(check out Josh’s great website for more stellar stories of skiing adventure: JoshDaiek.com)
I powered down the table saw and took a seat for my lunch break when I noticed a missed call from Mike Douglas. His voicemail informed me of an upcoming ski trip to New Zealand, I frantically called back eager to hear the details. The trip was for a Salomon Freeski TV project, the plan, explore and expose some of the less popular skiing on the northern island. I was thrilled, I’ve always wanted to ski New Zealand. I tried not to sound overly excited or anxious as I confirmed with Douglas “I’m in!” I hung up the phone and began dancing around the room like an idiot.
My first instinct was to research and gather as much info as possible about the mountains and conditions on the north island, but as I began typing into the Google search I simply stopped. What does it matter? I thought. I’m going to get on a plane, fly half way around the world and go skiing during summer! That’s all that matters anyway. It seemed like the right thing to do, maybe a little more spontaneous, no expectations, no schedule, no worries.
After an airport rendezvous in Auckland, the crew assembled of 3 skiers; Mike Douglas, Chris Rubens, myself, 2 cinematographers; Anthony Bonello, Ben Knight and 1 photographer; Bruno Long. We crammed all gear and people into two cars and rolled out. We merged onto the highway and I unfolded a road map asking Mike “Where are we going?” It was then that he began to reveal the story of the natives, the Maori Tribe, and their sacred volcanoes. We were out to explore, document and ski these historical volcanoes.
Our first day we headed to Mt. Ruapehu to explore the ski resort Whakapapa. As we drove to the mountain I sat in the back seat, my eyes glued to the window, anxiously awaiting the sight of the mountains. Mother nature had other plans though, with dense cloud cover, rain and nearly nonexistent visibility we weren’t afforded a real view of the mountain. The first week we struggled to tough out the elements, battling in the rain and seeing how long are goretex would last. A combination of bullet proof crust and the gnarliest flat light I’ve ever seen (or not seen) made for some tough skiing too.
After a long day of strife at the resort we made our way home when all of the sudden, the clouds began to part. For the first time on our trip we actually saw Mt Ruapehu! I think we were all pretty excited to finally see the mountain and as the sunset behind the horizon I was pumped for the next day.
The next morning was beautiful with low clouds and high alpine sun! I was ecstatic, we were finally going to get into some real skiing and take advantage of some of the sick terrain we had been hearing about. We took a T-bar to the top of the resort where a quick hike put us on the top of the Pinnacles, a shark tooth looking ridge line covered with spines and cliffs. We did our best to bear with the bullet proof snow conditions, trying to milk every windblown pocket we could find. At the very least, we were able to produce some cool scenic shots. We chattered around the Pinnacles for a few hours before the rain and clouds rolled back in.
Torrential downpours shut down the resort and effectively us for the next few days. We attempted a long hike up the neighboring volcano Mt Ngauruhoe, only to be weathered out again by heavy rains and minimal visibility. Moral was getting low. The quaint fishing town of Turangi, where we were staying, didn’t offer much activity either. Luckily, Rubens bought a soccer ball, so we amused ourselves with soccer. We took advantage of the natural hot springs area and yes, consumed copious amounts of adult beverages too.
I meticulously scoured over weather reports and watched web cams waiting for the next weather break. I quickly learned the weather forecasters had no idea what the weather would do anyway. Down day after down day the crew grew more anxious and stir crazy. While sipping down a cup of hot coffee, I slumped into my normal morning routine of reading another negative forecast of high winds and rain for Whakapapa. I hopped over to the Mt Ruapehu website to sneak a look at the webcam, when I was surprised to see blue skies. It was “Full disc!”
We raced to the mountain anticipating a productive day of skiing and filming. As we got closer to the mountain I could see the snow line had dropped substantially. The thought of skiing soft snow was intoxicating. We rode up the chairlift noticing lines filled in that weren’t even skiable days before. It snowed quite a bit!
We spent the morning picking off little lines in and around the Pinnacles. Finding some good edgeable snow in some areas and patches of wind scoured ice in others. Not quite the pow I was hoping for. Winds the night before were predicted at over 150km/hr which made for some rather variable snow conditions.
The crew gathered for lunch and discussed options for the afternoon, but ultimately decided on making a push for the summit of Ruapehu. We hadn’t been up top yet so I was excited to see the crater on this massive volcano. We toured high above the chairlifts with amazing views of Mt Ngauruhoe and the Pinnacles. For the first time of the trip everything seemed to be falling into place. Douglas, Rubens and I hiked up just shy of the summit to a false peak. As we set up for a shot, clouds poured over the summit blocking out all visibility. There we were again, stranded in a white out. Like a dog with it’s tail between it’s legs we made our way down the mountain for one last time.
We showed up with high expectations of shredding these volcanoes, but they proved to have the upper hand with their mighty power and strength. It was a tough battle against the elements but in the end it was a great trip. For me exploring new mountains and skiing new terrain is one of my favorite things. Being in storms and battling mother natures natural forces can be half the fun too. I look forward to more New Zealand adventure in the future! Be sure to stay tuned to Salomon Freeski TV for more coverage of our trip. Thanks for reading!