of school holiday skiing, and all the levels of it. I’ve been one of those Mum’s who hangs out on the baby tow, teaching my kids pizza and fries. I’ve watched my kids snake behind their ski instructor on the intermediate slopes. I’ve taken photos of my groms hitting the jumps in the parks, and yes I’ve even managed to be one of the dots, accompanied by smaller dots, making my way down the black diamond slopes.
But one thing I’ve found about school holiday skiing is that it’s not just about skiing – it’s about skiing with your family and mates. I love skiing with my kids, and at times I think they like skiing with me, but over the years my kids have formed some really good relationships with their fellow grommet skiers and now they have their own mates to ski with too.
Well not much of the week is left but fun family times are not over. This weekend Mt Cheeseman hosts the first of the Dynastar CHILL GromFests. The competition is a dual slalom with heaps of great prizes for all age groups 6-13 years. The following weekend Porters will host the second GromFest – a Big Mountain / Slopestyle comp. Plenty of family fun times left and I know from being a mum that kids love the chance to compete in a fun event that brings all the kids together, and of course they love the prizes too.
Amanda Power reporting from Castle Hill…………
Everyone has their own predictions about what sort of winter we get; the Moon Man, NIWA, the Metservice long range forecast, my mother, some guy at the pub, me, myself and I. I’d have to say though, so far the best weather prediction this season has come from a local farmer Stu. In April he told me this: when summer gives farmers a great growing season and there is extra stockpile of feed, a harsh winter follows. Stu has a great supply of stockpile feed.
Soon after considering the wisdom of farmer Stu I set off down Porters Pass to fill every gas bottle, diesel can, petrol can and shopping bag I owned. It was a trip well timed because on the 6 of June the weather gods came together and quietly proceeded to dump copious amounts of goodness upon us. At dawn in Castle Hill Village there was around 20cm. By the end of the day we had at least 1 metre. The snow during that storm had to be some of the driest I’ve experienced in NZ. With temperatures below minus 15, our main roads, power and phone were cut were off for days – awesome!
The following day went bluebird, what a start to the season.
Porters opened a good two weeks after the mammoth fall and I must admit I was a pleasantly surprised with how the snow pack had held out. Packed powder run after run on Leaper. Nobody was complaining. It was far from disappointing. Disappointment is obviously not on the menu this season. Another storm was brewing! Saturday night poured with rain, then switched to southerly silence, which means only one thing – snow! We woke to freshies on our truck and 10-20cm of dry and fluffy stuff up at Porters. Porters did a great job of getting operational on Sunday quick smart. Bluff, Leaper and loads of other fresh untracked lines all day for everyone. The wind came up in the afternoon spin-drifting the snow back onto the south faces, more fresh tracks! It was an epic first powder day for the season. For most it wasn’t a matter of how many runs you could get in, it was a matter of how long your legs could last.
So I’ve just refilled my gas bottles, and got the groceries, and yes, another southerly system has just rolled through. I’m sure farmer Stu is pleased he’s got that stockpile of feed – he’s going to need it.