The X-Pisa’s  A Snow Shoeing and Paragliding Adventure

Caught by race fever from the Red-Bull “X-Alps” paragliding adventure race, Melanie Heather comes first on her own imaginary race closer to home; from Cardrona to Cromwell; the “X-Pisa.”

The internet is amazing. Nothing else exerts the same power over our rational brain.

My past week had been consumed following the “hike and fly” Red Bull X-Alps paragliding race. New Zealand was represented by our friend Nick Neynens. I was totally inspired. Somehow, I forgot I dislike the cold. The internet made me feel super human. My usual snow shoe plod would miraculously accelerate to the pace of the peloton of ski tourers I was planning to follow, whilst participating in my own imaginary race; the X-Pisa’s.

X Pisa map; Red = snow shoeing / ski touring Blue = paragliding

I put my computer in hibernation mode, left Nick to his race, and made my way to the Waiorau Snow Farm with the crew.

The peleton of Ski Tourers!

I panicked as we arrived at the top of the road. Not because of the confusion over whether we would access the Pisa Conservation Area through the DOC easement or through the Snow Farm,
but because I realised I only brought one of my two hot water bottles and a cold clear night was forecast.

Day one of Nick’s adventure saw him break away from the main pack of pilots. Rather than learn from his mistake, the internet clouded my judgement, and I strapped on my snow shoes. My
imaginary competitors, the rest of our group, stepped into their skis and slid off gaining an initial advantage. To be honest, I was still more concerned about my hot water bottle. Check point one
was DOCs Kirtle Burn hut, for lunch.

Checkpoint 1: Kirtleburn Hut

Tactics are important in a multi-day race. I haven’t done one before, but I googled it. I could recall a story from my childhood about a tortoise and a hare… My tactic was to be the tortoise
and I made it to Kirtle Burn hut for afternoon tea. One or two of the ski tourers had been dropped from the pack. Two people sharing one set of skis would explain this, but that’s another story. We followed the Kirtle Burn Track to the north of the hut, climbing until we could see down into the Cliff Burn. Check point two, and a compulsory overnight stop, was Robrosa Hut(s).

Every serious competitor needs to have a “special move” to take the race lead. I chuckled to myself, as I prepared my paraglider for launch. Although the ski tourers were all out of sight, I
knew I’d glide past them. Arriving at Robrosa Hut(s) first would set me up for a stellar performance on day two… I’d have more time for the consumption of performance enhancing
mulled wine.

The short glide up the Cliff Burn was a pleasant break from the clumsy snow shoe plod. The ski tourers must have got lost, I thought, as I lined up for landing. I didn’t have the height to glide all
the way to the hut(s), but it was close. It was a strange landing… a little like landing in a corn field. As I descended through the cold white fluff, I wondered how deep I would go. It was a
lovely soft landing, but the snow crater would lead people to believe otherwise. Would I be able to extract myself?

Preparing for snow angels

I was so happy. I flew. I was a multi-sport athlete, hah! For a moment, as the sun set, I thought I was making snow angels in the powder. I got cold and recalled my hot water bottle dilemma. I
realised I wasn’t making snow angels. I was rolling, flapping, swimming, and generally hating packing my gear and dragging myself to some firmer ground. I got there, changed up a gear, and
the race was back on.

Robrosa huts nestled in the Cliff Burn, Pisa Range

I arrived at the hut(s), confused, but happy. The ski tourers had arrived and claimed they’d had an easy day. I assumed they were lying and thought I shouldn’t mention the race. We woke to a beautiful morning. The group of ski tourers split, most in search of pow pow down the Prince Burn. I had my own agenda, and the name “X-Pisa’s” was born. Like Nick was traversing the European Alps, I would traverse the mighty Pisa Range. On with the snow shoes and up to point 1956 for a sunny morning tea. A lazy jaunt along the ridgeline, took us past Sally’s Pinch, and on to the summit of Mount Pisa. Today was going perfectly.

Mark ski touring to Mt Pisa as I plod along on my snow shoes

Mark inflates my wing before launching from Mt Pisa

I prepared my wing on the gentle north-western slope. The midday sun created a light uphill breeze. I’ve referred to my clumsiness already and running in snow shoes was not an option. I delicately walked forward to inflate my wing, with my snow shoes packed in my harness. Each time I accelerated, the snow gave way and I was left cursing in a thigh deep hole. My fortunes eventually turned, and I was airborne. A right turn had me through Sally’s pinch and the steep east face of the Pisa Range dropped away beneath me. I was a multi-sport athlete, again.

Melanie flying through Sally’s Pinch

Up up and away! Beats walking down…

I was delighted to land safely beside State Highway 6.

Successful ski landing

I called my brother with the desire to share my excitement and found myself gently persuading him to pick me up. 30 minutes later we were en-route for the Cardrona Pub, a logical finish line to my imaginary race.

My tactic, that of the tortoise, had me victorious. I won by a margin of one Guinness and celebrated by sharing stories with the skiers as they slowly arrived. Celebrations were cut short as the internet called and we needed to check on Nick’s progress. Like I, he moved up through the pack…

Critically important trip notes:

  • Minor aspects of the story, like any good story, have been slightly exaggerated.
  • There is a $20 toll for use of the Waiorau Snow Farm road.
  • Robrosa hut(s) can be booked through Aspiring Guides in Wanaka. Mulled wine is essential as there is no fire.
  • To create a good story, “I” was used in place of “Mark and I”. Playing in the snow alone would be considered foolish, and I’m far to sensible for that kind of behaviour.

Melanie Heather is a member of the FMC affiliated Southern Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club. She lives in Cardrona and is a keen proponent of ‘Hike and Fly’ adventures, combining trips into the mountains with paragliding back home again. 

Wilderlife