The following is the third part of my Great Winter Roadtrip series. I’ve decided to write these as a complete chronicle of my ski season, like an online road diary. I’m gonna include nearly everything I remember at the time of writing, publish it, and leave serious editing for later. If that turns this blog into an exhausting ramble then so be it – at least I’ll have something to remind myself of what I got up to in the winter of 2009. If you find it an interesting read, great. If not, too bad – go check out TV Tropes or something.
Whilst I’d gotten a couple of sneaky ski-touring days in May and June, July heralded the start of the season proper. Ski fields started to open their gates and run their tows, and I managed to get in a few day-trips to Porters and Broken River. However, the bulk of my time was spent on food runs to Temple Basin.
The Temple Basin food run usually involves waking up at dawn and driving the Temple truck to Trents for a supermarket shop (usually taking several hours and requiring several large supermarket trolleys of food). Afterwards, I head to Growers Direct to pick up more groceries, then drive two hours up to the Basin, usually arriving around sunset. I then spend the next hour or two sending the food up to the lodge in the goodslift, then commence the hour-long walk up to the field by the light of my head-torch (or if I’m lucky, the moon). Whilst the food run (usually Thursday) is a long hard day’s work, you get all your volunteer work out of the way in one go, and get to spend the next few days skiing without having to worry about more chores. It’s a pretty good gig.
As I had heaps of TB work tickets saved up and was prepared to do regular food runs and help out around the field where required, the TB manager allowed me to stay on the hill as long as I liked with free food and accommodation. As a result, I increasingly spent the majority of my time at the Basin to the exclusion of other fields.
Day #3 – Porters – 1st July 2009
* Weather: beautiful blue skies, no wind, subzero temperatures.
* Snow conditions: 10cm of fresh dry snow on a rock hard base layer. Rock patches off-piste (especially at the bottom of Big Mama), and a couple of patches towards the upper mountain, but nothing you can’t dodge easily if you’re paying attention. The snow guns at Porters have been given free reign over the T1 slopes due to cold temps recently, so the lower mountain is well coated on-piste.
* Comments: Popped my Porters cherry! A good fun day. Went up with a couple of guys from Snowpool. Helped out a couple of French tourist girls with their chains at the bottom of the hill, and was rewarded with a coffee at the end of the day
Saw a sign at the top of T3 saying ‘Caution Rocks’. I like that, I reckon they should put up another sign saying ‘Being Careful Kicks Ass’.
Day #4 – Porters – 9th July 2009
* Weather: Bluebird – basically the same as last time but a little warmer.
* Snow conditions: Recent snow storms earlier in the week, but most of it had been tracked out by now. Still a few rock patches off-piste, but slightly fewer than last time.
* Comments: Another sweet bluebird day! This time with George, Lucy, DMC and his sister. First proper day on my new Volkl Gotamas (which were brilliant), and with my new poles.
Day #5 – Temple Basin – 12th July 2009
* Weather: Sky was cloudy with occasional sunshine poking through, winds increasing from weak at the valley floor to strong at the mountain tops, temperature was subzero for most of the day.
* Snow conditions: The snow is suboptimal, but still plenty of fun. There is a soft weak layer about a foot deep but the top of it has been fried by the sun since early last week and is fairly crusty and hard. It is barely breakable by skis but boots and poles will break through easily, which makes both skiing and walking a little more difficult. All three tows have long since been tracked out and are in various stages of bumpy crud formation, but with many patches of windblown pow. There are still plenty of sizeable rocks across the field, especially the two lower tows, but they are not difficult to avoid for the most part. Everything is open as far as I can tell, including Upper Bill’s Basin.
* Comments: Did the food run on Saturday with George, we brought up at least a ton of fresh supplies in the Temple truck and didn’t reach the lodge until after 10pm. On Sunday we hit the slopes. Downhill claimed one of my poles when I landed on it and bent it in half – if I keep up this rate of ski pole destruction at Temple Basin I better start making my own. I started off skiing very badly, and my crapness plateau’d when I broke my pole then briefly lost a ski shortly before lunch. In the afternoon I hit Temple tow for a few hours and gradually got my confidence and skill back, and started really enjoying the challenging conditions. Had one bail in the afternoon but I managed to roll on my back then back on my feet and keep skiing, awesome. Hopefully my improvement in cruddy conditions continues!
Day #6 – Broken River – 15th July 2009
* Weather: Occasional cloud at ski-field altitude, leading to bouts of low-visibility and flat light. Light winds.
*Snow conditions: Sun-affected pow with a crusty surface, mostly tracked out. Less rocks than Temple Basin, but still a few hiding in wait for unwary skiers.
* Comments: Headed up with Sam and Poncho. Bumped into Ryan up the hill. I am slowly improving in my crud-skiing abilities. A pretty good day, I am tired now.
Day #7 – Temple Basin – 23rd July 2009
Night skiing on Temple Tow with a bunch of pro skiers and snowboarders who were doing a photo shoot! Fresh snow on the ground, still clear skies, stoked.
Day #8 – Temple Basin – 24th July 2009
I did a few runs in the morning before heading back to Christchurch after being snowed in for a day. The sloppy gloop from the previous day had frozen to crunchy ice, and because we had tracked it out last night it was full of chunks and ice boulders – kinda like riding over light avalanche debris. There was 5cm of fresh dry snow that fell overnight (which hasn’t been recorded on the snow report because 30cm on the 23rd looks better than 5cm on the 24th), but on Temple Tow it didn’t do much to improve the conditions because the icy chunks were too big.
As a result I did a couple of weak runs, then chucked it in and headed down the mountain.
Day #9 – Temple Basin – 31st July 2009
The snow conditions were horrible sloppy gloop due to a dumping of snow/rain/sleet over the last day. Riding Temple tow required no speed checks on the bottom half of the run in order to make it back to the tow shed. Because the snow was so slow (and not helped by my skis’ lack of a recent wax), I decided to inject a little excitement by straightlining Temple tow. The first attempt was fun – I took a lazy line down the most forgiving parts of the run and made it down in one piece. For my second attempt, I decided to go a little braver, and literally drop a straight line down the middle of the run, effectively plummeting down the steepest part of the run. I made it down the first two-thirds alright (albeit at a hair-raising speed), but ended up coming across a small (and normally sweet) rock-drop at a speed that allowed no time for correction nor room for error. I tried to stick the landing, lost a ski, and tomahawked for at least ten metres, leaving my skis well behind me. It was a funny bail, but I ended up hurting my neck, requiring painkillers to make it through the next couple of days.