Chasing Winter – A Remarkable Quest
I could see The Remarkables mountain range rising sharply over Lake Waktipu from my bedroom window in Fernhill, New Zealand. Maps calculates that the drive to the Remarkables Skifield takes 44 minutes. I can’t remember doing it under an hour and a half. The commute was slowed by carpool pickups, gas station stops, bridge lane closures, broken down cars, tire chain fittings, parking lots at capacity, and the climb up unpaved switchbacks in second gear.
I could complain compellingly about that drive, or about cramming seven bodies and their gear in a minivan, or about the bridge that’s been under construction and forced to one-way for over a year, or about fitting chains to tires in the mud, or about spending three hours in a car just for three hours on the hill. The last feels most compelling. I’m not really sure what brought us back.
Wet, heavy, and infrequent-to-fall snow wasn’t it. Warm days turned snow to slush and cold nights froze it over. A vicious cycle. It hurt to fall. Above the tree line terrain also wasn’t it. Sunny days were nice, but whiteouts were more. No trees meant no contrast and no contrast made up and down difficult to differentiate with even slight cloud coverage. Hard snow and low visibility proved a painful pairing. Routine became that every other ski day ended with a stop in Frankton at the Alpine Health & Fitness where they have hot tubs and foam rollers.
The skiing was fun. It just couldn’t alone justify the hours spent in our crappy, recycled cars, all fading from unreliable to unable. The cars hated that drive.
I loved that drive. I loved my friend’s company. I loved the camaraderie. I loved stuffing all the boys in Gibbo’s van that required a screwdriver, not a key, to turn the start box. I loved the shared frustration when turning a corner revealed the “chains required beyond this point” sign flashing. I loved the first chair ride of the day always starting with some version of, “we made it!” I loved watching GoPro footage on the drive down of our exceptional hype over mediocre tricks. I loved cutting it close to part two of a split shift because we needed, not wanted, one more run. I loved looking out my window when I got home at Remarks seemingly so far in the distance but I was just up there. I loved figuring how we’d do it again tomorrow.
My friends did too. Zach and Tyler from America, Itsy and Ollie from Australia, Greg, Gibbo and Laughy from England, Jente from Belgium, Tedde from Sweden, and Blake from New Zealand made up our Facebook message group that Jente dubbed Shred the Potatoes. “Who is going up tomorrow,” followed by a bunch of ? consume most of conversation.
As daunting and time-inefficient as each of those drives now seem, my friends and I schemed how we’d do it any day work schedules allowed. That’s what formed and molded friendships – not the skiing, the ‘what it took to ski. If you only just liked skiing, you might not bother. Chasing winter takes something in between passionate and obsessed. My friends unquestionably blurred that line. Only in my second winter season made me a rookie among them. They more seasoned show no signs of a curing addiction. The boys of Shred the Potatoes wrapped up the Southern Hemisphere season and chased the snow to the Northern Hemisphere and places like Niseko in Japan, Lake Louise in Canada, Arapahoe Basin and Beaver Creek in Colorado.