Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Chill Series

words by Hanna Fisher
photos by Cassie De Colling

Don’t be fooled by the name, the Chill Series may be one of the most laid-back Big Mountain competitions out there- but it is anything but chill. Set in the rugged club fields of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, the competition is home to some of the craziest terrain around - steep mountains, big cliffs, and chutes, such as “Plake’s Mistake,” named after the legend Glen Plake. 

Hiking the Cragieburn ridge to the start

Add to that not only some of the best Kiwi skiers and boarders, but also international talent from the far reaches of the globe - France, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, USA, England, Russia, and of course, two sweet ladies from good ol’ Australia, and you’ve got yourself some wild skiing. The competition is run over four days and two different resorts- Mt Olympus and Cragieburn. Competitors ride one run a day- their best 3 counting to the overall score.

After a rather tumultuous drive up (I’m talking one lane unsealed dirt roads, no guard rail, and a steep drop off just inches from the wheels), we made it up to Mt Olympus for Day One. The club fields bring skiing back to its’ roots - no chairlifts or even T-bars here - just a rope tow, and an intimidating metal device called a nutcracker. The locals tell stories of pro riders that come to film at their ski field, high, mighty and decked out in the latest gear, only to end up storming off in a huff because they can’t get the hang of the nutcracker! But that did not deter Nat and I, and after a couple of rather unsuccessful attempts on my part, we soon mastered it. 

Mt Olympus

Having only spent two days skiing at the Thredbo Chicks with Stix session this season, I was a bit nervous, and my legs felt more like jelly than the pistons of steel that they should have been (this is probably also due to a distinct lack of pre-season year, I promise I’ll do more...). Luckily, the run was the mellowest of the four days, not super steep or crazy, so I took an easyish line, with two rock jumps of a couple of metres each. I had a little side tap on my behind half-way down (think I just got a bit lazy and distracted) but after finishing I felt the surge of adrenalin and a yearning to go bigger and harder the next day. Nat, being the pillar of strength that she is, conquered first day nerves, and rode a solid line, stomping all her drops.

Day Two, and things stepped up a notch. We had about a 45 minute hike up to get to the start, a huge face full of steep chutes and big cliffs. Oh yeah! I’d been checking out one cliff since the day before, and was pretty keen to hit it. Sometimes things like that just jump out at you, and you can’t get them out of your mind. But it’s often hard to know whether to follow your heart (jump off the big cliff) or your brain (it’s pretty big, quite a flat and hard landing, and a big hole to clear at the base). It can be a fine line between pushing yourself, knowing what is possible, and what you are personally capable of. Getting it wrong can result in serious injury. I know that all sounds a bit serious, but it’s happened before, and so is constantly at the forefront of my mind. We’re not allowed to actually go up and ski the face beforehand, so you just have to look through binoculars, and sometimes, such as at this venue, you get a side view from the hike up (but often you can’t). So it’s a matter of trying to figure out exactly where to take off, where you should land and how much speed you need to clear it. In this case, it was all quite clear cut, no rocks in the in-run or landing, so all that was required on my behalf, was commitment. And commit I did. I skied the top part cleanly, jumping off a nice smaller rock, then fighting that urge to slow down too much before the drop, I stomped it. And that is why I love Big Mountain competitions! The challenge of doing something that scares you, pulling it off, skiing out, and just thinking, man, I love skiing. 

Hanna sending it- courtesy of Chill Series

That night, we drove a small convoy over the pass and in to the Craigieburn valley. Day Three, and another beautiful sunny day. The face was a new one for the competition, with plenty of cliffs, and some steep, steep faces and chutes. Very nice indeed. Unlike at Olympus, nothing really jumped out at me, and I was having trouble picking a line. So I just decided to go for a fairly cruisy run, with a couple of small rock jumps. Turns out most of the girls had the same idea, and we nearly all skied the same thing! When watching the guys later, Nat and I kept thinking, man, we should have gone there, ooh, that looks like fun, and so on. 


Luckily, we had a fourth day of competition, and got to do just that - with all the girls picking the steepest part of the venue. The wind was howling as we trudged along the ridge to get to our lines, almost losing my balance a few times. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long at the top. I had a nice run, jumping off one super fun cliff at the bottom, and finishing off with a few long hard-packed pow turns. It’s always a bit of a relief to end a competition, so we were all on a high at the bottom. 

Nat scoping her line

One of the things that always stands out to me at these competition is the camaraderie between the girls. There’s usually not as many of us as there are guys, and so we always wait for each other at the bottom of the run, and I always come out of it having made some new friends. It’s sometimes almost a pity that we get scored and that someone has to win, and someone has to lose.

choosing lines at Cragieburn

In the end, Nat and I were tied by our best three rankings for first place (we completely dominated the competition!). To settle the tie they then added up the actual scores from the days, so placed Nat 1st and I took out second 2nd. Altogether a successful and fun competition!

driving down to Wanaka via the West Coast
Check out some of the action from Mt Olympus:

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