Sunday, August 21, 2011

Winter distractions

Kip' skis after a ridgeline traverse
Photo: Kip Cooper

While my obsession with bicycles is obvious, strapping some bedazzled planks to my feet and sliding down a mountain is a more recent passion. With local bike tracks soggy and damage prone, and ski hills steep and inviting, I took this winter as an opportunity to explore this more gravity oriented mode of personal transportation.

I decided to lock it in early with the purchase of a Chill pass which allowed me discounted access to club fields. While previous experience with their nut crackers had been pretty hairy, and I’d had to fight hard to suppress flinching as the steel frame rolled over each pulley with a finger severing clank. Fortunately several days on the rope tows have helped ease my anxiety, although I’m still vigilant of wayward fingers.

The list of gear required for skiing is seemingly endless, but on reflection less of a burden on finances and time than biking. Before the season began I traded up my sketchy straight skis for some modern carvers courtesy of Tardme.

A number of friends had frequently espoused the joys of back-country touring, using traction boosting skins on the base of your skis to access fresh slopes and fantastic views. Add to the shopping list some skins and a set of Trekker bindings that allowed me to pivot at the toe with my standard alpine setup. Goggles, helmet, shovel, probe, transceiver, jacket and a Cactus Sedition pack to carry it all and I was set.

With a few days on the fields to shape my pretty average skills, and with some fantastic advice from super shredder Michi, I adopted a jet fighter like approach to carving turns, and relished the exhausting combination of strength and coordination that a good descent required. With skills at an all time high, I was keen to give the touring thing a proper whack and so Kip and I headed for Mount Olympus in the hope of finding some gnar to shred.

The omnipotent weather being had dumped a load of fluffy stuff on Christchurch during the preceeding week, so last weekend was always going to be a banger in the mountains.

After Kip showed some Possum Bourne worthy driving skills up the access road, we were greeted with queues as long as the trail of Mitsubishi Outlander underbody trim left on the access road. The field was crowded with punters searching for fresh lines in the wake of the week’s earlier dump. Unfortunately there was none to be had as the lucky souls who’d been staying at the plush Olympus hut had found them all.

Struck with this disappointing scenario, Kip and I decided to take action, strapping on our skins and loosening our boots for a trek to the top. The closest thing I can liken climbing on skins to is hike-a-biking. Doubled over from aerobic exhaustion but making steady progress with the goal of a premium descent ample motivation.

One difference however is the skill required for turning whilst ascending a steep slope, with limited remaining concentration and coordination mustered to wrestle skis into a tight about face. Despite the constant struggle against gravity, touring uphill is an enjoyable experience, and you tend to develop a rhythm and forge progress, till next thing you know you are at the top of a mountain with a spectacular view.

Ollie striding it out on the way up
Photo: Kip cooper

We then strapped our skis to our packs and pushed for the summit by foot, stopping only to take photos that the amazing main divide backdrop begged for.

Booting it to the top
Photo: Kip cooper
Topping out we ripped off our skins and switched over bindings, strapping down boots for the furious descent ahead. Initially intimidated by the sheer steepness, fear quickly gave way to elation as I carved turn after turn in the soft untracked powder. Where elsewhere a nasty frozen crust had formed, this aspect of the slope gave nothing but golden flakey powder all the way down. This was the first and best experience of the day, the serene setting and amazing snow confirming my inclinations that ski touring was indeed all that.

Ollie scans for lines
Photo: Kip cooper

By the end of the day we’d racked up a number of thrilling descents, each fear filled initial moments followed by the elation of swishing down. By day end my legs were so shattered from the combination of sliding up and carving down that I could barely manage a turn. This culminated in a hilarious collision with Kip, a bystander commenting it was only fair given he’d laughed at an earlier biff.

So with plenty of snow still on the hills and the bike season starting to build, it’ll be a hard choice to choose between the slippery slopes or rock strewn trails. Not an undesirable dilemma but one that is only made possible by this great shaky city I call home.

Mountain Pedaler...

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