Ski Touring Information.
The Craigieburn Range is a conservation area managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and is one of Christchurch’s favourite winter playgrounds. The range is made of shattered sedimentary rock, with long shingle slips and beech forest at lower elevations. The skiing is above the bush line, in broad basins and open faces of moderately steep grade. The peaks and ridges contain some rocky knolls with narrow chutes between, although there is usually an easy way around if you are traversing the ridge. The highest peak is Mount Enys (2194 metres) and the winter snowline lies around 1300 to 1400 metres. Snow conditions are usually best from mid July to late September, but can start earlier and persist into October in a good year. North-westerly weather systems bring the bulk of the snowfalls, more so at the northern end of the range, but southerlies can also bring good snowfalls. Snow reports are found on the web at www.snowhq.com/nz The map to buy is the 1:50 000 scale topographical map 260 - K34 Wilberforce, which is available from DOC offices and map retailers, and covers the whole range, except for the Porter Heights skifield which lies just off the lower edge of the map.
There is downhill skiing on 5 small ski areas, with possibility for ski touring between. Most of the ski areas are operated by ski clubs, with lodge accommodation on the mountain. These ski clubs sell Ski Weeks, which are all-inclusive packages of accommodation, food and lift fees. Staying at the ski club lodges can be good value, great fun and a handy base for touring the range, climbing a peak or crossing from one ski area to the next and returning the same day. Often when snow is stable and the weather fine, there are quite a few people going out beyond the ski areas to ski or snowboard the “back basins” without ski touring equipment, creating foot trails part way along the ridges.
Snow conditions can be highly variable, depending for example upon slope aspect, and often quite different in adjacent basins. Ridges are frequently wind affected, and can be quite icy, or even bare of snow. Beware also of cornices on the high ridgelines. The Craigieburns have their fair share of avalanches, and everybody in the group should carry and be familiar with transceivers, probes and shovels. If you are going out from a skifield it is both courteous and potentially life saving to consult the Ski Patrol about backcountry avalanche risk before going out, particularly if you intend leaving your car in their car park! The ski areas all have backcountry risk advisory boards, and some way of leaving intentions. N.B. Make sure that you check out with the patrol when you return, or unnecessary searches can be started!!!
To get to the Craigieburns, follow Yaldhurst Road out of Christchurch and continue on Highway 73, the West Coast Road, through Springfield and over Porter’s Pass. The skifields are well signposted, all of them up gravel roads which often require chains or 4WD in winter, roughly 75 to 90 minutes drive from downtown Christchurch – slightly further to Mt Olympus, which is via Windwhistle rather than Porter’s Pass.
Ski Touring Information.