Kicks up the backside

Some whisper about Treble Cone in fear, others just try to keep it a big secret, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.

TREBLE CONE divides people: learners avoid it, intermediates aspire to it and extremists flock to it.

The big daddy of New Zealand's South Island fields has a reputation for being big, bad and nasty - in a good way.

When I first ventured across the Tasman to ski Queenstown's runs, I stuck to the groomed slopes of Cardrona and Coronet Peak. I heard skiers, both locals and visitors, talk in hushed tones of Treble Cone, across the Crown Ranges near the lakeside town of Wanaka but I stayed away. I had no desire to die.

As with most talk of terrain, the myths of Treble Cone have been embellished with each telling.

Like a Chinese whisper starting as, "You have to ski this mountain, it's sick," by the time the talk got to me, it was, "You're sick if you think you can ski this mountain."

Treble Cone is a local's mountain. It doesn't have the big marketing money of NZ Ski's Coronet Peak and the Remarkables to help put it forefront in the mind's of cashed-up travellers. With Lake Wanaka below and a Southern Alps vista that stretches for miles, the view alone is worth the life-threatening 20-minute drive - on untarred roads that a mountain goat would think twice about attempting. A planned gondola from the valley floor will mean no more gut-wrenching drives, however.

Treble Cone's front side, or home basin, busts the myth that this is an extremist's mountain. On a good day, it's groomer paradise, with Easy Rider's 3½-kilometre and Main Street's two-kilometre family- friendly runs perfect for beginners and intermediate skiers and boarders. The new Upper High Street means the longest groomed run is a healthy 4½ kilometres.

Treble Cone's founders put the base lodge and sun deck on the mountain's front side. It's here you'll find ski school and equipment hire and it's where you can take in the view with a cup of hot chocolate in your hand - blissfully unaware of what's on the other side.

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The backside is what has given the mountain its fierce reputation - 45 per cent of the 550-hectare terrain is dedicated to advanced and expert riding and skiing. Most of that is found in the Saddle Basin, with chutes, steeps, mogul runs and wide open bowls that stash the powder daily.

Those with a death wish or an adrenalin addiction can ski under the gate at the control fence and take on the 18 Motatapu Chutes. You must inform a member of the mountain's ski patrol if you plan to go out there. Better still, take a guide, a transceiver and a healthy dose of optimism.

The annual NZ Freeski Open is held in these chutes and former New Zealand freeski champion, Geoff Small, offers all-mountain freeski clinics at Treble Cone for those wanting to get off the piste. The clinics are worth the time and expense - in a matter of days intermediate skiers and boarders can develop skills to confidently ski and ride the entire mountain.

As with most reputations, Treble Cone's starts with a hint of truth: yes, it has extreme terrain but it has plenty for intermediates, too.

I suspect the rumours have been created by diehard Treble Coners who want this mountain to themselves. After my first trip,

I could see why.

The author travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand and the Ski Marketing Network of New Zealand.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air New Zealand flies from Sydney to Wanaka via Christchurch and to Queenstown direct. Wanaka is a one-hour drive from Queenstown airport. 13 24 76, airnewzealand.com.au.

Staying there

Wanaka is a mellower version of glitzy Queenstown and revels in a laid-back style: Release Private Retreat, an eco-friendly, self-contained apartment for up to six adults, is priced from $NZ1000 ($800) a night for sole use. releasenz.com

Edgewater Resort has hotel-style rooms, suites and apartments. A five-night package for two, including three-day lift pass, is priced from $NZ181 a person, a night. edgewater.co.nz.

Limetree Lodge has a private helipad, Kiwi style and comfort, home-cooked breakfasts and a roaring fire, priced from $NZ350 a room, a night. limetreelodge.co.nz.

More information treblecone.com.

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