When it comes to off-piste temptations, New Zealand is hard to beat, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.
There comes a time in every skier or snowboarder's life when the other side of the resort boundary beckons. While the Disneyland wonder of skiing and riding on freshly groomed snow provides the original thrills, the lure of untouched powder becomes greater. But be warned, off-piste and backcountry skiing is addictive. Once you have tasted true, unadulterated powder, it's hard to go back on the piste. Be doubly warned, go with a qualified guide – or risk your life.
SKI THE TASMAN A great introduction to off-piste skiing. The Tasman Glacier is not steep and offers some easygoing powder terrain for intermediate skiers. A snow plane takes groups of seven skiers and a guide on to the glacier where you can expect to enjoy some seriously long runs of up to 10 kilometres. The guide ensures everyone stays safe, seracs and ice caves are pointed out and sometimes explored. Lunch is included in the $NZ1175 ($948)-a-person cost, as well as safety equipment, ski plane and transfers from Mount Cook accommodation.
MOUNT POTTS HELI PARK The theory is simple. Pay $NZ225 for a flight from the lodge to Mount Potts' private mountain (and return at the end of the day), take a ski or snowboard down and then the choice is yours. Hike back up or take a chopper ride for $NZ85. Enjoy, then repeat, enjoy, then repeat. The heli park was set up to make heli skiing accessible to those without the big bucks. Be warned: as it is one mountain with 380 hectares of terrain, if it doesn't snow for days you won't be accessing fresh tracks. Instead, you'll be skiing over and through the ones made the day before. You will, however, get to choose your lines from intermediate to advanced runs and you will have a qualified guide with you, plus safety equipment. See helipark.co.nz.
METHVEN HELI The Arrowsmiths mountain range on the South Island surely has the best commercial heli ski terrain in New Zealand. Methven heliski will take you to this impressive range to ski fresh powder snow in open glacial bowls, easygoing chutes, rolling terrain and steep pitches. The heli guides are some of the best in the country; they are led by Kevin Boekholt, who leads private heli ski groups to Greenland each May. A five-day run costs $NZ875 including transfers from Methven, a gourmet lunch, safety briefing and equipment. See methvenheli.co.nz.
BACKCOUNTRY SKI TOUR Sign up for a three-day backcountry ski tour in the Arrowsmith Ranges for a true wilderness experience. Teams of four skiers and a guide are flown into Cameron Hut, deep in the Southern Alps, which is used as a main base. Skiers then spend each day ski touring, using skins under the skis and an alpine binding with a detachable "free heel" to facilitate walking up-hill. No previous backcountry experience is necessary but you must be a strong intermediate-to-advanced skier with high cardio fitness. You can also expect an incredible ascent of the region's local glaciers, with a thousand-metre vertical descent. All meals, avalanche equipment, guiding and hut fees are included in the $NZ1650 a person fee. See alpineguides.co.nz.
SOUTHERN LAKES HELI: THE INVINCIBLE The only heli ski operation offering an overnight experience in New Zealand, Southern Lakes Heli Ski serves up a three-run day finishing at The Invincible private ski field with an afternoon of rope-tow skiing. Then you can bed down in the basic mountain hut before morning rope-tow skiing and an afternoon of more heli skiing. This is definitely the ultimate two days of remote, untracked snow fun for $NZ1490 a person including meals. See southernlakesheliski.co.nz.
BLACK DIAMOND SAFARIS Symon and Heather Dent know the club fields of Canterbury better than anyone. They have guided private clients and small groups on the remote rope-tow-accessed backcountry club resorts of Craigieburn, Broken River and Mount Olympus for years. Heather is a qualified ski patroller and Symon a fifth-generation South Island Kiwi with these alps at his back door. They will talk you through your first club fields experience, guide you on the mountain, help you on the nutcracker tows and reveal terrain you didn't think was possible. You can utilise Symon and Heather's services or join a multi-day Snow Hunter Safari, from $NZ270 for a full guided day, including transport.