Me against the rope tow

On Friday, Mt. Hutt was still closed, and I had almost given up hope of boarding in NZ. But after walking around Methven, John and I learned that one small club field was actually still open: Broken River. Not willing to forfeit another day of boarding, we jumped at the chance. A 90-minute drive away from Methven, and we were switchbacking a narrow, rocky road up to the club field. After parking at one of the tight bends and dropping our gear into a lift that would pull it up to the changing room, we had another 20 minute hike up the mountain in front of us, just to get to the ticket window. After buying a lift ticket, collecting our gear from the lift, and changing into our boots, another 15 minute hike up to the first rope tow.

Up until then, the small club field seemed like a worthy adventure neither of us had ever experienced. But that first rope tow is where hell started for me that day.

The idea of these rope tows is to grip the moving rope loosely and build up speed until you and your snowboard or skis are moving at the same speed as the rope. You have this metal “nut cracker” device (it looks and functions almost like a real nut cracker, just a bit larger) connected to you via a harness around your waist. Once moving along with the rope, you’re supposed to attempt to lock the nut cracker over the rope, thus eliminating the need to keep your hands tightly gripped on the rope.

The rope tow system: what a horrible design. Although it may be cheap to install on a low-budget ski field, it’s a nightmare for someone that’s never used an old-school rope tow before, especially while trying to keep a snowboard straight. Call me spoiled because of all the high-speed lifts at California, Nevada, and Utah runs. But John — Mr. “I’ll never swear at another T-Bar again” — Allsopp only did marginally better than me with the rope tows.

Let’s just end it there, and conclude that I never came close to figuring out the stupid rope tow. John was a little better off than me, and at least succeeded in getting halfway up the first tow lift. The only real ski lodge for the club field was located at the top of the first lift. If you can’t figure out the rope tow from the bottom, you’re out of luck. So since neither of us could conquer the rope tow, we both ended up hiking the first 150 meters straight up a 45-degree incline to the end of that first tow. Once at the lodge, we could rehydrate and rest from the multiple hikes it took us to get that far. More attempts at the higher rope tows ended with no more success than the first.

Though we left the club field that afternoon feeling rather defeated, neither one of us could get over the incredible views of the surroundings at that altitude. A photo gallery posted once I get back to the U.S. will certainly include some shots from the day at Broken River.

Fortunately for us, after two straight days earlier this week of closings, (supposedly due to high winds, but we think it could be due to something else…) Mt. Hutt finally opened on Saturday. So we actually got a good day of boarding at our intended destination. Early runs were greeted by hard-packed snow. But a mid-day snowfall dusted the slopes with just enough powder to make carving a lot easier that afternoon (and it protected my bones from several dramatic falls). A great day of boarding, even if it was two days late.

I dropped John off at the Christchurch airport early this morning for his flight back to Sydney. I think we were both pretty exhausted and a little sore from the two previous days of snowboarding. I’ll return to Sydney next Saturday for a couple days before flying back to San Francisco the next Monday.

I successfully arrived in Queenstown late this afternoon. It was a fun drive down here from Christchurch. Winding though the mountains, gorges, and snow-covered plains of New Zealand’s south island at 100km/hr can’t get much better. I knew there’d be a stark contrast of the weather here from the tropical Aussie beaches in North Queensland, but I still don’t think I was prepared for the cold temps — even when not at the top of a mountain.

Before logging off for tonight, I’ll give a quick plug for Wotif, a great resource for huge discounts off last-minute hotel and accommodation bookings. I think it’s originally based out of Australia, but it has available bookings in 32 countries. As of last night, while still in Christchurch, I didn’t have anything reserved here in Queenstown. I’m now staying at one of the nicest hotels in Queenstown, with a huge room overlooking Lake Wakatipu, and I’m only paying $15 NZD more than a hostel bed I had in Sydney, thanks to the deals on Wotif.

And a quick heads up: I didn’t originally think I would make it to New Zealand’s north island. But if you live in (or happen to be in) Wellington, I’m spontaneously heading to your windy city at the end of this week for a couple days of relaxation and (supposedly) some of the world’s best coffee, before heading back to Sydney. Look for more details in an upcoming entry if you’re interested in meeting up.