Nutcrackers: Not just creepy Christmas decorations!

August 25, 2013

Nutcrackers are evil. Whether you’re referring to the downright scary wooden statue that haunts every perfectly good Christmas, the kitchen utensil that is frequently responsible for ER visits, or the torture device that is a requirement for backcountry snow adventures in New Zealand.

Oh, you haven’t heard of the last one? Neither had I until I moved to this little island on the bottom of the planet and people started asking me if I’d ever used a nutcracker. To go skiing. Nope, I prefer my ski fields (no “resorts” here!) with chair lifts and smooth landings, thankyouverymuch. Too bad, I found out. If one is lucky, one will get to use a T-bar tow lift- the equivalent to a Cadillac chair lift in New Zealand. The rest of the time: Nutcrackers.

For the Americans, I will elaborate. A nutcracker is a metal device, which hinges shut, much like the tool for cracking nuts. Instead of a nut in the teeth of the cracker, it’s the tow rope. The tow rope is connected to pulleys, which will tow you up the hill. The nutcracker is your handle on the rope, and is connected to a belt around your waist. This is a nutcracker in use:


This is how you wear it (while snowboarding, or posing in the lodge like this stud):

You have to be ambidextrous with both your hands and feet to be able to use this thing. There is hand switching and rope holding that has to happen. While you’re balancing on your skis or board. And all hand switching and nut cracking and such must happen before you get to the first pulley or your glove/finger/hand will go through the pulley and a) effectively dump you on your butt and off the tow rope with b) a very sore digit. Are you confused yet?

The most ridiculous part is you have to get the nutcracker hooked on to the tow rope while it is moving. So, if you’re me, you hold on to the rope and start moving uphill with your left hand. And then you try to flip the nutcracker around the rope and close it singlehandedly with the right. Then, if you’re me, you try to switch hands by holding it with both, then letting go with the right. Again, this all must happen before you get to the first pulley, or your hand(s) will go through.

The beast your nutcracker must pass through but your hands/body must avoid:


Also, if you have awesome friends like mine, you’ll hear lots of stories about how last year some girl got all of her hair ripped out by the pulley. Or you’ll be there to hear the real-life account of how your other half ended up suspended upside down hanging by his snowboard. All of this makes the whole adventure seem really alluring, let me tell you. Anyways, here’s a photo of the awkwardness that is getting on the moving tow rope whilst trying to nut-crack:


See how she’s holding on for dear life with her right hand while she flips and grips with her left? So much coordination.

So, this weekend we traveled up to Mount Olympus in a group of about 10. Luckily, there were more novice skiers/snowboarders than veterans. Sure, Scott and I have both been snowboarding for over a decade, but the nutcrackers put us in the novice group. Lets just say, by the end of the weekend, we probably could have stacked the empty beer bottles farther than I made it up the tow rope.

The annoying thing was that there was a first tow rope one had to conquer just to get to the lodge. I heard horror stories just about getting up the Access Tow! But then, when my turn came- I did it! I had some help (ie: someone stopped the tow rope so a few of us could hop on) but I made it first try. I was very proud. And that’s the best it ever got for me.

Here’s a map of Mount Olympus:

We were staying at the Top Hut Lodge, located in the center. The Main Tow and Top Tow are the only tow ropes up the mountain. Can you imagine? A resort in the States with only one real lift? I admit, at first I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Not many runs for 2 full days of snowboarding. It may get a bit boring…

Well, worry not, my friends. I never got half way up the Main Tow. I fell off about where Molly’s Bump crosses the Main Tow every time. It was so frustrating. I’ve never had much of an ego about my snowboarding skills, but whatever shred of confidence I had got shattered. Over and over and over. After about 4 hours of getting beat up by the rope and the pulleys and the icy snow, I’d had enough. Scott and I actually hiked from the lodge up to the traversing run below Rum Rock (upper right corner of map.) The descent after the hike was the most snowboarding we got in all day.

It wasn’t all bad though (everything about the nutcrackers is bad, but the weekend was not all bad). There was plenty of IPA and cider and whiskey to help us mend our battered bodies and souls. The whole set up was a lot like grown-up ski camp- and the cooks made absolutely delicious lunch and dinner for us. The mountains down here are quite unique and beautiful. And we got to experience the whole thing with friends. So all in all, it was good. Except for the snowboarding. That was bad.

The drive up to Mount Olympus was kind of an experience in itself. Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about our trip to Mt. Hutt? That access road has nothing on Olympus. That may as well be a 4-lane freeway. When you start the final ascent to the Olympus ski field, you actually have to radio up to ensure no cars are coming down. It’s a pretty sweet road.

The start of the drive: so stunning and under-represented by my out-the-window photography skills.
Access road gets steeper, the rocks get bigger, and the views get more epic.
Nearly there. No passing lane!
This is the road. And the parking lot. Looks a lot like Tahoe, right? Where’s the valet?

The above photo is taken from the road. The tow rope on the left is the access tow that I mastered on my first try. You can’t really see the main tow (which is above, and to the left), but it’s not important anyways because I only ever got up the one in this photo. The lodge we stayed in is pictured in the top left corner. Pretty sweet, perched up on the rock. Yes, you had to tow your bags and things up the rope tow. Yes, I had someone else do that part for me…

The next day we skipped another $70 mental and physical beating, and chose to just explore a bit on the way home. We cruised down the mountain…

Yes, that is the road.

… and we checked out Lake Coleridge, about half an hour inland on a dirt road. There’s lots of dirt roads that go deep into the mountains here. We agreed that we need to get out on them more.

For some perspective:
“A” is Mount Olympus. The linear looking lake just to the south west is Lake Coleridge. If the roads were paved, it would probably be a 15 minute drive. After checking out the lake we made our way back to Christchurch, had a pie, and fell deeply asleep.
A bit of countryside on the way home.

So the casualties from this weekend included (but were probably not limited to):

– 2 finger/pulley interactions (thankfully not mine) resulting in whiskey drinking
– 1 body/rope tow interaction as mentioned earlier, resulting in whiskey drinking
– 1 absolutely shredded pair of gloves (from the rope), resulting in Scott needing a new pair to replace his vintage 1998 Dakines.
– 2 ripped jackets (again, rope tow)
– ZERO cars going off the road
–  and 8 smashed egos from watching 2 of our friends (and a lot of kids) completely master the nutcrackers, resulting in 8 smashed people by about 8pm!

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