Notes From The Down-Underground: A Journey To New Zealand In The Name Of Shred

By Jennifer Sherowski

Snowboarders are lucky. When it comes to seeing the world, we don’t have to vacantly watch it pass by outside the tour-bus window or through the camcorder scope like most people. Nope, the emptiness of “tourism” is not for us, because we belong to something–a planet-wide culture that makes journeying to the remotest place the equivalent of visiting a pack of friends for a day of slashing it. You shred a place, you live it, you know it–you don’t just buy the postcard at the airport.

With that in mind, TransWorld decided to avoid the fever of off-season boredom last September by mashing our stuff into gear bags, calling up several trusty stunt partners, and jumping on a plane to somewhere really far away. Our destination? New Zealand–the land down under. Our mission? Exploring the world as snowboarders–meeting riders from other places and recognizing snowboarding for its ability to transcend borders and language boundaries. What did we find? Everything.

Yeah, Mate

New Zealand is a little double-island chain poking out of the Southern Pacific Ocean. Fifteen-hundred miles off the Australian coast, the country literally scrapes the bottom of the southern hemisphere. In fact, if you stand on the southern-most tip, you are just over a thousand miles across icy waters from the frozen deserts of Antarctica. It took our crew (photographer Scott Serfas, Gaetan Chanut, Paavo Tikkanen, Jon Cartwright, Jesse Fox, and me) the eternity of a twelve-hour flight to reach this place from Los Angeles–easily long enough to drain iPod batteries and swell ankles to the size of meat loaves. Good–the further away, the better.

Now, New Zealand is not undiscovered territory to our world–it has entertained many an epic moment in the history of snowboarding. Subject: Haakonsen, Terje’s epochal 1996 video, was partially filmed here. Travis Rice’s 30-foot acid drop from crane to QP went down at Snow Park. Many an important company photo shoot and magazine story has blown up these parts. And a huge reason for all this activity is that with a peak season of August and late September, this place is happenin’ when nothing up North is.

It’s important that we mention another reason people go to New Zealand–how completely mind-blowing the scenery is. It’s like twenty different countries chopped up and pasted back together–cut out a strip of Alaska’s Chugach mountain range and glue it to the African planes, add in a chunk of Costa Rican rainforest, and that just scrapes the surface of the different landscapes and climatic zones.

Because of this, you can’t really go anywhere in New Zealand without getting blasted away by a view. I opened up my hotel window one morning, after a storm had unleashed nighttime fury and then cleared up brilliantly. It had left behind green lushness in town and a snowline hovering halfway up the looming mountains–I honestly felt like I’d been transported into a stylized postcard for a Mt. Fuji-type oriental fantasyland. Amazing stuff for sure.

Culture Shock–Or Not

However, for all the distance and uncommon scenery, New Zealand culture is actually surprisingly normal (in the North American sense). I mean, fly halfway around the world and you’d expect to encounter complete culture shock–to step off the plane and see people walking around on their hands or screaming out foreign jibberish at top volume. Who knows what goes on in these far-flung corners of the earth, right? Instead, everyone’s just chillin’ d speaking English, and the only major difference seems to be which side of the road they’re driving on. I guess we have the history of British Imperialism to thank for this little oasis of Anglo-Saxon culture on the other side of the planet.

As far as people go, Kiwis are some of the friendliest. They have a rugged, warm, sort of haphazard easygoingness about them that is completely appealing. Next to them, Americans seem pretty uptight (I was traveling with mostly Canadians, though, whom I judged to be somewhere in the middle).

New Zealand society is largely forward-thinking. Kiwis are ultra environmentally aware and health conscious, and the country has an exceptional number of women in governmental positions. There’s also this funny little quirk where Kiwis hate being mistaken for Australians, whom they consider a bit less intelligent and more on the meatheady side from what I could gather. Also, Serfas, Gaetan, Paavo, and the boys claimed they didn’t see a single attractive female throughout our entire trip. I wasn’t really looking, though, so you can think what you want about that one.

Shred It

Flying into Queenstown on New Zealand’s Southern island is a couple-hour connection from the capital of Auckland. This little metropolis is a mini-hub of mountain life, disputed only by the neighboring town of Wanaka an hour to the northeast for shred capital of the area. This zone is a safe bet for visits, because there’re more resorts to choose from and better weather than the raininess of the north island, so that’s where we spent our time exploring.

The roads up to the resorts are something of a challenge. They carry you from the sweeping grass of the valley floor on up into the white-capped crags of the Southern Alps. The roads are dirt, not pavement–and it’s a good thing, ’cause at least the gravel helps you grip on the hairpin switchbacks swamped with mud-snow. Sans guardrails, of course. In fact, you really shouldn’t go anywhere in the mountains without chains. Oh, and don’t forget to remember to learn how to put them on like we did.

Upon arrival in Queenstown, you have two resorts to choose from within twenty minutes of town. We headed to Coronet Peak straight from the airport to ward off jet lag, finding snow-covered grassy rollers bowling down mellow pitches into a massive concrete lodge. The pipe and park were in full effect, as well as hiking spots off the backside into some untracked, albeit thin snow turns. Jesse Fox jibbed a ledge at the lodge in front of an entire crowd of onlookers. This would be our first eye-opener about how New Zealanders often celebrate what a lot of North American property owners might find completely offensive–the absence of lawsuits has obvious repercussions on a cultural mindset.

The Remarkables sits in a cirque across the valley from Coronet and is about the same distance from town. We hit that up the next day, encountering steep, craggy lines down a large bowl with rocky dragons teeth scattered throughout. Low visibility and no trees for visual reference had us praying for patches of sunlight, which we got. Enough, anyway, to jib through the rail garden on the lower mountain and nod at the slasher potential up top if it had fresh snow.

Next on our list was Snow Park–a place the local shreds would not shut up about. Kiwi groms Anthony Lefelaar and Jake Koia were our tour guides in this area, and I swear they’d take the rail and kicker groomage of Snow Park over powder at another mountain any day. But in its defense, the resort has everything the aspiring park rider could possibly want–boxes, kinks, Superpipes, booters, wallrides, and a maintenance crew that’s definitely in the know. We spent many an afternoon sessioning the huge quarterpipe at the bottom until much after sunset.

Snow Park, as well as Treble Cone and Cardrona, can be accessed quickest from Wanaka, so we moved camp north for a few days as a huge storm built up to the west. Attacking the open snowfields of Cardrona mid storm, we rode strange powder that seemed to change consistency with each twenty feet lost in elevation. The base of resorts in New Zealand are often right above snow line, meaning you’re always tempted to keep riding past the lodge for those few extra turns, but then you remember that sucker you saw on the drive up gooping through mud mashed potatoes on his way to hitchhike back to the resort. We refrained.

When you think of “extreme New Zealand,” you’re probably thinking of Treble Cone. On a good day, this place has an upper inbounds area worthy of the meanest set-back powder stance–luckily, we were present for just such an occasion. Craggy black rocks peeked out from under a series of blown-in fingers, and we hit every one right to left across the resort like targets at a shooting range. Standing in the T-bar line, we listened to wisdom from a crusty skier with a dry stoner laugh and rode the good shit all day long. Local knowledge–that’s a great way to find out about all New Zealand’s secrets, in fact.

Atmospheric Pressure

One thing that made a huge impression on me was the weather–it’s constantly changing in these parts, which sort of makes sense when you consider that riding in New Zealand, you are a tiny ant on a walnut shell in the palm of the Pacific Ocean. Storms pass overhead at the speed of jet planes. Sunny peaks sink into dark shadows only to rip free into brilliant light a few minutes later. You need three different-weight jackets, two goggle lenses, and at least one set of extra gloves in case it rains.

What all this means is that you simply have to wait the storms out. If it’s socked in, chill ’til morning and the storm will probably blow through. And even if it does take a couple days, the resorts generally aren’t open when it’s really dumping because they’re all above tree line (so you can’t see a damn thing in a storm). You can, therefore, rest assured that no one’s stealing your powder while you rest on your haunches in town.

Anyhow, the constant change is good. It keeps everything fresh and bright, so you never know what to expect, but appreciate the sunlight when it hits your back and get blindsided by the purple cloudbank stacked up against the mountains across the valley. You’ll look around in ongoing surprise, trying to take quick pictures with your eyes in the interest of postcard documentation, yet somehow knowing that you’ll never be able to describe this shit to your friends back home.

In conclusion, you might’ve noticed that I never mentioned Lord Of The Rings. This is because if you do go to New Zealand, you’ll be inundated by reminders that the goliath movie trilogy was indeed filmed there. So great is this marketing machine that I just saw an Air New Zealand jumbo jet at the airport flashing a billboard-sized picture of Frodo and the catch phrase: “Airline To Middle Earth.” If this sort of thing discourages you, take heart. You are a snowboarder, and therefore not a victim of such ploys for attention, money, and time.

Now, start planning an epic journey of shred, and do it today. If it’s New Zealand, amazing. If it’s somewhere else, sweet. The off-season is a great time to wander–it’s winter somewhere on this planet, after all. So when the snow’s all melted and the summer is spreading out before you like the belly of a big Saharan beast, the question you’re asking yourself really shouldn’t be, “Why should I save up to go riding somewhere far away?” The questi>Snow Park, as well as Treble Cone and Cardrona, can be accessed quickest from Wanaka, so we moved camp north for a few days as a huge storm built up to the west. Attacking the open snowfields of Cardrona mid storm, we rode strange powder that seemed to change consistency with each twenty feet lost in elevation. The base of resorts in New Zealand are often right above snow line, meaning you’re always tempted to keep riding past the lodge for those few extra turns, but then you remember that sucker you saw on the drive up gooping through mud mashed potatoes on his way to hitchhike back to the resort. We refrained.

When you think of “extreme New Zealand,” you’re probably thinking of Treble Cone. On a good day, this place has an upper inbounds area worthy of the meanest set-back powder stance–luckily, we were present for just such an occasion. Craggy black rocks peeked out from under a series of blown-in fingers, and we hit every one right to left across the resort like targets at a shooting range. Standing in the T-bar line, we listened to wisdom from a crusty skier with a dry stoner laugh and rode the good shit all day long. Local knowledge–that’s a great way to find out about all New Zealand’s secrets, in fact.

Atmospheric Pressure

One thing that made a huge impression on me was the weather–it’s constantly changing in these parts, which sort of makes sense when you consider that riding in New Zealand, you are a tiny ant on a walnut shell in the palm of the Pacific Ocean. Storms pass overhead at the speed of jet planes. Sunny peaks sink into dark shadows only to rip free into brilliant light a few minutes later. You need three different-weight jackets, two goggle lenses, and at least one set of extra gloves in case it rains.

What all this means is that you simply have to wait the storms out. If it’s socked in, chill ’til morning and the storm will probably blow through. And even if it does take a couple days, the resorts generally aren’t open when it’s really dumping because they’re all above tree line (so you can’t see a damn thing in a storm). You can, therefore, rest assured that no one’s stealing your powder while you rest on your haunches in town.

Anyhow, the constant change is good. It keeps everything fresh and bright, so you never know what to expect, but appreciate the sunlight when it hits your back and get blindsided by the purple cloudbank stacked up against the mountains across the valley. You’ll look around in ongoing surprise, trying to take quick pictures with your eyes in the interest of postcard documentation, yet somehow knowing that you’ll never be able to describe this shit to your friends back home.

In conclusion, you might’ve noticed that I never mentioned Lord Of The Rings. This is because if you do go to New Zealand, you’ll be inundated by reminders that the goliath movie trilogy was indeed filmed there. So great is this marketing machine that I just saw an Air New Zealand jumbo jet at the airport flashing a billboard-sized picture of Frodo and the catch phrase: “Airline To Middle Earth.” If this sort of thing discourages you, take heart. You are a snowboarder, and therefore not a victim of such ploys for attention, money, and time.

Now, start planning an epic journey of shred, and do it today. If it’s New Zealand, amazing. If it’s somewhere else, sweet. The off-season is a great time to wander–it’s winter somewhere on this planet, after all. So when the snow’s all melted and the summer is spreading out before you like the belly of a big Saharan beast, the question you’re asking yourself really shouldn’t be, “Why should I save up to go riding somewhere far away?” The question should be, “What the hell am I still doing here?”

 

estion should be, “What the hell am I still doing here?”