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June 2016

Pre-season ski adventure at Tasman Glacier

Skiing the Tasman Glacier

By Elmo Cotter

It was Thursday afternoon before Queens Birthday weekend and I was packing up to head home from work when I received an email. "Hey, we are going to Mt Cook for some ski touring if you want to join. You'd have to be here tomorrow night. Back Monday evening. Cheers, Dad"

The ski fields were still a week away from opening and about a week earlier there was a huge snowfall throughout the south island, I had been itching for a ski since!

"Count me in!"

24 hours of anticipation later and I was in Wanaka gathering my gear from all over the show. Due to last season’s gear not all being up to scratch I was able to treat myself to some new Smith goggles and an O’Neill ski Jacket from Outside Sports. We packed our bags and went to bed for an early start. 

After loading up on a full-monty breakfast and checking avalanche.net.nz to assess the conditions we were on the way to Mt Cook, I was still unsure of what was planned for the trip. Once there we met some friends who just the night before had decided to join us at Mt Cook airport for a 10am chopper into Tasman Saddle.

Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

We flew past Mount Cook and up the length of the Tasman glacier, scouting the area we planned to ski for the long weekend. We were dropped at an altitude of 2000m and as the sound of the helicopter drained away, we found ourselves in knee deep snow surrounded mountains and without another soul in sight.

"The sky was blue, there was not a breath of wind, the snow was light and frost dried. Perfect conditions - we were amazed to see we had it all to ourselves". 

 Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

As we walked over to the hut we found the door almost completely buried in snow, which we had to dig out before moving our stuff inside. After a cup of tea and some admiration of the stunning views of Mt Darwin, Mt Aylmer the valley back down the glacier to Mt Cook; it was time to put the skis on! 

Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

Our first slope was up toward Mt Aylmer and after an hour or so of skinning uphill we were at the top looking down the Maximilian Range. Time to get rid of the skins and switch to ski mode. Yew!

 Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

"Between the 5 of us, we cut 10 fresh tracks down the wide untouched slope and had a great time getting our skiing legs back on".

As the sun started to set behind the hills we got back to the hut for a big dinner and stories around the table. 

Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

The next day we bounced out of bed and got prepared for another day of it. The recent wind had been blowing snow into North Westerly facing slopes and due to the consistent snowfall and cold weather, most terrain was at low avalanche risk. We spotted some steeper slopes in the shade below Hochsetter Dome and headed straight over. When we got to the base of the slope we found the snow was even lighter and deeper than what we were skiing the day before – just what we were hoping for.

 Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

We cut some skinning tracks zigzagging up the hill and spent the whole day making the most of this awesome zone. The snow was about shin deep and if you really turned hard into it in the right spot you could almost get a face full of snow. We made lines between the crevasses until the whole area was covered in our tracks. Even found a couple of spots to jump off.

Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

The sun started to drop behind the hills and we squeezed one final run in before it went dark. After a full day of skiing, we were more than ready to get cosy in the hut and rest the legs.

The next morning we set out to ski down the glacier to the bottom of the valley. After a short skin up we started the 15-20km journey. The terrain was quite flat on the glacier so we just cruised down admiring the scenery as we went.

Tasman Glacier Elmo Cotter Outside Sports NZ

Several hours later we found ourselves near the top of the Tasman lake with scroggin levels depleted and our legs spent. It was time to go back to the real world.

"It may seem difficult to drop everything and head off on an adventure for the weekend but all you really need is the right gear and a keen attitude - everything else is right on our doorstep".

Happy birthday to the Queen!



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