Midweek Enzed 13:New Zealand MTB Diaries

Billy Thackray Billy Thackray

So right about now I’m guessing everyone in the northern hemisphere is starting to get a little fed up with winter… The cold, short days and long nights. But recently here in Upside-Down-Land, we’ve had a little reminder that winter isn’t as far away as we would all like to think. Next seasons early bird ski passes are all going on sale, the days are slowly getting shorter, trees are seeing their delicate fruits ripening rapidly and everyone’s tan is just about hitting it’s peak. But hold on… Not yet I tell ya. Not yet! It’s still summer! Technically this is the last month of it as March brings around the first month of autumn. But it’ll be a while yet before the dust settles from what is proving to be an epic mountain bike season.

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Loose banks… no rain… drifting conditions – check.

Despite taking a huge chill pill recently and taking time to savour the quieter aspects of the summer, last weekend a car load of us headed over the Crown Range to Dirt Park, or Snow Farm as it is better known, to see what the various trail crews had crafted through the rocky and dusty slopes. Dirt Park sits directly opposite Cardrona Ski Field (a wicked place to spend the winter) on the other side of the valley. It was my first time over there and I wasn’t really sure what was in store for me. Gee and Stevie Smith had hit the place during their brief stay here in NZ and spoke only good words of the place, which got me a little excited anyway. The first thing that surprised me when we rocked up was how long the drive was up to the start of the downhill. Its a long old winding road that takes you up there, so much so I had time to devour my entire lunch and was still left with enough time to let it settle (sorry about the tuna brine down the side of your car Matt…)

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Epic views, great riding. Must be NZ.

First impressions were good… very good. And those first impressions echoed throughout the day, as run after run produced smile after smile. There are two main lines to begin with, one fast and flowing, not so technical. And the other quite the opposite – straight into tight, turns and technical rock sections. The first line features a pretty sizeable road gap which looks like it would flow oh-so-nicely as part of a run, however the wind picked up by the time we made it over to it, and so it was not to be. That seemed to be Dirt Park’s only problem, the lack of trees and exposed nature of the place leaves it vulnerable to the wind. But it’s no biggie, certainly not worth dwelling on. On the other hand it provides the place with some beautiful and uninterrupted views of the mountains and further towards the horizon, Wanaka. One thing to be careful of is the bloody speargrass, which wasn’t so pleasant on my gloveless hands when I stoved it into one knuckles first. Don’t leave home without any spare tubes as they can easily puncture a DH tyre (so imagine how my hands fared!). Even to the gentlest touch, they will still draw blood, so you have been warned…

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Gina Matete. Representin for tha’ laydeez!

About two thirds of the way down the trail comes out by the fire road, and this is where most people will shuttle from. However it is by no means the end of the run, a sharp left takes you across a stream and later through some sheep fields. As cherries-on-the-cake go, I found this to be a pretty dam sweet one. Beautiful, fast singletrack weaves it’s way in the most fluid manner down the remainder of the hillside, with purpose built ladder bridges over the various fences meaning your run can remain uninterrupted. There’s still the odd technical section thrown in the mix too which keeps you on your toes, but there’s something I find quite special about the singletrack. It’s not steep, it’s not “gnar”. Whenever I ride something I always try and ride it as fast as possible, as does everyone I’m sure. But for some reason every time I rode the bottom section I took great pride in just switching to auto-pilot, not thinking, just being a spectator in my own body, watching this thin weaving line of trail dance across my vision, as an out of focus mountain range poses as the backdrop. Special indeed. From what I understand Dirt Park is a fairly new addition to the list of mountain bike venues in the area, and whilst there isn’t a huge volume of trails, if things grow and progress in the right direction, the place could well see itself as one of the top riding venues in the country. A wicked day’s riding all in all, if you’re headed here, scribble it down on your “must ride” list.

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Matt Wragg follows me in.

That’s it for this week, albeit a bit brief. Tomorrow is supposed to be the League of Gentlemen’s King of Skippers race. A pretty self explanatory, balls to the walls run of Skippers Canyon. The weather is supposed to turn terrible and also it would appear the local farmers have let their cattle loose to pin a few practise runs, which means the course is absolutely muntered at the moment. Reigning King Si Smith has even shaved his long locks off just for that extra weight advantage. We’ll see how this one goes… Could be awesome, could be shit. But bein a LoG, there will be beer. So I suppose, regardless, it will be awesome.

Take care and happy riding.

Jimmy

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