Saturday, September 3, 2011

Backcountry skiing in New Zealand

[Kea hanging out at the parking lot]

Due to the various circumstances of the past year, Stephen and I had not gotten out skiing once this winter. We decided that this could not be and so packed our things one glorious Sunday morning and headed for the mountains. As our finances have changed since buying a house (which most of you are probably familiar with), we decided to do some backcountry skiing and save ourselves some money by not buying lift tickets. Hiking up is much better for your health anyways.

We arrived at Porter's Pass around 10am and unpacked our gear. There were already loads of cars parked in the small pull off at the summit below Foggy Peak. And we could see a large group of trampers trudging up the mountain through the snow. We figured that they were probably here for a course. Another couple of skiers pulled up while we were getting ready and we chatted with them about the route they were going to follow. Then it was back to getting dressed - snowpants, ski boots, PLB, fleece, mitts, toque, sunglasses, and jacket, hmmm, no jacket, it's pretty warm out.

Finally, we were ready and headed for the snow. We strapped on our skis and made to follow the other guys ski tracks. Two steps in I heard swearing behind me, I looked back and saw Stephen messing with his ski skins (strips you stick to the bottom of your skis to only allow you to slide one direction, good for climbing). Both skins had snapped in two. He quickly told me to keep moving and that he would catch up. Feeling that it would be best for me to let him deal with this on his own I trudged my way up the slope. There was a long ways to go and the more time I gave myself for breaks the better.

Stephen didn't take long to catch up. With his skis in his arms he followed the trampers tracks straight up while I twisted back and forth on the ski tracks (there's only so steep one can go with skis on even with skins). Up and up and up. Around spikey spaniards sticking through the snow and over hidden shrubs that would suck you in when you stepped on them. When we reached the first bench, we took a short break to strip down a layer. I was pretty sweaty already and we weren't even halfway up.

At one point we passed the trampers as they stopped for lunch. Stephen going up over the rocky ridge in the sun and my opting to stay low and cross the rather steep, shady bit of slope. Half way across I realized why the other skiers had decided to go over, it was almost sheer ice. I inched my way across the slope slowly and carefully. Thinking how embarrassing it would be to serve as a bad example for the tramping groups lesson plan. But eventually I made it across, with nothing worse than some rather shaky legs. I met Stephen back on top of the ridge and we sat down for some lunch.

After lunch we made the last dash for the summit. I was pleased as punch to have made it to the top and enjoyed the view East towards Christchurch and the ocean. While Stephen took a quick wander over to the other side, I had some tea and put my layers back on. Finally, we were all set. With our skis on we looked down the mountain and planned our route. It looked like there was a beautiful, open slope ready for us to carve down so off we headed.

I was at the top of the slope and about to head into the glorious powder, Stephen was waiting to let me have the first turn on that blank white canvas. I lunged into the turn, jutting my right leg forward and leaning into the hill . . . . but my back foot felt funny. It jiggled. It wiggled. And then, bewildered, I stumbled and watched as my left ski slid, rolled and tumbled down the hill to the bottom of the slope. I collapsed into the snow and howled with laughter. Poor Stephen, thinking I was hurt quickly came down to see if I was alright. He couldn't quite understand how it was funny. But I reassured him that nothing could be more hilarious. He had had to walk up the mountain, it seemed only fair that I walk down it.

So while Stephen gracefully carved his way down the hill, I slid, rolled and tumbled after my ski. We met up at the lonely ski and examined the damage. It didn't look all that bad, the screws that attached the binding to the ski had just come out. Though we figured it would probably be time for some new bindings. So much for saving money by going backcountry skiing. Stephen graciously passed his skis over to me and I took the next section of the mountain by ski, while he, braver than me, attempted to ski one legged. I have to say it was impressive that he could stay up, let alone steer. When I had the broken skis back, the best I could do was slide on them.

We made it back to the parking lot just as the trampers left. Utterly euphoric from the beauty (and adventure) of the day we had spent in the mountains, we packed up our gear, drank the last of the tea and headed for home.

[Packing up the car after a day in the snow - notice the ski second from the left missing its binding]

The next day Stephen found an old pair of telemark skis on Trademe that included a pair of skins. They're in the mail now.

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