CANTERBURY a winter wonderland
Methven is a true Canterbury town with a strong agricultural influence during the summer months, however once the snow hits there is only one thing on peoples minds... Skiing. After a short drive from Christchurch my skiing buddy Mike and I arrived at our
Mt Hutt is the local commercial field with another seven ski areas within an hour or so drive. These ski areas range from large commercial enterprises to small boutique ski club orientated areas. The latter is what we are here for! After a delicious meal at The Last Post we walked across the road to Big Al’s Ski Shop to meet with our ski guide for the next day, Brett from Black Diamond Safaris. Brett had been up the mountain with a group that day and explained the current snow and weather conditions. He also questioned us on the type of terrain and slopes we prefer to ski on. To this we answered long runs and powder bowls. Brett laughed and told us we had come to the right place at the right time and that we were in for a treat tomorrow because it was just starting to snow when he left the ski area that day. Black Diamond Safaris lead tours to three of the local Ski Clubs, Mt Olympus, Broken River and Craigieburn Valley. Each of the three clubs offer different terrain, people and a unique atmosphere. Unfortunately we would only visit one due to our short stay. Brett suggested Craigieburn as the weather conditions and the long runs would suit us best. So we headed back to our accommodation dreading the sleepless night ahead while we awaited the famous Craigieburn Valley. The morning finally came and we awoke to a cool, crisp day with a solid frost around the town. We grabbed our gear and headed back to Big Al's Ski Shop where we found Brett with a huge smile filling out the daily weather report board. "20cm fresh, mint day" he looked at us and said "What more can I say? Today's the day boys, let's go". We jumped into the beasty BDS 4x4 and took a route through back country roads showing off the stunning Canterbury high country. The trip took about an hour including a brief stop at Lake Lyndon to take it all in. Brett pointed out the Craigieburn mountain range and showed us the type of terrain we were in for. Brett's knowledge of the area was limitless and a few surprise river crossings kept us on our toes. Ahhhh, there it was, Craigieburn Valley. We veered off the desert-like tussock road into a breathtaking native beech forest and up the access road. The trees were caked with snow and lime green moss covered the limbs. Driving under the canopy heightened our suspense before the mountains came into full view once we arrived in the carpark. Brett turned around and said "Bugger, looks like a busy one up here today". Mike and I thought there must have been another carpark because we could only see about 10 cars... Brett grinned at our puzzled look and unloaded our gear. Here we were kitted out with avalanche safety gear and our nutcrackers. Yes nutcrackers! The Club Ski Areas do not have chair lifts or gondolas. They have free spinning ropes that you ride by clamping your "nutcracker" over. Brett told us the nutcracker will be our best friend today and our ticket to a day we would never forget. He would be right!
We put our gear on our back and headed over to the ticket office. The few other guests were also here waiting for the field to open. Brett introduced us to some of the mountain staff and locals. We were told that Ski Patrol were 20 minutes away from opening the hill. Brett suggested showing us through the lodges while we waited. Craigieburn consists of an amazing village in the beech forest. Staff accommodation, guest accommodation either private or bunk rooms, a huge canteen area and last but not least, a bar on the third level with great views over Middle basin. Brett's radio went off, "Sounds like she's about to open boys" he said. On the hill we were greeted with more friendly faces and the rope tow. Brett went through the process of riding the tow with me and a slightly different one for Mike as he was snowboarding. Some of the locals offered some help as well. The tow took us a few attempts but we got the hang of it! Our first run was the promised long powder bowl and so were most of the others for that matter. Out on the hill it felt like we were the only ones there, it was magnificent! With our legs demanding a break we stopped for lunch at the day lodge which is situated on a ridge over looking the entire area. Brett asked us how hungry we were and fired up the BBQ. Soon followed a hot meal on the deck overlooking all of our morning skiing. After a well deserved rest we got back into it. Again Brett’s knowledge of the mountains, the people and of our own abilities was second to none and we felt like we were in very capable hands. We continued to ski new runs one after another never skiing the same twice. The real treat was our last run 600m vertical down the famous Middle basin. Mike took a steep chute and I stayed in the more sensible bowl while Brett skied ahead showing us the way. After countless wide-open turns we arrived on the access road where we yahooed and dished out a few high fives. It was the cheapest heli-ski run I have ever had! We left our gear on the roadside and walked the 10 minutes back to the bar that we visited what seemed like a lifetime ago. Now the bar was cranking with ski movies, music and smiles. We met some more of the locals who convinced us to come back for a ski week in the future. On the drive back to Methven we reflected on our amazing day. Brett told us that the other clubs offer great skiing as well and that they are all very different from each other. We said that we will be back and had never experienced skiing like this before. Although it was just another day in paradise for Brett, for us it was skiing as it should be. We will be back!
Craigieburn, Hamilton Peak
IMAGE: Black Diamond Safaris
Black Diamond Safaris 4x4