Symphony on Skis (2017) - full transcript

An adventurous ski tour of two sisters, who follow the tracks of their father, across the pristine landscapes of New Zealand. 30 years ago, Gottlieb Braun-Elwert set out on an incredible ... - stop by if you're interested in the nutritional composition of food
What do you reckon Carla, are you happy with this?

We'll try and get quite a lot of speed by the way,
so keep the runway clear so we don't hit any objects.

Can you just see if it's recording?

Yes, it's recording.


Alright, you ready?
I'm ready.

So always just keep it pointing as much at me as possible.
Yeah, yeah.

Sometimes, in the mountains, you end up
somewhere completely unexpected.

It's a bit like editing films -
you're always finding new things,

making your way through another kind of landscape
- one made of stories.

Oh, what a beautiful day today.

These pictures were recorded a lifetime ago,
by my father Gottlieb.

My Dad was a skilled and ambitious mountain guide.

He emigrated from Germany to New Zealand,
after meeting my Mum, Anne.

He loved exploring the wilderness
of his new home around Lake Tekapo

and skiing was his favourite way to move.

When my sister, Elke, and I, appeared on the scene,
we were taken along on every adventure.

Throughout our lives, Dad was always taking photos.

And he guided all sorts of wonderful people,
including our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

The last thing we all expected was
that he would pass away aged 59.

Because Dad was always behind the camera,
I can't find that many old photos of him.

I'm looking for them ... to help tell
the story of his most elegant journey.

My Dad was an explorer.
To him, mountains were not a grim place...

They were a place to think and be creative.

Dad kept a record of his climbing trips
from all over the world.

These old pages hold hundreds of memories.

Dad completed his mountain guides training
while studying nuclear physics.

He was clever and efficient -
good at dreaming, but also doing.

In 1985, he made a plan to do something
no-one had ever done before:

to ski across New Zealand's largest mountain chain,
The Southern Alps.

He dreamt up a route from their heart,
through the major passes and glaciers around Mount Cook,

making one epic traverse to the West Coast -
which he thought might just be possible in one single day.

He set out with two friends, Franz and Daniel,
in the Godley Valley, far from their goal.

They climbed a total of nearly 4000 vertical meters,

skiied down almost the same amount,
and covered 47 kilometers.

By sunset on the same day, they'd made it
to Fox Glacier on the West Coast -

unsupported, in a non-stop, 18 hour marathon.

One year later, Dad wrote a story
which gave the traverse its name.

A ski traverse is like a well-composed piece of music.

It flows with harmony, surprises with the unexpected.

It engages all your emotions
and the melody lingers in your mind afterwards.

Good music needs players who are
masters of their instruments.

It's now thirty years since my father skiied
the first the Symphony on Skis.

There's no better way to celebrate this milestone
than to ski it again.

My sister Elke will lead us.

This is one of Dad's old maps, one of the originals.

Dad's route hasn't changed much, but this trip
is still no mean feat, even spread over multiple days.

Like our father, Elke's become a fully qualified
mountain guide - and her skills are essential.

She's responsible for staying on top of everything.

It seems apt to repeat this traverse,
and also it's just a fantastic adventure.

We all just want to do it for the sake of doing it.
It's fun!

The fun starts … with packing.

The five of us are not trying to make
the West Coast by sunset.

This time, we're going to take a whole week.

Elke's husband Keith is helping me
take on the task of filming.

Oh, now it's going spastic!

He's even custom made a camera stabiliser.

Keith saw the Symphony as a good excuse
to design this gadget for us,

which fits on the end of a ski pole.

He can also fix almost anything,
which means doing all of our bindings.

Jochen came over from Germany to join us.

As a freeskier, he's quite often airborne
but also very down to earth.

He heard about the Symphony from his brother Axel,
who spent a lot of time skiing with my Dad.

Like him, Axel moved from Germany to live in New Zealand.

And Axel has dreamed of doing the Symphony
ever since Dad told him all about it.

Before any mountain adventure, I always feel
an equal mix of apprehension and excitement.

Despite best preparations, a lot must be left up to luck.

Thinking about tomorrow's uncomfortably heavy pack,
the early start, and no shower for a week,

I remembered that I could just as easily
have stayed at home.

But that was the last place I wanted to be.

So when's breakfast?

Breakfast will be quarter past five, half past five.

For my Dad's team, the night before would have felt similar:
carefully getting everything ready,

dwelling over thoughts of the daunting task ahead.

Franz, thank you for the water.

Well if you all get ready the soup is ready in a minute.

Put a place on the table


Yeah, for seven, the message is: is it possible
for base to be on stand-by tomorrow at 7am?

Because we may have a message to
be relayed on to Lake Tekapo, over.

A short sleep and then it was time to move.

Quickly, the starlit night absorbs us three
after leaving the comforts of Rankin Hut.

The challenge was immense.

Four thousand vertical metres' climb,
and 47 kilometres distance,

linking the major glaciers and snowfields
of the Mt Cook region into one long traverse.

There were four major passes to cross,
five of New Zealand's largest glaciers to traverse.

We would need all our skills and strength
to complete the journey with daylight.

We set off much later than Dad's group had.

We were forced to delay our start,
to be sure the weather was going to co-operate.

The most important is one smooth movement.

Smooth, yeah, really smooth...

Early in the morning, when Gottlieb, Daniel and Franz
were moving up the Rutherford,

they had a number of unexpected problems.

The gusty wind from the North is more than
the thermal downdraft expected during the night.

Will the weather hold?

Like in 1985, the weather was hard to predict,
overshadowing our trip right at the start.

The forecast was for cold southerlies,
but easing and clearing.

I was worried that the winds were still going to be
too cold and too strong up high.

What actually happened is the winds
eased a lot sooner than expected,

and the temperature rose quite significantly
in a very short space of time.

So my main concern going up the Rutherford
was avalanche danger.

And so suddenly we had a lot of time pressure.

The hot sun was already melting und loosening
the damp snow above us on the steep valley walls.

Every step we took was onto old avalanche debris,
which was not really so old.

For me it was actually a very stressful day, because
on the one hand I had people wanting to get video shots

of this dramatic scenery, of the events that were unfolding,
and on the other hand

I had the very immediate danger of if we are in one place
for too long, we could get avalanched.

So I was pretty grumpy on the first day.

Ok, just in front of me.

Super, thank you!

So due to filming, not only were we slower
because it took more time to get shots and things,

but also, the packs were a lot heavier.
We had a lot more equipment to carry around with us.

So even when we were moving, we couldn't move as quickly.

I didn't realise it, but I was putting
this entire trip at risk

by wanting to film the first section in too much detail.

How is that Carla?
Uff, got too much stuff.

I think maybe we need to take some weight off Carla's pack.

We need to be able to move faster than this.

Yeah that's what I said, I could take the camera.

Carla, keep on moving!

We had to make the decision that either
we turn back here straight away

and get down the valley as quickly as possible,

or we go as fast as we can and get above the danger zone.

It was a fifty-fifty decision.

Either way we were in the same amount of danger,
and we needed to go fast.

First, day, first rest, already blisters?

Unfortunately. Probably too heavy a bag and too hot.

And we just want to get up there without stopping.

During the course of our break, the decision
was made easy for us, because the clouds came over again,

the temperature dropped below zero again,
things stopped moving,

and yeah, there was no reason not to continue.

When I start zigzagging, please do one on each zigzag.
So I zig, you zag.

What means zigzag, also zigzag is -

Yeah, yeah, no but what do you mean with -
I zig, you zag!

Ah ok, always –
I zig, you zag.

This is an unexpected extra water supply.

Slowly we have gained this height.

At last we reach smooth snow, where
skinning becomes the familiar tune.

Sharp cold wind greets us from the north.
The Main Divide is in clouds.

Skins off, a photograph taken. These are the few restful
moments that mark our break between climb and descent.

When we reached the top of our first pass,

Elke was already thinking about the next issue,
and that was the visibility.

It was quite difficult to see the line down
into the Harper Glacier,

and we were also slowly starting to run out of daylight -

we only had another hour and a half left.

Even so, we were all looking forward
to our first turns downhill.

Slow down, slow down, slow down, slow down.

I think we'll have better snow in there.

Yep, that's my waypoint.

The better snow is further over like the last section
I skiied is much better.

So nice!

Well, we've got a clean run down.

So Murchison Hut, up there, in profile,
you can just see it, the little black thing.

Managing the uncertainties in mountaineering,
it's one of the big challenges.

But I think that's also one of the really enjoyable aspects
of it, and that's what Dad also found very enjoyable,

it's the problem solving side of it, and
finding a creative solution

to the trouble that has presented itself.

Well in society, we always live in a very defined way,
you know you have traffic lights, everything,

and everything is decided for you.

Once you go beyond that,
you have to make decisions yourself

you have to be creative, you know,
just finding your own way up the mountain.

The mountain is unforgiving,
so you have to read the mountain

and read the weather and everything,
and then it's a very nice experience.

Heading up the final slope to the hut,
the snow changed and it became icy.

Elke asked everyone to put their ski crampons on.
But just two minutes after that, Jochen stopped.

One of his had broken.

First day I use it.

Where did it break?

I can show you, right here...
We'll look in the hut, it's all right.

Right where the fixture is.

Thankfully, the hut wasn't far, although we
had no hope of seeing it at this time of day.

When we finally got to Murchison Hut,
there was one last challenge to overcome.

No-one had been there for weeks,
since before the last storm.

There was a big bank of snow up against the door
so we had to do some digging.

What's for dinner?

We have...

a home-made dehydrated meal which is
beef curry

with brown rice

and extra chilli.

Oh, hang on, out of focus...

Extra chilli.
I've got to get it sharp... there you go.

I just need to reverse these two, and then it would work.
Ah, yeah, probably would.

Jochen had broken his ski crampon
on the way up to Murchison Hut.

But with the right tools and Keith there to fix it,
he was soon set to go again.

We have some Kiwi ski engineering – who got it fixed!

Technically it works. It's a little bit dodgy,but

...if you can get it in it stays in.

If it gets in.
If it gets in.Yeah, yeah...

And yeah, hopefully it'll work.

We are ready for Graham Saddle.

That's probably only a moderately good idea.

I guess yes...

Wriggle your feet a bit, Axel.
Oh, that's awesome!

They certainly look smelly…
Actually,it looks like it's green steam!

In the wide open valley of the Murchison,
I couldn't help but think what Dad might have thought here.

That it's such a privilege to have
this whole valley to yourself.

We were keen to get going.

But at the same time, we weren't
racing the sun like Dad had been.

On the original Symphony,
he would have been on the West Coast

about the same time we'd reached
the valley floor the night before.

Before we headed on, we had time to go exploring

and we had the perfect conditions.

We told Jochen it was always like this in New Zealand.

Coming to New Zealand is absolutely refreshing to me.

Actually it's my first time out here
in the Mt Cook, Tasman region in New Zealand.

At home it's completely different
to what I've been doing here.

You have much bigger backpacks, and first of all
you have to get used to all this stuff.

In Europe, at home, I just go out with my ski gear
and yeah, that's it.

Yeah, it's quite a little bit more challenging
out here in New Zealand.

But it's absolutely much more adventurous.

Doing such a trip especially with my brother is quite a...

Shit, what’s the word for experience?

For me it was a challenge and a good possibility
to go out skiing with my brother.

Let’s go!

We haven't been able to ski together for quite a long time,
because he went to New Zealand.

Yeah for me that fits really well together because
he's the endurance guy and I'm the freeski guy

and the Symphony on Skis, it's quite
a really nice combination of both.

On the one side you really have the whole endurance part
of the Symphony and on the other side,

I'm really interested in looking
for the freeskiing parts of it.

That’s definitely too steep for me here.

Man is that cool!

Is there enough room up there?

Well, to be honest…

The hardest part is yet to come.

As soon as I have my skis on…

Then it’s all good!

There would have been no chance
to go up from the other side.


It was quite sketchy!

It's not wider than this!

Together with my brother we scoped quite a nice line.

He's gone.

Can you see him?

It's quite hard for me to judge it, because the snow
is definitely different than at home, in Europe,

and it's much more changeable.

From meter to meter, from one rollover to the next,
it could be completely from ice to powder.

So I always, don’t really know
what's happening in the next turn.

Actually the line was bigger than expected.
Everything was a little bit larger.

Really nice to ski, definitely, but in the end,
I was stupid enough to get caught by my own sluff.

Nothing big, but you always try to avoid
a tumble when filming.

It was quite a nice run anyway.

Jochen saw a way down I would have never dreamed of.

It reminded me how each person has their own way
of interpreting the landscape.

It was time to get back on the Symphony route
and follow the tracks of the pioneers.

The Murchison Headwall looks good.

Five steep, sweeping traverses let us climb to the height
that separates the Murchison from the Tasman Glacier.

No clouds on the Main Divide South of Tasman Saddle.

Half-time, halfway. We will have a chance.

Take a deep breath...

a firm grip on the ski poles.
Now we can cover distance fast.


Come in!

While ski touring here on the Symphony
it's the first time I've been in New Zealand huts.

And they are kind of weird, compared to
everything that I know! But really interesting.

and actually I prefer the New Zealand style.

In Europe, often you just pop up at the hut and you
just have to pay for everything but everything is there.

And here is nothing.
Here is just a wooden hut and it's cold.

It changes the whole program a little bit!

But the huts they are so cool don’t you think?

Iron box somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

And when you look out the door

…then it just goes bzzzipp!!

…then it just goes bzzzipp!!
Straight down.

Straight down.

Friday 25 September.

Cloudy periods in the East, mainly
morning and night, fine in the West.

Tasman Saddle: south-easterly twenty
rising to thirty in the afternoon, no precipitation.

Free-air freezing level rising to 2000m.

Elke decided the weather forecast was not good enough
for a crossing to Graham Saddle.

So we opted to spend an extra day at Tasman Saddle Hut.

Copy that alright?

But this didn't mean we had to stay indoors.

Yeah, let’s not stress, just let me
get my things nicely sorted out.

Come on.

Yeah, yeah… the weather is crap anyway.

That doesn’t matter.

I'm all ready.

The nice thing is, Carla now has
to make subtitles for all of this.


Make sure you take your crampons and ice axe,
so we've got crevasse rescue kits

because we'll be going through the Canyonlands,
so right into the crevasses.

Got everything.

All there. I get your skis ready.

You get my skis ready? I get the rest ready.

Get down in there, have a look see what's there.
And you'll see heaps and heaps of cool features.

Until you're in there it's hard for you
to imagine what it's like.

And you’ve got this whole valley in the background.

I see it as a window... to a different world

Yeah – what a contrast though huh?

Absolutely, gigantic contrast!

That's so amazing.

Yeah, I'll go a little bit slower going in.
Because I don't have poles.

Yeah it's quite hard.


I don't know what to do with it to be honest.
Everything alright with Keith?

I'm fine I just…
His little gadget's covered in snow.

The next day, we had to get up early.

Ahead of us lay Graham Saddle,
the highest and hardest climb

and we had to get to the top before the sun
hit the steep slopes, making them unstable.

I'm impressed with Keith.

It's 4 o'clock and you see Keith, he's set up and filming.

That's dedication.

The cloud from the day before was still
hanging around in the valley.

But we could see stars above the hut.

So we decided to descend,

hopeful that we would be just spending a few hours
in the mist before breaking through into the sunshine.

Okay, everybody ready?

Yeah, just when I stop, just stay spaced evenly because
it's sometimes hard for me to tell what's ahead.

The dark and cold at 5 o'clock in the morning
are not to everyone's liking.

But these things are all part of the experience.

And if there's someone who can be counted on
to see all of this in a positive light, it's Axel.

There's no single, one single thing that I like most.

It's like in a symphony.

A symphony needs to be listened to
in its entire length I think, that's what makes a symphony.

That's why it's not a song or a poem or something short.

And all the instruments have to play together,
and that makes a symphony.

It's not the single, not a violin makes a symphony
but the whole orchestra playing together.

And I think this is the same for me.

Jochen felt a little different about the situation.

Following Elke, and I have no idea where we are going.

Never been here before, can't see anything, yeah.

As you can see, Keith,
doing a technically perfect snowplough.

Axel, I'm going to go behind you I've got a bearing on
my compass, and I'll tell you if we're going left or right.

So you just start, keep following that track, yeah.

I can at least see a contour now.

Yeah, we're right on track still. Perfect.

Hey Jochen, how do you like the Tasman?

It's great hey?

It's fantastic!

Welcome to New Zealand conditions - wet cold.

Usually it's an awesome view...

Never had a better ski descent!

What was that Jochen?
All good!

I said I never ever had a better ski descent!

Elke was focussed on finding the right way.
We couldn't miss the next turn off.

So we just need to keep following this.
Yeah, you can keep following this for a bit longer Axel.

That way?
Yep, that's our bearing!

Are we halfway down?
Yeah we're over halfway there, this is Darwin Corner.

Over halfway, yay!

Luckily she's an expert navigator.
We would be quite lost without her.

I would call this a rock slalom.

De La Beche Corner!
Very good!

Thanks Axel, for your help.

I think we will get a reward for this…

some pretty good ski runs later in the day.

My eyes travel far ahead and scan the terrain
for suitable contours,

so that my skis can lay a track with steady gradient
providing for comfortable footing.

The travel was anything but comfortable.

In thirty years, the glacier has changed a lot.

I didn't expect to encounter a field of rock and stone.

In 1985, Gottlieb, Franz and Daniel would not
have had to carry their skis around this corner.

How's it going, Keith?

I was filming.
Oh, good one, shall we keep going?


I think it's pointing a little bit too far up.

We skin from here?
Yeah, I reckon we can.


Clouds reappear on the Main Divide.

Rocks start hurtling down the moraine walls,
and sprinkle the white of the Rudolf Glacier.

Our pace is still unchanged,
though striding out requires more effort now.

It's soaking wet, it's cold, and ski touring sucks.

No, opposite! Powder here we come...

Can’t be too far away!

Now we're talking!

So we've got 650 metres, and we're up the steep bit.
And from there it's pretty easy.

So I really equally like each single part of it, like
skinning up has got all sorts of fascinating things for me.

Trying to choose the most mellow terrain
and the softest fit into the landscape,

so you get up the hill with the least amount of effort
wasted, and the least amount of kick turns.

I think that's what Gottlieb always tried to
teach me - is to find that perfect line uphill.

Like you know, obviously if you're following a track,
it's a bit like karaoke.

You just follow another line.

But if you put in your own track into an untouched slope,
you haven't really seen it before,

and you need to read it and fit your track into the terrain.

So that's why I think that's like composing.

Sometimes the Symphony is not really on skis.

Heavy bags, a steep climb, deep snow, and
not much time for stopping make it just plain hard work.

I thought about what Dad would tell me.

Just put one foot in front of the other

and then the other foot in front of that.

This one, over there, would be a perfect line!
It would be really awesome if we could ski it.

It was a pretty damp morning. Damp, miserable,

and you couldn't see anything.

The clouds have disappeared again, no more spindrift.

The wind has dropped completely.

Excitement pulls us up the never-ending neve.

The steepest section of our trip was almost behind us,
and we could look forward to putting skis on again.

The upper section of the Rudolf leans back,

and skinning becomes the well working routine again.

Isn't that bloody amazing!

At last we can look down to the spectacular West Coast,

and let our bodies soak up the warmth of the late afternoon sun.

We have reached the highest point on our journey.

Reaching Graham Saddle was the best chance
to look both ahead as well as back.

But there was a good reason to turn
to the East side once more.

We couldn't leave the best powder snow behind us
without skiing it.

Go for it!

Or you do a 360 triple-flip and then ski out -
what do you reckon?

Yes with a big backpack... but

just not kidding -

do we ski on the left-hand side to the roller,
and then Elke takes us down in a line?

New Zealand's snow conditions are never the same
from one day to the next

or from one side of the mountains to the other.


Once we dropped off the Main Divide to the West,
the fluffy powder was replaced by noisy wind crust.

It was like crossing a frozen ocean.

One more climb, one more pass.

We have to make it.

As our adventure drew to a close,
I thought back to its beginnings.

The original Symphony on Skis was done in 18 hours.

We took seven days.

But no matter how long it takes,
for me this ski traverse compares to a lifetime.

The last moments of both are never long enough.

Immense joy overrides all tiredness.

The last hurdle of our cross-country race is reached.

Our rest on this magnificent grandstand is of short duration.

We wish we could stay a little longer to watch
the sun plunge into the Tasman Sea

illuminating the mountains
with all the colours of the spectrum.

Once we reached the last pass,
where Dad took that final photo of Franz and Daniel

I reflected once more on my image hunt.

I'd been looking for pictures of my Dad in the 80s,
to fit neatly into my story.

While I hardly found any, I found him nonetheless.

In voice recordings, and images he took

which were pictures not of him, but of my sister, and me.

We have to put wax on the skis Dad, so they go faster.

Here come Elke and Carla again…
both have already made lots of progress

Elke’s in front and behind her is Carla.

I have to watch out that I don’t fall over!

I could relive the little tracks he led us along,
and the big mountains he took us up.

Well done! Top of Mount Cook!

The Symphony was one of his most challenging journeys.

But taking us into the mountains was another,
which he always made top priority.

Of course I'm proud of my girls.

Well I think it's not just that,
it's nice to do things together that you can all enjoy.

With Dad's encouragement I learned that on adventures

you expect the unexpected

and accept that you mightn't
always find what you're looking for.

In the end, I found an answer to a question
I didn't know I was asking.

I could see all of us being creative here in different ways.

What was my way up the mountain?

This journey brought me to the past and back again

and through my greatest loss.

The process of turning this into a celebration
was my own kind of mountaineering.

One last time we don our skis and point them downhill.

Okay, ready to go?

Despite exhaustion, the senses of each player
are finely attuned to every movement, every effort

to join together in achieving the final crescendo.

We have made it, Chancellor Hut.
The Symphony has ended.

Perfect line all the way down to the hut!

The valley echoed with calls of Keas,
another sound reminding me of Dad.

They seemed to be telling me all about my own sadness
of finishing, combined with the thrill and relief of arrival.

Carrying the full spectrum of feelings,
we were finished, and yet not.

Dad left us with a fantastic route
through the most amazing landscape.

He led us to an experience which will last
long after we pack up our instruments.