Ski New Zealand 2013

This springtime ski trip to New Zealand was our second visit to the South Island of this wonderful country this season, with early July providing the better conditions for skiing. Nevertheless, there was still lots of fun snow to be found at the tail-end of the 2013 season.
Moon over Bob's Knob @Mt Hutt 14 Sep 2013

For those lucky enough to still be on the South Island, there has still been skiing this weekend at Mt Hutt, Mt Dobson, Ohau, Cardrona and The Remarkables. The rest of the South Island skifields closed last weekend.


Flying into Christchurch, we arrived in the Canterbury region a day after terrifying winds had brought trees down across the area and a little snow. The weather had stabilized since, bringing day after sunny day with no wind.

Methven is a neat, small town at the base of Mt Hutt, the biggest ski area in this part of the South Island. We stayed in an apartment attached to a house belonging to local artists. Sheep and alpacas in the field in front of the house looked up inquisitively every time we arrived or departed.

The road to Mt Olympus
First off was a beautiful sunny day spent skiing at Mt Hutt, nice on-piste but the more interesting terrain took forever to soften up and become skiable.

Runs down International required a wait for the Hagglund all-terrain vehicles to take us back up to the base area and ski lifts.

At 3pm I managed a few runs off the Virgin Mile, when it finally opened, and the cover was quite good along to Bob's Knob. The Virgin Mile affords spectacular views in all directions, to Porter Heights, over the skifield, and down the sheer northeastern face of Mt Hutt to the Rakaia River and gorge.

The next day, in search of better snow quality, we headed to the remote club field at Mt Olympus. It was our first time at this skifield in the many years of visiting the South Island. As the scenery became more dramatic the road goes from sealed to gravel track to narrow, twisting 4WD track.

Main Face @Mt Olympus 15 Sep 2013
Mt Olympus doesn't have chairlifts, only rope tows which require you to wear a belt with a contraption called a nutcracker that you hook onto the rope to drag you up the tow.

Three rope tows take you from the Mt Olympus bottom car park at 1430m to an altitude of 1880m.

It took me some practice and getting used to but in the end I got there and was rewarded with some fantastic skiing under sunny skies. The aches the next day from the effort of trying to hang on to the tows weren't so rewarding!

This friendly skifield has a community and family feeling, while also being for people who are really into their sport. There is a lot of hiking from the top tow to the mountain peaks to find pristine powder runs. On the day we were there, three paraskiers were launching into the air off the rocky ridges (you can spot one in the picture below).

Paraskier @Mt Olympus 15 Sep 2013
On the drive back we hit a huge pothole and suffered a blowout. Having to change a 4WD tyre on the hire car as the sun was beginning to set was not the ideal end to an exciting day!

The next morning we left Methven to head southwest through the plains and then up into the Mackenzie District.

Its only about two hours to drive to Lake Tekapo Village from Methven and the town can make a nice stop if you don't want to drive all the way to Queenstown or Wanaka in one go.


On the way to Lake Tekapo of course we stopped off at Mt Dobson for a ski.

Dobbo always looks glorious on a sunny day, and this day was no exception. Conditions were spring-like on part of the mountain where the T-bar is. The snowdepth was noticeably less than last year, with many more rocks showing.
Mt Dobson 16 Sep 2013

When the three-seater chairlift opened up later in the morning (it often has a delayed opening), it looked like we were going to be in for a firm off-piste, but surprisingly the cooler temperatures after the storm had kept the snow in pretty good shape.

Chalky runs on good quality snow were to be had in and around the natural halfpipe off and under the chairlift.

Later in the day, the higher runs in the sun off the T-bar softened up allowing some variation.

This was to be our only stop at Mt Dobson this year as it remained closed on week days on our way back to Methven.

The reward after a day's skiing when you're staying at Lake Tekapo is a soak at the brilliant Hot Springs. The setting is beautiful, tucked in to a larch forest by the shores of the lake with views back towards Mt Dobson. At sunset, the colours are glorious: at night the stars come out.

Ohau 17 Sep 2013
Ohau skifield is about an hour's drive from Lake Tekapo. You pass the vivid blue glacial lake, Lake Pukaki, on the way there.

It was another stunning, if cool, sunny spring day and the tan was starting to appear on our faces after this run of clear days!

Here again, the snow was variable with firm sun-affected areas softening early in the sun, while elsewhere there was still dry, chalky, winter snow.

For those willing to hike, there was still powder on the ridge runs worth the effort. It was good to be able to ski both sides of the mountain as often this time of year one half won't soften up. A very good day's skiing.

These clear skies were incredible, even in Lake Tekapo which is famous for clear night skies. Above the Hot Springs is a small, round mountain called Mt John, and on top of that mountain sits a world-renowned observatory where telescopes scan the night skies.

Mt John Lake Tekapo Walkway
After skiing (and before the Hot Springs) we took a trek up the steep zig-zagging path to the top of Mt John.

Coming out of the larch forest after the climb, you see the observatory buildings as you circle the complex on a narrow path that winds across the tussock.

There are great views of the surrounding mountains and lakes all the way to the mighty Mt Cook and, as you round the mountain, back to the village of Lake Tekapo itself.

A ski and a hike in one day - we certainly deserved our hot springs soak and Alpine salmon roast dinner that night!

The next morning we left Lake Tekapo after our two-day stop, heading south again into Otago. Wanaka is about a couple of hours drive from Lake Tekapo passing the Ohau turn-off and over the incredible landscapes around Lindis Pass.

Captains Basin @Cardrona 18 Sep 2013

On the way to Wanaka we head just a short drive away to go for a ski at the always reliable Cardrona where, surprise surprise, its a warm and sunny day again!

There was good snow cover all over the mountain at Cardrona for this time of year, and the terrain served by Valley View Quad chairlift (the lowest part of the mountain) was still in operation for some nice, long warm-up runs in the morning.

This is the first time we have skied Valley View in September, but back in July we were skiing the off-piste around there also. It shows how little snow they had in New Zealand after July - maybe just one decent snowfall in almost two weeks.

Over the next week of our visit, a combination of rain and sun threatened to melt all the snow, but Cardrona skifield did well to last all the way through to ... well, through to today!

Lake Wanaka
As the week progressed, it became harder to ski around the challenging Arcadia Basin due to lack of snow, which was a fun place to try out on this first day.

It always feels so good to arrive back in Wanaka. There's something about the place - sitting by the lake surrounded by mountains - that truly makes you feel invigorated and right at home.

The townhouse we stayed in was perfect, with a woodburner (not that we needed it in the warm weather), massive kitchen and cosy bedrooms.

As the weather changed finally and sunny skies were replaced by winds and rain on the peaks, we decided to do some hikes around the surrounding hills until the storm had passed. We had had a good run of ski days and there was no need to push it!

Rob Roy Stream @Mt Aspiring National Park
Often its dry and calmer in the valleys compared to on the skifields so it can be a good alternative to walk or mountain bike around the countryside. Kayaking is also an increasingly popular activity all year round.

Our first expedition into Mt Aspiring National Park revealed the spectacular beauty of this place. A trek up to the hanging Rob Roy Glacier through wet rainforest was hard work but well worth it.

The glacier finishes right on the edge of the mountain, sending water and ice down into the vallet below.

On another day we hiked up the mountain range that links Cardrona to the borders of the Wanaka township and were watched closely by a herd of cautious deer as we walked alongside their paddocks.

As the storm passed, a couple of trips to Treble Cone were fun, despite the lack of snow on the lower parts of the skifield and, oddly, no new snowfalls.

Queenstown from The Remarkables 24 Sep 2013
The area known as the Saddle Basin - a big basin served by one lift - provided good softening snow on one day for some fun off-piste runs.

Skiing at The Remarkables had been a highlight of our July trip over here. We made the trip to Queenstown for another go at this great skifield. While the snow cover was still reasonable, there was not quite the same quality.

We did manage to hike up to the top, however, to be rewarded with the stunning view down to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. The sheer drop in front of you is about 1500m!

This is definitely one of the highlights of a day at this skifield. In Queenstown, this incredible range of mountains provides a dramatic backdrop wherever you go. To think, we were nestled on a rock right at the top, looking down on the town.

Ohau 26 Sep 2013
Back in Wanaka, we managed another day at Treble Cone and a hike up Rocky Mountain, but our time in Otago was coming to an end. From Wanaka, we headed back into the Mackenzie District and Lake Tekapo once more.


A quiet foggy morning the next day meant the sun was back again! The mists looked like a huge lake from the road. Then the real lake appeared and it was glorious, aquamarine, Mt Cook in the distance, reflections in the water - Lake Pukaki.

Little Ohau had lost a bit of snow since the last time we visited a week or so before! You make your own turns though, and I had my eye on a run that required a ten-minute hike uphill. Ended up doing it three times! It was beautifully pristine snow, soft in the sun, no tracks. Ohau was twice a highlight of this trip.

The road on race day

Back in Methven again and the last weekend of the trip was all about the Peak to Pub 2013, a multi-sport race I had registered for a few months earlier.

The race was postponed from the Saturday to the Sunday as there was rain and snow falling at Mt Hutt from Friday night through to Sunday morning.

This gave a good opportunity for a pretty rainforest walk on my rest day to loosen my legs for the race the next day!

The Peak to Pub race involves the following:
Race Instructions

  • Take the chairlift to the summit of Mt Hutt at 2086m ready for the pistol start
  • A 100m dash in ski boots to get into your skis
  • Negotiate a grand slalom ski race course to the base building descending about 500m altitude
  • Change your shoes and jump on a mountain bike and cycle 14kms down the gravel access road ... in the sleet
  • Dump the mountain bike and run 11kms to the Blue Pub in Methven
  • Easy, eh?
On the face it it doesn't sound that difficult to a regular runner or cyclist. But conditions and the design of the race combined to make it one hell of a challenge!

The first problem was the white-out conditions on the mountain for the G.S. race. Not ideal! Especially for someone who has never skied a slalom or any ski race ... ever! It was a little chaotic coming down the course.

I had thought, having driven up the Mt Hutt access road a number of times, it would be a cruisey ride down in the sunshine looking at the views to the Pacific Ocean. Sleet and grit coming off the road conspired to shatter that illusion, and I was unfamiliar with riding a mountain bike down a gravel road rutted by cars, the wind, ice and elements. I think I still had parts of the road in my eyes by the finish!

"Dry Creek"
I'm sure I could have gone faster down the road on the bike, but it was so cold and I was riding the brakes the whole way down almost. I had to ask someone to unclip my helmet at the next changeover, my fingers were icicles!

Getting to the bottom of the mountain was wonderful, almost, as I knew the run would be my easiest leg. For some reason I thought it would be a cheerful, nice run along the road to the pub. While the pub was the finish, the course was not quite the plain sailing I thought it would be.

The first section involved running up a creek bed called "Dry Creek" which happened to be a foot deep with water in places after the rain. You couldn't avoid running right down the middle of the creek for long periods. It got worse as it went on, with shingle turning into big New Zealand round rocks on the creek bed. I was just waiting for my ankle to roll. I went back and took some pictures the next (sunny) day.

Avoiding cow pats in the fields I was getting on a roll and passing people ... until my illusions of a relaxed finish were shattered by the canal crossing. not over a bridge, mind you.
The Canal

This irrigation canal was a good-sized waterway, and it was flowing like a mad thing after the recent rains. A sign next to it said: "Danger - Extreme Current - Stay Out - Stay Safe". So, of course, I have to cross this canal, this ice-cold canal, by diving in and hoping the current doesn't drag me away to the next farmer's field. Fortunately I clamber out, and - bonus - it washes all the road grit and mud off me as I run, sodden, the last 2kms to the finish ... and the pub ... and some beer!

The next day - which is sunny again - I am determined to ski at Mt Hutt. I try a few runs and my muscles ache from the day before. I have to give up ... the Peak to Pub has wasted me!

But not for too long ... on the last day of the trip ... the first day of October ... I enjoy a beautiful sunny day with softening snow across the skifield. The views are spectacular, the skiing smooth and soft ... but the best thing is that I know I have, if not mastered, I have survived the Peak to Pub and made my way from the top of this mountain to the town of Methven under my own steam in insanely challenging conditions. Yeah!

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