WildSnowNZ — New Zealand Ski Beta

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 2, 2015      
The Mueller Hut, highly recommended.  Easy access, spectacular views, and great skiing.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

The Mueller Hut, highly recommended. Easy access, spectacular views, and great skiing. Photo: B. Fredlund

Wrapping up the recent WildSnowNZ series, here’s some advice we’d give folks looking to go backcountry skiing next season in Aotearoa/New Zealand. (Readers, feel free to add additional intel via Comments.)

1. Make good use of the hut system. New Zealand has over 950 backcountry huts, which are an incredible resource for skiing and other multiday adventures. This means you can go light and leave the tent and sleeping pad at home. Just bring a sleeping bag and some wine (and your ski crampons).

2. Whenever the weather and conditions are ‘fine’, get after it. October is possibly the best month for coverage, stability and skiing bigger routes.

3. Join an alpine club for hut fee discounts. The New Zealand Department of Conservation honors American Alpine Club memberships for hut discounts, and the NZ Alpine Club is definitely cool too. Or if you are in the know, it’s the Canterbury Mountaineering Club.

4. Listen to some good local tunes while you are there. ‘Fat Freddy’s Drop’, and ‘Salmanilla Dub’ are a couple of good Kiwi bands worth a listen.

5. Sharpen your ski edges. It’s common to find bulletproof ice, rock hard névé, water ice rime, you name it. You’ll run the gamut of conditions in New Zealand, so if you are there for ski mountaineering, sharp ski edges will go along way for safety and efficiency (fewer transitions). We suggest going with skinnier skis than you would typically ski in North America or Europe. 90-105mm underfoot is about right. Voile Vectors were our tool of choice.

Adam Fabrikant carefully checking out the conditions on the south face of Mt. Green.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

Adam Fabrikant carefully checking out the conditions on the south face of Mt. Green. Photo: B. Fredlund

6. Consider buying a car if you are traveling around New Zealand for a month or longer (as an alternative to renting a car). Christchurch has a couple of great resources for this approach: Turner’s Car Auction and the Backpacker’s Car Market. Toyota vans are common, as are Subaru wagons. Both have high resale value, so you might even be able to make some $ off the car when it’s all said and done. Just remember to drive on the left side of the road! And honk often.

7. Freshen up on your glacier travel skills. Much of the alpine in New Zealand is glaciated and broken. While there, plan to wear a harness, carry a rope, have your rescue systems dialed, and route-find carefully around and over crevasses/bergschrunds.

Skiing the Tasman Glacier.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

Skiing the Tasman Glacier. Photo: B. Fredlund

8. Make sure to book your trip during good weather so you can ski huge peaks and big lines instead of sitting in Queenstown drinking Pino Noir.

9. Don’t feed the kea. New Zealand’s native, alpine parrot is an endangered species that needs all the help it can get. And that means not becoming habituated to human handouts (think of them as bears).

The super smart alpine parrot of New Zealand, the kea.  Photo:  B. Fredlund.

The super smart alpine parrot of New Zealand, the kea. Photo: B. Fredlund.

9. Steel crampons and technical ice tools are advised. You can get away with aluminum spikes, but if you plan to ski and climb a bunch in the higher glaciated peaks, steel is definitely the way to go.

10. Hit the stairclimber before you go. All that front pointing can murder your calf muscles if you’re not prepared.

11. Ski crampons, ski crampons, ski crampons. I asked one local if he skied with them often, and he said ‘religiously’.

12. Eat heaps of pies (shepherds pies). They’ll get you up the mountain, and it’s what the locals eat. Recommended pie shops are to be found in the towns of Fairlie and Shefield.

13. Walk up and/or down the Tasman Glacier at least once. It’s a great lesson in geology/glaciology, and a way to scout conditions for a number of nice routes.

14. Consider having a go at Mt. Aspiring. The approach up West Matukituki and the French Ridge is a rich overall experience, well worth your time.

 Mt. Aspiring.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

Mt. Aspiring. Photo: B. Fredlund

15. For a reasonable price you can buy a SIM card at airport. They’ll insert it into your smart phone to save you from paying hefty international rates. Also, pick up a plug adapter so you can keep your phones and cameras topped off.

16. Befriend the local hut wardens and guides. You’ll end up with gourmet meals, movie screenings, and more beta than you know what to do with.

17. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet. Seriously. Get used to fording in your tennies. This applies for the both the braided river scene in the east, and the West Coast bush.

Don't try this.  Noah Howell is a professional yogi.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

Don’t try this. Noah Howell is a professional yogi. Photo: B. Fredlund

18. When in Wanaka: go to the Kai Whakapai for beers, and Red Star Burger for the blue or the mofo.

19. Pick highly motivated and like-minded individuals to ski and travel with.

Noah Howell, Billy Haas and Adam Fabrikant, very good ski company.  Photo:  B. Fredlund

Noah Howell, Billy Haas and Adam Fabrikant, very good ski company. Photo: B. Fredlund


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


11 Responses to “WildSnowNZ — New Zealand Ski Beta”

  1. ZB December 2nd, 2015 3:17 pm

    That’s Salmonella Dub!

  2. Beau Fredlund December 2nd, 2015 3:38 pm

    Good catch ZB! Any reggae tunes of theirs to recommend?

  3. Lisa Dawson December 2nd, 2015 5:53 pm

    Congratulations on a successful trip. I admire your impressive style of getting after it and good judgement calls. Beautiful!

  4. noah howell December 2nd, 2015 9:05 pm

    We really got lucky! Glad we had some good lines and times to share knowing it can be really hit or miss.

  5. Lou Dawson 2 December 3rd, 2015 7:11 am

    These trip reports were way beyond anything we could have hoped for in publishing WildSnow. I thank these guys from the bottom of my heart. They’ll endure forever as one of the all-time “dream trips.” Lou

  6. Rich December 3rd, 2015 7:35 am

    There is a guide book, now out of print (if you can find a copy)

    Also. topo maps are basically available to download for free from Land Info NZ (LINZ). Good fro trip planning

    Music wise:
    Fat Freddy’s
    Salmonella Dub
    the Black Seeds

    And if you want to get rocky
    Head like a hole

    As well as PIES. Try cream donuts and custard squares. Beau and Noah also failed to mention the propensity of awesome coffee stops around the country. Don’t go, without your Joe!

  7. Frame December 3rd, 2015 10:19 am

    Killer vision by Salmonella Dub would be a good album to start with. For the love of it, for a headline song.

    The uncle of one of the guys in Fat Freddy’s drop has a song named after his crayfish stall near the town of Kaikoura. If anyone is driving along the coast around Kaikoura, and needs a break from the pies, call in for freshly caught crays, just cooked and sit on the coast watching the waves (… try to sit up wind from any seals). Kai = food, Koura = crayfish and it’s divine.

  8. Witold December 3rd, 2015 11:44 am

    And as per #9 -DO NOT FEED KEAS! – or you will be deported from NZ

  9. Jeremy C December 4th, 2015 8:36 am

    20. Watch out for ice falls?


    There are a couple of sections where I tour in Switzerland that pass close to areas where glaciers push over cliffs casing ice falls. They are definitely non-stop zones, and you often have to skis round ice blocks. But I have never seen anything like this one, fortunately.

  10. eben December 5th, 2015 1:01 pm

    sheit, wish i had seen #8 before going. Really sweet pics and good tips, way more into this style of TR then satellite live blogs of what was for breakfast in the tent.

  11. Kaj December 6th, 2015 1:35 am

    Underline and italics on the ski crampons! (especially for any forays onto the North Island volcanoes).

    Also, as a post ski drink on a warm day try mixing L&P with Speight’s (40:60) for a refreshing NZ style radler.

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