Words and most photos by David Lesh
With half of our NZ trip behind us, we began to feel some pressure to step our game up and really make use of our little remaining time here. The weather was rainy and terrible for over a week and Snowpark was starting to show serious signs of it. There was dirt poking out everywhere (even on the landings of the jumps) and streams and pools had begun to form all over the hill. We (the Gilla House) were having a blast with our two rental cars and decided to take a few days off to purchase and destroy our very own rally car. Our vehicle of choice was a zippy 5-speed, all wheel drive, 1991 Subaru Legacy.
After stripping all unnecessary items from the car, we began to put it through its paces.
We of course made use of all available short cuts and 4-wheel drive roads on the way to skiing everyday.
With Snowpark literally days away from having to close, temperatures dropped and a storm blew in some much needed snow.
Rallying continued, of course. B gets us out of a high centered mess one day on the way home.
The storm blew over, the jumps were rebuilt, and shredding resumed. Devine, Seaton and Wallisch take a few laps.
That particular day was special. The North Face was putting on a private heli shoot for the newest additions to their team; Wallisch, Riddle and Martini. The footage is to be used for various things including online commercials and commercials for the X-Games. The helicopter arrived and set up while the athletes warmed up.
Wallisch kind of just does whatever he wants in the air, including truck drivers and blunts.
With a team of people flying in from around the world for this shoot, a week of weather hold, high winds, 3D high-def cameras, and a $3,000 pe hour heli, you might think that would make one a bit nervous. Wallisch, as cool as a cucumber.
TGR’s Todd Jones was hired by North Face to man the 3D, dual Red camera. Another day hanging out of a helicopter, ho hum.
Riddle pops off and draws his bow back.
Riddle is known for absolutely tweaking his grabs, sometimes a little too much.
Looking down to see a foot of edge missing after a run didn’t seem to bother Martini very much. Nick shows that he’s back in the game, and stronger than ever. Who needs edges anyway?
Between skiing and rallying, we continued to fly a few times a week. I had finished my license conversion and was a full-fledged NZ pilot. On this day, Henry, Roydon and I decided to fly from Queenstown to Milford Sound, a beautiful inlet on the west coast of New Zealand.
Flying through the New Zealand Alps was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, absolutely breathtaking with alpine ponds, streams, waterfalls, and glaciers.
On our final approach back into Queenstown.
With our rally car being far from destroyed, we gathered all members of the Gilla House and headed up to Snowpark one day to do work. JF, Henry, Seaton, B, Lesh (me) and Henrik looking amazing, as usual.
With our rental cars designated as “follow cam” cars, JF decided to rig up a nifty contraption using a broom, a ski pole, and some tape. Nice work JF.
There were a number of features we had been scoping out for years, this natural quarter pipe being one of them.
The real prize though was this stream gap I had been eyeing up since my first time here a few years ago. We cleared out some debris, scoped out the in-run and landing, did a few speed runs, threw a few hundred pounds of rocks in the trunk, and surveyed the angles while a sizable crowd began gathering. Everyone said the angles weren’t right and that we were going to die, but I felt pretty good about it. The real trick was the 10-foot gap we had to shoot in the outrun between a huge sign and an embankment with barbwire fencing on it. I stood on the in-run and got the line dialed in my head. B decided that he was crazy enough to ride shotgun and call out my speeds to me. Buckle up, go time.
Coming in at over 100km/h, we stomped it perfectly (about 25 feet past the far end of the creek), we shot the gap in the out-run, and circled back to bask in the glory of the cheering crowd.
With lots of cool places remaining unexplored, flying continued from the Queenstown Airport. This is a self-serve sort of place. B and I push the plane back after gassing er’ up.
The wonderful top ranked pro German snowboarder Silvia Mittermueller and talented Spanish photographer Alba Pardo joined us for this particular adventure. Silvia throws on a life preserver while Alba snaps a quick one.
It’s a bit tricky flying and snapping photos at the same time, so big thanks to Alba for taking these amazing pictures. They really capture the views we saw that day. We headed out of the Queenstown basin over the pass towards Cardrona and Snowpark.
Snowpark, in it’s entirely as seen from the air.
Our favorite winding rally road up to Snowpark, with Cardrona in the distance.
After buzzing the hill, we headed to Wanaka to do a few touch n’ gos and let people swap seats.
We of course did steep, full throttle turns over our beloved Gilla House, which can be seen in the very bottom right of this picture.
Alba gives the camera to Silvia, and takes the controls for her first time. Nice work Alba!
Flying planes is great, but I had always wanted to see what it would be like to jump out of one. Skydive Wanaka was nice enough to hook me up, so I headed over there to see what it was all about. The instructor packs our chute. Looks good to me, I guess.
As we geared up, one of the ballsier cameramen decided to buzz the office a few feet above at 120mph. Zoom.
We climbed into the turbine plane, and began climbing. The others jumped out at 12,000 feet, and we continued up to 15,000 feet for my jump. A little cramped indeed.
I gave the OK nod, and with a few backflips we were on our way.
Good views all around from up here.
Back on the ground, and with only a few days left in the trip, we headed back to Snowpark, where Pako Benguerel showed us young whippersnappers how to ski.
The Dumont even made an appearance, laying down flawless jump runs.
B Devine, laying it down real steezy.
And yes, even your author managed to get airborne.
Rallying still continued in between skiing. B took the wheel and got it up onto two wheels.
With all of us piled into the rally car, we began scoping our next big jump. We found a great roll over with an infinite landing and our brains began to turn. We calculated we needed about 800 lbs of rocks in the trunk to keep it level during flight on this 90-110 foot jump. B, Seaton, and I toss a few more in, bottoming out the rear suspension.
I hopped into the driver’s seat with B as my trusty co-pilot, and without as much as a speed check, we came in hot blasting over the knuckle. Once wasn’t enough, and we began sessioning it. Everyone took their turn riding along and the trunk and whole frame began bending because of the impacts and amount of weight in the back. Even Kim Lamarre was nuts enough to ride along for a run.
Thinking like true skiers, we found a wonderful cliff drop and immediately scoped the best line. B settled up for the two consecutive drops. The first was pretty mellow and smooth, but that wasn’t enough.
The second time, B pointed it off a little more lookers left than the first time. We advised B to slam on the brakes on the in-run but B decided to floor it. The car gapped to the bottom and slammed into the ground hard, bending the front end up a bit. B successfully stomped though and fully drove away no problem. The rally car was actually fine and continues to run to this day, but B’s back began hurting him a bit. Not thinking too much of it, B slammed a few beers and some pills and continued about his day, no biggie. A few weeks later and after arriving back in the US, B was working in Tahoe when his back began hurting again. After a quick visit to the doctor, they told him he had broken his back.
Our last day in NZ had arrived, and I grabbed Henrik, Henry, and Seaton for one last flight before heading home. Henrik was a little apprehensive to say the least about taking to the skies in a small airplane, but he decided it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t pass up.
The pilots at the aero club definitely thought we lost our minds when everyone donned facemasks as we piled into the plane. E’Dollo and Seaton, making flying look good.
We headed out over lake Wakatipu and did some steep turns over Lord of the Rings country. Henrik gets sucked into his seat while we pull a few G’s.
Everyone got to fly, including Taylor who flew a few laps around the traffic pattern.
Our time in New Zealand had come to an end. We cleaned the place, stashed the rally car, and disbanded the Gilla House. I’ll end this article by dropping the newest episode of B Devine’s “B-TV”. Enjoy!
BTV-3 DA GILLHOUSE N.Z. from First Drop on Vimeo.