The quest for fresh powder and the need to carve first lines has always been an addiction for skiers. What is different is the fact that more and more people are choosing to embark on this quest in the NZ backcountry. With winter fast approaching, and after being self isolated for weeks on end, you too might be finding yourself dreaming of that sweet moment of peeling skins off your skis, a slight sweat on your brow from the uphill, and dropping in for your first run of the day. If so, it’s time to ask some serious questions: “Is this more than a hobby? “Can I stop if I want to? What can I do about it?”
Here is a short questionnaire to help you with an early self diagnosis of your potential long term addiction.
- Have you been researching the latest backcountry setup all summer?
- Do you cringe at the idea of driving up to the ski field after an overnight dump only to arrive at the back of a long lift line with the hill already tracked out?
- Do you find yourself checking the weather every half hour and the long term forecast everyday?
- Have you been pouring over NZ topo maps and salivating over the endless terrain?
- Do you call every person you know for beta on the best backcountry locations?
- Are you unable to sleep due to anticipation of making fresh lines?
If you answered yes to two or more questions, you have a mild case of Backcountry Addiction. Obviously this grows in severity the more questions you answered positively. We here at Aspiring Guides know the symptoms well, and thankfully for the public, we also know the cure: solid doses of time in the beautiful New Zealand backcountry.
To get you started, here are a few of our top NZ Southern Alps Backcountry Ski locations (listed from easy to advanced):
- Pisa Range, Wanaka: (easy) Simple avalanche terrain, easy to stay safe; low commitment level; no road or control work closures to consider; short runs and climbs; overnight options include DOC Kirtleburn Hut or private Robrosa Hut through Aspiring Guides. Note that Cliffburn is private land and landowners don’t permit private groups.
- Remarkables 'Doolans' Zone: (intermediate) Easy quick access on foot via lake Alta or up the ski lift (Pass), Subject to Avalanche control on storm days, views of Queenstown and surrounds, safe access and exit for hazardous days, reliable forecasting close to the ski hill. Mix of terrain (hazard management-wise) from simple to challenging.
- Black Peak, Wanaka - (advanced) Views of Lake Wanaka; private land requires permission from Branches Station (or go on a guided trip); overnight hut available exclusive to Aspiring Guides, heli access or touring from Treble Cone ski field (note this route is long and crosses multiple avalanche paths)
- Treble Cone Backcountry (advanced): Committing for hazardous days; challenging to complex terrain; usually a more reactive (and better skiing) snow pack; views of Lake Wanaka; close to heliskiing zones. Subject to opening and control work on storms means long delays but worth it.
And remember, resist the urge to run willy nilly into the backcountry:
- Take an avalanche awareness course!
- Gain experience and confidence in variable conditions on your skis or snowboard.
- Take a touring course to improve your uphill technique, navigation skills, trip planning, etc.
The more backcountry training you get, the better able you are to manage your backcountry cravings in a healthy, constructive way.
So if you’re growing more certain that you’re hooked on the backcountry, don’t fret. Early diagnosis is key! The best thing you can do is dream and plan your backcountry adventures and this is a sure way to alleviate the ailment (until next season, at least).
This article first appeared in the May issue of Adventure Magazine.
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