Sliding Down a Ribbon of Ice
Somewhere in Japan, there’s a photograph of me on skis, towering over four tiny Japanese women shivering in high heels and dresses on New Zealand’s longest glacier. They had plunked down by plane for a photo-op where I’d spent the day on skis, exploring the Tasman Glacier, bracing against the cold and shielding my eyes against the sun’s glare on the snow as I glided across its surface. I was too busy fending off the elements to take pictures, but I’ll settle for the indelible memory of wiggling into the Tasman’s frozen caves and staring into deep recesses of blue ice.
The Tasman Glacier dates back to the Pleistocene ice ages, some 2 million years ago. In the Anoki/Mount Cook National Park, in the South Island’s Southern Alps, this vast iceberg has advanced and retreated several times, leaving great moraines and carving out what is now Lake Pukaki, with its distinctive blue color created by glacial flour, finely ground rock particles from the weight of ice sliding downhill.
On Alpine Guides’ “Ski the Tasman” day trips, small groups of skiers follow a guide across open snowfields then deep into snow bowls, with dips between the seracs in the icefalls. For the most part, the terrain is moderate, which is a blessing amid such distracting views. After the first run, a ski plane whisks participants to another side of the ice pack for a second run there, affording 360-degree views of the landscape along the way. Runs may go from 8 to 10km (5–6 miles), ending when the ice thins out into a tiny ribbon surrounded by stones and dirt. At the end of the day, the ski plane picks you up again and returns you to the Mount Cook airport. (Air transfers to and from Queens-town are available.)
Skiers should be of at least comfortable intermediate skill level and able to handle a variety of snow conditions, which might range from powder and corn snow to teeth-rattling hardpack. Snowboarders aren’t allowed because there are some long traverses. Maximum group size is seven skiers, but a minimum of three skiers is required. Trips take place daily from July through September. Ski the Tasman actually operates about 60% of the time because trips are cancelled due to inclement weather. If you’re visiting Queenstown or other places in the region, plan a flexible schedule in case you can’t go on the day you originally booked. In case of cancellation due to bad weather, skiers can request the option of carrying the reservation to the following day.
Skiers staying in Queenstown can partake of a wide range of adrenaline-charged activities, including bungee jumping off a high bridge, jet-boating in the Shotover River Canyon, and skiing at the lift-served Remarkables, Treble Cone, Cardrona, and Coronet Peak. —LF
When to Go: Powder is predominant July and Aug; spring snow conditions from early Sept.
$$–$$$ Queenstown House, 69 Hallenstein St., Queenstown ( 64/3/442-9043; www.queenstownhouse.co.nz). $$$ Hotel Sofitel Queenstown, 8 Duke St. ( 0800/444-422 in New Zealand or 64/3/450-0045 international; www.sofitel.com).