Over the past week there has been a storm "the size of Australia" off the West Coast of New Zealand. It dumped enough heavy snow down in Invercargill to collapse the roof of the local sporting complex, it blew hard enough in Wellington to ground airplanes scheduled to leave from the airport and it dumped a whole heap of snow in the mountains. Just when we thought the end of the ski season had arrived.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early and decided we just had to partake in this fresh dump. And we knew the perfect field at which to enjoy it at its fullest - Broken River. Located in the Craigieburn Mountains with a parking lot for about 30 vehicles, Broken River was just hopping that day. We were lucky to arrive early enough to grab one of the last parking spots in a snow bank (despite making it to the edge of Christchurch and having to go back for my wallet and student ID - gotta get that discount). After slipping and sliding into a spot, we threw on our gear and headed for the "Inclinator".
[The jam-packed parking lot - our car is the little silver station wagon in the bottom right corner]
The inclinator is a little cable car used to access the chalets way up the hill towards the tree line. After the 10 minute rumble up the steep rails, you get out onto wooden decking surrounding the ticket house. Here you buy your tickets, grab a nutcracker and head up the stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. There are two lodges tacked to the side of the beech forested hills, with decks and stairs connecting them together.
Finally you emerge from the trees and climb one last set of stairs up the ridge to just below the first lift. Broken River has only nutcrackers. Now if you ever go skiing in New Zealand, nutcrackers are an essential part of the kiwi ski experience. They are at most club fields and are, well, a challenge to learn. You have a harness with a rope coming from the front. At the end of the rope is a hunk of metal in the shape of, you guessed it, a nutcracker. So you stand beside the rope as it's towed up the hill grab onto it with your inside hand, then use your outside hand to quickly flick the nutcracker over the rope and hold onto the handle. This allows the rope to travel through the various pulleys along the tow without crushing your fingers. A good thing really, it's just a challenge to get the nutcracker over the rope before the first pulley eats your hand.
Deep, heavy "powder" covered the mountain. This stuff is unlike any powder I have previously encountered. I'm used to the light, fluffy stuff that can easily be plowed through, not this heavy, wet stuff that constantly wanted to eat my skis. It was soft though, which was a good thing for all the falls we suffered. And the energy required to turn was phenomenal. I felt out of shape after just 2 turns and had to take a break. But the day was beautiful and the snow was plentiful, so there was not much to complain about. Despite the unusual number of falls.
[Resting at the top of the ridge. Behind me is the Cass valley where we tramped and stayed at Hamilton Hut]
After a glorious day of skiing, falling and shaking snow out of our jackets, we sat down at the chalet and enjoyed a beer (well, I had a beer, Stephen had an L&P, being the responsible driver that he is). The sun shone down happily on us and we quietly nursed our bruises and bangs with smiles on our faces. Eventually, we got ourselves together and made our way back down the multitude of stairs and into the car. We stopped at the swimming pool on the way home for a well-deserved soak and tried not to think about having to go back to work the next morning.