Splitboarding in the Southern Alps. Mike Wigley reports about Club Fields, nutcrackers, why New Zealand has the best hut system of the world and where you could spend the rest of your life riding. Here you learn how to escape from the summer heat of the Northern Hemisphere.
New Zealand is home of severe weather that can turn on a dime. You can begin the day under bluebird skies and the weather can shift dramatically into full whiteout storm within the hour. With weather coming from the south from Antarctica and the east from South America.
I chose to go to New Zealand in 2014 to learn new skills in the ultimate training ground for ski touring. I flew to Christchurch to meet up with Chris Rayner the mastermind behind Ranger Bindings. I came to do R and D for him as well get away from the summer heat of the Northern Hemisphere.
New Zealand has the best hut system you could ever come across
With access to 600 huts through the Department of Conservation for $95($NZ) for a hut pass for winter use (100$NZ ~ 60€ ~ 69USD, June 2015). Different from summer access as there is more traffic and prices for certain huts increase in price and need a reservation. While in winter their vacant, perfect for a splitboard base camp.
The Canterbury Mountaineer Club (CMC) has 3 houses based in Arthur's Pass, Mt Cook Village, and Fox Village for $20($NZ) a night, $10 for members. This gives you access to a lot of terrain and a perfect starting point. Planning correctly you can get an early bird season pass for the club fields, known as the chill pass. The full pass gives you access to Temple Basin, Mt Olympus, Craigieburn, Porters, Mt Cheeseman, Broken River, Hanmer Springs, Roundhill, Mt Dobson, Fox Peak, Mt Lyford, Rainbow, and Awakino.
The early bird price is $1130($NZ) for full pass and $740($NZ) for midweek. I would recommend the midweek if your on a budget and gives the weekends to splitboard and use your hut pass to explore new ranges!
With those investments for the season, a splitboard and a keen sense on mountain travel you have a vast amount of places to explore and scenery to blow your mind!
Club Fields, nutcracker and slackcountry
Using the Kennedy Hut(CMC) at Arthur's pass gives you access to the Craigieburn range. Temple Basin is the closest about 10 minutes down the road and an hour walk from the parking lot to access the club field. Which is well worth the effort. Back in 1996 the legend Terje claimed that he could spend the rest of his life riding at Temple Basin and I agree. The rope tows access intermediate terrain but arm yourself with crampons and ice axes and you will be riding dream lines over and over. With many couloirs, cliffs, and bowls to ride.
From the Kennedy Hut going east you have Craigieburn, Broken River, Mt Cheeseman, Mt Olympus, and Porters to ride. Kyle Miller, John Blankenstien and I connected the 5 club fields over 2 days covering 40kms of backcountry travel completing the Craigieburn Traverse.
Mt Olympus being the most advanced terrain in the area, followed by Craigieburn. Broken River and Cheeseman have varied terrain for all ability's and Porters being good for everyone with the usage of chairlifts. The rest use rope tows using a nutcracker to whisk you up the mountains. The slackcountry around those club fields offers many bowls, cliffs, windlips, and chutes to play in!
I wasn't able to visit all the clubfields in 2014 because of the lack of snowfall. Some of the fields didn't even open for operation. The other clubfield I went to was Mt Dobson outside of Fairlie. Dobson is perfect for family's and people intimidated by the nutcrackers. With having a chairlift and t-bars. Playful terrain with easy access to the slackcountry. Access to a variety of bowls and features to play on.
Travelling south down the South Island you have the commercial ski areas of The Remarkables, Cadrona, Cornet Peak, and Treble Cone. Pricier, but more plush. With high speed chairlifts, top notch terrain parks, and a lot more people! They're the most known resorts of NZ through their marketing. The clubfields aren't nearly as known because they aren't marketed outside of NZ. The commercial resorts are worth a checkout though and Treble Cone being a freeriders paradise. Many features to slash, air and trick off. Cadrona being a good place to ride park, Cornet for night skiing. Remarkables for all around good times. Good park and soon as you leave the busy resort for the backcountry, you won't see a soul.
Splitboarding in New Zealand
Touring is still pretty young in NZ. The splitboarding community is tight. If you need to find partners in various zones use the Facebook page Splitboarders of New Zealand. It helped me tons in finding partners while I travelled to new zones.
In September at Temple Basin there is a splitfest put on by Shane Orchard and Richard Harcourt of SplitN2. In my short months meeting all the local splitters it seemed like a reunion having everyone under one roof! With Temple Basin being the playground it is, gave lots of access to all sorts of ability's. Perfect! Great place to learn and to push your riding getting out with new riders!
After scoping the ski fields you'll want to get out and use that hut pass! It's hard to break them all down and will take a lot of time to explore them all. I'll give a brief summary on these.
In the North is the Angelus Hut which is a 28 bunk in Nelson Lakes National Park. The Cameron hut is a 9 bunk ran by CMC and this puts you at the base of some rad mountains. The Kelman Hut and the Pioneer Hut in the Mt Cook National Park. The Muller Hut a 28 bunk with the best view you could ever get of Mt. Cook. Down in the south the Routeburn Falls Hut (Aspiring National Park) that is a 48 bunk building barely used in the winter, part of "the great walks".
The locals of New Zealand are amazing some of the most friendly people I've ever encountered. Makes travelling easy, with their hospitality and vast knowledge. The conditions can turn from epic to ice very quickly due from the wind and being very exposed. When conditions are good, get it while you can! Your window is small.
Enjoy the country and as well visit the north island and spend some time riding Mt Ruapehu in the spring. Grab a meat pie and enjoy the moment.
Kia Waimarie, Mike Wigley aka Pow Slashing Wigley
Title Pic by Adam Flemming: Splitboarding New Zealand
Thank you very much Mike for this informative report. We wish you a good time wherever you are pow slashing right now.