I arrived back in Queenstown about a week ago from possibly the best experience I have ever had on snow and a board. I have been processing all the photos, video and trying to figure out just how to describe and explain what and where I was for the past magical week. I’m struggling with it. I think I will start it this way…….
I have experienced some pretty rare, unique and amazing situations through snowboarding over the past 10 years. Apart from Heli skiing, and deep back country sled trips, I have been part of many snowboarding milestones that most casual riders, and even some professional riders don’t get to experience. Working at a Snowboard camp for 3 summers, riding a glacier with some of the best and most dedicated riders in the world…..spending multiple seasons on a mountain just to ride. Designing equipment for the sport that I love, and working with the biggest most innovative company it the snow industry. All amazingly cool things that each day I revel in and have to pinch myself realizing that I somehow get to do these things. I tell you this, because I may have found something that trumps them all!
The New Zealand Club Ski Field.
There is something about the way the Kiwi’s have set up this unique way to stay at and experience the mountains, back country, and sliding on snow that just hits every part of my Phil-osophy. I will do my best to describe what it is, the facts and technical specs of the place, and the brilliance that it is. It’s going to be a long one, so if your at work, or have limited time, bookmark this one and read it just before you go off to bed, I promise it will make you happy!
What is it?
Throughout the southern alps of the south island of New Zealand there are small club ski fields scattered in the mountains. I’ve been told that the bulk of them, 10-15 are located in the Cantenbury region, a few hours west of Christchurch. back in the 20’s and 30’s, and possibly earlier than that for some fields, ski clubs where formed in New Zealand, and they decided to build small ski areas to practice there craft. They built small lodges (shacks really) and rope toes in open bowls and basins in the alps. To understand what kind of challenge this was, you have to understand the mountains here in NZ. They are crazy vertical, snow covering only the top 3rd most of the time. To get to the snow line on most mountains you need to climb a switch back goat path about 1200 meters (4,000 ft) straight up. Now imagine lugging 8 tons of building material up that. At Temple, I read that they tried to use pack mules but they failed, so all the material had to be hand carried up. Today most club fields have a goods lift, but humans still need to hike in…1200M (4,000 ft) up.
The Coolness of the field really comes from the fact that it is a club. Some people are members, but its not necessary, but they are able to regulate who and how many can be at the lodge and on the mountain. We where there with 85 people, and that was quite a lot for Temple (although 25 where in an intense avalanche training course and where not skiing). It ends up basically being a communal living/skiing situation. Each room, or group had chores to do each day to help the club run smooth. With only 6-8 employees full time, help is needed to keep the place running smoothly.
Everyone ends up hanging out and eating together. We would interact with the other groups and look at photos from the day. There was a group of Pro Photogs and international riders there the same time we where. There must have been about 15 mac computers spread across the common room at night.
We got 3 meals a day….I mean MEALS. I could not believe the quality of the food. It was so good. The head chef was a Irish girl named Joe. She made curries, lamb stews, veggies….so much good stuff I can’t recall half of it. But The culmination of all the meals was a corned beef feast! Cooked by and Irish chef, on top of a mountain in the middle of no where New Zealand!
We all had to pitch in in some way. Somehow my room kept getting dinner prep duty. This involved cleaning the massive pots and mixing bowls used for food prep, wiping down cooking surfaces and general kitchen cleanup, and some food prep as well. One night I ended up peeling about 150 potatoes. I felt like I was being reprimanded in the army.
This is the room to take all riding / skiing gear to dry after a day of shredding. I have to say this must be one of the stinkiest non-commercial rooms in the world.
5 to a room….this also may be one of the stinkiest rooms in the world.
Most club fields run rope tows, and Temple is no exception. The lifts are 60 year old technology that for the most part run beautifully due to there simplicity. I talked with Hugo, the operations manager at Temple Basin about how they put up and take down the lifts, and what is permanent on the field. He informed me that it takes about a weekend to assemble the tow, and splice the rope each season. They bolt wooden post to permanently anchored metal stakes in the bed rock on each lift line. They then bolt on pulleys to each post (tower) and get the electrical power motors going. 2 days and about 15 laborers later you got yourself 3 working lifts deep in the mountains of NZ.
To attach yourself to the rope, you use what they call a nut cracker. They call it this because the system (or simple metal hinged grip device) resembles a walnut cracker (not the Christmas statue soldier guy ones…although that would be hilarious) This metal grip is attached by a thin rope to a waist harness that you clip around yourself like a belt. They give you a suede sleeve with thumb hole to put over you glove to protect from abrasion. The process for getting up the rope tow is as follows: Grab rope with glove protector covered glove and slowly grip so that you are brought up to speed with the rope and it begins to take you up the hill. Before the first pulley (about 50 ft) swing the nut cracker around the rope, catching the top section with same hand and squeeze together so that it locks around the rope. Always be mindful to watch where your going and stay in line with the pulleys so that you don’t pull the rope off. ( this is difficult since you are on a slope and need to keep and edge in, and almost all fall off first time…..for me twice) Now put tension on the harness by leaning back. Take your hand that is on the rope off as you go over each pulley, as you don’t want to crush your fingers as the rope runs through he pulley. Each time the nut cracker rides over a pulley it makes a distinct “ping” sound. At top let go of the top half of the nut cracker which then pops off the rope releasing you. (watch the pop….metal to the face, arm or wrist is stingy and painful). The harness stays around you all day as you ride, and the nut cracker slides through a loop in the harness for storage. So you are basically riding with a belt and a 12″ piece of metal hanging from your waist all day, frighteningly close to ones crotch….hence the 2nd reason its called a nut cracker.
Not much to say here….words can’t really describe it. Even the photos can’t capture how steep, rugged, and big everything is…I mean everything!
Check out Temple Basin’s site if you get a chance.
My Next Post will be a detailed description of the riding that we did here on this playground. Stay tuned! Thanks for reading!