A Ski Bum’s Paradise: New Zealand 2015

Aida Pow shot sjs pow





jim carriageway 1

New Zealand is my favorite place in the world. We spent a month skiing New Zealand’s South Island.   It has great mountains, surf near at the ocean, cheap prices, clean places, nice friendly people,  picnic stops on the road every 20 k or so, holiday parks, snow covered mountains, streams.  Its just perfect.  We rented a Mercedes Sprinter Campervan from Alpha for $50 a day unlimited miles.  It had a stove, shower, toilet, fridge, dvd, heater.  The exchange rate pretty much gave us 1/3 off everything.  Hard to beat that travel deal.

We headed right up to Authurs Pass and skiied Temple Basin because you could walk up 3km up a steep icy snowy track to the base lodge where you could stay, and three big meals for $60 per person.  Kiwis are tough to be able to climb up like that, even the kids.  The weather snowed about 4″, then rained, and the promised snow was wet.  Got some skiing on interesting chutes and terrain. It was Sarah, me, one kiwi and 6 guys and 1 gal that worked there so we had the whole place to ourselves.  1 guy from Alaska, 1 from Canada, 1 from Kansas/Hawaii, and some Kiwi’s.  Great friendly bunch.

After a few days we skiied above Lake Tekapo at Roundhill side country and got a nice sunny day.  It has the longest vertical drop and its a big huge ridge with consistent 30 degree slope for miles The access road is the easiest of all the ski fields,  and with a camper I didn’t want to risk the gnarly ski field roads which are dirt, icy, narrow, one lane, and on cliffs. We skiied nice corn in the sun.  Then went to Wanaka for a few days.  The travel day was a big storm and dumped some nice needed cold powder, and the next days were cold, sunny, calm with powder, the perfect combination.  We got a great side country day at Treble Cone with about a foot fo powder after buying a 3 ride backcountry ticket for $18. Great deal.  We scored wide open bowls to ourselves with nice wind buffed powder and got three runs in.  The next day was perfect again, no wind, sun, cold, a 15″ fresh powder, so we went heli skiing and scored great nice powder runs up high. Our guide Chris owned a heli company in Alaska and was a great guy. Turns out his roomate is Freddy Varengo the famous ski mountaineer who does incredible tours and skis Mt Cook Mt Tasman, and Mt Aspiring.  Amazing stuff.

We met my friend Aaron Brown at Mt. Cook about 3 hours north of Wanaka.   Aaron wrote the book Chuting Valdez  He’s one of the best ski mountaineers in the world, but is a modest guy and doesn’t promote himself.  We headed up to Murchison Hut up on the high glacier for a week of skiing.  The first day was nice and sunny, but bad weather was predicted.  It hit that night in force with 140 km winds and 70 cm of snow ranging from windpack to wet, crust, to dry fluffy powder on top. It was great skiing but super high avy danger so we hung close and just skiied the ridge. The next day we planned to ski down the ridge and up the Aida Glacier.  The ski down was a bit scary due to the huge open face in considerable avalanche danger above overhanging cliffs. We had to find the one chute through the cliffs, and couldn’t quite see it until you were committed.   We didn’t want to make any hard turns. There had already been a few point releases, but the snow felt slabby and the sluffs were heavy, and sluff management was the game on the first run.  It was the heaviest run of the trip with a solid 38 degrees and a 1200 foot straight shot to the glacier below.  Aaron looked very small on the bottom.  It was turn, turn, dodge sluff, each time.  Very gentle turns and constantly looking back up hill where there was another 1600 feet of 40 plus degress of slabby terrain above.  In good conditions it would be an epic 3000 foot line.  We headed up the glacier. I found a nice serac filled powder chute in a protected north aspect out of the sun and wind a got some nice powder shots.  Aaron headed up glacier, but wind slab turned him around.  He did a big line down a peak off the to the side.  Aaron is the fastest climber in the world, faster than Andrew McClean.  Aaron can easily do 8000 vertical in a day.  Not many people can do that.  He does about 3000 vertical feet an hour.

We skiied another two days of perfect sunny calm weather before the weather report turned south and decided to heli out.  We ended up in Twizel for resupply.  We skiied Ohau ski field which has some nice bowls and cliff bands.  We met Chris again that we met heli skiing who works there , and Aaron got to meet Freddy Varengo who also works there.  I wanted Aaron to meet Freddy, because the two of them could do some epic world class tours.   That night we went to the Twizel Barn Dance in a sheep shearing barn and met the locals.  What a blast. Everyone came up and talked with us and were real friendly.  They barbequed a whole lamb on the grill. The moon was full, the night was clear.  They played country music.   At the dance we met a heli pilot who gave us some beta on Cameron hut, and that there was snow on the ground there, so we decided to stick with the original plan and head up to Lake Heron and the Cameron Hut in the Arrowsmith Range.

The Cameron Hut is in HUGE terrain, with 1200 meter lines in all directions, all with 40 degree slopes and overhead objective hazard.  It needs rock solid avy conditions.  We got about 20 cm of much needed  snow that covered the rocks, but it was first soft, froze, got hard, then when the sun came out, it got soft.  On the way up, pin balls and cliff releases chased us off the route.  There was one “green” easy run up the “Carriage Way” a moraine that ran up valley.   A big slide closed it off from accessing the up Cameron Glacier, so it snot clear how to get up there.  To get to the some other mellower lines required a major slog over some massive moraines that are several hundred feet high requiring some boulder hopping.  With about a meter of snow, the area would be awesome ski terrain.

After that Aaron headed home, and I headed up to Craigieburn Ski Field, a friendly club field with the best terrain of any ski area in the world.  They have rope tows you clamp on to with a “nutcracker” and keep your hands out of the pulleys.  There are only a handful of skiiers, so there are powders lines all day.  We got about 10 cm the day before and it was sunny, cold and clear again, perfect conditions.   I found a great bowl and had all to myself for 3 runs.  I’m not sure why no one else came over to ski it as it was right next to the lift, right under the day lodge.  It was only a half hour skin back up.   Pretty amazing.  I’ll stay there next year at the clubhouse where you can get room and board.  I hitched up and the first car up and down picked me up.  Real nice friendly folks in New Zealand.

On the way home, Hawaiian Air announced at the gate, after the departure time of 00:30 am, that the pilot was sick, so there would be a 12 hour delay.  This caused missing all connections and a 2 day trip home.  Ugh.

It was a great trip.  Next year I think I’ll stay the whole season.