Weekend Trip
Friday 1st to Sunday 3rd August 2008

Saturday morning. The first weekend of the snowcraft course was under way at Memorial Hut on Mt Ruapehu. Seven o’clock, breakfast signalled by a bell ringing.

Thirty people - some students, some instructors, and some skiers - had arrived. Most of us were here for an introduction to snow. We had first experienced the 2008 group as we attended a preparatory lecture in Parnell, and again the night before as we travelled on the club truck. Now we were preparing for our first encounter with snow in daylight. It seemed like a lot of snow last night! We waded along, bobbing in torchlight towards the skyline where a distant glow became the lamplight above Memorial Hut - our sanctuary.

The instructors provided guidance and instruction on aspects of our new environment. Safety was one of the major focuses of the weekend course: focus on moving safely, thinking ahead and planning, preparation needed for environmental hazards. Lectures, notes provided, then practical experience. We became three groups that were escorted across the snow slopes.

Visibility came and went as cloud enveloped our groups. We climbed a steep slope to the north. The environment became stark; a few black rocks protruded here and there, otherwise white snow lay everywhere, rounded and in deep accumulations. Limitations of perception were demonstrated to us. Dangerous slopes with accumulated snow were observed on the lee side of the ridge we stood on. As we returned to follow the ridge crest, wind-driven snow welcomed us to the windward slopes. We fell, on purpose, and practised self-arresting. Rain became the predominant condition as we descended back toward Memorial Hut.

The snowcraft group settled inside for the rest of the day and lectures and demonstrations filled the afternoon. The wild weather continued to build until Memorial Hut shuddered in the wind gusts and the lights moved gently on their suspending chains.

Inside, the snug atmosphere was capped with a traditional roast dinner, and the general effect was a warm and convivial one. After dinner there was a movie on snow techniques, tracking rugby via laptop, a board game, or a glass of red wine … one could simply nod off on the sofas. Royal treatment indeed.

3 August 2008, Sunday morning. Same bell for breakfast and another major catering effort.

The weather briefing meant in spite of snow falling last night the temperature was rising, indicating we would walk uphill to find colder temperatures to suit crampon practice. We headed out, into even deeper snow. It was cold but not cold enough on the surface to find good crampon conditions. Strong winds reminded us all of the hypothermia lecture the afternoon before. Visibility closed in at times but the wind-driven hail was voted the most extreme sensation. ‘Narnia’ had looked somewhat more benign.

With all groups back, another hot lunch was served and mid-afternoon saw the last round of roster duties completed to leave Memorial Hut clean and tidy. There was applause in appreciation of both hospitality and instruction from the ATC. The international breadth of the 2008 snowcraft group demonstrated the wide range of cultures that had given the weekend a diverse range of viewpoints, accents and jokes. The novices had become a unified group.

We drove down the mountain road and the heavy weather across the North Island became apparent. Farmland was underwater, brown swollen rivers and streams accompanied our journey north. Our arrival back in Auckland was heralded by the final, truck-induced body slide on the mattresses in the back, as we rounded the chicanes at the start of Sandringham Rd. Weekend companions became shadows in the car headlights, goodbyes were shouted and everyone melted away into the night.

A big thanks to Diane Dowle (Organiser), and Peter Waworis, Michael Loo and Alex Warriner (Instructors).

Philip McKibbin: .