Basic Snowcraft

Sunday, 14 August 2022

Having had one cancellation, an enthusiastic group of nine, headed off from Christchurch at 8am to the Castle Hill Basin on a day that proved to be a stunner, with little wind and clear, blue skies. We were ably led by Raymond and Geoff who have many years and trip experiences tramping safely in alpine and snow conditions and who generously gave up their time to share their skills and knowledge. Our leaders had done their due diligence and recced Cloudy Hill as being ideal for our group of novices and those wanting to consolidate their snow skills.

Parking was secured at the bottom of Porters ski road on a day that was so busy, the road itself had been closed when the field’s car park reached capacity. As we donned our packs, resplendent with ice axes attached and headed up the hill, we saw several car-loads of eager skiers turned away.

The lesson began as soon as we were underway, as we discussed different snow conditions and the implications for travelling in snow, practicing how to kick steps across slopes (diagonally, vertically, up and down) and how to make the journey easier for those travelling behind. We took turns plugging the first steps and learnt what post-holing is.

Our morning tea spot allowed glorious views and we refreshed on hot drinks and world-famous ginger crunch. Yes, Eileen is writing this. Soon it was time to don our crampons and with great excitement our keen learners eagerly listened to the pros and cons of crampons, and how to fit and adjust them. With helmets on and our ice-axes in our uphill hands, adzes pointing forwards, we started to head to the summit with advice on how to choose a good route in the snow. We were advised to treat the snow “as if we owned it” and so we made our way up-hill, travelling as a team, sharing the lead and developing a rhythm and pace to minimise energy expenditure.

At the top we quickly ate lunch then annihilated the pristine snow, practising pigeon-holing (uphill and downhill), cutting steps and platforms, turning and changing direction in the snow. The danger of avalanches was discussed. Check your destination on-line before leaving town for weather and avalanche advice from the professionals. If the risk is low and your trip proceeds, we learned it is best to stay on the spurs and ridges, and pick travelling routes where there are some rocks showing. Although we didn’t get to practice self-arrest, our leaders emphasised “the best self-arrest is no self-arrest” and by being mindful of every step and good route choices, the need to self-arrest can hopefully be avoided.

The day was disappearing and soon it was time to head back downhill. We travelled down a lot quicker than our ascent and were soon in the cars and on our way, getting back to Christchurch at around 7pm.

Thanks to Raymond and Geoff for all the preparatory work and their guidance on the day. It was an excellent experience with lots of learning and laughter which laid the foundation for us beginners to grow in confidence and enjoy more winter snow trips.

We were: Raymond Ford, Geoff Spearpoint, Ian Beale, Graeme Nicholas, Shi-Ping Wang, Kevin & Heather Hughes, Kathy Ramsay and Eileen Mackay. (EM)