Best ski lifts down south #2 Heritage Express Rope Tow Roundhill

Heritage express rope tow Roundhill

The Heritage Express Rope Tow at Roundhill is billed as the ‘World’s fastest rope tow’ which, for anyone who has ever struggled to ride a nutcracker tow, is a scary concept in itself.
The most vertical of any lift in New Zealand, at 643m, is a less scary claim, and gives you an indication that this rope tow is special even in the home of rope tows – the Hamilton Tow invented by Kiwis was the bees knees of Australasian lift technology, using the term loosely, back in the early 1950s when it was exported to places like Hotham.

as good a line as any in nz © roundhil

Along with the run out to the mellow other side of Roundhill it adds up to provide the biggest lift served vertical in OZ or NZ, at 783m – yep, they have got more than better known places there like Treble Cone or Turoa, never mind Australia’s best at Thredbo.
It’s just off the main drag south from Christchurch to Wanaka/Queenstown, so there’s absolutely no excuse for not checking it out. You haven’t skied NZ till you’ve sampled the terrain off the Heritage Express.
Up and coming Kiwi freerider Craig Murray, who in March qualified himself for the Freeride World Tour full tour next season, is a fan.
“Roundhill is a very unique ski field. It is so close to NZ’s most impressive peaks, and has an awesome Kiwi feel. The rope tow is incredible, they are my favourite type of lift, so to have one reaching that many vertical meters is crazy. The pitches you can ride off the rope tow are some of the longest and most consistent in the country.”
Mountain Manager Simon Murrell is justly proud of it, and has a more roundabout explanation for the “Express” tag than visions you may get of detachable chairs zooming up cables.
“There’s nothing really different as far as the fundamentals go, but it’s the biggest one of its type in the world, and it’s running at 5m per second” he says. “The word express really comes from giving you a heck of a lot of altitude in a relatively short amount of time compared to regular ski lifts.”
The average gradient is between 28° and 32° for the just under 1500m long ride.

boarders have it tougher on the nutcracker, but this is your reward © roundhill

“It’s a relatively easy rope tow to ride, it’s got consistent fall-line, so you’re constantly sitting back in your harness so the rope does all the work” Simon continues, “it’s a straight line with a nice camber on it so if you do come off you just slide away, we haven’t had any problems since it opened.”
After you ride it you get the really fun part. Don’t expect grooming off the rope tow either – the whole point is to access the untracked.
“We groom up to the bottom five towers of the lift line, just to make it nice and comfortable taking off, but after that you’re on your own” says Simon with a smile.
They also have an innovative one ride pass for backcountry skiers/riders. The massive amount of terrain off the backside is uncontrolled and unpatrolled, so when you buy a one lift ride ticket they check your gear and you sign in /out with ski patrol, so they know who’s out there. If you know your stuff the options there are huge, but sneaking out without letting patrol know is pretty stupid.
What you can see off the ridgeline back down to the tow is good enough for most, especially on a powder day. Midweeks out of NZ school holidays you will get your fair share of fresh if you get in early – there are no large towns close by.
“It’s one of the more unique settings you get in New Zealand – it gives you a real sense of being out in the mountains. You look northwest across the turquoise lake out to Mt Cook towering above the ranges on the other side, and look the other way you can see the ocean on the eastern side. It’s not just skiing, it’s more of an adventure riding the tow” says Murrell.
It’s also poor man’s heliskiing when it’s on, and 100% worth stopping to check out if you’re driving from Christchurch to the Queenstown area.
Two t-bars and some easy cruisy terrain and a big race training area on the main side of Roundhill complement the tow area.
There’s stuff to do for families and couples as well, with Tekapo Springs complex offering hot pools, a big ice skating rink and a tubing park. Over the last decade star gazing has become a huge item, attracting thousands of international tourists and putting pressure on accommodation and facilities in Tekapo. So book ahead if you can. Of course NZ’s most spectacular heliskiing, Mt Cook Heliski, is close by and a day on the tow is as good warm up for a big heli day as you can get.
more at the resort website here