SKIWI - NEW ZEALAND
THE STORY BEHIND
A ski trip in New Zealand is probably one of the greatest things ever. The contrasts between sea and mountains, between evergreen rainforest, brown-yellow steppe and white peaks are probably nowhere more exciting. And who is attentive even gets a sand dune to drive on. It goes without saying that not only snow sports are indulged in here, but the beauty of this world as a whole. The northern tip of the North Island at Cap Reinga is just as enchanting as the southernmost tip around Bluff and Invercargill, the west coast with its rainforests and glaciers just as the dry areas east of the Southern Alps with their deep blue lakes, the whales, seals and penguins just as the snow sports delights in the areas. I expect that anyone and everyone who doesn't fly here for summer training will schedule time for these natural beauties.
In New Zealand, skiing is possible between the 39 and 45 degrees latitude on both islands. The biggest resorts are on the volcanoes of the North Island, the bigger variety is on the South Island. So if you want to ski all the resorts, you have to cross the Cook Street and ski both islands. As we combined skiing and traveling, our journey was
TE PAKI GIANT SAND DUNE
Lifts 0 - 10/08/2015
TE PAKI GIANT SAND DUNE
On the way back from Cape Reinga we just have to turn off to the Giant Dunes. It has just rained, the sand is wet and sticky. And yet the first ski hill in New Zealand is a revelation. Too bad the apparatchiks of the World Council of Skitistics do not acknowledge the achievements.
Lifts 12 – 13/08/2015
After the window-scratching in the morning and the breakfast shopping, we leave the steaming city of Rotorua in the direction of the south. The steaming of the open springs becomes much stronger because the temperatures are low. We drive to Taupo and soon we see the volcanic cone of Tongariro rising majestically above the plain and Lake Taupo (another huge volcanic crater masquerading as a lake). On the flanks of the Ruapehu volcano, which was active for the last time in September 2007 (the ski resorts had to be acutely evacuated at that time), there are three ski resorts. In the two bigger ones we will be active ourselves.
Whakapapa is located on the northern side of the volcano, which means: pure sun! The snow is amazingly good for this exposure, the view into the plain and to the neighboring volcanic cones breathtaking. The area consists of two sectors, of which the western one at the lifts of the same name offers open terrain and some nice runs. Enough to linger a day.
Lifts 8 – 13/08/2015
Turoa is 45 minutes away on the southwest side. Looking into the distance you can see the model volcano Mount Taranaki rising out of the plain - it too knows how everything higher than 1500m. The area offers some great runs from the highest lift to the bottom of the Nga Wai Heke Chairlift. Overall, it features more off-piste options. So some run another 400 meters of altitude up to the crater rim. However, I do not give me but enjoy the slopes and the incredible view until 4 pm the lifts stop operating.
A great day of skiing on this 13th of August, which was according to unanimous statements of my lift neighbors the best day of the season. Well, that's how it should be!
Lifts 5 – 17/08/2015
The rain stopped, sometime during the night, and it got cold in the cottage. Infallible signs that a clear morning awaits us. Perfect for the next ski day! We leave Kaikoura in beautiful sunshine and drive through the most colorful landscape to Mt. Lyford Lodge, where we (have to) rent chains. We don't really take this chain compulsion seriously, until we see the sign "FIT CHAINS HERE" at the roadside. We drive behind another car, which is also chaining, and look with many question marks at the chain monster we have received. Nothing with self-fitting-system, colored elements or instruction manual, pure pure chains with pure perplexity.
Car after car overtakes us as we put on the chains, everyone wishes us well as we set off, while we continue to puzzle until Chainmaster Georg finally finds the solution. Now we start driving, first on gravel, then finally on snow and ice. The road is quite steep, very steep even. And after a short time the cars number 1 and number 2, which have overtaken us, are standing in front of us. The chain on number 1 is broken and number 2 doesn't dare to go any further because he fears the same thing will happen to him. Could we take them up with us? Of course we can and make room in our vehicle. While chatting, it turns out that neither of us has ever been to the Mt. Lyford area. So we don't know if the chain fux is even worth it. Two turns down the road are cars 3 and 4, which also passed us below: The chain on number 4 is also broken. Unfortunately, we have no more space with us and wish good luck! So we are somewhat surprisingly the first to conquer the adventurous road and stay there for quite a while. Good things take time.
In contrast to the approach (lots of snow), the ski area (little snow) is anything but sparkling: Three short lifts are open, there is hardly any snow on the narrow slopes, I find a rideable slope with room for 4-6 turns. The Upper Terako-Ropetow to the summit is closed due to lack of snow just like the Lower Terako-Ropetow. Looking at the slope of the upper section of this rope lift, I prefer it too: I can't imagine how I/you could get up this lift. On the other hand: Ropetows are the essence of New Zealand ski culture par excellence, so I'll make even closer acquaintance. The descent by car then offers breathtaking views, the onward journey to the west coast a foreshadowing of the next two ski- but not precipitation-free days.
Lifts 2 – 19/08/2015
Treble Cone: Short to the point: There is a reason, why Treble Cone is the training base for the world cup teams of this world. Two chairlifts, only steep slopes, lots of off piste terrain and an insane view of Lake Wanaka.
Lifts 5 – 20/08/2015
A short drive takes us from Queenstown up to the Cardrona ski area. After yesterday's surprise at Treble Cone, today's ski area can't keep up. Three lifts are more for the masses, only the Valley View Quad extends the runs so that they are also exciting. The masses seem to appreciate it, though: The lines are long, so there's plenty of time to get a close-up look at the New Zealand queuing system: At each elevator there is a staff member who, conductor-like, drums up the people so that one chair is always filled. Stupidly, this happens in front of the ticket barrier, so that the choreography is in the haast if there are problems with the magnetic ticket. But the whole thing is highly entertaining.
Lifts 5 - 21/08/2015
Coronet Peak is the local mountain of Quennstown, about 20 minutes drive away. We don't have any great expectations when we go up and already start to make comparisons with Hoch Ybrig (local area of Zurich), but the first ride on the Coronet Express already fills our mouths. The pistes are all strongly curved and thus offer the best variety. People are crowded, but the queues at the four lifts are short. Coronet Peak is a middle ground between Cardrona and Treble Cone and offers a perfect first half of the day.
Lifts 4 - 21/08/2015
At noon we change the side of the valley and drive with hitchhikers up the 1300 meters of altitude to Parking Lot No 4. From there a bus takes us the last meters of altitude to the ski area The Remarkables, whereby the bus driver not fails to point out that the descent "Homeward Run" leads directly to Parking Lot No 4 and that he "highly recommends this descent, because there are queues expected in the afternoon".
The area is located in a basin and has four chairlifts on all sides of the valley. The main orientation of the valley is towards the north, so the snow is already somewhat slushy. The descents are rather easy, with the exception of the slopes in Shadow Basin. From there, the Homeward Run is an unmarked descent over very wide, increasingly tapered and steeper slopes down to Parking Lot No. 4. That is, it would lead if one knew approximately where this parking lot is located. So the only thing left to do is to guess. Well, the landing was not that bad after all.
Lifts 3 – 24/08/2015
Today we had another interlude on the schedule: the weather forecast was just too bad. Therefore we visited: Baldwyn Street (the steepest street in the world), the Moreaki Bouldes and the penguins of Oamaru (which we did not see).
The weather just didn't get really bad, so we decided more or less spontaneously to visit the Ohau Skifields, somewhere in the nowhere of New Zealand's vastness. We drive through steppe-like landscapes and miles of loneliness, like I recently and exclusively got to know in California and Nevada. Finally we reach Lake Ohau and believe to have already missed the ascent to the skiing area, when a narrow road with warning signs (own risk!) leads to the gate. But we are not deterred, take the steep gravel road under the wheels and are soon rewarded with another breathtaking view (I know....).
The small resort is located in a valley high above Lake Ohau and consists of two lifts, the ski lift serving a short beginner run, the chair lift serving a steeper run and some terrain. We meet Den at the Cantine, an Israeli Ski Bum from Tasmania, who enlightens us about New Zealand ski areas and provides some tips for the next areas. Thank you Den!
In the end, this day is another with impressions as they can be different only in this country.
Lifts 5 – 25/08/2015
Last night starry sky, this morning continuous rain - the forecasts have occurred despite strong contrary hopes. We are tossing and turning and decide first of all to stay another night in Fairlie, we really want to see Mt Cook and for tomorrow the forecasts are super. Second decision: We look for a ski area that is open and can be reached without chain fux, and find one with Porters, about 200km away. A stone's throw for the inveterate Kiwi. After a chatty breakfast in Fairlie, we drive quite a long way through rainy flatland and reach the gate to the ski area after the first kilometers of the Arthur Pass. The drive up is comparatively harmless and at the top we wonder what the mandatory chain for 2WDs is good for, the road is completely free of snow. Not the first time that the Kiwis exaggerate here.
Porters lies similar to Ohau yesterday embedded in a narrow valley. However, the lift chain is a bit longer and consists of 5 lifts. The top two lifts offer some runs in powder (not always with a white base), at first still in fog, but then in the afternoon with perfect visibility conditions. And so Bluff Face is not to be missed: about 500 meters of altitude at 34 ° or slightly more (up to 42 ° according to here) with the best powder! We really would not have dared to dream this morning. So the supposed rainy day became a powder day according to WCS.
Lifts 4 - 26/08/2015
We finally drive up from Fairlie to Mt. Dobson, bravely ignoring the "Fit Chains Here" signs posted to our surprise, and notice at the top that everyone else has done the same. The ski area has a character of its own: the station looks like an Arctic station, everything looks like a last-frontier area, run at great personal expense for half a dozen runs, two of which are draw trails. I don't know if it's because of the wind blown snow, but with so few slopes, I don't really understand why a ski resort was built here (apart from the fact that there should be one everywhere). And you can't see Mount Cook from here either. After then the chairlift has finally started operation, we drive a bit in the powder around there and then again the beautiful road down into the valley and further over Lake Tekapo to Roundhill.
Lifts 5 – 26/08/2015
Roundhill, another small ski resort, but in contrast to Dobson it is easy to reach, offers good slopes and with 783m the highest verticals in Australasia and above all: the first Rope Tow of my life! That my first Rope Tow is the steepest and longest in the world is a coincidence. The Heritage Express Rope Tow (built in 2010) leads over 1440 meters length and 40 masts (this for the WCS-apparatschiks) with a gradient between 26° and 32° up to 2133m. So it is with great anticipation and increasing palpitations that I rent a climbing harness including the legendary Nutcracker. Originally we imagined something else under the Nutcracker, but it is a harmless holding device, which is thrown around the rope and clamped together with the hands, while you can be pulled up in the climbing harness. So much for the theory. In practice, it looks like this: Respect and slight hesitation before entering the lift, after the liftboy explained the whole thing to me again ("First timer? It's fucking scary, but you will make it. Keep the fingers away from the rope or they will be cut off."), slight confidence as the nutcracker closes around the rope and pulls me forward, turning to panic as the first pole comes at me and the rope rushes over the pulleys just inches from my hand. My subconscious decides to avoid this danger in the future and so I pull the rope off the pulley at almost every pole. Someone calls behind me. I am not sure if this is meant for me and so I ignore them and concentrate fully on survival. The Nutcracker seems to come loose, I increase the pressure. With both hands. At each pole I continue to rip the rope from the pulley, I can hardly believe it, but I'm destroying that damn lift right now! Well, it's destroying me too, the effort is increasing, I don't think I'm going to make it to the top, I'm convinced I'm not going to. Actually, I am happy on the boards, but skiing is hell like this. After endless minutes I arrive at the top. Ironing is on the steep slope, so release the nutcracker, slide backwards and turn off in time. I am at the end and see that there is a Snöber lying exhausted in the snow. He is also a ridge timer, but at least Kiwi from the North Island and therefore close to the topic. And already the next one comes up. It turns out that it was him who called after me. In English he wants to explain to me that this way I damage the rope, and in Swiss German we continue talking after we found out that this also works. Wolfi, the ski school director in Tepako (and in winter in Brand/Austria) explains to me how it works with the Nutcracker, and also that it is tedious to lift the rope back onto the pulleys (which he seems to have done easily). And although he had to restore the lift behind me, he encourages me to try again. But my decision is made: this was my only Rope Tow experience. I enjoy the descent down the steep deep snow slope - the route is significantly called "Autobahn" - in the second half in beautiful firn. At the bottom I apologize to the lift boy for destroying his lift ("No worries mate, it's fucking scary I know") and then relieved return the harness and the Nutcracker.
Lifts 3 – 27/08/2015
The last day in Skiwistan: Blue sky, sunshine, you could almost think that the weather is always like this. It is not.
We leave Ashburton for Methven, the "Mt Hutt Village", a small tourist town, where we have breakfast and are confronted one last time with the local boot customs.
Mt Hutt is the home area of Christchurch, so we are quite surprised about the gravelroad into the area, about the potholes and the steepness. After 16km we reach the station located in a basin. Three chairlifts open up a good handful of uphill slopes, all wide and well groomed. The differences between a large area, which includes Mt. Hutt, and the smaller areas of Lyford, Ohau, Dobson or Porters are also clearly noticeable here.
The skiing fun is completed by another (equal to 100 NZD in the phrase piggy bank!) breathtaking view of the plain some 1500 meters lower in altitude, which ends in Christchurch and the sea. Such a view as on the run "The Dive" I have never seen and probably's so nowhere else.
After a last descent there's a very last one, but then it's definitely the end of Skiwi. We pack the skis into the car and drive to our tomorrow's departure point Christchurch.
After checking into the motel we take the gondola to a nearby mountain. Since it's hazy we can't see the city, so we can't quite figure out how to interpret the "Landscape before Earthquakes" sign on the signposted panorama pictures on the observation deck.
But as we drive through downtown Christchurch, we see the many vacant houses, some of which need shoring up, and the huge brownfields where the city's skyscrapers used to stand. There are new buildings and construction sites, but most of the City Center looks eerily empty. We didn't expect this, despite all the conversations we've had with people from Christchurch over the past few days.
I hope you find some of my experiences helpful for your planning. The most important information (in my opinion) is about the car, as there is police everywhere.
THIS IS A GREAT PLACE FOR YOUR TAGLINE.
Season is from mid/end June until late September or even later. The weather during our stay was like early spring in Europa when it was sunny with freezing over night or storm (Kaikoura) and the heaviest rainfall I have ever experienced (Westcoast). The snow was compact but never wet with the powder day at Mt Lyfort and Porters. I am sure, that with more local expertise, we could have made a great powder day at Mt Cook the day after the storm at Kaikoura. But better alive....
The ski world in New Zealand is, like so many other things here, unique. There are commercial ski areas and so-called club fields. The former are run by companies, but can also be very small, like Mount Dobsons, the latter belong to ski clubs that run the areas themselves. The lifts in the Club Fields are usually so-called Rope Tows, while the commercial resorts have chairlifts and snowmaking equipment. Clubfields are sometimes said to have only twenty or thirty people, which may be due to the lifts or the sometimes necessary walk to the area, or the fact that the areas offer fewer slopes but off-piste terrain.
Tickets & Prices
Ticket systems vary, there are adhesive passes as in France, Scotland or California, or magnetic cards. There are ticket systems like at Ruhapehu (Whakapapa and Turoa), in Queenstown (Coronet Peak and Remarkables or also between Broken River and Craigieburn (according to statements these can be used with the same ticket) or not. The tickets can be purchased directly in the areas or partly in the villages (Queenstown and Mewhen for sure, Wanaka probably also). Last-res is especially interesting for Cardrona and Coronet Peak, because you can enter the area from a lower parking lot and don't have to walk up to the mainbase to get the ticket. The magnetic tickets are free, exception: The ticket for Coro-net Peak, Remarkables and Mt Hutt costs 5 NZD, but can be used in all three areas. Spot checks take place in the major areas. Since the tickets are personalized with name and photo (!) the inspectors armed with an IPad quickly recognize the fare dodgers.
For the Clubfields there are special season tickets http://www.chillout.co.nz/
The prices correspond to Central European levels, the smaller areas are about 30% cheaper than the 'big' ones, whereby big here does not mean the number of lifts but their capacities as well as the quality of the slopes (wider, better prepared and snowed). Interesting: For payments by credit card there is partly a 2% surcharge.
The queuing is decent and without jostling, but free seats are used. A special feature are the ushers, who direct the queueing people in such a way that the chairs are filled. Even if the single line seems very long and you are not a single at all: the singles are up faster because they fill up the free seats and the tamers (or conductors?) fill up every now and then a chair exclusively with singles.
There are only a few resorts with lodging on the mountain: Wakapapa, Turoa and most Clubfields. Often has a lodge down in the valley near the entrance to the mountain road. We booked in nearby towns, with prices logically correlating with proximity to the area. Good places to start turned out to be: Ohakune for Wa-kapapa and Turoa, Queenstown/Wanaka for Remarkables, Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Treble Cone, Fairlie for Fox Peak, Mt Dobson and Roundhill, Methven for Mt Hutt and Spring-field for the Clubfields, Porters and Cheeseman.
Food/Facilities on the mountain
In each area we visited, there is a cantine or a restaurant at the bottom, partly very simple, partly comfortable. The choice is not always the same, sometimes you just get dried pasta and hot water. If you want to rent skis on the mountain you should inform yourself in advance, the choice is not always big. Most of the restaurants have free wifi.
A special feature in New Zealand are the Rope Tows. Originally I thought of rope lifts like in our country, pony lifts just a bit longer, which have not yet been replaced by modern lifts. But the Rope Tows are completely different: They are rope lifts, some of them newer, with masts and no support, which pull up the steepest slopes at enormous speed. To endure this, one wears a climbing harness to which a nutcracker is attached. This holding device is thrown around the rope and clamped together with the hands while being pulled up in the climbing harness. So you don't support the weight with your arms but just put pressure on the nutcracker on the rope. The ski school boss at Roundhill explained it to me like this: the rope is on the left, he holds the nutcracker together with two fingers of his right hand and angles it on the rope a little. He supports himself on the rope with his left arm and takes his hand away from the rope before each pole, because otherwise his fingers would get between the rope and the pulley. This way he stays close to the rope and the poles and doesn't tear the rope off the pulleys at every pole like I do. Climbing harness with nutcracker attached I was able to rent in the area for 10 NZD, so you can leave your own climbing harness at home unless you buy your own nutcracker (wasn't available for purchase in Roundhill). It's worth having your climbing harness explained in detail when you rent and how the nutcracker works when you get on the lift. In Roundhill, the ski instruction grooves also help. Even if the lift is brutally fast, the ride will be hell if the two fingers (for me it was two hands) do not really work and the Nutcracker comes loose a bit. On the way out, the nutcracker is released and swung around the rope again. At the same time you should concentrate on turning, because you get out in the middle of a steep slope.
Sounds scary? It is. But some of the best slopes in Roundhill and Lyford can only be reached this way, the Clubfields only have Rope Tows, so it's probably worthwhile to learn this lift technique.
I was already used to a lot from Australia, but the approaches in New Zealand are, with a few exceptions, true adventures in themselves. All areas start somewhere on the mountain, there is none that would be accessible from the valley with a lift. Thus, steep roads, which are usually not asphalted, often lead up more than 1000 meters in altitude to the valley stations of the lifts. Asphalted are Wakapapa, Turoa and Coronet Peak, especially adventurous Mt Lyford, Treble Cone, Remarkables, Ohau, Mt Hutt and Mt Dobson. Mt Olympus and Craigieburn are said to be even more extreme, but we did not visit them. Easier to reach, besides the paved areas, are Roundhill and Porters. Of the Clubfields, Broken River is said to offer a much easier approach than Craigieburn.
The ski areas also usually offer shuttle buses, the smaller ones run once on reservation, the larger ones regularly. Downhill should then be easier, as car stops are widespread.
The roads are as mentioned very steep and not asphalted. After precipitation they are covered with snow or ice in the uppermost part. Then the chains are obligatory for 2WDs or 4WDs. As alpine country people, the Kiwis sometimes seem a bit overcautious, but the cars in New Zealand don't have winter tires but all-season tires, so you can understand that a bit. What we couldn't understand, however, is that the chain obligation applies throughout the day, even if the midday sun has long since melted the snow. The areas point out emphatically that chains should always be carried in the mountains, but in contrast to Australia there are probably no fines here, if not. However: I wouldn't want to be up in Treble Cone without chains when the snowfall moves in at noon and covers the road with snow.
Each area has an entrance that can't be missed. There it says if and for whom chains are mandatory. If you want to know in advance, check in the morning before setting off http://snow.co.nz/snowreports/. Where the chains have to be put on is written somewhere along the road. When we drove to Mt Dobson it said in the Snowreport and on the web-site of the ski area: Road Open, but on the roadside two times a sign with 'Fit Chains Here'. Since the weather was good we ignored this and were confirmed at the top because most cars went up without chains - no problem.
When we picked up our car in Auckland and asked for snow chains our car rental company (EZI) told us that it was not necessary. We now know that is not true. At Mt. Lyford we were able to rent chains (50 NZD), but: we were there on a Monday and the handling was unusual. We were also brutally lucky with the weather, but with a chain mandatory in the areas around Wanaka and Queenstown in high season, it's probably difficult. So: If you want to do the planned areas safely you should secure chains via rental in advance or buy some. Sounds fearful? Is my experience.
More questions? Feedback?
Please send me an email, I would be happy to share my experience with you.