Changing of the Seasons: Winter arrives in Spring
By Ollie Hunt
With a disappointing season across New Zealand, and especially in the Craigieburns, I had been holding out for a late-season dump and maybe even some nice, dry, lockdown-free September powder.
Keeping a keen eye on the forecast at the end of August, we latched onto the idea that the Clubbies might open.The weekend of the 28th August Broken River received enough snow for them to open their field for some touring, and we leapt at the chance.
Perspective shift - the snowpack looks a bit different from the top to the bottom. The tussock is a godsend for the ski bases in a low snow year.
Linking up in Christchurch we boosted to Broken River on Saturday morning, caught the tram up, and slapped the skins on at the ticket office. We managed to score 5 laps, 2 off the top, 1 in Allan's, and 4 in the main basin - except for Guy, whose binding broke at the top of the field on the first run, he procured a few jugs from the bar after skiing the entire field with one ski. While I had hoped to venture further afield (towards Cheeseman/Mt Wall) a brief look along the ridgeline revealed the state of the snowpack - or more to the point, the state of the very visible rocks - and put paid to that idea.
A great day out with good weather, and epic to have the BR bar and Pizza, but I was itching for more.
With further snow forecast across the country during the week, I kept a weather eye to the forecast to somehow secure lift-accessed freshies before the week was out. While Treble Cone was in the midst of the storm on Monday, and social media did a good job of keeping us jealous, we turned our eyes to the Craigieburn and the snowfall forecast there.
Expectantly watching every functional webcam in the Craigieburn Range, and seeing the excitement building on both the Craigieburn and Broken river pages, we knew we were on.
The best place to view a car park like this is from the front of the Tram queue.
With snow piling up we hightailed it for Castle Hill on Tuesday night, to ensure we had a straightforward run to what might be the only powder day of the season. Scrambling into mistletoe flat at 7.50am to put chains on we were soon greeted by an army of similar minded people charging for the Hanomag car park and their spot on the now certified and fully functioning Tyndall Tramway.
After scanning our passes (and COVID app) we crushed the stairway to heaven and headed straight into the goods. An empty Palmer Lodge until 12 was a testament to how eager everyone was, most people elected to ski straight to the main tow and leave their bags at the bottom bypassing any reason to slow down. On reflection, not a bad idea, as by about 10 am the entire main basin had tracks on it.
Main basin well skied, building a good base for the remainder of September.
For a field that has seen less than a week of operation over the season, the tows held up remarkably well to the 237 people, and queues were pretty quick. For context, the most people Broken River has ever hosted in a single day is approximately 350 people, so to have almost 2/3 that number on a Wednesday in September hints at how eager people are to get out there and send it.
No freshies left unskied
With the main basin relatively tracked, there was keen anticipation of Allan’s basin’s opening.
I have skied at the clubbies for the best part of two decades, and I have never seen a Chinese downhill scramble from Nervous Knob. Yesterday though, was a bit different.
More than once, over 30 people congregated at the top of Nervous Knob.
The first time Patrol gave the word that it wasn’t ready, so that was a Chinese downhill back to the lift.
The Chinese downhill start line at the top of Ridge Tow/ Nervous Knob waiting for Allan's to open.
The second time, “release the hounds” was broadcast across the patrol radio, and the 40 or so people on the makeshift start line scrambled to drop off points across the top of Allan’s basin, racing down to the access tow in a shower of hoots and hollers, then continuing to scramble back up the field for as many laps as possible.
With Allan's basin well picked over, people ventured to double bowl and beyond.
As Allan’s rapidly tracked out after 3 or so laps, we began looking further across the ridge and hiked towards Hamilton Face, scoring yet another lap of freshies.
Bootpacking up Hamilton face well worth it for the fresh snow all the way back to the Access tow
Finally stopping at 2:30pm for a bite and a beer, my legs were almost spent. We made one final effort on the way to the car, hiking Hamilton face again and then skiing towards Windy corner, the snow up the top was epic, but further down it did leave a bit to be desired – after skiing through it - a trip to Snowride.
Palmer lodge in the afternoon, providing respite and Broken River lager for the tired legs of everyone who skipped lunch.
This is not the first season that hasn’t delivered much early, but has had a large snowfall in early spring - 2015 was similar.
Thanks to this recent dusting I’m looking forward to some more skiing throughout September – and hopefully a Snowtober too.
Ollie Hunt is a regular feature writer for Chill and makes the most of a Chill Season Pass.