Words: Colin Clarke
New Zealand is such an pristine environment. The land is truly unspoiled! Flying into Queens town is quite an experience. Flights only operate during the day, as the flight is challenging and dangerous at night. Looking out the window of smaller turbo prop airplane revealed immense mountains capped in snow. As the plane descended in elevation, the turbulence becomes more and more intense. The plane lands and I am relieved. Ryan, Jason and I hop off the plane to be greeted by Tomas Jacques, who has Jager bombs for us waiting at the bar. The drink makes my stomach churn as I am hungover from the night before. After we gather our luggage, we all pile in Tomas's pickup and begin the Journey to Wanaka. I was astonished at how gnarly the roads are in NZ, full of blind switchbacks, and narrow as all hell. Nerve-racking is the drive over the pass.
After arriving in Wanaka, Tomas had a Greeting party planned for us at LaLa lounge bar. The drinking commenced and all members of the crew got hammered off of there signature drink…the "jam jar" The next day was rough as all members of the crew woke up hungover. As the weather was not cooperating at Cardrona, the local resort, all of us decided to go explore the West Coast of NZ. After picking up the RV in the morning, we traveled 141km through windy passes and single lane bridges and narrow roads. Plenty of eye candy was to bee seen on the way. Beautiful snow capped mountains, unspoiled rivers, wildlife and waterfalls all mesmerized everyone throughout the journey. We arrived at the ocean just in time for sunset. As the air is unspoiled by pollution, the colors in the sky were more vibrant than I have ever seen.
Day one at Cardrona: Driving the RV up to Cardrona was pretty gnarly, At every other location I have snowboarded at, in exception for some backcountry spots, the road has always been paved and smooth. This was not the case on the drive up to Cardrona, the road was full of washboards, potholes, and bumps. The RV struggled on the climb up, it sounded as though the whole vehicle was about to fall apart. Dishes were rattling and our belongings were flying off of the shelf. Although it seemed as though we were in the midst of an earthquake, all of us didn't care as we were mesmerized by the immensity of the surrounding mountains. The surrounding peaks jutted right out of the valley floor and a clear line of were the snow level had been for the past several weeks was clearly established, like a barrier between two different ecological zones.
The excitement started to build as we parked the RV at the bottom base area. All crew grabbed their shred gear and made there way up to the lifts. Sun was out and it was time to shred! I was so stoked when we got our first glimpse of the park, Cardrona did an excellent job, stacking the park with heaps of jibs. It was a jibbers dream. Down rails, DFD's doghouses, c boxes, everything you could want in a park run. The park flowed nicely as well, from top to bottom it was non stop action packed froth cookie. The jumps were perfectly shaped as well, the were akin to the breckenridge style jump, nice and poppy, lofty with plenty of airtime. The park crew was on it as well, every hour or so they would be out there raking the lips of the rail features and jumps. I was so stoked on the day of shred, Ryan and I power lapped the park until 3:30 or so when the sun started to dip over the hill. As the day winded down, I felt so grateful to be back on the snow, as this had been my first real day of shred since my ankle injury at Mammoth in mid February.
As we drove down the hill, Tomas showed us a cheeky place to have a beer and reminisce the day, the Cardrona Motel. It was bar like none other, had a very rustic local vibe. It was one of NZ oldest standing hotels being from the mid 1800's. Tomas grabbed a round of beers and all of us chatted around the crackling fire pits outside. All of us were truly stoked to be in NZ and were absorbing the surroundings as it was novelty to us.
The weather was intermittent over the next few days, but we still managed to get some fun park laps in. While the weather was cooperating enough to film, Jason Manning brought up all the camera gear and Ryan and I hammered out a few tricks. It felt good to be back on the board again, cruising around taking laps through the park. We managed to get four days of shredding in at Cardrona. After a few park laps the crew was stoked to cruise around the mountain and explore what Cardrona had to offer. The free riding was pretty sick on this mountain, Cardrona is full of fun cliff lines, chutes, and other natural terrain features to get down on.
In addition to shredding Cardrona, we had the pleasure of taking a day trip to Ohau to shred some pow lines. Although it had been five days since the the last snowstorm, there was still pockets of pow to be found at this resort. Ohau is nestled 170km drive north from Wanaka, NZ. We fired up the RV at 5:30am, all of us were half asleep though out the drive, but had the pleasure of experiencing a beautiful sunrise on the serene New Zealand mountain roads. I thought the road to Ohau would be similar to Cardrona, but i was wrong, it was even more gnarly! We left the RV at the bottom of the hill due to the treacherous driving conditions on the way up.
All of us piled in Tomas's car and began the drive up the single lane gravel road, 4wd was mandatory. Less than 5min into the drive was a river crossing without a bridge. What kind of ski area were we going to? I asked myself in awe. The road was full of hairpin switchbacks with a grade that resulted in rapid elevation gain. In less than 15min we gained more than 1000meters in elevation from the valley floor. Ohau ski area is one of the most unique resorts i have ever been to I'm my life….Only one triple seater chairlift services the entire valley, resulting in plenty of hiking and backcountry opportunities. The crew gathered up all gear and set out for a backcountry adventure.
After riding the chairlift to the top, all of us commenced the hike and climbed to the top of the ridge. The view from the top was breathtaking, 360 degrees of jagged snowcapped mountains. Lake Ohau shimmered in the Valley floor, giving off an emerald hue from the sun overhead. Tomas was our guide that day, he took us along the ridge line to drop into the back bowl where he inferred the best powder stashes to be. The hike was intense at moments, as if you took one wrong step on the ice coated ridge, you would be careening off into the abyss over cliffs into rocks, most likely resulting in death. Jason had a close call at one point as he had close to 80 pounds of camera gear in his backpack which resulted in a extra challenging navigation over the icy ridge. The backpack momentum almost resulted in him falling over at one moment, every step counted.
As we approached the end of the hike, all of the crew involved spotted the features/lines that they wanted to drop. The snow conditions were far from ideal as there was a hard icy layer underneath the new snow. I spotted a line across the ridge and decided to make my way over. The line i picked out had numerous exposed rocks and a few blind rollers. Out here in the backcountry 100's of Kilometers from the nearest hospital, careful navigation and choosing your lines is paramount. One wrong move could result in a number of unfavorable conditions including the possibility of triggering an avalanche or falling down and sliding out of control into a bunch of rocks. All crew choose their lines wisely and had fun, injury free day.
The entire trip was quite the amazing experience. Many people who do not have the opportunity to travel or do not travel for other various reasons become complacent with their surroundings. When traveling to a place like New Zealand I found it impossible to be bored, everything was visually stimulating. The mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, coffee, cities and people are truly unique. I cannot wait to go back and Visit New Zealand again, I fell in love with the country and would be stoked to spend more time there in the future.
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