WildSnowNZ: Introduction

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 16, 2015      

(Editor’s note: Update — first trip report is in!)

Kia Ora Wildsnow readers.

Beau Fredlund here, writing to introduce a short series that Noah Howell and I plan to share about ski mountaineering in New Zealand this season. Lou and Lisa have been gracious enough to let us share a couple of posts about the trials and tribulations of what goes into a Southern Alps ski trip, so here you’ll have it. Noah and I are teaming up with a couple of really strong and motivated young guides/mountaineers, Adam Fabrikant and Billy Haas, and together we’re looking to get amongst it this October/November over in Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Steve Romeo, Scott Fennell and Ben Starkey ascend the French Ridge, Oct. 2010.

Steve Romeo, Scott Fennell and Ben Starkey ascend the French Ridge, Oct. 2010. Click images to enlarge.

Sometime mid summer Noah Howell and I got to volleying the idea about a ski trip to New Zealand. It took all of about two emails before the idea really took hold and the excitement expanded to include a psyched group of four. We’re heading over there to try and experience a bit of the beauty and challenge that is the Southern Alps. In case you readers don’t know, New Zealand has spectacular ski terrain and a world class backcountry hut system (yes please). There are a few resortlike ‘ski areas’, many of which are more accurately described as ‘club fields’ which offer an excellent and unique ski experience. Renowned locations such as Temple Basin and the Remarkables are just that, however we are planning to lean a good bit more toward the larger peaks and ski mountaineering side of things, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

There’s an incredible amount of landscape diversity and ski terrain in New Zealand despite being a relatively small couple of islands. On the North Island you have the likes of Ruapehu and Taranaki (stunning volcanoes), but we are planning to focus our time in the Southern Alps of the South Island. It’s a mountain range that runs approximately 500 kms north to south. On the west side of the island there’s the notorious Tasman Sea, and only about 250 kms across the range lies the Pacific Ocean proper (picture a glaciated Hawaii if you need brushing up on your world regional geography). Within the Southern Alps there are at least four or five major sub-regions well worth a visit for anyone keen on tramping (hiking/backpacking), or adventure skiing. A few of the zones we’ve been considering, from north to south, are: Arthurs Pass National Park, Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, Westland National Park, and Aspiring National Park. Each region has a lifetime of ski terrain to explore.

Topping out on the Minaretes, a classic peak straddling Aoraki Mount Cook NP and Westland NP, Oct. 2005.

Topping out on the Minaretes, a classic peak straddling Aoraki Mount Cook NP and Westland NP, Oct. 2005.

Approaches are notoriously arduous in the Southern Alps, and 3000m peaks generally mark the line for serious mountain climbs. If conditions align, we hope to ski a couple. New Zealand has had a relatively good winter, snow wise, but what we get into will be largely dependent upon weather and snow conditions while we’re there.

As for a New Zealand ski mountaineering kit, here is brief rundown of what I am bringing (Noah, Billy and Adam will have similar kits/ will fill in the gaps):

  • Voile Vectors with ski crampons
  • Dynafit Speed Turns and TLT6s
  • Pomoca mohairs
  • 2 Whippets
  • 2 technical ice tools (Cobras)
  • 2 pairs of crampons (G12’s and some lightweight aluminum Camps)
  • Picket
  • Couple of ice screws
  • Glacier/crevasse rescue kit
  • 40m 7.5mm Mammut dry rope
  • Barryvox Pulse transceiver
  • Lightweight probe
  • Julbos (Aerospace and Coast)
  • Jetboil
  • Hyperlight Mountain Gear Ice Pack and mid
  • BD Firstlight tent
  • 15 degree sleeping bag
  • Inflatable pad
  • Patagonia DAS parka R1 hoodies, Houdini jacket
  • Mammut Teton Jacket
  • Mammut Trift shoftshell pants
  • 1 pair of thin long johns
  • Panasonic GH4, 2 lenses, 2 batteries
  • Helmet
  • Headlamp
  • Guidebooks
  • Half dozen topo maps
  • That’s basically it, besides some gloves, tee shirts, socks, boardshorts, trail runners, a Nalgene, Drom bag, a pair of Carhartts and a ball cap. No towel, not much extra–or a way too much extra depending upon how you look at it. Hopefully a few of the items can serve the old backcountry adage and be dual purpose. Ever open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc with an ice screw? (grin πŸ™‚

    It turned out to two checked bags: a ski bag at 44lbs, and a duffel at 24lbs.

    It turned out to two checked bags: a ski bag at 44lbs, and a duffel at 24lbs.

    As for our goals and intended style, basically our first commandment is to keep it safe. #safetyfirst as they say. I was up at the Caroline Hut the tragic day of Magnus Kastagren’s ski accident on Mount Cook in 2012 (read Andreas Fransson’s soul filled account here), so I think I have a pretty good grasp of human mortality in the mountains, and how real things are in the Southern Alps. And I think the rest of the team has a solid understanding of those risk management aspects as well. So beyond being safe, I’ll speak for myself and say that I really look forward to having a couple of those truly magical days in the mountains of New Zealand. You know those days that just stick with you for life. They are to be found over there, if you look hard enough. And the other main goal I have is to LEARN as much as I can from the landscape and the rest of the team. Noah, Billy and Adam truly bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and skill, and the mountains of NZ are truly a wonder of the world, so I hope to learn as much as I can from them. I (we) hope to be a sponge, then share a bit of that experience with you all via Wildsnow. If nothing else (ie: it rains cats and dogs, and everything is too icy to ski) we’ll try and tell you where the best meat pies and vineyards are to be found.

    The Tasman Saddle Hut, home for the next month?!  Yes please.

    The Tasman Saddle Hut, home for the next month?! Yes please.



    32 Responses to “WildSnowNZ: Introduction”

    1. Shannan October 16th, 2015 10:31 am

      Awesome Beau! Can’t wait to read more and see how this adventure unfolds. Here’s hoping for great weather!

    2. biggb October 16th, 2015 10:41 am

      Heck yeah … really dig his blog and looking forward to more here.

    3. Jim Milstein October 16th, 2015 12:08 pm

      Okay, what’s a double fall line? And how can I get one?

    4. Bruce Baker October 16th, 2015 1:01 pm

      Have a great trip guys! If you’re in the Queenstown/Arrowtown area you should meet up with Jef Dessbecker. He’s an American ex-pat who brought the gospel of the holy telemark turn to NZ in the 80’s. He’s a well known guide and character as well as wealth of good S Alps information. I always thought he should have been featured in a PW film! Too late now…
      Give him a shout and your next trip may well be the elusive “box of birds”.

    5. Beau Fredlund October 16th, 2015 3:28 pm

      Shannan and Biggb, cheers! πŸ™‚

    6. Beau Fredlund October 16th, 2015 3:33 pm

      Jim Milstein,

      A double fall line in skiing is when your turns don’t follow the path a snowball would roll (think of a diagonal, or surfing an ocean wave). I like routes with double fall lines because I find them more interesting, and enjoy varying the tempo from turn to turn. They also help with sluff management.

    7. Beau Fredlund October 16th, 2015 3:43 pm

      Bruce Baker, the “box of birds” sounds like it might be exactly what we are looking for!

      Will keep our eyes and ears peeled for Jef.!
      It’s a small world (and backcountry community), especially in New Zealand.

    8. Jim Milstein October 16th, 2015 5:23 pm

      After reading Beau’s explanation of “double fall line”, I was confused, so I googled it, and I’m still confused. At any given point on a sloping surface there is just one fall line; therefore, a double fall line may be an idiomatic expression. All who know me know that I am completely out of touch. My ski vocabulary was acquired in the fifties and is mostly stuck there.

      Here’s my best guess as to what a DFL could be: Two slopes converge in either a gully or a ridge with a (possibly changing) dihedral angle between them. Since the skier can move between them, she experiences one fall line on one face and a second fall line on the other face. Nespah?

      Now, to complicate things, suppose she is careering down a skiable ridge (or gully) with a skiable slope on either side. The gully (or ridge) has its own fall line, and so does each slope to the side. It’s a Triple Fall Line!

      When on top of a high point with skiable slopes all around, there are unlimited fall lines, but at that point only. As soon as the skier moves off the high point, the number of fall lines at any given point on the descent collapses to one, two or three.

      All these years I never imagined that fall lines had such depth.

    9. Jason October 16th, 2015 5:46 pm

      Re: double fall line: imagine a ski resort making a run on a forested hill. The steepest run would be cutting a run straight from the top to bottom. A double fall line would be if they cut a run diagonally instead. You would normally want to go straight down, but the path forces you down a different line

    10. Marc October 16th, 2015 6:02 pm

      Nice!! I’m based in Christchurch. There’s certainly plenty of snow still here. Arthur’s pass has lost a fair bit but they’ve got heaps further south. Saying that, I hiked up and skied off Mt Tapuae-O-Uenuku last weekend and got a circa 900m vert decent, which is quite something for NZ! Quite arduous to get up there with full kit but well worth the effort!

      Have an awesome time! I may well see you out there!!

    11. Paul Prince October 16th, 2015 7:07 pm

      Plan to make some turns in the Mannering Glacier; one of my favourite runs. Have fun!

    12. Coop October 16th, 2015 7:12 pm

      Awesome! Beau! Stoked your sharing the story on WildSnow. Looking forward to seeing beautiful photos and hearing of the shenanigans. Stay safe.

    13. Matt Kinney October 16th, 2015 7:46 pm

      Some good explanations of DFLs. My reasoning is it’s a steep line for some distance, then gets quite a bit steeper at some specific point for a respectable distance.

    14. Lisa Dawson October 16th, 2015 8:37 pm

      I’ve always dreamed of going to New Zealand. Beau and crew, I look forward to your posts. Ski on!

    15. Jim Milstein October 16th, 2015 10:06 pm

      My hopes of truly understanding the DFL are being dashed on the rocks of discord. Time to move on. Maybe to NZ.

    16. Jon Page October 16th, 2015 10:41 pm

      Up the Stoke, heaps of snow this year up there. These taken a few weeks ago round Mt Cook National Park.


    17. Marc October 17th, 2015 12:52 am

      Nice photos Jon!!

      Is that Elie in the middle of that album?

    18. Jon Page October 17th, 2015 1:12 am

      @Marc, sure is. Bottom section skied well, didnt make it to the top as it was NZ finest bullet proof blue ice which doesnt agree with Alu crampons and axes. I wouldnt be getting too close to it for the rest of the year with the thumping crevasse sections which are lightly covered at the moment. Would love to ski from the top.

    19. Frame October 17th, 2015 2:49 am

      As Jason said, as an inexperienced groomer driver on hard snow one night it was quite disconcerting to be grooming on a downhill diagonal trail with a smattering of slipping sideways down the fall line that gravity takes you.

    20. Marc October 17th, 2015 4:05 am

      @Jon Thanks for the info…Elie had been mentioned as a potential objective amongst my friends recently! We’ll stay well clear! Look like there’s heaps of good skiing to be had elsewhere around the upper Tasman though from those pics?

    21. Neil October 17th, 2015 6:46 pm

      @ Beau. Ditch the whippets and carry a proper Ice axe (not too light). In glacial terrain, when you need grip a whippet will not cut it. Also handy for cutting a snow cave on a glacier, as we had to do waiting for a heli-medivac when one of our group fractured his fibula.

      One of the best trips I have done was last year spending a week early last October ski touring out of Centennial and Pioneer Huts, high about the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, such and incredible and beautiful place.

      Enjoy yourselves.

    22. Jon Page October 17th, 2015 8:20 pm

      Yeah lots to do, more snow than usual up there. Bit skinny lower down the Murchison is to be expected but the Aida looked fat, Sydney King looked awesome also. Bonney and Darwin should hold on unless it gets really warm.

    23. Beau Fredlund October 17th, 2015 8:45 pm

      @ jon, great photos of Ellie! (also appreciate the beta/ photo of the Haast Ridge)

    24. Beau Fredlund October 17th, 2015 8:48 pm

      @ Coop, cheers!

      @ Jim, If there is double the fall line, does that translate into double the fun? πŸ™‚

    25. smudge October 17th, 2015 9:59 pm

      Beau, no more Surface skis?
      You still guiding in Cooke City?

    26. Jim Milstein October 18th, 2015 8:19 am

      @Beau: Double the Fall, double the Fun! It’s arithmetic.

    27. Wookie October 19th, 2015 5:36 am

      Really interested in the info on this trip. Have always wanted to go down there – but have never found much info beyond resorts (blah). While I’m stoked to hear about descents and conditions – any info on rather mundane stuff like travel, lodging and especially – gaining access – would be highly appreciated. As well as local guide info.
      As much as I like to go alone when I can – in reality the only way I have a chance of getting down, getting in, and getting out in a tight schedule is by finding a local guide with local knowledge.

    28. zippy the pinhead October 19th, 2015 4:37 pm

      nzmga.org.nz has a section listing all guides certified by the New Zealand Mountain Guide Association.

      While I have never hired any of them, I know quite a few and have skied with a number of them, mostly when they were not working.

      There is an outfit called “Alpine Guides” based in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park which provides summer and winter guiding services in the park.

      If you want names of specific guides, I would be happy to make a recommendation.

      Happy trails…


    29. Sam October 19th, 2015 5:44 pm

      I want to know the answer to the most pressing question – what’s the local beer of choice?!

      The chocolate to buy is obvious – Whittaker’s Hokey Pokey.

    30. Beau Fredlund October 20th, 2015 2:38 pm

      @ Sam, the Wobbly Boot (a porter brewed in Christchurch) is absolutely delicious – the best beer of the trip thus far. Will keep researching though. πŸ™‚

    31. Jim October 21st, 2015 12:52 pm

      Here’s a video of my Aug/Sept 2015 ski trip to NZ. Did couple glacier huts, some side country. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIn_hFDJCFo
      NZ is a great place. I’ve been going 3 years now, and I think earlier in the season is better. The Holiday Parks are nice.

      http://skitouring.co.nz is a backcountry ski resource with lots of tours.

      Find Freddie Varengo at Ohau. He’s done awesome tours.

    32. Mike Marolt November 2nd, 2015 8:07 pm

      So much respect!! Have fun preparing training and giving this your best effort! Awesome!!

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