Story of some Brits living in New Zealand for the Southern Hemisphere Winter in 2004
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Saturday, August 14, 2004

Stranded at Mount Hutt with 500 others

Awoke early to check the snow report. Slopes were reportedly windy but open so we headed up there. We didnt pass all that much ski traffic on the way up there so we expected it to be quiet - in the event it was busy enough but not overly so. Nice that we didnt need chains for the 14km drive up the side of the mountain.

Early on the wind wasnt too much of a problem but by lunchtime the chairlift was staying shut and by early afternoon the T-bar finally gave up. The skiing wasnt too bad but the wind was blowing the snow around a lot making it a bit hard to see. In fact the North Easterly wind has blown a lot of snow right off the mountain with many more exposed rocks than last weekend.

I had another lesson with Squatty, a senior instructor from Colorado. I think I've reached the stage with my skiing where further improvement is elusive. Trying to switch from turning too sharply and braking on every turn to making smoother carving turns is very hard. I'm falling over much more now than I ever have!

We headed off the slopes around 3.30 to get home early for Miranda's 30th birthday party. We were taken aback to find out the road down the mountain was closed due to the high winds. Everyone was hurried to their cars to try and get them off the mountain.

Sitting in the carpark was pretty unpleasant with the wind rocking the car strongly. Although the carpark is big, it ends in a sheer drop (which they bungee jump off, of course). So being the nearest car to the edge, although 30ft away, wasnt a whole lot of fun. After a while the road crews decided all cars needed chains on and set about helping everyone sort themselves out. The girl who helped us was as surprised as we were when the car blew 8 inches sideways as she was trying to fit the chains. We finally got it done but by then the wind was even stronger and the road crews started organising the cars to be, once again, parked up in an organised fashion. So, after an hour we headed back to the cafe with everyone else.

The staff, about 40 in all, were trapped at Hutt with around 500 people. No whinging though - they soon got teas and coffee on the go and got some chips cooking. About an hour in and the main man gave us a briefing which explained we probably wouldn't get off the mountain until 2am (by now it was around 6pm). Apparently, getting trapped at Mt Hutt is something that happens every couple of years and we were just lucky!

It was nice to see people staying in very good spirits throughout the confinement. AM and I played Mancala (Ethiopian rules) on an improvised set. Quite good fun.

Around 8pm we get another briefing which told us the wind had dropped but the road now had more snow on it. They told us they were going to try and get the first line of cars down in convoy. By this time people were excited about leaving but had to hold off their celebrations a bit as we were told, with these convoys it would probably take 3 or 4 more hours to get us all down.

In the event the first convoy went very smoothly, so the next convoy was essentially just everyone else. Road crews were position to take chains off vehicles 4km down the road, and were parked up on the most dangerous corners. Road crews did a tremendous job remaining cheery after having been out in the blizzard, laying on the road under cars and buses to fit and remove chains for hours.

We were a little daunted in our 2 wheeled drive Toyota compared with most others in their big 4x4s but it seemed safer driving down the mountain than it usually did, because everyone was driving slowly (1st gear for 14km). Normally most of the danger on the road comes from impatient lunatics attempting to overtake so they can get on or off the ski field 5 minutes faster than everyone else.

Finally back to the road we made our way to Methven for the night. Phoning hostels at 10.30pm we were surprised to get such a friendly welcome from Francis at the Mount Hutt Bunkhouse, who found us a couple of beds. Francis offered to cook us dinner, since we'd been stuck up the mountain, and was generally very nice indeed. She made us cups of tea and got us some breakfast the next day - very good service considering we paid $20 each for the beds and you normally self cater in such situations. The only downside were the largey noisey young kiwis who were staying in the same building as us, boozing and making a huge rack late into the night and early morning. Luckily we shared with three young Americans from Maine who were very nice indeed. The bunkhouse is also a favourite with Asians who return year after year and whose generally good and considerate behaviour has made them popular with the hosts.

We even made the papers - see this Star Times article for example.


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