The chill series is a series of competitions that began way back in 1999 where it started with 5 competitions at 5 different ski areas across one week. The Chill series is run by the Canterbury based snow business ‘Chill' that also runs a multi-mountain ski pass including up to 13 different ski areas in the Southern Alps. This year the chill series incorporates two competitions, the K2 Big Mountain at Craigyburn and the Black Diamond Big Mountain at Temple Basin. The K2 comp ran smoothly and with a week in between the two competitions some competitors headed home, whilst some headed to Mt Olympus for their annual ‘Gnar Week'. Across this week Chill saw 6 competitors have to pull out of the Temple Basin competition due to injury, myself included. The remaining athletes made the beautiful snowy drive up Arthurs Pass deep in the Southern Alps and completed a steep and sweaty 1 hour hike to the base of Temple basin to await their first day of competition. Anna Smoothy and I soon found out that trying to haul even just our ski gear up the track to Temple Basin is a bad and strenuous idea due to the mountain goat nature of the path and that we should have sent it up with our packs on the goods lift.
Day one, Anna Smoothy's alarm starts bleeping in the bunk above me, it's seven in the morning and the wind is howling, it has been all night. It would be a lie if I were to say the athletes all bounded out of bed down to breakfast bright and early excited to compete. Instead many looked out the window at the fog and went back to sleep, eventually slowly trickling into the kitchen/lounge area for breakfast and the briefing. The course had been posted the night before so whilst the judges were out inspecting the course the athletes were peering anxiously out the lodge windows with their binoculars trying to pick their line from the two start options. The course had limited smaller and intermediate technical options with mostly only huge drops or chutes leaving many wide open aspects which are nice to make powder hound turns however not so nice for scoring high points for technicality in your line. Charlie Lyons one of the judges was first to enter the lodge and round us all up for the 10 am briefing. He broke the news to the competitors that the judges had made a decision to not run the comp on the original course due to dangerous snow conditions consisting of 2cm crust on top of powder with many rocks underneath. Although this can be frustrating for competitors after they have spent time picking lines there was a sense of relief and agreement amongst everyone that it was better to find another venue.
The night before we had all teamed together to make light work of shoveling snow to get a good enough rope tow track so we could start the bottom tow ‘Temple Tow'. We then had a short 5-minute walk around the side of the face to get to the next tow ‘Downhill Tow' which took us right up to traverse and hike a steep boot pack into ‘Upper Bills' where the judges had chosen to now run the first day of the competition. On inspection the snow was still fairly punchy and hard to ski with areas of windblown ice, however the judges assured everyone it was much better than the snow on the original course and the comp would go ahead on ‘Upper Bills'. The competitors then had to make the hour long hike back to the top of the course to be started. The starting point was on the top of a very exposed rocky ridge described by Taylor Rapley as "treacherous and gnarly", with some athletes even changing their start point due to not wanting to proceed further to the other side of the ridge. The comp started with snowboard women then snowboard men, ski women, and finally ski men. Luckily by this time the fog had cleared making for a beautiful sunny day to compete and lift everyone's spirits.
Many of the snowboarders started with the same or similar lines mostly utilising an extremely rocky chute at the top of the course. As the day went on more riders fell in this area due to the rocks becoming more exposed as each rider scraped more snow off. Unfortunately local Canterbury skier Alex Brooke and Craigyburn competition winner Taylor Rapley both fell near the top of their runs, whilst Anna Smoothy had a ripper of a run taking out the girls ski category for day one. The male ski was again a show of very similar lines bringing the judges to say it was one of the hardest days of competition they have ever had to judge as many of the males did big airs off similar features at both the top and bottom of the course. But there had to be one leader so young Jeremy Hunt came out on top of the men's ski category on day one. Everyone was fairly exhausted after a long day of waiting around, hiking, and skiing, so a huge meal of lamb shanks and cheesecake for desert with entertainment from Wanaka's ‘Aloha or Die' duet was just the ticket to a good evening of winding down before all heading to bed reasonably early in preparation for day two.
The alarm above me blares again as doors creak open up and down the Temple Basin lodge corridor. Out the window is crisp blue sky with not a cloud in site and the sun peaking over the surrounding mountain peaks, quickly we pull our merinos on and scamper downstairs towards the smell of the sausages, baked beans, and eggs the chef has prepared us for breakfast. The rider briefing kicked off at 8.30 and we were told that the comp for day two would be on the same venue as day one and that they wanted to get started ASAP so they could run a freestyle session for the top five males after the main event. Quickly everyone (bar Cam and Tom who were somehow still fast asleep upstairs) got ready to head up the mountain to Upper Bills to inspect the course. Those raised in the clubbies showed us chairlift users up with their pro nutcracker skills as we all headed back up the nutcracker tows to the two main hikes we had to make to get to the course. Due to the warm weather the crust on top of the 2 day old powder had yet again thickened and hardened after another day and night of thawing and freezing, not every skier or boarders dream conditions. Once at the top of the course the decision was made that the snow conditions were still too hard and dangerous to compete on so we waited and hour and a half for it to soften. What bored skiers and snowboarders can get up to in this amount of time on top of a mountain in the scorching sun I will leave up to your imaginations but there was a lot of kit stripped off, vitamin D absorbed, sunscreen applied, and phone call-binocular-instagram banter going back and forward between ridgelines as it was the first spot of cellphone reception we had in days.
Finally the start call was made and in the same order as day one the athletes dropped in one by one carefully making their way down face trying not to catch an edge in the crusty punchy snow conditions. There were a few crashes along the way but everyone made it out of the second day largely unscathed. Most riders avoided the tight rocky sections that were ridden on day one and took more open flowing lines with bigger drops. Despite the less than ideal snow conditions the males (skiers especially) decided not to hold back sending some huge airs at the top of the course and bringing more of a freestyle flair adding tricks to their drops. Jason Waters managed to give us all a heart stopping moment when he took a tricky line through salt and pepper rocks to air off a huge cliff at the bottom off the course, only to hit the rocks on the way down flipping him upside down but luckily throwing him outwards to land in the snow rather than on the rocks below. Connery Lundin showed off his skills doing a huge 360 over a section of rocks at the bottom of the course winning him the freestyle award.
Canadian Marian Krogh lay down a line with no falls for the second day in a row including some controlled airs and good use of features at the bottom of the course gaining her first place overall in the women's ski category with Anna Smoothy coming in second and Alex Brooke third. In the male ski Wanaka's Sam Lee showed off his smart skiing and skills with a technical line involving some decent air time to land him a much deserved first place in front of Jeremy Hunt in second and Cam McDermid in third. Mikaela Hollsten from Finland took out the female snowboard with Tess Carney in second. And lastly the male snowboard was won overall by the big mountain man himself Colin Boyd followed by two New Zealanders Andrew White in second and Rupert Smith in third.
Well done to all riders who competed in the Black Diamond Big Mountain Competition and a big thanks to Chill for putting on a great comp series as well as all the sponsors especially Black Diamond and Temple Basin ski field. Good luck to all the riders who are now carrying on to compete in the NZ Open and Extreme competitions!
Photo credit - ACE Media