August 13, 2004 Features & Images » Feature Story

Chasing the endless winter 

What's going on Down Under in New Zealand.

Page 2 of 4

Things didn’t start out too promisingly. Several private ski fields hadn’t opened yet due to a lack of snow, so we took a gamble on the only resort open that day near Lake Tekapo, Round Hill. And Round Hill it is, by name and by nature.

The weird thing is, they are proud of it. The huge sign greeting you at the bottom of the one and only T-bar lift proclaims: "Round Hill – for the newly wed and the nearly dead." Since we were neither, after a few runs we were back in the motorhome heading to Central Otago in search of whiter pastures.

Within two days, Ullr answered our prayers. Fifty centimetres of snow overnight at Treble Cone near Wanaka, and we were among the first waiting for ski patrol clearance. Taking the edge off that frustrated anticipation were kea birds providing some sideline entertainment. Now Canada may arguably have the best ski terrain in the world, but it doesn’t have keas (pronounced key-ahs). These khaki-green mountain parrots with the burnt orange colour feathers on the underside of their wings are the clowns and tricksters of the high alpine, and hilarious to watch.

Hilarious that is, so long as it’s not your backpack they are opening or the rubber around your car windshield they are ripping off with glee. While most birds seem to dedicate a fair chunk of their day to survival activities such as eating, the highly intelligent keas are hell-bent on destroying things and amusing themselves.

Treble Cone turned out to have some decent runs, and if you are prepared to hike, some excellent backcountry terrain that feeds back down to the high-speed quad at the bottom. The funky little town of Wanaka is the perfect place to wind down after a great day’s riding About an hour further south are the jewels of Cardrona, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak nestled around the crown of Queenstown – a town better known for winding it up.

Between the two centres is also a jibber’s paradise – Snowpark – and Snowfarm for the cross-country ski fans.

Compared to Canada, the lift access on the Southern Alps is very limited. Yet according to George Robbi, a part owner in Queenstown’s Southern Lakes Heliski and Tulsequah Heliskiing in north-western British Columbia, New Zealand’s ski terrain equals anything in Canada. And if you can afford the air ticket, it’s yours for the taking.

Fortunately a Wanaka-based ski company, Backcountry Helicopters, lets local ski-bums have a taste of what’s out there with a Local’s Day deal it runs every season. It’s always a sell-out and it’s easy to see why. At a discounted cost of $350(NZ), you get four heli drops and you chose your way down – from the easy to the steep, with fresh southern powder all the way.

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