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Early season ski touring – The Remarkables

We stood at the base of The Remarkables Ski Resort, and looked up at the school holiday traffic. I was very happy knowing that we were headed into the backcountry, searching for some quieter and hopefully, fresh turns. Meanwhile it was a zoo out there. Snowboarders cutting people off, out of control kids followed by their shouting parents (or vice versa) and ski racers weaving through it all. Morgs, Fergs and I had started putting our skins on when I looked up and saw Josh skiing over to the chair.
“Are you actually catching the chair?” I asked him. Although Josh and I had passes, Morgs and Fergs didn’t.
“Absolutely” he said in his trademark way. “I payed for this pass, I’m gonna use it,” he shouted back as he joined the lift line.
‘Fair enough’ I shrugged as we started skinning upward. For an hour we skinned up the resort to its highest chair, dodging the incoming masses and getting heckled from the chair lifts. Meanwhile Josh cut a few laps, but mercifully he avoided spraying us as he went past. I find it incredible how relaxed the resort is about this sort of activity. Back home you would probably have snow patrol on you in minutes.
By the time we reached the boundary line and the ensuing boot pack, the three of us were down to our base layers and Josh was chilling on a bench at the top looking smug.
The short and well worn boot pack over the col rewarded us with breathtaking views of the Wye Creek valley blanketed in snow, and while there were a few tracks here and there, there wasn’t a soul in sight…

View back towards single cone and where we entered the valley.

…that is until you turned 180 degrees to be met by the raucous crowds of the resort. Quite the juxtaposition. We put away our skins and traversed along the bowl testing for the softest snow to drop in on. Below us someone had dug an avalanche pit to test the conditions. We knew from previous pits and some shared community knowledge, that while there were underlying facets from a brief rain a few weeks ago, the layer wasn’t wildly reactive nor were the slopes we were aiming for particularly susceptible. Nevertheless we turned on our transceivers and Morgs dropped in. A few creamy turns brought him to the bottom of the short slope and he turned around to exclaim how pleased he was that it wasn’t crusty. With the test dummy safely down, I dropped in next, did one turn then found myself pointed straight at a nasty sharks fin rock. I quickly split my legs around it then performed a few more sloppy turns. The snow while not crusty, was quite heavy and after skiing nothing but groomers for three weeks, it was quite a change. Once into the valley we scanned around for an appropriate spot to set up camp. We had forgotten to check the direction of the forecast winds so we tried our best to find the most sheltered spot from as many directions as possible. After inspecting a large rock for loose debris we decided to camp at its base about two km from the col. We dumped our bedding and tents and then hightailed it to a nice looking bowl about two km further into the valley. Unfortunately being early season a lot of the bigger lines weren’t filled in enough to ski. That was OK as Josh has only been skiing for three weeks and I wasn’t looking to hurt myself.

Skinning to camp. 100% Pure NZ

We traversed onto the top of the bowl and began whacking the cornice with our poles. Again Morgs dropped first and we all listened attentively for the telltale scraping of icy or crusty conditions…Nothing.

The snow was quite good here although the run was a bit short. Fergs dropped next and punched out some stylish telemark turns. I was a bit slower getting my skins off and transferring back to ski mode, but soon I was on the lip ready to drop in. I was nervous due to my poor technique earlier in the day but I committed and dropped in. I started by traversing, just feeling out the snow conditions until I was comfortable enough to blast some turns to the bottom. The results slightly less sloppy than my previous attempt. Josh wasn’t feeling too confident and stayed at the top taking some photos.

Dropping in, still getting my off-piste legs back. Fergs on video duty in the bowl.

It was on now, we all headed back up to the top where Fergs travelled further afield for a slightly longer yet rockier line. I tried my hardest to jump in off the wind lip albeit with no way to gain speed and Morgs oozed style down the untracked side.

Fergs charging.
Morgs scoring the trips hero shot.
Once he got his courage up, Josh showed incredible technique considering he was snowplowing down the magic carpet three weeks earlier.

After a fun couple of hours shredding the bowl we raced the sun back to set up camp.

After testing who had the best wax job the boys put their skins on. Headed for the rock out in the distance.

Luckily for us, no Kea’s had attacked our gear. But as we were setting up we realised that we all forgot snow pegs, DOH! I unscrewed the baskets off my poles and also used our probes to secure the tent. We hoped that it wouldn’t be too windy during the night, as both our tents were running on only four ‘pegs’. I did tie the guy ropes out to my skis for some added security.

Setting up camp and cooking dinner in front of Single Cone

We had setup and were just finishing dinner, when a spectacular full moon rose above the ridge. The skies were still clear but we went to bed expecting to wake up to low cloud and fresh snow. Before we went to bed we took a bearing back to the resort in case of a complete whiteout.

It was a bright night.

Thirteen hours, that’s how long we spent in our tents listening to the wind flap away at our tents. I didn’t sleep much but was plenty warm. I can’t vouch for the others though.

When will the tent stop flapping?

Alas when we finally emerged from our tents it was evident that the supposed fifteen centimetres of snow had in fact been none, but on the bright side, it was bright and sunny out. No need for that compass bearing then. We packed up camp and headed for a slope closer to our exit over the Wye saddle.

Skinning accross the valley early in the morning.

This slope had a few crusty patches on it, but also some more interesting lines with some small chutes and a fun little gully. We were skiing with our full overnight packs however, which does make free riding more challenging.

An extra 12kg on your back makes landing a lot harder.

We were having a blast but opted to leave early as the Morgs and Fergs wanted to hit the road to Arthur’s pass, and Josh needed to pack for his flight the next day. So we began the skin up to Wye Saddle.

Morgs skinning for home.

We crested to some horrendous wind howling over the pass, It’s fair to say that’s the fastest I’d taken my skins off all trip.

Battling the wind at Wye Saddle.

We traversed high over Lake Alta looking out over the ski resort and across the Wakatipu Basin to Coronet peak. I had been enjoying how quiet the backcountry was and I’d forgotten how busy the resort was. By this stage we were pretty keen to get to the car so we traversed the thin conditions and dropped into the resort where we blasted down the groomers and back to the base building.

I can see my car from here, and almost my house.

For an early season tour, with limited fitness, thin snow coverage and mixed abilities it was an awesome night out and has made me even more excited for many more tours and fresh turns. Now for a good nights sleep without a flapping tent fly.

Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments below. Contact me if you’re keen to adventure together and be sure to subscribe via email to never miss out on my latest posts.


Avid outdoors man, aspiring mountain guide and author of 'For love of the Mountains'

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