Hair-raising: extreme skiing hotspots

Special New Zealand feature

New Zealand has some of the most challenging ski terrain on earth, Craig Tansley looks at where you should go to best access it.

The ride of your life

Heli-skiing is something that's impossible to do in the Australian ski fields because of our National Parks laws, but New Zealand has no such limitations. In fact, New Zealand offers some of the best, and most extreme, heli-skiing on the planet (it also has easier runs for intermediate-level skiers and boarders).

While it mightn't have the 18 metres of snowfall every winter Alaska boasts, the terrain you can access is world-class. There's over 400 runs to choose from over 200 peaks on seven separate mountain ranges covering over 3000 square kilometres of New Zealand's Southern Alps – where over 22 peaks jut out over 3000 metres. You'll ski or board deep snow-filled basins, bowls and 50 degree chutes.

Push your limits and book a Maximum Vertical Tour for $995 NZ out of Queenstown or Wanaka which gives you seven runs with up to 1300 metres vertical descent. Go for more if you're game – at $95 NZ per additional run, some skiers can do as many as 15 in a day. You can also ski or board the mountains around Mt Cook – New Zealand's tallest peak - for $1355 NZ for seven runs. Harris Mountains Heli-Ski operate out of Wanaka or Queenstown, check out www.heliski.co.nz.

Feeling lucky, punk?

They're by far the most challenging ski fields in New Zealand - just getting to the top of the slopes is a job in itself. Located two hours west of Christchurch, these four ski fields – Broken River, Craigieburn, Mt Olympus and Temple Basin – offer the most challenging terrain in the whole country – and some of the most challenging backcountry runs in the world.

There are no chairlifts, or even T-Bars, here, instead you'll have to ride nutcracker rope tows up the mountain. Thick metallic rope lines pull you up a hill, throw a nut-cracker around the line and hold on, taking special care not to get your fingers caught in the pulleys.

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Craigieburn in particular is not for the faint of heart – it devotes zero per cent of its mountain to beginners, while 45 per cent is for experts only. Even the drive in is a challenge in itself, on some of the country's most daunting alpine ascents. Check out www.craigieburn.co.nz, www.mtolympus.co.nz, www.brokenriver.co.nz, www.templebasin.co.nz

Hike over and ski down a live volcano

If you'd prefer to stick to the major ski resorts in New Zealand (that have chair lifts) but still want some hair-raising backcountry skiing, Whakapapa is your mountain.

Located on the side of the north island's tallest mountain – the active volcano Mt Ruapehu – Whakapapa is actually New Zealand's largest ski area. It has the country's best beginner slopes, but it also offers the best backcountry skiing of any major ski resort in New Zealand (and 75 per cent of its mountain is dedicated to intermediate and advanced skiers only).

Head west from the chairlifts into the Black Magic off-piste area where the deep chutes and steep terrain will test any ski legend. But the delight comes from taking a chairlift as far up as you can go, then hiking to the top of the volcano past a crater lake and then skiing down the other side to Turoa, the country's second biggest (and its highest) ski area .

It's a four kilometre run that on its day is the best powder run available at any resort in the Antipodes. Whakapapa is located near the ski town of Ohakune – half way between Wellington and Auckland, check out www.mtruapehu.co.nz.

Become invincible

If you'd like to get far away from any crowded ski resort and fancy yourself as a confident skier or boarder, Invincible Snowfields could be your snow mecca.

You'll be flown in by chopper, dropped at this privately owned mountain near Glenorchy (45 minutes drive west of Queenstown) then left to ride some of the best backcountry runs in the Southern Hemisphere. Don't expect groomed runs, or chairlifts.

Invincible Snowfields also uses the frightening nutcracker rope tows, but if you master it, you'll be able to access snow-filled chutes and bowls you only ever dreamed about.

You can stay the night too – an alpine hut sleeps 10, but you'll need your own sleeping bag. Heating's not a problem – there's a pot-belly stove to keep you warm. You'll need to get to Glenorchy's heli-pad, 50 kilometres from Queenstown. Check out www.invincible.co.nz

This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.

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