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New Zealand's Southern Alps - A Playground for the Snow-Mad

© By Sue Harper
  August 16th. Eight a.m. Zero degrees. It's still dark. The bus pulls up in front of our motel, and Chris, the driver, loads our skis into the cargo hold. As we head out of town toward Treble Cone, the snow-capped mountains are turning pink with the rising sun.
     Yes, there are winter-mad people who will sacrifice warm summers to have just a few more days on the snow. We're exploring New Zealand's Southern Alps, and for our base camp we've chosen Wanaka, set in the heart of the mountains.
     The highway winds along the shores of pristine Lake Wanaka with a spectacular view of Mount Aspiring, one of New Zealand's highest peaks. As we climb the last few kilometers to the ski hill, the 15 metre poplars in the valley look like tall grass and we're convinced the bus will drop off the cliff at each precipitous hairpin turn. No one else seems concerned.
     Finally, we get our first glimpse of the ski area. The entire face is treeless and open. Coming from Canada where we ski tree-lined trails, we wonder, "Where exactly are the runs?" Treble Cone is spread over three basins. Of all the commercial areas, it is the most challenging. We find groomed intermediate runs above the main chalet but the more exciting conditions, we discover, are off the piste in the natural pipes and on the steeps. But once off piste, runs clearly labeled on the trail map, are difficult to locate. Hopelessly lost, we're lucky to pick up a TC local who helps us find our way around. I strongly recommend a mountain tour. Skiers and boarders looking for the gnarliest terrain on the mountain will find it in the Mototapu Chutes or at The Summit. Be forewarned. Neither of these areas is serviced by lifts!
     There are three other ski fields near Wanaka: Cardrona, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Tame in comparison to TC, they offer a wider variety of family-friendly beginner and intermediate runs. The eateries and uphill capacity are superior to Treble Cone's and there are some interesting drop-offs, chutes and off-piste skiing to discover.
     Freestylers especially will love the state of the art terrain parks at these three fields. But if they want even more, they can catch big air at The Snow Park, an area dedicated solely to freestyle riding.
     Back country skiers and boarders won't be disappointed by Wanaka's great location. Powder hounds can book heli-skiing by the day or can be dropped into one of many huts for an extended back-country stay.

New Zealand Alps  Cardrona  Cardrona  Lake Wanaka 

     Off slope, Wanaka is hard to beat. The winter weather is mild enough to enjoy gentle walks and more challenging hikes. Maps and weather information can be found at the Department of Conservation. Puzzling World, challenges visitors to navigate the outdoor maze or solve at least 50 puzzles in the free puzzle room. Jet-boating, tandem sky-diving and bungee jumping are all within a short drive from town. For an indoor experience, world-class wineries offer tastings, tours, and often fine dining always with spectacular views.
     Powder addicts be warned: while the Southern Alps have some of the best conditions in New Zealand, they can't be compared to North America's western provinces or states. Snow falls only at higher elevations and just like North America, there can be bad years with sketchy conditions. August and September are the best months to go.

Snow Park  Treble Cone  Treble Cone  Treble Cone 

     Wherever you are in the Southern Alps, on and off the slopes, take your camera. It's almost impossible to take a bad picture. What will be impossible is deciding which photos to drop!

Sue Harper lives in Kelowna BC. She is the author of 12 Language Arts textbooks and 3 non-fiction books for teens. She has written articles for Okanagan Life, Okanagan Arts and Thompson Okanagan Outdoors as well as guest columns for The Courier, Kelowna's Daily newspaper.

Photo Credits
Sue Harper

If you go
Wanaka, New Zealand
as seen on
YouTube
Cardrona and Treble Cone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfSTP1bBnH0
Speed soaring and kiting at Cardrona: http://www.cardrona.com/multimedia.html
The Remarkables: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kZRPfNoTMg
Snow Park: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V39Ws8OwOIs&feature=related
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanaka
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Wanaka

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/




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