Destination Poudreuse

Trip Start Jul 02, 2003
Trip End Jan 17, 2004

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Monday, September 1, 2003

Saturday morning was tricky - after another big night out in Sydney I woke up at 6.50 am with my flight leaving at 8.20 - just 90 minutes later! After throwing my clothes together and jumping into a cab I just made it to the airport in time and we took off for New Zealand. A couple of times a week there's a direct flight in to Queenstown from Sydney (normally routes through Auckland / Christchurch). What this means is that you get to fly over Fjiordland - on your way into the country. On Saturday the weather was fabulous with perfectly clear skies and the views of the mountains as we flew into Queenstown were just breath taking.

Sadly the weather didn't hold so yesterday I didn't do a great deal but this morning we had clear skies again so it was time to realise a dream and go heli-skiing!

I was picked up at 8am by a guy called Frog (sorry Frog (my sister) there is another one!) and met some of my fellow heli-skiers. Whenever Frog was talking I couldn't help but think of the teacher in Beavis and Butthead - everything was really cool and chilled but he seemed to know what he was talking about. In our van were Troy, Sam and Ted - the first two Aussies and Ted a Kiwi. Troy was here on honeymoon and his treat was to go heli-skiing. His new wife's treat was to get herself branded - yes you heard me correctly. Apparently branding is illegal in Australia (I wonder why??) but not in New Zealand. There's a shop I saw in Wellington last year advertising "Tattoos and Flesh cutting" which made me laugh when I saw it last year thinking what kind of idiot would pay to have their skin cut! Well now I know. What surprised me most though was rather than everyone in the van thinking this guy's wife was mad, they all seemed to think it was "Awesome" with lines such as "how extreme is that??". I was beginning to question the mental outlook of my fellow heli-skiers and wondered what I'd let myself into.

The road up to the heli-ski station was a crazy mountain pass up over a mountain and down into the next valley - there was an option to take a helicopter ride for this section of the journey but that was another couple of hundred dollars so I passed on that and opted for the van.

Eventually we got to where the helicopter was and were issued with avalanche transceivers and given a quick lesson in how to use them should any of us get caught in an avalanche. Then we were off to the helicopter and before we knew it flying up into the snowline. You could feel the wind blowing off the ridges as it caught the helicopter everytime we flew over one but soon our pilot landed precariously balanced on a precipice high up on a snow covered ridge. It was a bit scary being so close to the helicopter with the rota blades still going round and snow blowing everywhere but within about 30 seconds he'd taken off again leaving us on top of the ridge looking down at pure white virgin powder snow. The bad weather yesterday had dumped some fresh powder on the mountain and there were no tracks to be seen anywhere.


As we set off I was feeling a bit rusty and wondering whether it might have been better to get my ski legs back by skiing in one of the ski fields for a day before taking this on - within about 50 meters I was face down in the snow. It all came back to me pretty quickly though and before long we were flying down the slopes in knee deep powder. Our guide always went first and checked that the snow would hold before letting us follow him down. This was just as well as at one point he set off an avalanche which took his ski pole shooting down a little gully - he just managed to get himself out of it before it took his skis too. I figured it was quite serious when he was shouting at us to watch him (in case we had to try and dig him out in a minute!). He was OK though and after the snow had finished sliding walked down to where his ski pole was and brought it back up - at this point he decided it probably wasn't a good idea to carry on down this slope and we were helicoptered off to another less slippy one.


The snow was amazing and the feeling of flying through the powder is just about as good as skiing can get - right at the end of my last run I had another face planting moment when I went over a gully that had a stream running through the bottom and landed badly on my skis snapping one of them in two - well not into two pieces but the back of it bent right back - good thing they were insured! All in all we got 4 good long runs in before the weather closed in again and it's been an amazing experience - I'm just waiting for the weather to clear again now then I'm going up to Mount Cook to try and get the maximum vertical experience in one day! Roll on the good weather!

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