Spring Skiing in New Zealand
New Zealand is a special place where there are literally hundreds of huts scattered throughout the country. Many of these are a couple of hours hike away while some are tucked deep into the mountains requiring a helicopter or sheer determination to reach. The Tasman Saddle hut is one of the latter. It is perched on a rock outcrop at 2300 meters within the Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park. Most people choose to take a helicopter or snowplane to this hut. Yet, there are some people, mainly in the summer, the choose the long arduous accent over moraines and broken glaciers to the 2300 meter hut.
As fall begins to set into place in the Northern Hemisphere it is the perfect time to take the long journey to New Zealand and begin the ski season with some beautiful spring skiing. Nothing is better than spring skiing twice a year! Though skiing in New Zealand is quite different than in North America it is no less spectacular. The snowline in New Zealand is generally quite high making the access more difficult, but well worth the effort. The weather in New Zealand is also quite unstable. The storms form out in the Tasman Sea and the North Westerly systems can cause high winds, no visibility, and large amounts of snow (over 70 cm in one day sometimes!).
Patience is the key to spending time in the mountains. As the rain and snow fell in the Mount Cook Village we waited patiently for the weather to change. Well, more accurately we constantly checked the weather in hopes fly into the Tasman Saddle Hut. On the third morning, the weather had cleared and it was time to head into the Tasman Saddle Hut. This hut along with the majority of the huts in New Zealand is run by The Department of Conservation, better known as DOC. There is no booking system for the huts and though there is a nightly radio call with a weather update you are never really sure how many people will be in the hut when you arrive. Cross your fingers and hope for a bed, but always knowing true to the New Zealand style no matter how busy the hut is everyone will make room for more.
The flight into the hut is jaw-dropping. The mountains are steep with large broken crevasses and seracs in every direction. The tiny red hut is anchored on a small outcrop of rocks. On one side of the hut is a vertical rock wall and on the other side large seracs. Needless to say, the path between the outhouse and the hut needs to be walked with care. The hut is a comfortable size with bunks surrounding a big wooden table and long counter to meltwater and prepares your food. The hut is quite chilly though, be prepared to wear everything that you have brought with you and wrap yourself in a wool blanket. It makes the mornings feel a bit more like winter camping, but the location and terrain make the chilly night’s worthwhile.
The Tasman Glacier below the hut is actually quite tame for the area. It is relatively flat and not too many open crevasses. There are daily glacier walks and “Ski the Tasman” as well as sightseeing tours so you won’t feel completely alone out there. Once you break away from the Tasman there is so much exploring to be done. There is ski touring and an abundance of ski mountaineering right outside the front door. There are steep slopes, icy ridge climbs, broken glaciers, and seracs to navigate. During our time at the hut, we could go from skiing light powder on one aspect to perfect corn on the other aspect. We hit the weather window just right and took advantage of a couple of beautiful bluebird days. Once we heard the North Westerly flow was coming back we arranged a ski plane back to Mount Cook Village. Only a couple of days in an area like this is never enough! There will definitely be future trips to the Tasman Saddle Hut!
By: Zoe Hendrickson