Welcome to Mount Olympus - Playground of the gods
This week I entered my second Freeride comp of the season here in NZ, it was being held in a small club field near Christchurch some 6 hours road trip away from Wanaka. Mount Olympus has legendary status here in New Zealand and is on every freeriders list.
For those who don't know, an NZ club field is a unique thing, it's like stepping back in time to when there was a rawness around mountain sports and a less commercial atmosphere.
The 'clubbies' are usually deep in the mountains and consist of a gnarly access road that looks like Fred Flintstone has cut it, a basic base building and 'nutcracker' tow ropes which are an art form to master. They are notoriously hard to get to, but if it was easy then everyone would go there, the isolation is part of the magic.
I finished up in the ski workshop and left Wanaka around midnight to start the long drive to Mt Olympus. I stopped around 3 am as I realised I had no petrol and that NZ doesn't do 24-hour fuel stations meant that I had a 4-hour wait/sleep until the fuel station opened up, kind of a blessing as I was cooked!
At 7am, I was on the road again and was greeted by an incredible NZ sunrise over the Canterbury Plains. Living in Wanaka you forget how beautiful the rest of the south island is and the mountains rising up out of the Canterbury flats at sunrise is an incredible sight.
The access road to Mount Olympus is up there when it comes to scary roads. Steep drops on one side, avalanche debris on the other and rocks so big the trusty Subaru could only just clear them.....But this is all part of what makes Olympus so special, you earn your turns before even reaching the snow. It's pretty rare to arrive at a ski area's car park and immediately feel the excitement and energy around it but Mount Olympus definitely had that.
The lodge was definitely not what I was expecting. Its' pretty luxurious with a hot tub on the deck looking over the mountain, a bar, fireplace and a big area to chill out in. The staff are all super friendly and help to create a fun atmosphere.
Just looking around from the deck you can see the incredible mountains available to you, from steep chutes to open faces with endless amounts of cliffs to drop.
The day I arrived was inspection day, my first challenge was the Nutcrackers. I was probably more nervous about these then the actual competition but as it turned out they weren't too bad.....and by that I mean they were uncomfortable and awkward and you are never sure if you are going to get bucked off, but you do get used to them.....so I'm told.
The freeride venue had been moved a few times due to the hot weather affecting snow conditions and safety but eventually they decided on a face that was pretty short but spent most of the day in the shade so the snow was stable and untracked. The downside was that this face was very 'sharky' which was going to make it more of a challenge for each rider. It doesn't take much for a rock to ruin your run (and your skis) as a few people found out.
That night people were studying the face and picking their lines. Olympus has a friendly vibe and is super easy to chat with new people. Everyone eats dinner together, washes dishes and socialises so its stays pretty relaxed (although the Olympus parties are legendary)
The next morning we had our briefing after breakfast and for once I was not nervous, in fact, I was really excited. I had a rough line picked out but didn't decide until just before dropping in. It's always the hardest part trying to pick a line that will look fluid but still has those technical sections mixed with drops but I was pretty confident in my line choice. I've learned that it's not always about how big you can go, sometimes it's about reading the conditions and adapting your style to suit them.
After the long boot pack to the start gate, and a few minutes to take in the views, it was my time to drop. I hit my first drop on the highest part so that I could get to my next cliff, annoyingly I put my hand on the snow when I landed. I carried on straight into the next drop and landed it perfectly into some fresh snow that I could ride with speed and control before coming to the bottom section. I chose to pick my way through some rocks to get to my last and biggest drop which I hit with a flat base and stomped the landing. A few fast turns and I was at the bottom, I felt great and with people coming over to congratulate me, I knew that it was a good run. There's no better feeling than being cheered across the finish line by people that you look up to for inspiration.
After watching the rest of the comp I shared a few beers with some people on the finish line while looking out at the amazing views. It still amazes me how quickly people bond at freeride events, there is such a high energy and intensity before the comp that I think people let go once it has finished. The level was super high again, and I finished in 4th place with a score of 61. I was a few points off the podium as a result of my hand drag so I was kind of disappointed but at the same time stoked to come 4th in such a good competition.
I had to drive back to Wanaka straight away and missed out on what would have been a pretty loose after party. I was amped to be part of this event and as always its the people you meet that you remember. Hopefully, this is the start of a New Zealand club field freeride series.
This was a special competition, you could feel the energy of the place and the atmosphere was very different to other comps. People were taking it seriously but the underlying fact was that everyone was there to push themselves and to truly enjoy the moment.