This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
WildSnow Girl, Julia Dubinina, is a weekend warrior chasing snow in winter and sun in summer. A lover of long tours and steep skin tracks, she explores the Pacific Northwest and beyond. When she is not out adventuring, she is working away at her corporate desk job for a software company to make her next adventure happen.