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Trip Report – “Better than Expected” skiing in the Remarkables

By: Ryan Thomas

Source: Otago Section’s Newsletter (August 2018)

It is a truth universally acknowledged: no one likes getting up at 4:30 am, especially when one immediately gets into a car and drives for four hours. Give me a thousand-meter ascent any day. But the original ski trip plans had changed from the Old Man Range to Wye Creek due to a reported lack of snow, and, as I had not been skiing in nearly two years, I sucked it up and met with Matteo, Hugh, and Alexander early in the morning to carpool to the Remarkables ski field. To compensate for the early start, I rested my eyelids (as my father would say) for the entire trip.

We met with the last of our party, Graeme, in Queenstown and drove up to the Remarkables ski field carpark. On parking and readying our gear, we learned that one of our party had been worrying for the last four hours about whether he had packed his skins. It turned out that he had his skins but had forgotten something far more important: his thermos of tea. After a quick chat with the ski patrol regarding skinning up the field, and a quick snigger at the snow conditions (what is “packed powder”, anyway?), we started up the slope.

We aimed for the Wye Creek col, and after an initial slog in the shade of the mountains, emerged into lovely sunshine beneath a bluebird sky that lasted for nearly the entire day. Resting at the top of the col, we enjoyed outstanding views both into the Wye creek drainage and north where Mount Aspiring was visible. A cup of tea at the top made the view that much sweeter.

Matteo shredding the ‘powder’

While the views were sublime, the snow, alas, was merely passable. Indeed, the common theme of the day was that the skiing was better than expected, even though at first glance the snow was… unremarkable. We bottomed out at the Wye Creek tarns, and after another delicious cup of tea for those of us fortunate to partake in such things, we re-attached the skins and ascended to the saddle between Wye and Doolan’s Creeks. At this point, two of our party decided to return to the car, citing the reasons of two previous days of cross-country skiing and ill-fitting ski boots.

For those who haven’t skied into Doolan’s Creek, as I had not, the terrain here is significantly steeper than that found in Wye Creek. Given good snow conditions, the slopes are at the perfect angle for beautiful skiing, and there were some comely slopes that looked particularly inviting. However, the avalanche hazard for the day was rated as “considerable”, and, with due abundance of caution, we proceeded to dig a snow pit on a likely aspect. And by “we”, I mean Hugh dug the pit: Matteo and I, being immigrants, did not want to steal a job from a hard-working Kiwi.

The snow block barely sustained a gentle tap before collapsing, and we decided to ski a shallower slope rather than risk a news headline calling the alpine club into disrepute. Even though we backed off, another group, entering the slope from another point, decided that the slope looked just fine and roared down the centre of the slope. After we (Hugh) dug another pit on a somewhat shallower, sunnier aspect with significantly better stability, we enjoyed a fantastic run down a moderately steep slope with “better-than-expected” snow.

As tempting as another run was, no hazard-free ascent route allowed us to ascend to the saddle and re-ski our chosen slope. Instead, we started up a rib that would take us back to the ski-field. We met up with the aforementioned group at the same time that a large avalanche came into view. We were told that the avalanche had come down an hour before and that a skier had been caught in it and lost a ski. This avalanche was on roughly the same aspect as the slope that we declined to ski, which perhaps emphasizes the need for cautious appraisal of slope conditions, especially when the avalanche rating is “considerable.”

We took one more run down a mellow slope before ascending to a saddle overlooking the ski field. Some survival skiing brought us down to the ski field proper, and thence to the lodge and parking lot, where we met up with our other party members. By this time the clouds had started to move in, and the temperature started to drop, making it a good point to end a very nice day skiing in the Remarkables.

A special thanks to Matteo for organizing the trip.

Posted: 14/08/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland