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Transcript of Wilderness Riders
TIME TO SPLIT By Shane OrchardWITH THE SKI RESORTS DOING THEIR BEST TO ATTRACT THE CROWDS, theres never been a better time to start tapping into some of the huge backcountry options on offer. With the promise of fresh tracks days after the ski areas are rinsed, the splitboard concept sounds like a sure winner and definitely a tool worth considering. Truth is though, that despite being around for several years the technology has only recently advanced to the point where both uphill and downhill performance is available without compromise. This is the clincher, and until recently the downhill mode has been the area of weakness for high performance riders. That said it hasnt been much if an issue if youre content wallowing around in deep powder. But to transcend from a novelty board to something you might take out by choice in a range of conditions has required some refinements to happen. Issues like too heavy, too floppy, compromised binding designs, and loose connections all needed to be overcome. And one by one thats just whats happened.Recently theres been an explosion of better board designs hit the market, and not just all powder boards. Theres now a raft of designs available from the top brands, including in some cases more than one splitboard model in the range. Previously it seemed like all splitboards were powder boards. If you happen to be somewhere like Canada that was fine, where using a splitboard for access even a heavy one, stacks up favourable against hours of snowshoeing in deeper snow. The better choice of boards is good news for New Zealand though, where we might like to head out touring to sample some good terrain on a nice day, but most likely variable and not always deep conditions will be on the cards. Getting the weight down has been another big factor, partially helped by smaller and lighter boards. But the biggest advance has been dedicated splitboard bindings. No longer must you adapt conventional bindings using big heavy base plates to make the necessary connections. Ultra light versions of clips, heel risers and other accessories youll need, like poles, are now also available. The whole kit can now be exactly the same weight as a normal board except that youll be carrying the skins in your backpack on the way down. Considering that the alternative of snowshoes will be at least as heavy and also bulkier that adds up to a good equation. Plus, of course, the nice thing about splitboarding is having the board under your feet instead of on your back as you climb uphill. If the conditions are good, the uphill grunt is almost fun and definitely way less tiring.This leads us to consider what the good locations for splitboarding might be. The answer depends a lot on what youre looking for, and if you like it really steep then the splitboard may not be that advantageous as you may be walking anyway. Even really good ski tourers start to struggle once the slopes get steeper and ski-crampons may be required, which are also available for splitboards by the way. Anywhere offering an easy route up opens up the options though, and a typical set-up might be an easy angle up-route to a tasty ridge or bowl where you can pick off the steeper lines one by one. Just make sure that route up is safe! Many of our New Zealand ski fields offer side country locations that are just the ticket, especially in the more open bowls with mellower terrain in one section and steeper slopes accessible nearby. Of course splitboards are also a good way to cover large distances on flatter terrain, which can come in handy for longer trips to locations like our glacier neves. One things for sure is that if you like the idea of bagging a lot of fresh tracks in one day and have a decent access route laid down, youll be getting in a good few more laps using the split board than your average boot-packer can manage. Youll be a lot fresher as the day wears on from not having the board on your back too. So if youve been considering the merits of the splitter, nows not a bad time to track down the latest gear and see whats on offer.
Now for the real fun part! Ruari MacFarlane re-assembles for the down slide.... PHOTO: SHANE ORCHARD
A JOURNEY INTO THE SOUTHERN ALPSWords and photos by Shane Orchard
ITS NOT EVERY DAY THE CHANCE COMES ABOUT to round up eight splitboarders, and take the whole show to a remote backcountry location. But thats just what happened when Richard Harcourt from Splitn2 called me up. He was interested in breaking new ground in every sense, and aside from product testing his New Zealand made splitboards, we were talking location, location, location. With a radar the size of the South Island we were soon discussing the Gardens of Eden and Allah, in the Adams Wilderness Area; about as remote as it gets, and masses of snow. Its one of those wouldnt it be nice to get there one day, kind of places. The Gardens themselves, or maybe that should be Snow Gardens, are a couple of big glaciers, each nearly 10k long. Theyre joined at one end like two big plateaus loaded with snow and peaks all around. It was perfect terrain for splitboards; big and expansive and apparently quite rideable. With glaciers to be negotiated, steep faces, and no doubt some firm ice, it would certainly be a good test of the boards abilities. Plus wed be relying on them to get us in there, and eventually, back out.True to its name, the Wilderness Area has wildness written all over it. John Pascoe is the acknowledged first explorer of these parts and made the first crossing of the Garden of Eden to the Adams River and eventually out to the West Coast. Of that trip he wrote all the terrors of a West Coast hell were condensed into the first gorge it seemed appropriate to name this gorge Eblis after a monarch of the spirits of evil! With that in mind we were definitely in favour of the cushy fly-in option, which was all but essential to avoid days of river bashing to get into these parts. Pascoes legacy would be with us though, in the form of the names he left behind with features like Satans Col, Beelzebub Icefall and The Great Unknown. The fact that very few people visit the area also adds the mysterious air about it, and the Wilderness status has helped keep things that way. With no huts or tracks in the area that also meant packing in everything wed need to deal with whatever came our way.Our first job was finding out more about what to expect and work up a game plan for getting around. Old mag articles and blog sites came in handy and we got a bunch of maps and pics together to help check out the potential. Of all the pictures we found, a cover shot on an old FMC mag showed us some real potential in the form of Mt. Kensington, and some trip reports showed up some other nice lines. Even though Kensington was on the far west side of the Garden, it really caught our imagination with its
Beautiful if youre on the right line... dangerous if youre not. Colin hits one of the incredible serac fields on Newton Peak.
steep west face and plenty of skiable lines perched above the bush-clad West Coast. So we penciled that zone for a possible look, along with Newton Peak and a ridge of smaller peaks sitting between the two Gardens, which would be closer to camp. D-day approached and the team had assembled from all over to sort through piles of gear and get packed up. Working out what not to take was the trick and there was also a small glitch to think about in the form of a big front, which we were going to have to weather somewhere up on the ice. It wasnt going to be a dream run weather-wise but this was the only chance to get the team together so wed all decided it was game on and wed be committed to the real deal. At least the weather was clearing again at the end of the trip so we had a good chance of getting out on time, which was a big plus for those with jobs. Getting stuck in there was still a distinct possibility so we had the mountain radio on board to help play cat and mouse with the weather and plan our eventual extraction from one the river valleys out east. We settled for coming in from the east side too, which would give us a chance to sort out the route out and with any luck find a rideable one. It was a grey day that first one and the flight in was tricky with dodgy weather hanging about the valleys and only one landing zone in the area to aim for. The skies were clearing though and the main jobs were simply getting up to the Garden, getting in position, and digging a great big hole. That was the one we were burying the tents in! We knew we werent going to get far with our heavy loads so from the get-go opted to set-up a base camp on the edge of the Garden and leave the exploring for another day. Since there was also avalanche hazard to be avoided with a storm on the way, our chosen site was in the middle of some flat ground with zero shelter available. That meant planning a tent setup for a big storm out on the flat not quite knowing where to expect the big winds to come from. So our plan involved digging down and building some walls, which at least helped with the main worry of literally getting blown away! Once the digging was done the sun had fully come out and good weather was upon us. Newton Peak was the closest chunk of mountain around and so it was time to skin up the splitters and take a look around. Having 8 splitters to share the lead made short work of the uphill and soon enough wed skinned to the ridge. The view off the other side took in the Garden of Allah and out to the West Coast, and right away we started finding some goods. In front of us two big couloirs joined before dropping out of sight to the west and in the middle of one was a crazy spine feature. You couldnt ask for better proving ground to check if these boards were going to perform downhill as well as up. Colin soo