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Trip Report – Ski Touring in Queenstown

By: Ryan Thomas

Source: The Otago Climber Newsletter (September 2019)

An awful ski season.

An atrocious weather forecast.

A desperate need to go skiing.

What else to do but organize a ski touring trip?

And so it was that we three – Juliet, Jono, and myself – set out for Queenstown for a weekend of ski touring. I was not particularly optimistic about the weather forecast or our ability to ski anything while there. A cold front indicated that there should be fresh snow, but MetService was calling for 60 km/h winds that would lead to appalling skiing conditions. The avalanche forecast for Saturday was not very inspiring, either. And yet we persisted, leaving Dunedin after work, stopping in Alexandra for kebabs, and getting to our Queenstown hostel near 10 pm on Friday night.

On waking on Saturday morning, I was slightly more hopeful. The rain in Queenstown had stopped, and I could actually see the stars. After a quick breakfast we drove to the Remarkables ski field, picking up Heather the birthday girl on the way. We had some fun halfway up the road putting on chains in the only falling snow for the whole weekend, but eventually we made it to the parking lot where there was actual sun and almost no wind. We talked briefly with ski patrol about conditions, then proceeded to skin up the resort to Wye Creek saddle.

It was a popular day to be out and about in the Remarkables, not least because the Remarkables Ice and Mixed Festival was that weekend. We followed a rather nice skin track made by the backcountry ski touring course to the saddle, and obliged their hard work by not stealing first tracks down the other side.
Heather and Jono make the most of Wye Creek.

While we prepared to ski down to Wye Creek, the clouds lifted and we were treated to a beautiful view of the Wye Creek valley and the undisturbed blanket of snow that lay upon it.

Skiing down from the saddle was a sublime experience. Graceful turns in perfect, dry powder on a solid base in the sunshine without wind – it doesn’t get any better. Fresh tracks were available for everyone. From the lake at the bottom, we skinned over to a small spur where we did a few laps in more perfect snow, although we backed off on one slope because it had got way too warm! The clouds swept in and out like the sea and treated us with ever-changing views of Wye Creek. It was with great reluctance that we headed back to the ski field, but we arrived there after everyone had left, and it made for a great experience skiing down the empty field.

On Sunday, we (but without Heather) skinned up Cardrona to ski in the bowls behind the ski field. If possible, Sunday was a better day than Saturday – blue skies, not a cloud to be seen. More perfect powder sitting mostly untracked in SoHo Basin. We managed almost the first tracks in the basin and certainly the first tracks on a small, cool-looking couloir near the bottom.

From the bottom, we skinned to the top of Mount Cardrona and drank in the expansive views of the surrounding mountains. We managed to make two more laps of SoHo Basin before getting way too tired to continue and heading home. It might not sound like much, but we managed to ski nearly 3000 m in a weekend – not bad for my first time out all year!

Posted: 05/09/19

Posted By: Narina Sutherland