Words & photos by David Lesh
My trip to New Zealand began like most people’s, spending countless excruciating hours roaming airports and being crammed into tiny seats. Definitely not enjoyable, but the thought of being in an exotic place like NZ is the light at the end of the tunnel that makes it bearable.
After a handful of flights, layovers, delays, and shitty in-flight meals I was finally on the final leg of the trip from Aukland to Queenstown, on the South island. That’s when the views start getting good.
The “New Zealand Alps” begin to form under us.
Our approach into Queenstown brought us directly over Cardrona, which can be seen here, complete with it’s very recognizable clock tower. Across the valley is Snowpark.
Because of the variable weather, steep mountains, short runway, and tight terrain, Queenstown airport is only open during daylight hours. For anyone who has flown here, they can attest that the views are astounding.
JF Houle was kind enough to scoop me from the airport and we headed to the little town of Wanaka, which sits by a crystal blue lake and snowcapped mountains.
NZ is known for their various forms of Kiwi that include the bird, the fruit, and the people. I find the fruit to be the most delicious of the three, and was quick to take advantage of the cheap local prices.
The Wanaka/Queenstown area is where the movie Lord of the Rings was filmed, very unique, mysterious mountains indeed.
I was lucky enough to be invited to live at “The Gilla House” in downtown Wanaka, which consists of the following hoodlums:
-JF “Johnny” Houle
-“Uncle B” Devine
-David “The Criminal” Lesh (me)
-Phil “B-Dog” Casabon
-Henrik “E’Dollo” Harlaut
-Taylor “T-Sizzle” Seaton
We also enjoyed the daily presence of “Lil’ Pat” Baskins and Rafael “Raf” Regazzoni at the Gilla House.
The following morning I was introduced to the daily routine which includes waking up, juggling a soccer ball for about an hour, eating breakfast, packing both cars, and fighting over who would be allowed to drive us up the mountain at breakneck speeds, doing e-break turns around every corner.
Phil and B load up, around noon.
(left to right) B, B-Dog, Pat, E’Dollo, Taylor and I.
While waiting for things to soften up a bit, B-Dog warms up on some rails.
Lil Pat gets blunted in the pipe.
B sucks up some kinks.
Snowpark has about four inches of snow, which can make proper jump building a bit tricky. Their solution is to make their large step-down jumps out of dirt and then cover them with a thin layer of snow. This presents a problem when trying to move/change jumps, and always seems to result in very flat landings. The jumps become slightly less painful when things soften up on select afternoons.
JF follow cams Alexis Godbout into the second jump.
Our good Kiwi friend and true “G” Henry McDougall runs the lifts at Snowpark, and after many a heavy night of partying still manages to get through the workday without getting fired. Nice work Henry.
Although Snowpark rarely changes up the features in their park, they do a decent job of supplying a variety of fun toys, as Lil Pat demonstrates.
There are basically three runs to choose from: jumps, rails, or pipe. When the jumps aren’t good, the rails are usually the place to be, and you can even hit two little jumps at the bottom. Henrik shows even on little jumps, steeze is attainable.
Conditions and weather usually dictate the best features to hit on a given day, and there are always sessions going down on various features. The stair set is a Snowpark staple.
Phil on the center rail.
I wasn’t about to let them have all the fun.
E’Dollo continues to prove to be one of the most creative and stylish skiers in the world.
JF spent the summer in Whistler, and has been absolutely killing it this year. Solid skier, solid guy.
Kevin Rolland gets corked on the jump line.
Casabon finds a way to hit features in ways that would have never crossed my mind. On firm days he doesn’t even hit rails or jumps, he simply “finds tranny” which involves gapping from random knolls, bumps, etc.
Coming to NZ isn’t necessarily all about skiing. I got my pilot’s license this past year in the US and figured I might as well get a New Zealand pilot’s license as well so we could fly around down here. After learning about the various differences in the way they do things down here and a quick BFR (Biannual Flight Review), I was good to go.
Seaton grabs a headset and a life preserver and we pile into Echo Tango Tango.
(left to right) Roydon, B, Taylor and I. All smiles in this cockpit.
The scenery is pretty magical; snow-capped mountains, meandering rives, crystal blue lakes, and even rainbows.
Flying around straight and level isn’t much fun, doing dramatic wind-drop stalls is much more exciting. Nose goes straight up, speed drops, and then the nose pitches sharply down towards Lake Wakatipu as a wing drops. I recover nicely, of course.
After some low flying and touch-n-go’s on random dirt strips and sheep pastures, we headed back to Queenstown and landed before sunset. The next day, we took up our usual routine.
Driving to the hill here is a little different than in most places. You drive on the other side of the road, there are no stoplights (or even stop signs), and most bridges are one lane only.
You also may also encounter a flock of sheep in the middle of the road with little to no warning as you come around a blind corner at 110km/h.
After making your way through a flock of sheep, you turn off the paved road and begin your ascent up towards the top of the mountain, which hopefully is showing some signs of snow.
Driving to/from the mountain is half the fun, I feel sorry for the people who don’t try their hardest to destroy their rental cars. We choose to destroy our cars in a number of ways including off-roading, jumping, and puddle roof surfing...
Lil Pat gets hyphy one morning.
B puts the pedal to the metal with me on the roof. Go faster B!
Another day, same routine. Alexis puts both hands to good use.
On firmer days such as this, the step-up is a good low impact option. Once one person starts throwing down, everyone joins in. Spaniard Pako Benguerel and Noah Albaladejo blast over the top.
Yours truly, GTS’ing between runs.
Back down at the step-up AJ Kemppainen strings back his bow.
Seaton ditches his poles and grabs tail.
After this particular day of skiing, we headed back down the mountain and I decided I would attempt a small river crossing I had scoped the day before. Taking all the speed I could, I came in fish tailing and got the car good and deep in the stream, successfully making it through to the other side. The car needed a good wash after all that off-roading and e-breaking.
New Zealand has proven to be a great time so far, and with a little bit of time left in our trip, plenty more well-documented fun is sure to be had. Part two coming soon…
CarJump from Matt Margetts on Vimeo.