Canterbury and the forgotten mountains of New Zealand

The lands of the long white cloud have more than a secret hidden in their splendor. The Canterbury region, located on the East coast of the southern island, is a well-kept one. Joe Harrison, subject of Her Majesty – yes, even there – riding black crows skis, recount us about the splendors of this place in words and images.

Steve Eastwood making the most of his secret spot at Broken River.
Steve Eastwood profite au maximum de son spot secret à Broken River.
Joe Harrison

If you are planning a ski trip to the South Island of New Zealand, then you are likely planning to land in Christchurch, jump in a car/van/bus and head south to the Southern Lakes ski towns of Wanaka and Queenstown. There you will ski at The Remarkables and Treble Cone and then party till your head hurts.

But here’s the thing.

When you get in that car/van/bus and drive south you might be in fact be driving away from some of the best skiing in the country. With 12 ski fields spread throughout its mountains, the Canterbury region has more places to ski than any other. Many of these ski fields are community owned not-for-profit ‘club fields’, which means they are kind of like socialist skiing communes

A home from home, sunset at Broken River lodge.
Une maison de chez moi, coucher de soleil sur le lodge de Broken River.

At the club fields you won’t find many groomed runs nor any chair lifts, here the lifts are all 1940s-style rope tows which are a simple, terrifying and effective way of getting you up the mountain.
With no nightclubs for 100 kilometres your best options for Après-ski is to either stay the night at one of the club field lodges and drink whatever you have smuggled up, or head to a country pub and listen to hunting stories from and watch a game rugby on TV.

Tom MacTavish loving some rope tow accessed powder at Broken River.
À Broken River, Tom Mac Tavish s’éclate dans une poudreuse à laquelle on accède par un tire-fesse à corde.
Joe Harrison

Skiers looking to experience a different style of touring to what they might find in the Alps or North America will find what they are looking for in the riverbeds, forests and glaciers of the Canterbury Alps. While the high glaciated peaks of Aoraki Mt Cook National Park are a natural magnet for ski mountaineers, there are plenty of other less committing touring destinations available to adventurous skiers. With over 900 huts located throughout the NZ backcountry, finding a place to stay the night in the mountains is never hard, but don’t forget to bring your hiking shoes and spare socks for those early morning river crossings and long walks back to the car.

Temple Basin has no access road, so skiers must walk 40 minutes up a mountain path to the ski field; gear and beer is carried up via a DIY-style goods lift.
Il n’y a pas de route pour accéder à Temple Basin. Les skieurs doivent marcher 40 minutes sur un chemin de montagne pour rejoindre la station. Quant au matériel et aux bières, ils empruntent un remonte charge bricolé maison.
Joe Harrison

Kiwi winters can be more unpredictable than a Donald Trump Twitter feed, while some storms can cover the entire South Island, other winters will see you skiing a lot of tussock (mountain grass). The good thing is if shit snow is getting you down, you can always ditch the skis and head to one of the many surf breaks along the East Coast, the water will be freezing but nothing a cosy wetsuit, a hot steak pie and flat white coffee can’t fix.

Simon Reeves drops into the Mingha Valley behind Temple Basin.
Simon Reeves plonge dans la vallée de Mingha qui borde Temple Basin.
Joe Harrison

If you focus solely on the snow quality and nightlife, you might be disappointed with a ski trip to little ‘ol NZ, but if you are willing to roll with the punches, earn your turns and are even game enough to swap your Gore-Tex jacket for a wetsuit (and booties) then you will have an adventure that’ll be hard to forget.

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