Monday, August 28, 2017

Craigieburn Skiing

Sitting down and thinking on it for a while I can think of a reason why most people, including me, seem to not be able to keep their blogs updated after a few months of travelling. As I have travelled for the last two and a half years, it has become a normal state for me now. I no longer have a constant place I live at or extraordinary things happening in the area I'm settled in, as I tend to travel and stay at those places that many take of work for to visit and spend a lot of their earnings on. For me this has all become semi-normal, so not something I would write in a blog which I reserve for special occasions.
Thinking about this, I will tray and get in to writing more often again, as in the years to come where ever I may settle down, I will most likely regret not writing about all the things I did whilst younger.
On to the happenings then...

A week ago my flatmate Mark said he wanted to go to Craigieburn for a ski. A bit of back-story on Craigieburn is in order I think. Most places in the world you here about skiing are giant ski fields, owned and operated by corporates that have a lot of money and tourism interest in their areas. Hidden away in the Southern Alps of New Zealand you'll occasionally find another type of field, the ski club fields. These are small, sometimes family run businesses that have not got large developed infrastructure or even good access roads, but they are what New Zealand skiers like and love. On busy days you'll find even these small fields won't have a lot going on. Craigieburn is somewhat famous from what I have heard. Our neighbour and work college, Luke, mentioned that he even heard stories about that club field as far as Canada. A quick video look on YouTube found some people saying it can be the poor man's heli-skiing. So being only a few kilometres from Porters we had to check it out at some point.

The day Mark and me picked to go was probably the worst day for weather, but it was the only day we had and we took it. Driving there we passed the Porters turn of and carried on through Castle Hill, a village rather popular with climbers due to the boulders placed around the area by glaciers that have now receded. Even to a non climber like me it still looked like one of those typical New Zealand pictures and I'll have to get back there with my camera some time in the next few months.
After passing the club fields of Cheeseman and Broken River we turned of at Craigieburn and took a drive up through the native forest underneath the club field. Something nearly all ski areas in New Zealand miss is forests. Not that this is necessary a bad thing, but my personal taste rather enjoys trees and woodlands to go down through. Most likely a preference from my years growing up in Nesselwang.
After leaving the car in it's designated place near a shed with a generator running for the accommodations and a tractor with a snow plough parked out the front, Mark and me went to get our tickets (at a slight discount due to working on another field) and then returned with our gear, all set and ready to go. The next stage at Craigieburn was to work out how rope tows work. Rope tows are the lifts most club fields use, they are cheaper to operate than T-bars and Chairlifts, but it requires more skill on side of the customer to use. Both of us were Newbies in that area, so we had a ski patrol/instructor show us how things are done. I won't explain the full workings behind the rope tows, as you can most likely find videos on the internet showing what they are. To round things up, it took me three tries to get going, but the experience of being challenged by a new lift after skiing for twenty years was refreshing. 
Finishing the lifts both of us where buffed by winds blowing through the rocky spires of the top, all alone on the ski field. Talking to the ski patrol lower down, we had found out that at that point we were the only people on the mountain, apart from staff. The first run down promised to be an interesting day, as the conditions were so bad and challenging that it was funny. Heavy snow that barely let you turn, an unknown ski terrain, strong and gusty winds and an ever changing weather pattern (sun, cloud, rain, fog, snow, etc. We had it all) ensured that the day was an interesting one. The stops in the upper lodge of the mountain were a must and a nice dry spot to get ready for another excursion out in the elements. Over the day we were joined by a few other people, but all in all the total amount of customers on the mountain could be counted on two hands. Later on in the day, after skiing through chutes and staying just above the rocks buried in the snow, conditions got even more interesting. The top 50 metres were awesome skiing, underneath that line the fall of heavy snow ensured that the slope turned to glue, stopping even the most die hard attempts at picking up speed downhill. Still, everyone was laughing and having a great time. Mark torpedoed the snow at one point and later on in the day we got close to being blown of the top. We didn't manage to walk where we intended to go, but waited things out, as the wind was so strong we could not go against it.
Once the late afternoon pulled in we called it quits, with a long last run down a chute on the side of the mountain to get us down back to the car. Whilst returning our gear we also had a quick drink at the bar and talked to some of the employees there. Most where Canadian and American, something which is in stark contrast to Australia. Most Northern Americans seem to prefer New Zealand (similar climate?).

After a drink it was back home to get all our gear dried out for work again, but I could feel the onset of a flue getting to me.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Porters Powder & Lake Ohau Skiing

Once again a long time without writing anything in my blog. The last few weeks have seen me working the most time, but also getting a lot of time off, as the ski field was often closed due to bad weather. Most of the time this was due to wind, but we have also had a lot of snow over the last few weeks which is pretty unusual for New Zealand, apparently. Working has been rather interesting, actually. It seems we liftys have on of the best jobs on the mountain, as we can see a lot of funny stuff happening to the customers and we are outside a lot. What some people walk away from is surprising (collision with a lift tower, face plant in to a wooden fence, etc.) but sometime things don't work out well. We've had a few helicopter calls going through, but that is the case with a ski field. There are a lot of people I try to stay well away from, and even as an employee the mountain can be an unsafe place. One lifty had a border slip down the lift and hit him in the side of his knee and today another one got his shoe sliced up by a renegade snowboard. Anyway, so far all of us have survived (for the most part, but that story has nothing to do with the operations on the mountain).

Last Tuesday we had a powder day and I fortunately had the day of, so I hired a pair of skies from the rentals which were built for powder skiing and went out for the day with Hans mostly, but also a quick ride with Nick, Logan (NMIT guy), Chris and Flo. The best run of the day I had was coming down Bluff Face, with an unbroken powder line, being the fifth one down. The unusual circumstances with the snow is that New Zealand doesn't normally have this much. Last year quite a few runs were closed the whole season, where as this year everything has been open on a nearly consistent rate. Still, even this amount of snow isn't really enough for me, I'll have to keep my eyes on Canada in a few years time. 
Yesterday was kind of a hard choice where to go. Nick, Hans and Celine (ticket office Kiwi) were heading for Queenstown, skiing in Ohau yesterday and heading for Cardrona today. I really wanted to get to Cardrona, just because of the size of it. But they weren’t heading there until today, on which I am working. In the morning I was still undecided if I should go to Porters for the day or head down to Ohau with them. The journey to Ohau is four hours long. So I'd be driving for four hours, skiing for four and the driving back again. In the morning it was raining here at Porters and the top T-Bars seemed closed in the morning (in the end they were closed the entire day) so I headed south for four hours with the others. We passed Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki before we got to Lake Ohau. The journey up to the ski field had to be done in Celines car, as mine is only two wheel drive and I have no chains. That's the interesting part about New Zealand, too. No ski field has a town at the base of it. All of the ski field have a track to drive up. Probably due to the snow line being so high up.
The first hour at Ohau was mediocre at best. The clouds clung to the mountains, so we had nearly no view what so ever. After the first hour of exploring in fog the clouds broke up and we ended up having a nice view down to Lake Ohau with the barren mountains of the Southern Alps around us. At one point they even opened the ridge line which we hiked up to, and had a stunning view of the surrounding area. Throughout the rest of the day we continued to explore the small family run mountain, which according to the staff was a fairly busy day. Compared to Porters there was next to nothing going on.

At the end of the day we headed back down and I said goodbye for now to the other three. They headed down to Queenstown and I drove back up to Springfield. Along the way I rang Grandma, Mum and Lesley to wish Grandma a Happy Birthday and to chat a bit of the drive away. Back at Springfield I popped in to the pub, were most of the Porter workers were having an evening drink to say hi before heading home to get some well earned sleep.