(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).
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.
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):
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 🙂
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.