Editor’s Note: I’m afflicted with wanderlust. Considering I’m on my third-week post-Covid and the recovery is mediocre at best, I opted for digital wanderlust instead of the real thing having canceled the final ski trip of the season.
The etymology of wanderlust has German origins and dissects cleanly: a person lusting for wandering. Part of satiating wanderlust, I suppose, is taking the half-step of seeing what the possibilities are — thank you, WildSnow archives. I found a vicarious thrill reading up on regions where it’s winter now with this gem from Noah Howell, first published in November 2015.
If you want to expand your knowledge about New Zealand’s ample backcountry skiing and riding opportunities, here’s an excellent and thorough resource.
With our borrowed and begged for food supplies gone, we were forced out of the Tasman Glacier area and back into town. We dried out gear and looked at weather as soon as we got back to Mt. Cook Village. Things looked unstable for a day or two and then clearing up a bit. It was a hard decision to leave the Mt Cook area and its high concentration of huge skiable peaks, but it sounded fun to check out more of the country. We headed south to Wanaka. In keeping with the perfection that this trip was, it rained for a day giving us just enough time to stop stinking and get antsy enough to need to get back into the mountains.
A two day weather window was forecast so we packed up and headed in for a go at Mount Aspiring and some surrounding peaks if time allowed.
We trekked up a beautiful lush valley for plenty of miles. There are a lot of jokes about all the sheep in NZ, but it’s no joke there are a lot of sheep in NZ! No photos though. What happens in NZ stays in NZ, except for the spraying about the skiing we did.
Beau is a pretty quiet guy and he had come this way before. Somehow he forgot to mention anything about climbing 3,000ft of the steepest jungle “trail” known to man.
It was so steep that Whippets came in handy for stabbing at roots and branches. The spikes are useful tools for the jungle if not Chamonix.
We just put our heads down and pugged along enjoying the strangeness of lugging the greatest ski gear on the planet through a world so void of snow. Finally patches of white allowed us to apply boots, skins, and skis and use our gear the way God intended. Not long after, we arrived at the hut where we dried gear and staked out our bunk beds.
I’ve done very little hut skiing in my time. Most of the expeditions I’ve done involve camping in the snow. It doesn’t take more than one night in a cushy hut to appreciate all the ways it makes life much easier.
The next morning was another early one. We busted out 3,000ft before the sun rose and gained the plateau beneath Mount Aspiring.
Our hope was that we would find better snow on the ridge, but this was not the case at all. I’ll give you a clue: the snow we found rhymes with rhyme. Oh well, we climbed to the top anyway since we were so close. It was looking like we’d probably down climb from the top.
The thing with skiing is that you want to ski down. Conditions have to be really bad or scary for skiers to choose climbing down over clicking in. The slopes off the top weren’t that steep and we were stubborn and decided to try and make turns down the frozen golf balls.
The sound of our skis chattering down was horrendous and we apologized profusely to the climbing party that was up there just trying to enjoy a lovely day in the mountains. It was really bad for a long, long way. We kept thinking it would get better, but it didn’t. It was probably 1,500ft of total sh*t, but still fun as hell somehow.
The lower “ramp” was steep and firm. Billy and Adam skied it, but Beau and I were having trouble with our edges holding and so we booted down. The final 3k to the hut was good corn and nice decompression from the soul shaking experience up higher.
We dried out gear and made plans for the next day. Gale force winds were forecast for the next evening so we decided to go big and get out before the approaching storm.
Looking back at it now, I’m not sure you could convince me that our plan for the day was a good one, but it made sense at the time.
We woke up and hiked back down the jungle to the river.
We climbed 2000ft of more steep jungle, had a quick picnic before we hit snow and climbed another 4000 ft to the summit.
Wrapping around the backside of the peak we were able to climb and then ski from the true summit. The snow was firm and steep up top, but quickly mellowed out to fast cruiser corn!
It was nice to have some very relaxing turns after so many steep and exposed lines on this trip.
The snow eventually gave way to greenery and we hiked back down to the river. From here we packed up all our gear and hoofed it out the LONG valley. We made it back to the car in the dark and drove back to town.
We slept in the next day while it rained in Wanaka. Beau had another week on his trip, but ours was just about wrapped up. Beau wanted to base out of Mount Cook area for his final days so we drove back up north to warm temps and broken weather. We skied a large line right out of town and then headed to Christchurch to catch our flight.
I really can’t imagine how this trip could have gone any better. Pretty cool to be able to have a group of strangers come together and operate so well in varying conditions. Beau and I will be doing a joint post with afterthoughts, tips, etc. Huge thanks to Lou and Lisa and WildSnow nation for letting us share our times and tales here. #newskiland #wildsnowNZ
WildSnow guest blogger Noah Howell was born and inbred at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. His skiing addiction is full blown and he’ll take snow and adventure in whatever form it takes. The past 16 years have been spent dedicated to exploring new ranges, steep skiing, and filming for Powderwhore Productions. Visit Noah’s website for more story telling and photos (link above).