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

Go Travel New Zealand - - Canterbury - by J B Dixon

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!


Black Di­a­mond Sa­faris 4x4

Craigieburn, Hamil­ton Peak IM­AGE: Black Di­a­mond Sa­faris

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