Episode 8 of our Mid Week look at what's going on in New Zealand with Jimmy Carling sees Stevie Smith and Gee Atherton rock up.

Blimey, another year gone. Where does time go?

Sunrise over the Remarkables. 6am, January 1st, 2010.

Seems like only yesterday I was getting excited about Pietermaritzburg and all the ensuing world cups. Anyway, New Years Eve - I hope you all had a blinder.

New year in Queenstown is a bit weird really... Town normally has a very light and happy feel to it, but at new year that vibe changes massively. People come from far and wide to celebrate, taking what is an already busy and bustling little town into an overcrowded nightmare, not to mention the ute loads of bogan's that come along to drink heavily, start fights and generally trash the place. Keen to avoid the chaos, four of us packed our bags and ventured up Ben Lomond to camp for the night and watch the sunrise on new years day, with the highlight being pinning it back down to town after.

Stevie Smith, watching our uplift disappear...

It was cold and windy, and we got no sleep, so we opted not to make a last minute charge for the summit, and instead stayed at the saddle and watched the sun come up behind the Remarkables, which is possibly one of the greatest starts to a new year that I've ever had.

Darcy. Look at that smile!

The weather has been pretty dam crap lately, mostly heavy rain with frequent showers and the odd spot of precipitation. Not that it stops play of course, just changes the dynamics of things a little. There's a well known trail that starts above the Skyline Gondola called Ant's Track, which is about as steep, raw and rugged as it gets. So naturally after days of heavy rain, we ventured up to have a play... Good god, I aint ever ridden an ice rink before, but after that ride I'm pretty sure I know what it would be like. A few minutes of sphincter-pinching-gnarl later and we had grins stretching from ear to ear. The thing with Ant's is how deceiving the trail is at the start. You hear stories about it's steepness, but when you initially set off it doesn't seem that bad. What catches most people out is the speed and sudden nature at which these steep, rocky, rooty and loose sections appear. There's no berms to catch yourself on either, so you gotta have your line dialled and know where you're headed. Definitley a must if you're into technical trails.

Rain... Who cares! Matt Wragg getting down and dirty on Upper Turd.

But the best news this week has been the arrival of some rather big names in the sport... Namely a certain Mr Gee Atherton and his Red Bull colleague Stevie Smith, as well as Darcy Wittenberg from the Collective. "Follow Me", the much anticipated movie of 2010, is having some of the final shots being filmed here in Queenstown. Fortunatley, thanks to all round top geeza Tim Ceci of Vertigo Bikes, I got to take a heli-bike with Stevie to scope out places to shoot up at The Remarkables. It was also the first time I rode their heli drop, so what started out as being a fairly loose-end-tying kind of a day turned out to be one of the most fun days I've ever had in NZ!

Hmmm... Old, tired Bighit vs Evil Revolt... I wonder which one I would rather have?

It was a bit touch and go initially as to whether the chopper would be able to fly, but thanks to some tight finger crossing, the weather held out enough for us to make a landing on the Coal Pit Saddle over the back of Remarks. Snow and wind greeted us and straight away I was jealous of Stevie's full face and goggles. Oh... and his gloves too (D'oh - knew I forgot something). The wind was too strong to land right at the top of the heli drop so we settled for starting a little lower down. From there we rode down the fast and rocky ridgeline, then into the equally fast and flowing singletrack, which weaves it's way down through lush native tussock, and the occasional bit of not-so-lush speargrass... But the riding is bloody marvellous. Again, I would strongly recommend a good 5-6 inch rig for this, as there are a few brief pedally sections are not best enjoyed on a big bike. About halway through we pulled to the side for a quick cookie break to put the worms at bay, then carried on along the hillside and down into the final 4x4 track. That final section is such a blast. You might want to turn your nose up at the sound of 4x4 track, but it's so loose and fast you can just keep it pinned on the straights and let it slide in the turns! In the end it seemed like the mountain had exactly what they would be looking for in terms of filming grounds. But you don't need me to harp on about it, I don't doubt that the footage will do all the talking when it's released next spring. All I can say is that you're in for a treat.

A brief pause in the heart of a truly beautiful place.

So after getting picked up by Tim at the bottom of Coal Pit Road, we headed back to town where Gee was waiting at the shop, seemingly tired from travelling but stoked to be back in summer. We hosed the bikes off and shortly after I set off home, extremely content with an action packed arvo. I got back and just as the kettle went on and the biscuits came out, I got another call from Dan of Vertigo. Surely not...

Heli base

But indeed it was so, the van and trailer were being loaded up and we were going back out to play again, this time scoping out Skippers Canyon as a potential filming ground. Almost all Vertigo staff were in attendance as well as Stevie, Darcy and myself. Could this day get any better?! I was pretty damn sure that it was about to!

Tim Ceci sorting out Darcy Wittenberg with a ride for Skippers.

And it did. Skippers was riding beautifully, nice and tacky from the recent rain. I took the Blender out for some hardtail action and had an absolute blast. Skippers is such a beautiful part of the world, I always feel very lucky to be where I am when I head down there. Judging from the enormous grin, gaze of awe-and-wonder and frequent stopping to take phone photos, I'm pretty sure Darcy found what he was looking for. Ah I'm getting goosebumps thinking about the movie! Bring it on!#

Flying past the front face of Remarks.

We finished the evening off with a little aero speed run down Coronet Peak road to the car park at the bottom. My hardtail was like a little white rocket, just flat out the whole way down. However, hats off to Stevie for his suicide-no hander like tuck position which despite being completely nuts, did actually work out for the lad in terms of speed gain... Overall it was simply an awesome day's riding with a great group of people. It's a pretty good feeling when big names, like Darcy and Stevie, rock up to your local riding spots and get blown away by what's on offer. You think of all the cool locations around the world that they've ridden in or filmed at and the wealth of experience that they bear. So when they say "Man that was awesome!", it just makes you feel that little bit more stoked that such trails are right on your doorstep. Ma-hoosive thanks to Tim for hooking us up with it all. If you're headed this way either this summer or next, you'd be mad to miss out on a heli-drop or skippers session. Check out vertigobikes.co.nz or have a look at their facebook page, which has tons of footage of riding and also plenty of info about what they can do to make your time here worthwhile. More on Mr Ceci in the near future...

Si Smith leads Stevie Smith into Skippers Canyon. And no they're not related.

And on that note we look forward to the first LoG of 2010 this Thursday, the chainless race down V Line... Its gonna be gentlemanly carnage in it's most polite yet dirty form. I think we're still trying to get Gee and Stevie along for it. A former world champ and top ten world cup racer... Doing a 2 dollar un-race? Dare we dream it? Oooh we'll have to wait and see!

Happy new year and happy riding.