Taking the Piste – Rachael Oakes-Ash
By Rachael Oakes-AshAll Photos by:
Ted Sealey (www.me-ted.com)
& Rachael Oakes-Ash
When the chopper rolls out its time to drop in.
Christchurch is the epicentre of some of New Zealand’s truly unique snow experiences. Queenstown may have the bling of an Aspen-esque resort town and Wanaka may have the intelligent beauty of a town secure with it’s soul but Christchurch has the goods.
Within two hours of Christchurch airport you could be schussing the slopes of New Zealand’s clubfields, heli skiing the Arrowsmiths, cat skiing the McKenzie country or you could be getting your first taste for heli at the uber cool Heli Park .
Heli Park started life as a working sheep farm before creating the Mt Potts cat skiing experience with a quick heli flight up to the mountain from the Mt Potts lodge and a day traversing the terrain in a snow cat. Either way it sure beats hiking.
The lodge and farm remain but the snow cat has been put out to pasture, replaced by Heli Pro’s super schmick helicopters manned by stunt style pilot, Andy Shearer who surely has one of the best jobs in the world. He ferries folks up and down the Heli Park terrain with joy stick control and the sky as his playground. Shame he doesn’t get to make some tracks on the snow terrain below but that’s all the more for us.
The premise for Heli Park is simple, stay in the lodge the night before and enjoy some seriously fine gourmet cuisine in a relaxed environment. Bed down in the basic single room or bunk dorm accommodation and prepare yourself in the morning with a hearty breakfast. Then it’s game on as the chopper replaces the chairlift.
The first ride up on to the private mountain costs NZ$225 then it’s choose your line and make your mark. The chopper will pick you up again at the bottom and it will cost you NZ$85 for every subsequent run. Simply point out the chute, open bowl, mellow or steep face you fancy next and Andy will drop you there.
Mt Potts is regularly avalanche controlled with heli bombing when required to reduce the risk of avalanche so safety is premium. The guides Brownie, James and Michael ensure safety is maintained and help you find the secret stashes if they’re not playing in them themselves.
If you want to save your cash then take your time or do some hiking or build a kicker to test your metal. If you’re cashed up then the record this season is ten runs, a number waiting to be beaten.
We scored the goods on our day. The weather in Canterbury, actually the weather in the South Island, this August has been temperamental. We were drenched by torrential downpour at the Mecca of big mountain free skiing, Temple Basin, for two nights and caught out by gale force winds at Craigieburn which had us channel surfing from our villa at Terrace Downs for days. Some weeks you get that but when it’s on it’s on and Heli Park rose bright with a blue sky after some fresh snow which meant first tracks for all.
(Click on any image to open the Photo Gallery)
Heli Park is a fantastic canape for those with the desire to heli ski but without the deep pockets. Marie Claire and her husband Mark are passionate about their mountain and also offer Southern Alps heli skiing outside of the controlled Heli Park terrain.
The only downside is if it doesn’t snow for a week then it is harder to find the fresh tracks. However Marie Claire and Mark manage this challenge well with some serious timing schedules for open days and juggling clients wanting to heli ski and those wanting to use the Heli Park. Chances are you will get fresh tracks anything from 60% to 100% of your day on the snow. Most of the mountain funnels down into the heli pick up point so don’t expect that area to be free from tracks, it won’t be.
Lunch is provided and eaten in the sun outside the mid mountain hut. We had fifteen snowboarders and skiers sharing the mountain on the day with more than enough to go around ten times over – a regular heli ski day means sharing the mountain with only those in the chopper, which is usually five. After the first run in smooth silky powder snow it is easy to get carried away in the quest to beat the ten run limit but by run six our legs are already giving way.
This is no commercial ski resort and that’s why so many folks return for the great outdoors, the remote location and surely one of the most spectacular drives in to a mountain lodge. Just watch out for the sheep.