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|LONGER TOURS, Ski Touring.||
By joining up the sections outlined above, you can make longer tours. Mount Cheeseman skifield is centrally located in the range, and from there you can go to Craigieburn and back in a day, including skiing the basins between, or go to the Ryton valley and back in a day. Mount Olympus ski area is also a good base for ski touring with easy access to the Ryton valley. For a traverse, you could start at Craigieburn or Broken River, and tour to Mount Olympus in a day, stay the night at the Mount Olympus ski club lodge, and return the next day to Craigieburn, or vice versa. Make sure you have a good 2-day weather forecast, and phone ahead in advance to arrange accommodation of course. Alternatively, after travelling the first day from Craigieburn to Mount Olympus or Cheeseman, the next day travel over Mount Enys and all the way through to the Porter Heights skifield to cover the Craigieburn Range in a challenging and exciting ski weekend. A light overnight pack with sleeping bag and bivvy bag should be carried, along with some spare food and the usual backcountry emergency equipment including a shovel. A good early start, as soon as the lifts open, is usually the best plan. Leave written intentions, and always check in and out with the ski patrol. Competent and fit local skiers, who know the Craigieburns well, travelling fast, can cover the entire range in a day. With an early start from Porter Heights, for example, you can ski over Mt Enys, bypassing Mt Olympus, direct to the Mt Cheeseman skifield. If time, weather and conditions are on your side you can continue through to Craigieburn by the end of the day. From there you could try to hitch back, or get a ride with one of the transport companies. You’d need to phone ahead to organise this beforehand. If you’re at Cheeseman and you have decided not to go any further, then it will be too late to return to Porter Heights that day. Your options would be to either get a lift or hitch home from Cheeseman, or try to get accommodation for the night there. In any case, make sure that you phone the ski patrol where you started from (Porter Heights in this example) to tell them that you have safely arrived. A flexible option when doing a day trip is to leave your car beside the main highway at the bottom of a skifield access road, and hitch a lift up the skifield road. Then, after skiing to another ski area, you can catch a lift down from any of the skifields and be dropped off back at your car. Remember that the local skier traffic will mostly be going south, back towards Christchurch, in the afternoons, meaning that it’s easier to hitch in that direction in the afternoons. This would tend to favour a south-to-north direction of ski traverse for the sake of transport convenience. Another factor to consider is the quality of the skiing. A north-to-south direction of travel would mean you climb north-facing slopes and would therefore allow downhill ski runs on better quality snow on the south-facing slopes. If you can sort out the transport, this would be the preferred direction. If you are caught on the ridge in sudden nasty weather, and are forced to descend, the best way to go is to the east (i.e. heading for Highway 73). Be aware though of the terrain below you. There are waterfalls in some of these creeks (Waterfall Creek being one of these, of course) which can be a problem to get around on foot. However, if you are between Cheeseman and Broken River when caught out, don’t attempt to descend eastwards – there are bluffs just about everywhere. Instead you’d have to press on to either ski area, sheltering where practical from the worst of the gusts. The Canterbury the southerly storms are often violent to begin with, but the worst of the wind may pass within an hour or two, leaving conditions that, while far from comfortable, make ski travel and navigation possible.
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.