Monday, August 19, 2013

Ski Goddess updates her credentials

Yes I have been skiing a bit. Not exactly updating the blog very often. I apologise, but it took a while to edit the Tasman video and I didn't really want to get the datelines confused by publishing other posts in the meantime. So here I am in Wanaka, skiing Treble Cone 5-6 days a week, hanging out with new and old friends and just chilling.

aah yes, the glorious view from TC

I arrived in the second week of the NZ school holidays. There had been no new snow for 2 weeks, it was the warmest July on record, and the conditions were spring like. This means very firm first thing, softening to corn by mid morning and progressing to slush by mid afternoon. But good grooming of the snow can keep it in good condition for at least the first half of the day, making for some very enjoyable turns en piste, but brutal conditions in the rough.

By Tuesday I'd hit the wall and decided to give the mountain a miss for the rest of the week. Standing in half hour long lift queues to brave skiing one or two groomed runs alongside some very out of control holiday skiers lost its appeal pretty quickly, and the goddess gave up in disgust and went home. At this stage still driving the Nissan Sunny and negotiating the deep muddy ruts on the drive up and down the hill. No chains needed now!

The week following the July school holidays is traditionally the quietest week on the hill, so the goddess returned, via friends and strangers who gave me lifts, to enjoy some wonderful mornings of skiing en piste. Each time we'd venture off piste to see if it had softened enough we'd be poorly disappointed. All we could do was enjoy the corduroy and unpeopled runs and pray for new snow. No such luck.

With little chance of new snow on the horizon I decided to book in for a week of Sofa Ski School. I've been doing these ski courses for a couple of years now, and the intensive small group lessons are directed at those who really want to improve their technique and performance. With before and after videos to remind you not only how far you've come, but how far you've still got to go. It can be quite demoralising to see yourself skiing and realise you aren't quite the goddess you envisaged!! For a little laugh at my expense, here's some footage of me from 2012!

Luckily, this wee goddess had a few breakthroughs this year. The main breakthrough occurred last year, when I managed to overcome my incapacitating fear and panic using a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique which seems like quackery but totally works. I may use it a little more to deal with some of my apprehension towards the more difficult black runs. I am determined to get down the Motatapu Chutes this year!!

Now that I am not incapacitated by fear, I can actually put into practice the drills learnt in my lessons. And boy did we do a lot of drills!! But when Klaus managed to identify why I wasn't able to get myself into the correct position on my turns to the right it all clicked into place. The simple movement of bringing my right leg forward allowed me to tilt my pelvis and shift weight onto the downhill ski, and well..... the rest is history!! (It's an incredibly subtle change that only attention to detail by good instructors will pick up).

Having spent almost 3 days trying to perfect our short turns, our little group hiked the summit on a glorious sunny Wednesday afternoon, and then skied down. I managed to pull off some awesome soft powdery short turns in untracked snow, then completely failed to reproduce my moment of glory for the rest of the week, including for the post video. Twas one out of the box - I need to work on my consistency....

And then we had snow. Last week we were getting some consistent small snowfalls every couple of days. The firm pack softened and the entire mountain became skiable again. The chutes reopened but I've not ventured there yet. Still got to work on my short turn consistency and cut my teeth in the chutes on the rest of the mountain. And get my kicks skiing down Gunbarrel.

This week it's warmed up and the snow has gone to mush again. We're all praying for colder conditions and more snow to fall. A big front is desperately needed. At least I've still a few more weeks left to conquer those chutes......

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Because Paradise was there for the taking

It was time to hand in the Nissan Sunny and return to hitchhiking up the hill. So for one final day myself and a lass at the hostel, Nathalie, headed off on a road trip to Paradise.

First Queenstown for a yummy pan au chocolat at Cafe Vudu (a delayed pleasure after missing out last year), then on around the lake to Glenorchy. Glenorchy is at the tip of Lake Wakitipu, the same lake that Queenstown sits besides, but Glenorchy is a quiet little town where not a lot seems to happen. There are jetboat tours up the Dart River, there's a nice pub and a great little cafe, but it's basically a sleepy little backwater an hour up the road from the adventure capital of NZ.

Further on from Glenorchy we turn on to the unsealed road to Paradise. You've got to love a road sign pointing towards Paradise!

I might mention, if you haven't yet figured it out from the pictures, that it wasn't exactly the best weather. It was cold and rainy, with low cloud and the occasional brilliant rainbow, and the Otago countryside is at its brownest at this time of year. Hard to build up enthusiasm that our destination would live up to its promise...

Through a glorious rainforest we ascended to Diamond Lake, and then finally arrived in Paradise. Yeah, right! Though it does have some rustic cabins to rent if you really want to get away from it all...

We took some pictures, which was really the whole point of the trip anyway! Then headed back to Queenstown to drop off the car and hitch back to Wanaka...

Have you ever gone on a trip just to take a photo that you've been there?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ski Goddess Continues South

After the awesome day on Tasman Glacier, the next day was likely to be a bit of an anticlimax. It was time to move on south to the next ski field, this one not being on the Chill Pass, but still worthy of inclusion on the Ski Goddess' guide to the South Island.

Ohau ski field sits in a valley high up above the eponymous Lake, and had begun the season with a stonkingly huge snow fall which was now melting rapidly by the day. Warm days and cold nights was creating typical spring conditions, making early morning skiing more like ice skating. But once the sun softened the hard pack, it was a pleasant enough day, although avoiding rocks wasn't always possible. First task on arriving in Wanaka is to put the skis in for a little patching up!

Having heard so much about the Ohau Lodge I'd booked a night there, but in the less salubrious rooms where you need to provide your own sleeping bag. The view, the company, the delicious dinner and huge breakfast are well worth it. There's hot tubs as well. But what totally takes the cake is, ahem, the soap cake!

Due to the ski field conditions being pretty ordinary I decided not to spend a second day skiing, but headed off on a roundabout way of getting to Wanaka. Rather than head straight over the Lindis Pass to Tarras, I turned left at Omarama and headed for the coast.

The road skirts a couple more lakes before making its way down through farmland to Oamaru. This is a town known for its beautiful stone buildings, famous cheese factory and a penguin community. Somehow I missed the town completely, taking a more scenic approach road which joined the main highway just south of town. But my main object was to see the Moeraki Boulders, a bunch of large round pebbles on a beach nearby. Not really worth the detour unless low tide and the right light for a great photo, but nice to see a little ocean again after 2 weeks in the mountains.

At Palmerston I headed north again along the strangely named "Pigroot". This ascends into a tussock covered plateau surrounded by more snow covered peaks and scattered with small villages and pubs which service the Otago Central Rail Trail and possibly a few sheep farmers as well.

The Pigroot joins the main Queenstown to Dunedin road at Alexandra, where the road skirts yet another hydro lake or two before crossing the bridge at Cromwell and joining the Wanaka road. Half an hour later I am at my home away from home for the next 2 months: Wanaka Bakpaka. It's great to be back.

The skis get taken in for a full tune and I prepare for braving the school holiday crowds in the morning.....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A bucket list special from the top of NZ

Aoraki, or Mt Cook, is the tallest peak in NZ. It's smack bang in the middle of the South Island but only 30km from the West Coast. That means it's frequently buffeted by wind and weather from the west, making it hard to find a great day when the sun is out, the sky is blue and not a breeze to be felt. Well Friday was one such day.

Having received a less than optimistic phone call before sunup from the mountain guide at Mt Cook village, I took the plunge and drove down the highway on a hope and a prayer that the clouds from the overnight rain would disappear. Around Lake Pukaki it started to look promising....

The drive up towards Mt Cook skirts Lake Pukaki, yet another glacial lake used in the south island's network of hydroelectric dams and generators. The view is dominated by Aoraki towering up ahead as you wind up into glacier land. There's about 3 or 4 glaciers on this side of the divide: Tasman, Hooker, Kelman...., with Fox and Franz Joseph accessible from the west. But today, the action will be on Tasman Glacier, extending 14km before disappearing into a moraine lake.

We meet at Mt Cook airport. The sun is shining and there is no breeze. It's looking good! I meet the two other punters plus guides joining us, we don our avalanche transceivers and do a quick trial search before packing the ski plane with our gear and hitting the skies.

The point of a trip like this isn't so much the skiing as the scenery. The flight up the glacier, past Mt Cook and other towering peaks is just spectacular. The plane travels so close to the mountains you feel you could reach out and touch them. And then we land at the top of the glacier!

We unload and the plane takes off, then all is silence. Just majestic snow covered mountains, blue skies and an occasional roar from an avalanche. Nowhere near us though!

We click in to our skis and begin the descent of the glacier. It's pretty cruisy skiing through nice fresh snow, but lower down we are faced with rain soaked conditions which are less than ideal. Meanwhile, we visit weird ice formations, called seracs, and marvel at the beauty of mother nature.

The plane picks us up again and we take another scenic flight up to another section of the glacier for our second descent. After a lunch with a million dollar view, we visit some more ice formations, including making our way through an ice cave. The climb back out was a bit of an effort!

Finally we are back in the rain soaked terrain, and we crunch our way down to board the plane for our final scenic flight over the moraine lake at Tasman's base before landing back to the airport.

Gasoline can... or cordial??

What a day! Definitely worth every cent!

I've put together a video of the day. It's quite long, at 15min duration, but the scenery is just beautiful. You can view it by following this link.