Photos by Mark Bridgewater, Riley Bathurst, Cam McDermid & Tori Beattie.
The Universe has a funny way of making us mere mortals look like a bunch of fools. Finding the perfect moment to enact Murphy’s anarchic view of the order of things is about as difficult as shooting fish in a barrel. This doomed weekend was a case in point. We had assembled a crack team of some of the best skiers in the country. We had filmers, photographers, drones, timelapse gizmos, backcountry travel kit, media passes and big dreams. A massive developing low off the west coast of the South Island was on-track to dump a significant amount of snow to low levels, and the epicentre of the storm was set to pass directly over Mt Olympus. We didn’t need convincing twice to kick the travelling circus into gear.
The trip was pencilled into calendars at the start of the week with an eye on the developing low. As the models waxed and waned, and commitments were discussed, we decided it was best to stop looking and just see what the weekend might bring. It was going to be awesome to get everyone together in the clubbies, and we’d have fun regardless of the conditions. On friday night as we charged north through the darkness, we were all secretly amped on the bottomless pow and epic shots we were going to get and had prepared behind the scenes to be staying for a few nights more than the weekend break we told our respective bosses and dependants back home.
The storm, still churning away in the Tasman, had turned into a beast. We were heading up with the express intention of getting snowed in.
After boosting out of our respective jobs in Wanaka at 3pm on Friday we quickly ran around town trying to arrange all our gear, work out car logistics, and make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything or anyone, which we inevitably and predictably managed to do. With lofty goals of getting drone follow-cam shots behind the cars as the sun set through the Lindis, we eventually departed/returned/departed again (with the drone onboard this time) and watched the outskirts of Wanaka disappear in our rear view mirrors as the sun completed its arc behind the mountains. (Drone Fail #1: Miscommunication about who is responsible for transporting the drone from the house to the car will result in the absence of the drone.)
The crew coming up from the south consisted of Sam and Anna Smoothy, Tom Brownlee, Cam McDermid, Fraser Macdougall and myself. Hauling north through the speed-trap straights of Canterbury, the consumption of beers and the entire back-catalogue of Creedence Clearwater Revival helped pass the time as eventually we arrived at the Bottom Hut of Mt Olympus at 10.30pm, and were met by Vince Boleama. After exchanging handshakes and high fives, we asked how conditions were looking up on the skifield: “It’s quite diabolical really. Frozen Chicken Heads and Whale Dicks. Everywhere. …” Vince will only ever call a spade a spade.
Brushing the comment aside with some laughs and terrible mental imagery of frozen whale’s phalus’, we assured ourselves that in less than 24 hours it would be transformed into a matte white dreamscape. When Nick Sauce Aubrey showed up we all headed into the hut to quickly light the fire and warm the place up, cracked open the bottle of Sailor Jerry’s and dealt the cards for the first of many rounds of Gin.
The Mt Olympus access road traverses under some pretty serious terrain. When a snowfall hits with enough intensity to pose an avalanche threat to the cars travelling below, the access road is closed to all traffic and helicopters are called in to bomb the slopes above. For the lucky few who manage to become shipwrecked above the snowline, a private playground awaits where the lifts never close and the rules of the real world below cease to exist. This was all we talked about as we played cards well into the night. No one had bothered to check an update of the weather. We had heard it had downgraded a bit, but were still confident we would be snorkling through a private skifield by sunday.
Daybreak saw us woken by the arrival of the Christchurch crew of Blake Lepper, Lee McDermid, Charlie Lyons and girlfriend Georgie, photographer Mark Bridgwater and filmer Riley Bathurst.
The remaining inches of Sailor Jerry’s were passed around the excited circle of crew before we chained up the trucks, fired up the drones, and took off up the final section of the access road to a booming Led Zeppelin soundtrack.
Hanging out the side windows of the trucks with gear overflowing the trays and drone following high above, we arrived into the top carpark like a bunch of fucking rockstars. Mobbing the access tow, we ascended to the hut above. Upon later review it was discovered that Sauce managed to successfully fly the drone, but unsuccessfully press the record button. (Drone Fail #2: Drones are just time consuming expensive toy helicopters when you fail to press the red button.)
We were a tour-de-force when we arrived at the luxuriously renovated top hut of Mt Olympus. No sooner had we thrown our packs on our bunks did the snow start falling. We were met by the local grom crew of Pat Greene, Jamesa Hampton, and brothers Charlie and Craig Murray. These kids know this place like the back of their hands, and absolutely shred. Buoyed along on a torrent of rookie stoke at the opportunity to ratpack around their home turf with some of NZ biggest international ski superstars, the froth levels were as effervescent as the hop-flavoured paleo waters being handed around the ever increasing crew.
The clouds descended and the media crew set up a timelapse of the approaching storm as the rest of us sat down to another round of cards and a hearty Mt Olympus lunch. A few excited souls suited up for an exploratory run in the precipitous grey murk in the early afternoon, but by 3.30 its was decided that it still needed a bit more time to cover the boiler plate ice and whale’s dicks that lurked below. Dreams of skiing postponed, clothes were shed and the cover taken off the hot tub.
By nightfall the mouth-wateringly delicious aromas of Beef Wellington were filling the 60 bed hut as the snow continued to pound down outside. Engaged in an increasingly shouty game of Gin, the banter around our 2 tables quickly turned competitive and a call-out was make to split into teams and challenge to get the best shot before dinner. The prize was glory, and the cost was the few layers of skin that would be stripped from hands and faces by the howling wind and spindrift outside.
Eyes were cast to the windows, and calculations about the depth of accumulation were speculated.
Tom Brownlee and Cam McDermid quickly and quietly disappeared down the hall as Mark Bridgewater, Sam Smoothy and Blake Lepper discussed possible shots on the slope immediately above the hut. Leaving the table to get suited up for battle, the groms quickly followed in their footsteps and before we could work out where everyone had gone the first Mt Olympus Shitshow Shootout was on!
As the rest of us watched out the windows from the warm confines of the hut and waited for our dinner feast, the lights started to pulse and waver. By now the winds were howling out of the sou’west, and after 30 minutes of surges the music suddenly stopped, the lights went out and the power shut down. The lines in the Lake Coleridge area below had gone down in the wind and snow, and we had lost mains power to the mountain. Switching over to the diesel generator, the team were able to fire up the hut lights again and the music cranked as we sat down to eat and watch the show unfolding outside.
The snow that had fallen was cold, dry, and perfect for night-time slashies. Blake, Smoothy, Fraser, Tom, Cam, Sauce and the Groms hiked and slashed for the lenses of Mark and Riley.
From the deck it was a scene to behold; 12 headtorches scattered across a mountain in the freezing darkness with disembodied voices screaming “Where should I turn?” “I dunno” “Can you see that fresh patch over there?” “Nup” “Crap.”
Lit by torches and hand held flashes, some shots were blown and some shots were bagged before it was back into the hut for a warming whisky and group huddles around the screens of Mark, Cam, and Riley’s cameras.
With the generator due to be shut off at 10.30pm to conserve power for the morning, the majority of the crew retreated to the bunkroom we all shared and hit the sack for a big day of pow shredding the next day.
For the few who stayed late it was quickly discovered that once the power was switched off the entire payment system for the bar went down. Blake, Smoothy, Mark Bridgwater and Sauce decided that they should take advantage of this unique situation and make stocktake of the bar at the end of the month somewhat more difficult. Or easy. Depending on your affinity for counting.
The Three Whiskeyteers.
Sunday we woke dusty-eyed to no bacon frying, no hot water, and no tows turning. The generators were due to be fired back up at 7am, but as the radio chatter went from being jovial to sounding slightly more stressed, it became clear that perhaps the generators were not coming online anytime soon. The starter batteries had died, and the only way to get much needed power to the hut and the tows was to send ski patrol down to the carpark to take the 2 big batteries out of the bulldozer and then skin them back up to the tow shed. A solid effort. The cannibalism of the dozer meant that clearing the road was now out of the question, and we had managed to get snowed-in on a technicality with just 9cm on the ground! Winning.
We had achieved what we came here to do. A small celebration ensued.
Having successfully managed to get stranded up the hill with the road closed and the field to ourselves, we were then thwarted in our attempts to track the whole place out before anyone else by the fact that none of the tows were working, and so in order to get up the hill we would need to exert some kind of effort. Effort that was perhaps a little beyond most of the crew.
To most of our amazement the Three Whiskyteers from the night before had decided to put us all to shame and hike for some shots above the hut.
Watching as Sam, Blake and Mark postholed up the face and then set up to slash a perfectly lit windlip, we all went quiet and waited to see how workable this snow would be.
Under the collective eyes of the entire hut the boys dropped. First Sam, then Blake.
What ensued can only be described by animated GIFS, and is proof proper that Whiskey and extended passivity are not the cornerstones of athletic performance.
The generator eventually spluttered back into life at around the same moment that the mains power came back on (Go home Murphy, you’re drunk.) The tows now turning, we eventually got out onto the hill at lunchtime and set out to do what we had come here to do. Mob the place!
Crews were spread all over the mountain in little enclaves of desperate productivity. Drones flew, camera shutters clicked, and though the depth of snow varied greatly, there were little pockets of cold-smoke glory to be found. We were finally able to ratpack around Mount Olympus with the mega crew hooting and hollering as we shook off the cabin fever that was just one more game of Gin away from going full-blown Lord Of The Flies…
In 3 hours of skiing we got what we came for and more. As the sun started to dip behind the encircling peaks it was time for one last round at the bar, thankyous and goodbyes, and then the fully laden descent down to the carpark and back to the real world below.
In the end the original mission of the trip became completely irrelevant as we all relaxed into one of the funniest weekends we have all shared together in a long time. As one thing after another seemed to go ‘wrong’, we just laughed it off and found something else fun to do. This is the beauty of the club fields. The skiing can be epic, or it can be downright shit. But the experience is so much more than just churning out laps.
As we all ripped around the field searching for snow in the last few hours of the trip, a hungover Sauce finally managed to find the record button on the drone, and stalked us around the mountain as we made turns big and small. Check out the video below from All Us In Winterland of the precious few moments that the drone was in use. Powder 8’s from the air are a beautiful thing.
And finally a massive shout out to Glen, Ben, Vince and the whole crew at Mount Olympus for making a bunch of ratbags like us feel more than welcome, and for working so hard to keep The Playground of The Gods awesome.
Also to our amazing media team of Mark Bridgewater, Cam McDermid, and Riley Bathurst for their hard work and the very generous use of shots for this article.
Until next time.
I could not resist commenting. Well written Wirkdauer cialis!