The Selwyn ski bum

Wednesday, 3 July 2024

The Selwyn ski bum

‘The best place in the world to ski is the place you’re skiing that day.’ – Warren Miller

Words by Sam Masters: Author of The Story of New Zealand Freeskiing and Ski Bum

What is the best way to choose a ski resort?

Maybe you flew over it on the way to Vegas, and had to be restrained from leaping out of the plane by the flight attendants. Perhaps you just ran your hands over a globe to see which bits were the pointiest. If you were really addicted, then you probably stared at a ski-resort trail map in a snow-bound fantasy all the way through high school. Or you could just be sucked into the biggest mountain party town on your continent on the first day of winter, like every other fashion victim.

For the more discerning ski bum the Selwyn mountains provide a soulful freeride alternative.

Ski bums should never wait for perfection. By then your quads will be flabby, your binding springs rusted, ski bases crusty, and your game gone. The perils of procrastination are simply more devastating at altitude. When it comes to snow, perfection only comes along once you have paid your dues, racked up your (vertical) miles, and done your time (on the lift). It usually arrives unheralded and unexpected; blowing through the window of opportunity left open by the eternal optimist in your ski crew.

When it comes to skiing the Selwyn Six (Porters, Broken River, Mt Olympus, Craigieburn, Cheesman, and Temple Basin), it is more likely you’ll experience a typical ‘mixed lolly bag’ powder day.

The mountain looks like a plasterer’s radio. It appears to have somehow snowed uphill, leaving fine ripples of untracked snow that could be blower powder, wind-pressed waves, three-inch-thick crust, or treacherous ice shark fins. But you won’t know for sure until you’re deep into that first turn…

The person who predicts the most powder days gets the most powder days. Not because they’re more accurate but because they will ski more often. If you’re Joanne (or Jonny) on the spot you tend to get the powdies.  That’s the real irony of weather prediction: the overwhelming desire to go skiing is more important than the forecast.

The Selwyn mountains beckon the ski bum, luring them from the pleasures of flat-land life. The first rule of being a Selwyn ski bum is not to resist their lure.

The real secret to ski-bum life is that thirst, that burning desire, that overwhelming urge to ensure you have a better day than anyone stuck down on the Canterbury Plains.

Your mission is to be an agent of COMO – Confirmation Of Missing Out – to anyone foolish enough to remain in your circle of influence.

You have a very particular set of skills, skills acquired over a very long career, skills that make you a nightmare for people who like to ski untracked powder. Your snow radar is military-grade. If there is any kind of soft or hero snow on the mountain, you will find it. You will track it out. And you will tell all your mates.

You have an innate understanding of aspect and altitude, wind and weather, temperature and time. You sense – rather than see – the arc of the sun; as it turns ice to corn, or powder to gloop. You can set a ferocious uphill traverse, have Jedi mind control over ski patrol, and know the mountain like the back of your… skis. 

Imperfect conditions unmask the true ski bum; the complete skier whose principal skill is ripping in snow that isn’t quite right. You can make almost any crust breakable, and lap up the sugar underneath like poverty powder. A few centimetres of pow becomes bottomless when you work the drifts. Long after the dilettante has returned to pleasures of the hot tub, coffee machine, or hand-poured lager you are still on the hill; laying carves through variable snow that scares most folk back on piste.

You are the ultimate snow warrior, whose optimism makes powder deeper. At least when reported to your mates who didn’t make it up the mountain that day.

Your favourite item of ski attire is a grin of satisfaction from finding the goods when others aren’t even looking. Your mission, which you long ago chose to accept, is to pretty much rip – all the time, anytime. You are a Selwyn ski bum.

Back to Articles