Our good friend Ash Cotter, a Kiwi local, asked us to join his group at a new backcountry hut. They are now very hard to book so we jumped at the chance. Meanwhile, New Zealand had some of the worst weather in history with flooding, howling wind, road washouts, the most rain in history. Despite the bad weather we were able to luck out with a few epic days which made the whole trip worth while. We climb up hill, avoiding avalanche terrain, find nice stable snow and ski down. There are no other people around, and its just great.
Here is my new song I wrote and recorded this year. I was very lucky to have Robbie Calvo produce and play guitar on it. I wrote the chorus during the pandemic, but struggled for a long time working out the verses and chords, but it finally came together. Hope you like it. If you want a download just contact me here or on FB and I’ll send a copy.
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Here is a song I wrote and recorded about Wai’ili’kahi, the beautiful 1000 foot waterfall at the back of Waimanu Valley. There are no roads. There are some Hawaiian Hula chants and songs about the waterfall and the romance of two young star crossed Hawaiian lovers in ancient times. My song is about the ambiance of the magical valley. The song features Mark Miller, formerly of the Surf Punks, on guitar.
The volcano Pu’uo is pumping lava near Pahoa Town in Puna Hawaii on the east side. I wrote a song called, “Pu’uo” about the lava flow played here by my band Deep Blue.
The “Uhi Uha” is a hula chant that means surround and flow and is used in hula’s about Madam Pele. Its the custom to leave M. Pele some gin to appease her. She likes gin apparently. During the last flow the TV reporter interviewed the guy who owned the first house to burn down. He was philosophical and said, “I was born naked, that’s how I’ll die. Got to leave it all behind.” When I went to visit Pahoa, the people there were all kind of in denial and acting like nothing was going on, but the lava keeps flowing on and on. Hope you like the song. Please share it.
2018 has been the best ski year of my life. I built out Van Go our Ford Transit campervan in Hawaii and shipped it to the mainland, but it was delayed three weeks by bad weather. While waiting we decided to go ski in Japan. It snowed 24 hours a day for eleven days of light fluffy powder snow…15cm a day, and it stayed at -15C. Deep and light. Japan doesn’t have long steep slopes, so its a lot of short powder laps, which works great for us. After ski, head back to the Onsen for a relaxing hot bath in volcanic heated mineral water. We stayed at Tokachidake and explored some new terrain. After we went to Asahidake and found some new lines on the backside of ridges. Both places had calm, deep, cold powder in the trees. Its becoming more crowded in Hokkaido as the word gets out world wide, but mostly Europeans, and Canadians. We only met a few Americans. We met some nice folks from Pemberton Canada who gave some some great travel ideas. Terrace BC will be a destination this summer and next winter. We also met some Norwegians who said Lofoten is the place to go.
New Zealand had the best snow in over ten years. Last year we made some new friends Ash and Jane Cotter. They invited us to stay at their place in Christchurch and showed us around town and the mountains. Ash is a Kiwi local and suggested the snow was deeper and better up north. Always listen to the locals! So we stayed in the Mackenzie District. Ash took me up to Mt Cheezeman where he used to be a ski patroller to hit some side country bowls.
We rode the T-bar up for $10 and cut over to the chutes and bowls and scored some nice few inches of fun powder under sunny skies. We ran into his niece Lucy and her family and she is a young charger who showed us a bit on our return to the baselodge. The ski fields are fun and family oriented and a must do on a NZ ski trip. You can stay over at some of them at a lodge, but have to share washing in dishes and cleaning up.
We headed to the Arrowsmith Range next and stayed at Phillip and Anne Todhunter’s beautiful Lake Heron Station in a beautifully restored ranch house with fireplace in a stunning setting. His heli is parked in the garage near the house, and he gave us a quick lift up the Cameron Valley to a little hut in BIG gnarly ski terrain. The hut has a few primitive bunks and a counter for cooking and an outhouse. Its $5 per night per person. It snowed for three days 50 cm and we were kind of stuck because of avalanche danger. We got some low angle runs, but the exposure is from 1000 meter runs from the tops. We met Arnaud Cottet and his photographer friend doing a photo shoot for his sponsor Salewa. He is an Olympic ski judge for the freestyle events. The first day was sunny and nice, but it snowed the rest of the time, so we couldn’t hit the big lines. We got out just before another storm hit and we were running out of food.
We headed next to Lake Pukaki near Mt Cook and stayed in a beautiful house next to the azure blue lake. The heli base is just a few klicks ups the road, and we jumped in a heli for a 5 minute $200 heli bump up to a big bowl and glacial drainage for heli a assisted back country ski tour and skied the best powder of the trip. No one else was there.
The terrain is a bit misleading because it doesn’t look that big, but it keeps going and going. The bowl was protected but we could see wind whipping by the ridges. We got three nice big runs in before the heli bumped us back out.
We headed back toward Lake Tekapo and went to Roundhill ski area to kite ski. The conditions were perfect with a good steady wind straight up the hill, a launch pad just next to the car parking, and flat open round hill. I finally, after a year of attempts, kite skied up the hill. I always wanted to do that.
We rented a nice Mercedes Sprinter camper with shower, kitchen and toilet and heater for $30 a day. An amazing deal in low season, and a great ski base camp.
I love New Zealand. Its starting to get discovered. Even five years ago, it was empty. Now there are people. Lots of Chinese. Like everywhere else, soon it will be crowded. It is the second least populated country in the world. Canada is the least crowded. That’s where I’m headed next. Stay tuned!
Alaska had arctic conditions and snow pack with temps down to -27C at night on -16C during the day. At that temperature, the snow recycles into sugary powder. There were only 2 other people in the entire Alaska Range.
We have a 17 foot Hilleberg Atlas with a full liner, floor and vestibule which provides us all the comforts of home in style and comfort. We have a heater, built in snow furniture, tables, oven, stoves, music, movies, solar panel. We eat Shabu shabu, Beef Stoganoff, fresh baked bread, bagels, cookies, scones, Halibut and Salmon in Beurre Blanc sauce.
Our first camp was at Backside Lake, a low elevation lake at the end of the Backside Glacier. A couple of local Alaskan friends had suggested it, and you should always listen to the locals. It turned out great because it was protected and calm when the rest of the Range had big wind. It was cold: between -20 and 4F, but sunny.
After ten days, we went to Anchorage to recuperate and reprovision. Staying at Airbnb’s worked great because we had a washing machine, garage, and space to dry out the tents. It really changes the whole expedition.
Next we took Leighan’s suggestion that Little Switzerland, on Pika might be protected and it worked out great. Leighan is a pilot with Talkeetna Air Taxi and a skier and former climbing guide. She is awesome and has helped us out with beta on the conditions in the range. It took us a day to find the goods, but the snow was great. We explored over the passes into the next valley and found a great zone which we named Shangri-La. Trying to get back home from Shangri-La Valley over the pass we were blocked by this massive crevasse and a huge serac.
The Alaska Range has the best skiing of any place in the world. There is no where you can make 60 turns in perfect snow, straight fall line, with no bumps, changes in pitch just steps from your camp.
We explored cool crevasses. Sarah is roped up and probing to avoid falling in a hole.
I have to acknowledge our good friends in Alaska without whom we could not undertake these expeditions. Mike and Dayna Corey who we’ve known for 35 years lent us their giant Chevy Suburban for a month. Its a perfect expedition car, its huge, and we filled it to the gills. Our friend Stu Brown helps us store some of our gear which can’t be carried on the plane or shipped and helps us prepare. Our new friend Joe Stock helps us with beta and advice. He is a famous AMGA/IFMGA guide and wrote the book Alaska Factor, which is the definitive guide to backcountry skiing in Alaska. We often see him up on the glaciers with his clients. Also our friend Aaron Brown, who wrote the book, Chuting Valdez is a valuable resource for beta and advice. Thanks guys! Its great to hang out with you in Anchorage at the great restaurants.
We skied for 24 days in British Columbia, Canada, January-February 2017 and hit the weather just right: cold temperatures through three snow cycles with steady snow. The result was cold, dry, deep powder. We traveled the “Powder Highway” through the Goat, Kootenay, and Selkirk ranges and the Canadian Rockies.
After flying into Spokane, Washington, we headed to Sandpoint Idaho and met up with our friends MoonVapour and Dream Catcher and stayed at their cool backcountry off grid place on Mt. Baldy. They used a snow machine to tow up the roads to access the bottom of the runs. We skinned up under sunny blue skies in -15 C weather to find cold, dry powder in open fields, and on the north side, a shaded glade we dubbed, “Dark Side of the Moon”. You had to keep moving, but it was cold and deep back there. Upon returning to their home, we had a wonderful meal of hot soup, and a soak in their wood fired hot tub next to a creek under a starry sky. It felt so good! We jammed and played music. Chris and Liz have been perfecting their ukulele duets and vocals and I really enjoyed playing with them.
BC is a great place. Canada is the most uncrowded country in the world with only 4 persons per square kilometer. The roads were empty and it was easy to find places to stay through Airbnb. The Canadian dollar was at $.75 so everything was a great deal. The Canadians are mellow and friendly. People say “hi” just walking down the street! When you walk into a restaurant, other diners greet you and say, “Good Morning”!
We headed up to Nelson next and skied at Ymir Lodge ymirbackcountrylodge.com above Nelson. You heli in about 10 minutes and get out at treeline and really nice terrain. We met some folks from Anchorage Alaska that we had met several years before out on the Denali Glaciers and had a nice connection. Brian, the hut caretaker, is a voluble, friendly hardworking Canadian from Jasper and we struck up a friendship with him Trevor, who owns the lodge, recalled some of our adventures getting to Ymir Yurts years ago when the snowcat fell off the road and we had to dig it out. There had been a big snow event and the avalanche danger was high, so everyone dialed it back. The next day was cold and clear, and the snow settled nicely and great snow was everywhere.
The next morning, the Alaskans were due to fly out and wanted to get a last morning run, but the temperature had gone up and the avy situation had gone bad. Unfortunately three of them got caught in a big avalanche and one girl was killed. It was a traumatic and emotional hit for everyone involved and for all at the lodge. We felt so bad for her parents. We helped with the rescue and it had a huge impact on us.
Then we headed to Nakusp and skied with Rod, friends of Moon Vapour and Dream Catcher. He lives in the woods and takes skiers out on snow machines and tours in the Goat Range. Its a long day riding, climbing and skiing. Rod is 65 years old and can climb 2000 meters a day, has a thirty year old girl friend and is very strong. After two days of that we were beat and retreated to Nelson for a couple rest days. Then back to Ymir Lodge for a few more days of nice sunny pow.
After that we headed up to Rogers Pass which is awesome, intimidating, and really really steep. Big lines, as big as it gets. We edged our way slowly into the lines and scored some epic powder days. One day right after a big cold storm we skied waist deep blower powder. One of the best days ever. We stayed in a little tiny ski cabin near Blaeberry. We also stayed with our friends Andreas and Suzanne who have a beautiful new modern ski cabin with the latest European technology and design nestled next to huge dramatic mountains.
We stayed till the weather turned warm and headed down to our daughter’s baby shower in Berkeley California and met up with our son, and his new wife. Some old friends were there and the nice weekend wrapped up one of our best trips ever. Now we’re prepping to head back to Alaska and camp on the glaciers.
When you are out in the wilderness your life depends on good gear. Also when gear fails, you want your gear fixed or replaced. When you are leaving for a trip, there are always last minute gear purchases. Good customer service is very important.
For years I’ve gotten high quality gear at backcountry.com. They have good customer service and good records of your purchases. They have a huge selection of gear, and the expertise to get advice and recommendations. Talk to Patrick Kilbourn to hook up to some great deals. firstname.lastname@example.org
Also when we go to Alaska and the thermometer hits -20F you need good down pads. I always use Exped Downmat 9 LW. Its super warm and as comfortable as my bed at home while in my tent on the Alaska Range glaciers. They also have great customer service and repair and replace products if there is the rare problem, even after years of service.
I used to like Arcteryx. I’ve had problems with the taped seams unraveling. When I sent my goods in for warranty recently, they lost the garments, but also lost the records of the warranty! Their customer service needs some reorganization.
I’ve started using Outdoor Research gear and will be reviewing some of their gear here soon. You can tell their gear is designed by backcountry skiers. It has the specs you need, such as lots of pockets. Their prices are more reasonable as well.
We skied Antarctica in November 2016 for 12 days. It was our third trip there with Ice Axe Expeditions aboard the Sea Adventurer. Doug Stoup has been running the ski expedition for seven years. We climb up the mountains and ski down. We live aboard the ship and are treated to gourmet delicious sit down dinners, big breakfasts with bagels, lox, omlettes, coffee, fruits, bacon, sausage, eggs, beans. We had calm sunny weather on five of the seven days skiing. The Drake Channel crossing was perfectly calm, and none of the 100mph winds and 40 foot seas of last year. We met interesting, beautiful and athletic people from eighteen countries. The guides are movie stars, and famous athletes.
We traveled sixteen thousand miles for five days from Hawaii to get there, and it was worth it. I’d love to spend more time down there.
The sound track is from my new recording release Wai ili kahi and Puuo by my band Deep Blue.