Sleep deprivation, pain in 50-hour challenge

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Mt Hutt's 50th celebrations included a gruelling 50-hour challenge. File photo: NZ Ski.
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Shaun Fitzgerald of Methven gritted his teeth as he skiied on Mt Hutt in a blizzard and darkness at 2am, with snow and freezing rain stinging his face.

The 42-year-old was taking part in the gruelling 50hr Endurance Challenge at Mt Hutt Ski Area, where participants had to ski every hour for 50 consecutive hours.

It had been the opportunity of a lifetime, but conditions got tough.

Shaun Fitzgerald, back at work, finished the 50-hour challenge at Mt Hutt.

Fitzgerald said the challenge, which ran from Friday night to Sunday night as part of skifield 50th jubilee celebrations the weekend before last, started with beautiful weather under an almost full moon.

‘‘The groomers did a fantastic job, they gave us a couple of groomed runs. When they were working on Broadway we were going down 72, when they worked on 72 we were going down Broadway. The snow was in fantastic condition.’’

The ski area had kept the Nor’west Express chair running out of skifield opening hours for half-hour time slots, so each of the challenge participants could get in at least one run every hour.

The high spirits of Fitzgerald and the more than 20 fellow participants, who were mostly tourists and Christchurch residents, continued as thousands flocked to the skifield on the sunny Saturday.

But as darkness fell, sleep deprivation started to set in, and there was a foreboding sky.

Looking over the Canterbury Plains from Mt Hutt on the Saturday night, before a bitter southerly blew in.

About 2am on the Sunday, a southerly rolled in. Fitzgerald said it was then he and fellow participants had to deal with 70kmph bitterly cold winds.

‘‘The snow and the rain was coming in sideways, then it was snowing and riming (freezing of water droplets) on the chairs.’’

While most participants were snatching their sleep, between runs, on the floor of Sky Cafe, Fitzgerald had the luxury of his own campervan he had parked on the mountain.

But about 4am on the Sunday, when he went to get out of the campervan so he could clock in his run for that hour, he found he was frozen in.

‘‘The doors to the campervan had frozen shut, I couldn’t get out. That was a bit of a panic,’’ Fitzgerald said.

By manoeuvring his body and pushing he was able to break the ice and get out, just in time to clock up his next run.

‘‘I scraped in by about five minutes.’’

Shaun Fitzgerald and fellow skiers used head lamps so they could ski at night.

All day Sunday he skiied with wet gear. His hands ached in the cold, but he and fellow participants kept their spirits up.

‘‘You are kind of sharing that real horrible weather together, you are doing it as a team,’’ Fitzgerald said.

He was pleased to be named as one of about 15 men and women who successfully completed the challenge.

‘‘It was something out of the ordinary. It was pretty cool that Mt Hutt did something like that, opening the field and supplying the staff,’’ Fitzgerald said.

‘‘It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’’

The following day, on the Monday, it was back to work, at Rainer Irrigation in Ashburton where Fitzgerald is a project manager.

‘‘The sleep deprivation was amazing, you are spending a couple of days just in a fog.’’

He estimated his naps overnight Friday and Saturday would have added up to just three hours sleep.

Fitzgerald said he had enjoyed the challenge, at the skifield he began skiing at when he was three-years-old.

‘‘I wouldn’t do it again, but it was definitely worth it.’’