Whakapapa Extreme Ski Competition Highlights

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From “Juice TV” (whatever that is).

These Kiwis show no Whaka’n fear as they hurl themselves off cliffs & rocks at Whakapapa.

Owen’s Queenstown Report for 26/08 to 02/09/2006

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OK… OK… we should’ve been here last week – stop rubbing our bloody noses in it ya kiwi bastards. At least that’s what I felt like saying to every git on the lift who kept talking about the foot of fresh they’d scored 3 days before we got to Queenstown. Freshies or no freshies, it was still a good chance to do a good scout around the area.

First up, the costs and logistics of getting there were cheaper and easier than any trip to the Australian mountains. We sourced a standard package deal that cost about $1500 pp that included direct flights from sydney to Queenstown, 7 days car hire and accomm and a 5 day pass that could be redeemed at any mountain and most of the other activities in the area if the weather closed in (jet boats, bungy etc.). We were even able to throw some credit card loyalty points at the bill to bring it down to around $1200 each. Bargain!

Flying direct was a doozie – a comfortable 8am flight (chauffeur driven to the airport by Mr Ferguson), 3 hrs in the air with a spectacular route over Fiordland and the main range, and on the ground around in time for a late lunch after grabbing the car and finding the hotel.

Queenstown itself is a proper alpine village to rival anything in Europe with loads of good restaurants, bars and shops and plenty to do if you’re not up the mountain. The crowd there’s also much more international than I would’ve expected, and you were just as likely to be on a lift with a german, irish or japanese as you were some bogan farkin ozzie.

Our hotel was a 10 minute buzz up the hill to Coronet Peak on a road that didn’t make you feel like you were going to drop of the edge at every corner. I’d always pictured Coronet as being the lamest of all the mountains in the area, so thought it’d be a good place to warm up on the first day. It was pure bluebird skies when we got there, and had been cold enough to keep the snow from a few days ago crisp and fluffy (although no fresh lines to be had). Being a Sunday we expected the worst crowd-wise, but the high speed quad and six seater chairs accessing the summit meant no more than a few minutes wait at any time. Although the peak’s only 1600m and base 1100m, the groomers are well spaced and there’s plenty of high speed thigh burners to have a good play on. There’s also plenty of good beginner’s runs and it’d be a perfect place to take the kiddies or anyone else just starting out. On a powder day the back bowls look like they’d be fun too, with a number of steep chutes to drop and a couple of spots you could ride out to the road at the end of the day. As far as terrain parks go, Coronet is definitely the least developed but still had a couple of decent kickers and a few rails.

The next day we did the drive around to Cardrona, which takes about an hour from Queenstown, up the road towards Wanaka. The first view you get of the mountain as you pull into the car park is of a perfectly manicured park running the entire length of the front valley, serviced by a high speed quad. This is complemented by two beautifully cut half pipes accessed by another lift (not high speed) that can be ridden one after the other. The park quality was definitely on-par with anything I’d seen in Europe or North America, with the riders to do it justice too. A cat track takes you around to the other side of the mountain serviced by another older quad. The groomed terrain is awesome – super wide runs and a number of big, open bowls to fang down at high speed – but I couldn’t see much in the way of off-piste terrain that didn’t require a big traverse for a few short turns down a couple of chutes. The north westerly wind started to pick up while we were there, which slowed the older chairs way down and meant there was a big choke on the only high speed quad. On the opposite side of the valley to Cardrona is SnowPark – a dedicated terrain park only mountain – so if you like big booters, this is definitely the area to check out.

Day 3 took us to The Remarkables, only 15kms or so from Queenstown, 11kms of which is up a vertigo inducing dirt road. The mountain is north-facing, so was copping a good whack from the north westerly wind, but there’s two big basins that are quite well sheltered. The snow was a bit worse for wear here, as it’s more susceptible to a daily melting in the sun and overnight re-freeze. The main downside to the Remarkables is all the lifts are older quads, but this is balanced by the off-piste terrain that can be accessed. If it was a big powder day, I’d be heading straight here for the big chutes and steeps that you can get to with a quick traverse or hike over the back. The classic run is “Homeward Bound” which drops a couple of kms straight down to the road where you get picked up by a regular shuttle bus and back to the base station. Even without new snow, it was still quite fun in the afternoon as the snow softened up. The terrain park here was also quite good, but the half pipe wasn’t serviced by a lift which meant loads of trudging if that’s your thing.

The wind still hadn’t abated by day 4, but it was still sunny so we did the 1 1/2hr drive up to Treble Cone from Queenstown only to find they had one of their two main lifts on wind hold and a mega queue cramming the one still open. The thought of standing in line all day was too much, so we zipped back down the hill and kept driving up the valley into Mt Aspiring national park and hiked up to a glacier instead (without boards) through an awesome hobbit forest underneath constantly avalanching peaks. TC is apparently the pick for off-piste, and they’re likely to approve a new $20m gondola in the next few months that goes right from the valley floor. Wanaka’s a cool town too – much like a bigger version of Jindabyne and definitely the hang for all the cool kids (BYO studded belt and do-rag).

We didn’t want to get stung by wind hold on day 5, so did the quick zip back up to Coronet Peak to see what was happening. The lifts were open, so we went up for a couple of runs before the gusts started hitting 100kmh and they shut the whole mountain. So – back in the rental car to burn some more unlimited kms to a national park near Te Anau (Fiordland) for another hobbit hunt through an ancient beech forest. It’s only when you go into these original forests that you realise how much the Kiwis have flattened the original forests right up to the snow line in most cases. A few trees left on some ski runs might actually mean they can keep lifts open on the windy days! The clouds were rolling in over Fiordland, and there was a glimmer of hope for a dump on our final day…

Of course it wasn’t to be, so we headed back up to Coronet for a final day’s sliding. Amazingly, when I went to the ticket window and asked if they were offering any rebate for the previous day’s wind-hold, they gave us totally FREE replacement tickets for that day. Being so used to Australian mountains bleeding you dry at every opportunity, this was almost the highlight of the trip, but this is actually a normal experience in NZ. Skiing and boarding is still an accessible holiday you don’t need to re-mortgage the house for and the mountain managers seem to have this weird policy of keeping customers happy so they consider coming back again.

And so, on our final morning, the rain rolled in behind the hot north westerlies and shut down every mountain in the area. The big dump never came, the helis never took off, but we left already thinking about the next trip there…

Owen

Mt Aspiring

The Remarkables

Remarkables Panorama

Cadrona

Coronet Peak

NZ Alps

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