New Zealand Ski Touring Experience 2018

Post by blogger | November 5, 2018      

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry

Touring in the incomparable beauty of New Zealand’s Mt. Cook range.

Touring in the incomparable beauty of New Zealand’s Mt. Cook range.

Our NZ adventure began with 20+ hours of travel, learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in a giant camper van, consuming delicious meat pies, visiting friends, a bit of sleep, and lots of sheep. Once we got our bearings, Louie and I set out for the town of Mount Cook.

We arrived on October 12th. It had stormed heavily the night before and snow level was down to almost 300 meters, well below the elevation of the town. What a glorious surprise! We definitely were not expecting to ski any powder on this trip. When we arrived in Mount Cook village, there was about 10 cm of snow on the ground and the airport was closed for the day. We huddled in our camper overnight, hopeful that the forecast was right and the clouds would clear so we could fly into the Tasman glacier.

Pulling in to the Mt. Cook airport with 10cm of fresh snow (or slush?) on the ground.

Pulling in to the Mt. Cook airport with 10cm of fresh snow (or slush?) on the ground.

As the sun rose, we could finally see the giants around us. We met up with two friends, Kyle and Ben, at the airport, and managed to get one of the first helis into the glacier. After a brief skin up, we got situated inside the Kelman Hut. As noted in some of Wildsnow’s previous posts, the NZ hut system is amazing – ubiquitous and well maintained. The one thing to know about the Kelman is its famous nickname: “The Fridge on the Ridge.” Extra puffy jackets and warm socks required, as the hut doesn’t have any heating source, and is fully exposed to the full force of Aotearoa’s gale winds. It does, however, have a nice propane stove and kitchen set up, plenty of room, great views, and comfy beds.

Mt. Cook from the helicopter on our flight in.

Mt. Cook from the helicopter on our flight in.

Kyle has spent many seasons in New Zealand, we were fortunate to have someone with us who knew the area well. The first day we explored all around the Tasman Glacier and skied fresh pow (!!!!!) from the hut. Kyle kept telling me that that I was too lucky to get such good ski touring conditions on my first NZ trip. I was feeling grateful and stoked. We did manage to find some ice later in the day, my understanding is it wouldn’t have been an NZ ski day without it.

An evening lap on our first day above the Kelman hut.

An evening skiing lap on our first day above the Kelman hut.

The next day we dropped behind the Kelman Hut, skiing more powder down the Murchison Headwall, over to a fun slope on “mini-Cooper,” then skinning all the way up the Ada Glacier towards Sydney King. This may have been the most scenic ski I have ever been on, zigzagging around ice falls, taking in the endless views and soaking in the sun. Yes, my nose got sunburnt despite the 5 layers of sunscreen.

Skiing off Mt. Cooper.

Skiing off Mt. Cooper.

On the third day I was feeling beat — those glaciers sure are beautiful but also endless. We opted to go explore nearby slopes. We stopped by the Tasman Saddle Hut, a smaller structure sitting a bit lower than the Kelman, propped right on a ridge. From the cozy hut, we watched Kyle and Ben ski a nice slope across the valley. What a day.

On the fourth day, our luck began to run out. The forecast showed the weather window was closing. We decided it would be smart to call it; so we requested a flight using the hut radio, packed up and headed down the glacier to the pickup spot. The morning didn’t deliver the best skiing conditions, so Louie and I decided to explore a nearby icefall. We had seen tourist groups touring the same icefall the day before and we were keen to check out the hype. I had never been quite that close to a serac before, it was exhilarating to walk amongst the chasms and feel the coolness of the blue ice.

By the time we clicked back into our skis, the sun had warmed up the snow and we had an incredible corn run down to the “runaway.” We were picked up by a small ski plane thirty minutes later, which became the one experience I will never forget. I felt like I was in a movie, flying so close to the mountains they seemed near enough to touch.

I really didn’t have any expectations for this trip, since I knew that New Zealand conditions and weather can be challenging. With that said, we got extremely lucky and it was incredible to get to experience these mountains, learn a bit more about their history and share this adventure with great friends. I’ll definitely be going back!

Packing food for the trip in the back of the rental van.

Packing food for the trip in the back of the rental van.

Looking down on the long Tasman glacier from the air is quite a bit nicer than slogging up or down it.

Looking down on the long Tasman Glacier from the air is quite a bit nicer than slogging up or down it.

Our first run in New Zealand. The Tasman Glacier with POW!

Our first run in New Zealand. The Tasman Glacier with POW!

Putting skins on below Brodrick Peak.

Putting skins on below Brodrick Peak.

Mellow turns below Mt. Cooper.

Mellow skiing below Mt. Cooper.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


11 Responses to “New Zealand Ski Touring Experience 2018”

  1. Lisa Dawson November 5th, 2018 9:40 am

    Gorgeous photos and a good read, my Monday morning is starting off right! Thanks for the inspiring write-up.

  2. Snow Removal Calgary November 5th, 2018 5:33 pm

    Amazing article ! definitely a great read. Those pictures taken are breathtaking , splendid !! would love to go there to snowboard on day.

  3. Jenny November 6th, 2018 8:47 am


  4. David Hackbarth November 6th, 2018 6:27 pm

    SUPER GREAT ARTICLE AND PICTURES!!!! New Zealand is a FANTASTIC place for backcountry skiers, amazing alpine ranges, super accessible by lots of Heli and airplane options and great mountain ranges!!! Also very positive on costs with such a good USD vs NZD exchange rate. That means Heli lifts at 37% discount !!!! No doubt snow is variable but if you hang l9ng enough there will be a weather change! See you in NZ next year!

  5. B. Fredlund November 6th, 2018 7:03 pm

    Nice one Julia and Louie! Looks like a super fun time! and amazing conditions.

    Did you two end up skiing some fun things around Queenstown also?

  6. John November 7th, 2018 10:04 am

    Sweet TR. Keep posting them. Skiing New Zealand looks awesome, at least when the weather is good.

  7. Julia November 7th, 2018 10:39 am

    Thanks everyone! NZ truly is a magical place! And yes, helis there sure are cheap (but shhhh, dont tell anyone)


    We sure did get lucky with conditions! And yup, Louie and I toured around the Remarkables. We skied Double Cone. Also checked out Coronet Peak, there was a lot less snow there though. We wanted to check out Cardrona, but didnt catch the timing right with it closing just the day before we tried going up there. Sad we didnt get to link to up – I know you and Louie were playing email tag! Next time! 🙂

  8. zippy the pinhead November 7th, 2018 4:48 pm

    Hi Julia,
    Double Cone? Pretty sure you mean Treble Cone.
    Then again, what’s a cone between friends?

    (I realized that is an unintentional pun based on Kiwi slang after I typed it.)

    Does Kelman still drip like crazy inside on sunny days? Last I stayed there, some of the beds in the upstairs bunkroom were soaked/unusable. Also, the tanks the toilets drain into were overflowed.

    A guide who was there with a client said to us:
    “We need to have a talk about poo.[dramatic pause]
    “First of all… don’t poo. [dramatic pause] Secondly, don’t poo….”

    (Unfortunately, he and his wife took a deadly fall in the park several months later.)

    I went to the DOC office afterwards to pay my hut fees and mentioned the toilets. The guy at the desk gave me a discount of a couple days of fees.

    That said, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park is a magical place and a home away from home for me. Had been hoping for another trip this year, but it wasn’t in the cards.

    Happy Trails….


  9. Frame November 8th, 2018 3:38 pm

    Treble cone is the ski area outside Wanaka, but I think Double Cone is a spot just outside of the Remarks ski area.

    Nice cone pun

  10. Louie Dawson III November 8th, 2018 4:51 pm

    Yep, Double Cone is a peak above the Remarkables ski area. Although now I’m not so sure if it’s called Single Cone or Double Cone, on the topo map it’s called Double Cone, but a quick google search seems to say that it’s called Single Cone. Either way, it’s a cool peak, and the highest spot in the Remarkables mountain range. We had a bit of an exciting scramble to the summit, and a fun ski down the coulior between the two summits. We’ll try to get a trip report up soon about that part of the trip.

    I don’t get the pun, but I’m not very good at those, or at Kiwi slang 🙂

  11. Skyler Holman November 19th, 2018 3:06 pm

    Going there in a couple years, hope I get to ski! Beautiful pics guys!

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