As we helicoptered straight towards a knife edge ridge high in New Zealand’s southern alps for our first run of the day my thoughts turned to what my friends would have been up to around the same time. Chances are most were rushing through peak hour before grabbing a coffee to help them kick start yet another day in the office.. story Bronwen Gora
We, on the other hand, were flying through a spectacular mountain range on a bluebird day, moments away from landing on a strip of snow narrower than a dining table, flanked by a cliff on one side and a 40 degree-plus slope of untracked powder on the other. No need for coffee here. Just looking at that fast-approaching ridge and the steep slope plunging off to one side had our hearts pumping hard enough.
While the commuters back home settled into their cubicles, we leapt out of the helicopter and clung to the side of the mountain self-arrest style. The chopper took off after our guide unloaded the skis, and we clambered back up to the ridge to click in a take in the 360 degree vista around us.
Such are the thoughts inspired by helicopter skiing, one of the most indulgent and spectacularly enjoyable ways to spend your time (if you’re an avid skier or boarder). While this hobby will definitely leave your credit card more than a little warm, heli skiing is one of the most liberating pursuits to sign up for – and let’s face it, there’s a reason you spend all those hours in the traffic and the office. Being whisked in minutes to the top of a mountain that would take days or weeks to reach on foot, then skiing perfect untracked powder snow for almost a kilometre or more, would have to rank right up there among the best ways to spend your hard-earned cash.
Snow Action had exactly one of these days helicopter skiing last year with Southern Lakes Heliski on New Zealand’s South Island. What’s more we managed to score a day skiing with our friends Chris and Prue Walsh who own Base ski store in Wanaka which made the day all the more special.
Our guides were two of Southern Lakes Heliski’s best and longest serving, Phil Penney and Tarn Pilkington. Phil, a Robert Plant look-a-like, is a chilled out New Zealander whose relaxed nature to landing on such a seemingly extreme slope first thing in the morning made it seem like a perfectly normal thing to do. We loved every minute of it anyway, and the snow was absolutely perfect. The steep pitch ran out into a large bowl with an enormous long natural half pipe off to one side which the snowboarders shredded to pieces.
The next run, we landed on just as tiny a pocket on a saddle across the valley. We were skiing in the Minarets, an aptly named arrangement of dramatic craggy spires soaring sharply into the sky above Lake Wanaka. Just being up here made us feel like stars in our own ski movie.
We tore down the couloir ahead of us and skied as far down as we could until the snow gave way to tussock and undergrowth. But we weren’t the only ones here.
The bushes rustled and then a small furry face popped up. Two big brown eyes checked us out and then the rest of the small deer emerged. Yet instead of running away from us, this little munchkin decided to run just a few metres in front of us before disappearing into the wilderness. Even Phil couldn’t believe its boldness – and he has been skiing here for well over a decade.
The helicopter had to take Tarn’s group back to the airfield so we had plenty of time to bask in the sun and contemplate how lucky we were. This is nature at its best.
SLHS have been operating for nearly 30 years, earning a huge reputation for quality trips and great customer service. This year they have added even more terrain to the north of Wanaka, and their one stop shops at BASE 2 Wanaka or RnR Sport Queenstown offer everything you need for your big day out. Daily helisking involves joining a group of 5 with other people of similar ability. There is a choice of 3, 4, 6, or 8 runs with extra runs being able to be booked on the day. They also offer Private Charters, a great way to ski with 5 of your mates, you can get 10-15 runs in a day. Or you can use your helitime to explore the area, go to Milford Sound and ski a few runs on the way back. You call the shots and the guide looks after you. Southern Lakes heliski even offers a Semi-private charter for groups up to 10. There is nothing better then skiing with a group of friends! Private charters start at $6500NZD for 5 people. Weekly packages were offered last year and have continued to grow in popularity. Accommodations are unique such as private yachts and remote lodges. There is a package for everyone, from a backpacker budget to complete exclusiveness. These start at $1699NZD pp. Daily Heliskiing starts at $880NZD pp, or 10% less with a
SnowAction discount, just book and pay in full before July 30th & quote ACTION10 for you discount at www.heliskinz.com