Early Season Snow Hunt

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By Mark Bridgwater, Images Mark Bridgwater.

Many try to speculate about upcoming seasons, some get it right, some get it wrong, yet nearly always there’s a positive outlook.

Personally, I like to adopt the ‘if it snows, get out there and enjoy it’ principle. There are always going to be let-downs and pleasant surprises with this approach, but you never know unless you get out there and try. Our super-early-season touring mission up to Mt Potts is a perfect example of this ‘get after it’ attitude.

After a few fun and productive location scouting tramps, motivation was high and only increasing after a few beer-fuelled season plans. Our storm senses were put into action a few weeks ahead of time, when self-proclaimed weather psychic, Charlie Lyons, predicted some decent snow coming our way towards the end of the first week in June. This snow was to land on some already scattered snow accumulation in the Canterbury Ranges, so we were eager to put a mission together.  


Maps were scoured, crews assembled, calls made, favours asked, and plans laid. We were to head to the HeliPark NZ terrain around Mt Potts for a day of adventure and touring (formerly Erewhon Park Ski Field… Erewhon said to be ‘nowhere’ in reverse - we’ll excuse the w and h for the sake of a good story).  To sample some pretty early conditions, we would basically be driving into the middle of nowhere, with skis, scroggin, and camera gear… My idea of a great day!  


Saturday the June 6th, 2015 was our day, 6am our leaving time. After a short stop in Methven to assemble, we headed out past the Mt Somers Road and Lake Clearwater, into the Rangitata Valley. The mountains got more and more stunning as the sun rose, lighting up the Two Thumbs Range. Sleepy heads were making way for excitement amongst the group; myself, Charlie Lyons, Simon Reeves, Ryan Taylor, Aaron Ghattas, Wayne Holmes, Sam Townshend and Scott Sheldon.  


Having Scottie in the crew was the key, literally - he knows the farmer in charge of Mt Potts Station; giving us access to the farm road and eliminating about 4km and 700m of vertical walking. Some had motorbikes to get to the snowline, the rest of us took my trusty Hilux up the steep and rugged farm road to the farm boundary. With a sketchy quite-a-few-point turn, we parked up, unloaded our gear and made our way up the rest of the road on foot. As we reached the snow line, tramping boots were stashed under rocks and replaced with ski boots, before we donned the skins and touring mode to get up to skiable slopes.  


We all convened at the first plateau around 1700m, where an old, lonesome long drop stood clad in fresh snow. The rest of the tour up was in the morning sun and beautifully light, fluffy snow. A couple of shots were snagged by Charlie and I, as temptation broke from time to time on the ascent. This gave Scottie and Wayne enough time to reach the ridgeline and swoop in under wings, for their first speed flying run of the winter. Scottie came in first, followed closely by his eager dog, Brown. Wayne was next up and followed the plan of getting nice and close to me for the shot… Perhaps a little too literally; missing me by well under a metre!  


Aaron and Ryan were predictably not hanging around for photos and were likely at the summit of Mt Arthur (2149m) by that stage. Charlie caught up with Simmo on the ridgeline, while I packed up and headed up to join them. As I popped out into the sun-soaked ridgeline, I was greeted with a beautiful view towards the Main Divide, above the majestic braids of the Clyde River. A clear line where snow met scree echoed on all the surrounding peaks… It felt great to be out in the mountains again, sliding around on the cold, white stuff that gives us so much joy!  


We obliged the terrain and view by bagging a couple of shots with the Clyde and surrounding peaks as backdrop, while Charlie and Simmo put turns down the much more low-tide NNE aspect, in full sun. We followed that up with a picturesque lunch spot at the peak of Mt Arthur, before enjoying the almost 500 vertical metres of cold smoke. I couldn’t help but get another couple of sneaky shots of the boys enjoying these turns from above, before diving into some amazing, shin-deep snow myself.  


Smiles, laughs and high-fives were shared back at the plateau, as the rest of our group dribbled in from their last turns. We all headed back down the road, rock-dodging with power wedge turns and tired legs. But they got us back to our tramping boots, where the feeling of slipping back into a looser, slightly more padded and significantly less hot and sweaty set of boots was all the more satisfying after earning what we’d just skied.


We made the long walk to the truck with stories flying… Eventually making it back down to Mt Potts Lodge, where more stories were shared with the locals around the log burner, over some highly anticipated cold beers and deep-fried food.


While some did multiple runs throughout the day, exploring the varied terrain on offer, Charlie, Simmo and I got a few quality turns and a handful of great shots which left us more eager than ever to ‘get after’ the snow that season. We’d proven to ourselves that a little hard work in some out-of-the-way spots can really pay off - a lesson that marked the 2015 season for us. 

Early Season Snow Hunt