BOOTHY”S BLOG – Skiing the Tasman Glacier

August 16th, 2010

View of Mt Cook from the Hermitage Lodge.

Blog | Chris Booth
Images | Courtesy Chris Booth

New Zealand had a fairly ordinary July. The one or two snow falls didn’t deliver much to the South Island and the alpine conditions were more or less below average. Then as August kicked off, things deteriorated even further. This was the unfortunate reality for the World Heli Challenge competitors who, after seeing last year’s incredible conditions, were confronted with two days of consecutive rainfall at 2000m followed by a brutal freeze on the ever of the event, creating arguably the worst conditions of any big mountain contest, ever.

Ironically, of perhaps just painfully, a nice little system rolled through the alps the day after the event, dropping up to 50cm from Mt Cook Northwards. So, having had little opportunity to ski good terrain for a good month, I jumped at the idea of two days flying in the Aoraki/Mt Cook region to shoot for Rip Curl’s winter 2011 catalogue. After a month long dry spell i was finally going to ski some real powder.

Rumours of instability in the snow pack were circulating throughout Hermitage Hotel – the spectacular heritage-listed climbers lodge that’s home to heli enthusiasts. Our guide explained to us, with visible discomfort, how two members of the Burton team were swept away in a grade 3 avalanche the day we arrived (all were fine). In respect of that the call was made, we would take a snowplane up to the Tasman glacier for our first day, where we could stay safe in some low-angle glacier terrain and then follow that up with a heli the next day.

At 27km in length, the Tasman Glacier is New Zealand’s longest glacier. It is as much as 4km wide and 600m deep, and lies entirely within the borders of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The glacier covers an area of 101 square kilometres and starts at a height of 3000m above sea level. With that sort of altitude, the glacier had captured 60cm of cold, dry snow from the storm and to us, was waiting to be tracked.

Glaciated mountains in the east-aoraki region.

Buckled glacial ice, fraught with danger but tempting for skiers.

Andy Finch finding some transition in the Lower Darwin Ice field.

Amazing ice crags.

Andy Finch and our ride.