The South Island is where the big guns come to play – cashed up leisure skiers and cash poor time rich ski pros. Don’t be surprised if you see Kiwi Freeride World Tour big mountain skiers Sam Smoothy and Janina Kuzma at Federal Diner when you grab a flat white to go.
The US Ski team regularly train at Coronet Peak and Treble Cone, the world’s best terrain park aficionados compete at Cardrona, and the likes of Seth Morrison and Glen Plake have already discovered the quirky rope tow accessed backcountry meccas known as ‘the club fields.’
Pick a personality and just follow in their footsteps.
Pick of the Club Fields
This is one crazy mofo of a mountain. If you survive the sheer drop off unpaved drive up and then figure out how to hook your harness belt onto the seriously sporty rope tow to make it to the base lodge, then you’ll be greeted by multi generational members of the best kept secret in Canterbury, Mt Olympus.
There’s a hot tub, a big assed hot tub, at altitude, that many a skier or boarder has launched themselves over. There is also a dress up box in the bunked out lodge for when the party momentum takes you. Plus a resident chef who plans the meals with guests all chipping in to cut, peel, slice and dice, and a barman with a heavy hand to ensure the dress up box gets a work out.
Skiing is epic and ungroomed, a giant playground of powder terrain, simply pick your line. Be warned, you may not want to leave, which can be arranged as lift pass, lodging and board is super cheap thanks to shared bunk rooms and that aforementioned chores board.
If you are lucky you’ll be there during a curling evening when the mid mountain frozen over pond gets a curling workout with a pond side ice bar serving whiskey. It’s all very loose and skiing down is then done by headlamp.
This beast of a mountain is accessed via a bush bashing 4wd trail through lower slope forest. The (are you seeing a theme?) nutcracker rope tow here is run by a tractor set up on bricks in a shed half way up the mountain. The ignition is turned over in the morning and voila, the cable is moving and you hook yourself on. Three rope tows will get you to the top of the peak with access to some seriously wicked finger chutes and steep face open bowls.
This is all backcountry terrain, no groomers here, so wear your beacon. If you’re game, you can make a short hike over the ridge and cross over into the neighboring Broken River club field accessible on your Craigieburn ski pass. There’s a mid mountain day lodge with a bbq where locals cook up fresh venison hunted within the region.
Luggage gets the five star works at Temple Basin car park where it is loaded onto a goods lift that takes it to the top and into the lodge. Skiers and boarders, however, have to hike around forty-five minutes to the top. It is the only way in to this 320 hectare (nearly 800 acre) remote club field near Arthur’s Pass in Canterbury.
You’ll find rope tows accessing four main basins and a hell of a lot of hike to terrain that will reward your efforts with steep pitched descents. Lodging is again, basic and bunks. Kitchen is communal and the club field is a favorite of local university students, so expect big parties.
Vistas are a thing in New Zealand. Every mountain has one and they just get better and better. Ohau has a doozey, a stunning lake provides the eye candy as you head down the ski hill.
Found half way between Christchurch and Wanaka, Ohau is a hybrid of intrepid club field and commercial resort. You won’t find nutcracker rope tows here, you will find chair lifts and a lodge at the bottom of the access road that provides comfortable accommodation in ensuite rooms with views of the lake and the restaurant serves up gourmet meals where you don’t have to roll up your sleeves to help.
But like a club field there are no lift lines and no alternative accommodation to what is on offer. Terrain is 20% beginner, 50% intermediate and 30% advanced over 600 hectares (nearly 1,500 acres).
Everyone has a nickname in the farming town of Methven an hour from Christchurch – Cheesey, Bluey, Red – resulting in a plethora of salutations not related to the person’s actual real name. You’ll meet them at the originally named Blue Pub, or at the Brown Pub named after, yep, the colors of their exterior walls.