Hunt For The Powder People [Video Edit]
You grow up and seek higher peaks, deeper snow, and colder beers, but then you come back home…for a short trip anyway. You have way more insight than the regular traveler, but you’ve done a fair amount on the to-do list. So what is it that you actually do? Well, this is how my adventure buddy Kenzie Morris and myself filled a couple of weeks of ski trips and catch-ups back in New Zealand after being locked away in my new home of California.
The first stop was city life at it’s finest in Christchurch. After work Friday drinks with a bunch of architects at a rooftop bar. One of those young professionals in his collared shirt and fancy shoes was Ben Comber. He’s one hell of a snowboarder, coming from the slopestyle competitions and moving further and further towards the natural playgrounds every season. He was the last person I rode with the day before I moved to the U.S. He had already taken Tuesday off when weather predictions were showing the coming storm would be clearing out, leaving us with one of the “days of the season”.
The first stop was the playground of the gods, Mount Olympus, We headed down the Rakia, past Windwhistle, through the farm gate, the next farm gate, call the radio (to check no one is going the other direction on the one way one car wide road that serves both up and down traffic). When we arrived, we traverse the avalanche path, flip the nutcracker on bottom tow and then ride up another tow and made it to the day lodge. Just a little more than three hours from leaving home in the dark, the sun is filling the basin and the coffee has done the trick.
When you’re this remote you find the first of the powder people we would meet on this trip. Pro skiers, snowboarders, world class photographers, 5* Freeride World Tour judges. Those I used to consider groms (who are pretty well grown up by now and casually throwing double flips off natural hits). Plus a bunch of locals dressed in gear from the 80’s, 90’s, and today. Anything goes up here, but the worst stories don’t travel further than the fridge, so I won’t be spoiling those secrets. It’s a New Zealand powder day and there’s a good few centimeters on some variable—the getting is good. We take the lifts for the first few runs as we break off the rust that built up after the end of the northern winter before we get into the real terrain. We hit little Alaska to Sphynx and even though our tracking isn’t showing the most vertical feet for a day, it’s a beer well deserved at what is arguably the best and cheapest bar in New Zealand.Thanks to our CHILL travel pass we hit a couple more of the nearby fields, Broken River and Craigieburn. We slowly work our way through the snow that no one else seemed to notice even though it was lift accessible and had been sitting idle for a few days.
We took the tourist route and headed south to Queenstown, known as the adventure capital of the world. It was a little more mellow than we expected as our friends were growing up, getting real jobs, having babies, and attending business meetings. This might be Neverland, but prices are growing up, and Peter Pan has to hustle to pay rent.
Unfortunately, the timing of our trip didn’t coincide with the best weather a skier could hope for, so we retreated back towards the Mackenzie Country and took on a few of the lesser known mountains. We met back up with Ben and couple of the other powder people, Alex Bowater and Martin Harris for a day at Dobson. I mean it’s kind of a big deal, it has a chairlift putting it in another world from most of the Clubbies (small ski fields that are open to the public even though they are owned and operated by ski clubs), but it’s still relaxed. Most of our runs included short hikes that were 10 minutes at the top or bottom. That was enough to disperse the small crowds that had gathered for the new snow and keep everything we wanted fresh and clean.
Sitting on the tailgate formulating plans to eat pies, we took the case to the town of Fairlie for some of the better pastry, meat, and gravy around. Here we found a familiar face and reports of Fox Peak having good snow, but being stuck in the clouds all day. This is when the procrastination really began.
If you haven’t heard of Fox Peak, don’t worry. It’s not the place that’s front and center of the radar, partially because five of the seven days in a week it doesn’t even open. But to our surprise, the hut was booked out so something was going on, and we were going to find out what it was. I’d only been once before and, due to heavy fog and solid ice, hadn’t made it off the bottom tow. I think I did about three laps before giving up. This day we took all three lifts up and kept going straight to the top of the Fox. Fair to say our few tracks didn’t make a dent in the plethora of opportunity. As unfortunate as it is that our trip was almost over, I’m just as excited to explore another of the gems that this little island at the end of the world has to offer. Some of the best ones were right under my nose. I just had to leave to be able to see them.