Sunday, August 20, 2006

The 'Snowmans' Tame Mount Ruapehu

Never before had Billy-Bob Bowman donned a pair of skis and deliberately slid down a snow covered mountain but today was the day. Firstly, for some of the TCA readers among you, the venue is well known: Whakapapa ski field straddles the northern slopes of Mount Ruapehu, a still geologically active volcano which last erupted in 1996! The Ski Park sits within the mountainous confines of Tongaro National Park, just 45 min’s drive south of Taupo, NZ. This time however rather than a crater like landscape of caldera’s and cones interspersed with champagne-like mineral lakes, it was covered with a thick blanket of snow, cloud and quite frankly nothing was visible beyond ones nose.

Mt. Ruapehu – as it could have looked! [Courtesy of Skotel Post Cards]

Robert who works with Paul (and also likes his cakes) came down with his wife Lorie and teamed up with the Billy-Bob Snowmens at The Skotel, a rather homesome 1970’s style wooden panel alpine lodge that sits on a rocky promontory just above the classier, yet more expensive, Châteaux. Arriving Sunday morning the weather was poor: rain; snow and wind, but to the party's amazement the lower slopes were still open. The only thing that stood in their way was the two mile snow covered road leading from the lodge up to the slopes where they could all hire their boots and poles. For the first time since their arrival in NZ the Bobster (Paul and Stef’s car) made full use of the 4WD mode and began to slowly pass many a lesser vehicle on route left stranded on the roadside or turning back to the car park for snow chain hire!

On route to the ski fields! Full 4WD mode.

Day 1: Paul and Lorie were the beginners on this outing as both Stef and Robert admitted they had skied before; it soon became clear this was indeed the case. Paul delayed the first foray onto the slopes by requiring the largest pair of Size 13 ski boots the hire company had. Once the staff had found a pair and had dusted off these antiques from the glass cabinet they were off!

Paul, Lorie and Robert just before their ski lesson.

Paul, Stef and Lorie has a lesson on the nursery slopes in the afternoon while Robert posed on the slopes and tackled the higher parts of the lower mountain runs. By the end of the session, even though it was clear she would have rather been texting her boyfriend, the instructor still managed to impart a few basic techniques - notably the infamous snow plough, which became Paul’s stance of choice for the remainder of the trip.

Billy-Bob hones his snow plough technique;
angry mob of snow boarders in background.

Stef was clearly on a higher plain as she was doing some fancy twists and turns within a short space of time. Her lessons at the age of 16 with Franz Clammer had clearly paid off, and thank God as Paul relied on her expert tuition for the rest of the day! No major mishaps except for Paul forgetting the 'snow plough technique' and, more critically the 'brake', ending up in the orange netting at the foot of the nursery slope.

Stef says "NO!" to snow plough and shows off on the higher slopes

Day 2: The weather – snow, rain, hail and 45mph cross winds - meant two things -(1) More layers and (2) more skiing. Following a rather substantial breakfast of bacon, egg and muffin (with extra mushrooms) and three rounds of toast, Paul and Robert were ready for the day. The weather was worse than day one and sadly the beautiful mountain scenery was once again obscured by the blizzard. Paul and Stef were glad they had purchased some cool dude ski goggles as this kept most of the elements out, as did the polyprop thermal top and Billy-Bob patent green long johns. The second day went much the same as the first with Robert and Stef really getting into their groove. Lorie decided to have another beginner lesson with a better instructor while Paul, after only 3 hours skiing the day before, decided he was ready for the next - Intermediate level - lesson. Big mistake!

The writing was on the wall from the off for Paul as he struggled to even get to the start of the icy muster point on the higher intermediate slopes (which went by the rather worrying name of the ‘Rockgarden’). Stef came along too and they were off. Well Stef was off, Paul on the other hand started to panic as his beloved snow plough technique failed to cope with the much sharper gradient and went arse-over-tit and lost both skis. The ski run was much narrower and, alas, Paul soon realised that he needed a much tighter turning circle than a jumbo jet to deal with 'Intermediate Level'. Three tumbles and one slam into an ice ridge later Paul decided to retreat to the beginner slopes and put it down as a good first attempt. The only thing keeping him going was Stef’s encouragement, coupled with her laughter and the rather enticing siren like Irish accent of the ski instructor. After meeting with Robert and Lorie for some mediocre après ski lunch, exchanging tales of their exploits and wondering if the weather could get any worse they all decided to have another bash at the beginner slopes before heading back to the lodge before their cars got snowed under.

Paul's 'man from milk tray' impression for Stef,
just before bedtime.

Day 3: the Billy-Bobs arose early due to the constant banging of children on the wafer-thin wooden panel walls of the adjacent cabin. Their now military-like regime of retrieving their wet ski gear from the drying room, slipping into thermal layer after thermal layer and posing in the room mirrors was sadly wasted. There had been 40cm of heavy snow fall over night and all ski fields were closed for the day. There was only one thing for it, another long breakfast, de-ice the car, snow ball fight and the 3hour journey home via the hot springs in Rotorua.

Brave Stef de-ices the car:
Paul drinks hot tea and throws a snow ball at her.

(Posted by: Paul)

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At 1:27 pm, August 31, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Great write-up Billy-Bobs. An Arctic Division, I like it!

...all because the lady loved TCA.

(Get it?)



At 8:47 pm, August 31, 2006, Anonymous Yve said...

Lovely snow!

At 9:40 pm, August 31, 2006, Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Hmm, the term "Freakishly large feet" comes to mind BB...
It looks like you had a wonderful time, I can remember my days of ploughing the snow. If I remember correctly there was a lot of me hitting the snow, and not a great deal of me sliding across the mountainside with panash and flair. (Like Stef..)

What about iceskating? A wonderful outdoor, natural ice rink with trees about and bullrushes on the far edge... I'd teach you how to play bullrush hockey by moonlight.

But the real question is, BB, will you do it again?


At 9:31 pm, September 02, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Hey steady on about the freakish feet! it must have been the extra thick ski socks. Ice skating is fun although i'm equally uncoordinated at that sport- I broke my front tooth iceskating a while back. Bullrush hockey sounds intriguing.

Will I ice skate again...oh yes!


At 5:30 am, September 03, 2006, Blogger Ju's little sister said...

The most exciting thing about bullrush hockey is that the game doesn't stop while you replace your bullrush hockey stick due to it having fallen to pieces.

It did mean would you go skiing again, though.

Freakishly large feet was a follow on from a comment Ed made about my sisters's feet in one of the earlier blogs - nothing particularly personal (big socks? sure mate, whatever you say!)


At 9:23 am, September 04, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Will I ski again - of course! infact we are hoping to go again next weekend. I will ring ahead now to secure my ski boot size.

Bullrush hocky sounds like a TCA ride, it does not stop if one or more of the riders crash or fall to pieces.


At 10:29 am, September 05, 2006, Blogger Ju's little sister said...

Truly the TCA is an adventure of grand proprtions.

Ju tell's me you're going to come up to Auckland to check out Woodhill Forest Bike Park?
I've lined up a couple of friends who'll be keen to come too. Jamo's pretty speedy too so you can go faster than you'd be able to with me. 'Specially since the TCA waits for no man.

(or woman)


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