Splitboarding in New Zealand
By Lachlan Humphreys / Clean Line Productions.
Each year I head over to New Zealand from Australia to get my snow fix. There is something about New Zealand that continually draws me back and keeps me exploring. I’m still amazed at how many Australians don’t head across the Tasman during winter, as compared to the Australian backcountry terrain, New Zealand’s offering is superior on all accounts. This year I wanted to get into the backcountry with my split board find some powder and get away from the crowds.
With loose plans to meet my buddy Anthony and hit up the club fields on the South Island, it wasn’t long before my partner Tara caught on and naturally she wanted to join. In order to keep the dynamic equal, the split decision was made. A week with a mate and ten days with my girlfriend, giving me the best of both options.
The trip turned into an epic adventure snowboarding and split-boarding the South Island of New Zealand. We scored some epic powder days, rode some steep chutes and got lost in the backcountry after climbing the wrong route. The trip hit the spot, leaving me exhilarated and inspired to come back again.
I now live and work in Australia after years of being a ski bum living season to season. I now run a film production business and my partner, Tara, is a lawyer. I’m pretty lucky to have such a rocking relationship where we can fill our time with adventures. It takes the sting out of living in Sydney. We met on Tinder when I made the move to Sydney a few years ago. She surfed, snowboarded and lived within a 1km radius, so I swiped right and we matched. I don’t think she expected to meet a ski bum washed up in Sydney. It wasn’t hard to impress the lawyer with radical stories as I quickly evaluated her income and made her pay for dinner (just kidding). From that day on we were on a mission together and each year, when winter hits down under, we voyage to New Zealand.
I have never had a bad time skiing in New Zealand, but you do need time, as conditions aren’t always bang on. With time you get snow, so you will bag a few powder days. I generally try to book a two week trip in August or September, but it’s still very hard to plan where the snow will fall. The conditions are so fickle, it’s hard to predict. But the storms do roll in and snow does fall. I have learnt to just book flights to Christchurch and hold off on the planning of any accommodation. You will ‘almost’ always find something available in the last minute rush. Flying into Christchurch gives you the best options, With no accompdation locked in the island is your oyster within five hours you can be in Wanaka and within two hours you’re at one of the clubbies. This give you the freedom to chase the storm. This is where the ‘Chill Pass’ works a dream, giving you good rates at twelve club fields, plus two days at Treble Cone plus a bunch of perks. We all got Chill Passes, which helped to keep our costs down when it came to lift prices and accommodation. Together with a campervan and later a 4x4, this kept us mobile to chase the snow.
Arriving in Christchurch, picking up a rental and ‘wing-ing’ it, makes me feel like I’m on an adventure rather than a ski week. Anthony, Tara and I all splitboard, which opens up the terrain that the clubbies are so well known for. There are less crowds and great access to some beautiful mountains, giving you the best chance of scoring untracked powder runs that last all day. This coupled with the hilarious rope tow access (which takes some getting used to!) means you can gain vertical meters fast and use your splitboard to skin from ridge to ridge chasing the fresh lines.
So here we are in Christchurch, its dumping, and I’m excited. I have the first week with my buddy Anthony, and we head up to Temple Basin, as all the forecast pointed in that direction.
Temple Basin is a special place, being the most hard to reach club field. You will find the car park west of Arthur’s Pass and the goods lift a little further down the road. Your ski gear gets hauled up to the lodge on the goods lift, which is a rusty lift pulley system. Unfortunately us humans need to hike uphill for 45 minutes. This thins the crowds as it’s not for everybody, but it makes arriving at the lodge an extra special experience. Temple Basin attracts a small breed of snow lovers, so you often find like-minded people at the lodge. It’s the perfect setup on a powder day - good snow, with virtually no people.
Temple Basin has three tow ropes, which give you access to some world class ski terrain. Add a little hike or a tour and this opens up a few big basins, with some steep chutes. For this reason, Temple Basin is my favourite ski area in New Zealand. We shared the lodge with no more that 15 people during the week and although it was a full house on the Saturday, the mountain still seemed empty.
We had great snow. Spending time splitboarding and hiking the chutes fed my craving and left me wanting more. Nowhere is like Temple basin with some gnarly options and enough terrain to get anybody charged. We stayed for five days, which gives you a good taste of what the mountains have on offer. It is also enough time to relax and enjoy the mountain life, escape from the stress of work, with no phone reception and limited internet it makes you take the time to connect with yourself and the few others around.
At the end of our five days, hearing a rumour that new snow was falling in the south, we decided to head to Wanaka. We took the day and drove down the west coast heading for Treble Cone. This is an epic mountain - originally it was tow rope but now its commercial, with two main chairlifts providing access to some great skiing. There are also some great spots for splitboarding, such as booting up to summit rocks and dropping off the back and heading towards Black Peak. We found some great wind blown powder and had a fun time skinning back home. The views are amazing from here and its very worth the effort.
Tara was arriving tomorrow we had opted to grab a 4x4, as the plans to come required some creative driving. The snow was good at TC with more snow expected overnight, so we decided to have another crack. We scored a powder day and managed to be the first group down the famous Mototapu Chutes. We had a great day hooning about, however three is a crowd and as planned it was time to wave off my mate and continue the rest of the trip with Tara.
With plans to go scope out a new zone, we stopped in at Ohau and Mount Dobson. The snow wasn’t that good so it was more of an exploration mission. I like hunting down new places, inspiration for new trips and new film locations. We ended up deciding to stick to the plan, which was to discover a little hut up a river on a farmer’s property. A place I’ve wanted to get to for some time now.
From here things got a little gnarly and way out of our comfort zone. We drove up a river with about twelve river crossings, so the 4x4 was crucial. Feeling very unprepared to say the least, we put the rental car to the test and we were still only half way there. Night was falling and we could hardly see the route up the river bed, so we called it a night and headed back to a hut we had passed a few minutes prior and decided to make that our camp for the night. The tiny hunter’s hut ticked the box for romance and adventure and in the morning we continued to our destination. We almost made it by car to the last hut, but the river seemed to be flowing too fast to cross with the car, so we walked the last 300 meters to the last hut on this route.
The day was cracking on in a rush and not noticing it at the time, we followed the wrong route up to a sketchy col. As the climb got increasingly more difficult, it was obvious something was wrong. With no real escape plan, no PLB and no emergency back-up plan, we noted that actually nobody would even know where we were. Somehow I had forgotten the basic principles I’ve always followed. I was fixed on reaching a destination and now realised I had failed. While these thoughts flooded my mind, I started to feel very stupid and unprepared. We stayed on a cautious vibe, watching carefully as clouds started to roll in overhead. It was then that I worked out we were on the wrong side of the mountain. To no surprise, it was all making sense now, and the vague farmer’s instructions all suddenly became very clear. I had a perfect view of where we should be and we were not in the picture. I managed to get phone reception and checked the snow forecast - it was expected to start snowing down to 600 meters. This meant that our car would get snowed in, with no way to get out. So here we are, perched on a ledge after an epic climb up, the only option was to abort and climb back down.
Pulling the pin on a trip is one of those unsatisfactory noble moments in life. It means you have to come back! The rejection settled and we scrambled back to the car, then backtracked down the river as the night was creeping up on us. We were crossing our fingers it wouldn’t snow yet, as the difficult path back would be covered in snow by morning and impossible to find. We made it… just made it.
Spending that night in a nearby motel, we woke early to rain but temperatures were dropping and with snow forecast to fall, we booked into Craigieburn Club field. This would be our last stop. We took the private bedroom and the catered food option. To our delight, on arrival it started snowing and we woke up to a sunny powder day, spending the next two days getting fresh turns.
Craigieburn was a great way to finish the trip. The ski terrain is fantastic, and while the nutcraker is brutal, once you get into the vibe of these clubbies, you can’t help but want more. The day hut at Craigieburn serves some great lunch, a fireplace to keep you warm and views of all the terrain so you can plan your next line. I was stoked to share a few runs with an old buddy Daniel Bond, a local snowboarder from Christchurch. We skied ourselves out and after a cosy night in the lodge, packed our bags. It was sad to leave the beach forest huts and make our route back to Christchurch, The drive back we spent reflecting on the whole trip it felt like a mission was complete but left enough on the to do list for next time.
Images: Lachlan Humphreys / Clean Line Productions.
Lachlan made the most of the Chill Travel Pass. Chill Travel Passes are shorter term passes that offer both skiing and non-ski day offers at the mountains on the Chill Pass in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.