Trip report: Tom's 40th in the Craigieburn Range

Pete and I are like two sides of a very strange coin. He has stories of ski bum exploits that easily match mine: Seasons in Chamonix, Red Mountain. Months sustained on nothing but 5-cent donuts and cheap booze. Winters spent in a trailer park. It's some high quality ski bum pedigree.

But now he's a respectable man with a job and a family and a house and clean towels and all kinds of things I don't really understand. And his friends have followed the same path. Those same guys who scrounged for firewood to keep their trailer warm are now professionals with partners and kids and repayment plans.

So what happens to your inner ski bum when you settle down and get serious about building a proper life? Does the joy of blue skies and powder days and being in the mountains really fade?

It certainly doesn't have to.

 The brothers Holden. Dave (L) and Tom (R).

The brothers Holden. Dave (L) and Tom (R).

Some people celebrate their 40th by having drinks with their workmates or getting a novelty mug. Pete's mate Tom decided to celebrate by coming to New Zealand for a week and riding exceptional lines in great snow with his mates. OK - there's nothing quite like a novelty mug, but I know what I'd choose.

A 40th ski week is one of those things that sounds like a great idea but usually isn't. Whoever organises the trip (usually the birthday-ee) has to deal with rental cars and food shopping and accommodation. Everyone who's coming along wants to go somewhere different, you never know where to go, you head to one hill only to find conditions were better somewhere else. It's good, but you're always left with the feeling that it could have been better.

But Tom didn't have to worry about any of that. We set him up with a holiday house, 3 rental cars, food for the trip, and local advice about the best places to ride, what gear to bring, and how to get the most out of the weather. Tom and his crew just had to turn up and go riding.

I could tell you about how the crew arrived over several days, or where we went each day, or what the weather was like, or I could just tell you that we skied pow every day.

Pow in the fog.

Pow in the wind.

Pow in the dark.

Some days it rained. We skied pow. Some days there were ski area closures. We skied pow. One day the wind was so strong I had to crawl along a ridge or be blown off. We waited until dark and skied pow under lights. Then it was bluebird. We skied so much pow.

 Pow.

Pow.

Pow.

 Pow.

Pow.

We put laps into places the crew would never have found on their own. We dropped the Middle Basin chutes at Craigiburn and skied 700 vertical metres of pow to the road. Twice. We put laps into the Avalanche gulch at Broken River, including a vintage chute under Caribou Peak on the skier's right of the gulley. We put first tracks into Cornice Bowl, Double Bowl, and Hamilton Peak all the way into lower Allan's Basin (also at BR). We put first tracks into 3 lines on the Sphinx, and had great turns down the Drainpipe at Mt Olympus.  We saw amazing lines on amazing mountains, and then went and skied them.

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For me, the best bit was seeing these guys reconnect to the simple joy of sliding around mountains on skis and boards. For the guys who had done seasons as ski bums in the past, it was awesome to see them tap back into the passion and enthusiasm that drove them to spend their early twenties living like paupers and skiing like kings. Some of the guys had never skied much outside Australia. Some had never hiked for a run before. Some were so blown away by the view at the top of our runs it didn't occur to them we were going to ski hundreds and hundreds of vertical metres of untracked pow.

My last run of the trip was with Tom. We had spent the day at Mt Olympus and I'd shown the guys some good runs off Ardy's Peak and The Sphinx. In a testament to his generosity (the same generosity that saw 8 of his friends come to NZ for a week to celebrate his birthday), Tom had spent the whole week making sure other people got the best lines. The rest of the group had headed down to the lodge for a drink and he looked up at the bluffs above us and spotted a classic chute. It's one of my favorite lines at Olympus, and I was more than happy to suggest we hike it.

After a moment's hesitation, we hustled up the bootpack and dropped into a long, flowy chute filled with ankle to boot deep pow. At the bottom, we regrouped with the rest of the crew for a quick beer before heading back to the cars. That moment, of sitting around with your mates, simultaneously exhausted and stoked, knowing that you've just had an epic day, is one of the best parts of skiing. It was great to share that with a new crew.

So it seems that the joy of riding great mountains with your friends doesn't fade. It just gets shoehorned into less time. If you've only got a week to spare each winter, make sure you spend it wisely.