Wildsnow NZ — that’s right! After our sweltering summer in the PNW, I got a major itch to fit a brief spring ski season in between summer and fall. That’s perhaps not the way the natural world intended, but trans-pacific flights make it possible. It’s been a few years since I last made the endless winter pilgrimage down to South America. This time I’m headed down to the land next to the land down unda’, New Zealand.
Back when I was a freshman in college, I made my first southern hemisphere trip, to New Zealand. I worked at the tiny club ski field of Mt. Cheeseman and had a blast. Unfortunately I injured my knee injury midway through the season and had to fly home for surgery. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to experience a NZ spring ski mountaineering season. Since then, while I’ve done my fair share of ski travel trips over the globe, I’ve always had a New Zealand redo on my list. It’s simply such an excellent place for skiers: lots of huts and other travel amenities; beautiful vistas with majestic mountains that hold up in comparison to anything else; common language for English speakers (or at least mostly common, fun list here).
A few days ago Coop and I finished up an excruciatingly long 20 hour plane journey, with a stop in southern China. That’s what buying the bottom of the barrel cheapest ticket gets you.
We rented a minivan camper from the awesome folks at Spaceship Campervans, the plan is to explore the various ranges of the Southern Alps. I’ve finally realized every millennial’s dream of the #vanlife, if only for a few weeks. Though our whip is more like #minivanlife.
The trip began well. After a night in Christchurch, we picked up the Spaceship van. The thing is sweet as a comparatively fuel-efficient (important with gas at $7 USD a gallon), inexpensive way to travel on a trip. Despite being a minivan, it is brilliantly setup for camping, with a full bed, fridge, removable awnings, and extra battery. Nonetheless a bit cramped with all our ski gear — but it works. This is the first trip I’ll have ever done having a car rented from start to finish; certainly a whole lot simpler than dealing with buses or hitchhiking. Good to have had those adventures, fun to do something different.
After picking up our van and stocking up on “tucker” at the Pack and Save store (motto: New Zealand’s lowest food prices!), we headed for the mountains. With an iffy weather forecast down south we decided to check out the mountains around Arthur’s Pass. They have a fairly deep snowpack up there, with relatively easy access. For our first turns in NZ we headed up to the Temple basin ski field (closed for the season). We had to hike for a bit up to the ski area, but then found abundant snow. Our first lap, from the top of the highest rope tow, held enough perfect corn snow to convince us to stick around. So we skinned up again and reached the summit of Mt. Temple, just above the top of the ski area. From there, we skied a fun series of couloirs that held “mostly perfect” corn.
Next day’s weather forecast showed increasing clouds and gale-force winds. We decided to do a quick skin up Porters ski field, and then hop in the van and head down to the mecca of NZ ski mountaineering: Aoraki/Mt. Cook national park. We’re on the road now, with fingers crossed for a nice weather window (as the boys had during this trip).
Conclusion: Even after just a few days, spring skiing in NZ is wonderful.
(Note, we arranged a possible “WildSnow” discount with Spaceship Campervans in return for some coverage. In our experience so far they are totally legit with an excellent product, so it’s win win for everyone. Recommended.)
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.