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Observations on a Ski Trip to New Zealand

Posted by Karsten Delap on January 10, 2019

Late last summer I ditched the hot and humid temperatures of the Southeast for a trip to New Zealand with some “spring” skiing in mind. It was a learning experience. And my buddy Pete and I had to adjust some of our expectations we brought from skiing in the United States. If you're planning a similar trip, take heed of these observations.

Remember, they drive on the opposite side of the road. But that isn’t the only thing backwards. The sun shies on north-facing slopes. So all intuition about where to find good, cold snow is opposite.

Speaking of roads, the highest road in New Zealand leads to the ski resort, so there isn’t a whole lot of room to park your car and go ski the backcountry. Most resorts offer a single-lift pass or allow folks to skin up. There is also the option for a heli bump, but that is going to cost you around 1000$ NZD ($670 USD).

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Ski resorts are known as ski fields. This is important for assessing avalanches, especially in spring conditions. Under the snow, these steep slopes can have tufts of grass that allow the avalanches to rip right to the ground. On the flip side, grass means when you have about 10 inches of snow, you can probably ski without many core shots.

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Many websites state the season can run through mid-October, but we went in mid-September and the resorts were mostly closed. We did have one day with about three feet of snow, which really refreshed the snow pack but…

When it snows three feet in New Zealand, you will not be skiing that day. We were so stoked to see a huge storm in the forecast. We went to bed early and I remember Pete waking up in our Air B&B and yelling, “you gotta come see this!” It had snowed all night and was still coming down. We made a huge breakfast knowing we were going to need it to slay all the pow. So we started up to one of the resorts, and as we were pulling in a bus full of workers was coming down. They were closing the gate to the road.  We asked the driver and he said with a big smile, “yeah they are closing, tomorrow is going to be awesome!” And then he kept driving.

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We saw some locals in a van so we asked them and they said, “Yeah, we just checked, all the resorts are closed, but man, tomorrow is going to be awesome!” Pete and I just looked at each other. This can’t be right. It's dumping. We are here for snow. And everything is closed? We decided to drive to the pass where there was dry ground all the way to the ridge. But nope, the pass was closed. We ended up in a coffee shop.

The next day was awesome!

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