Trip Report NZ 1983 tour - where it all started

Heinz

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Occasionally on my annual NZ trips now running over 30 years I reflect on where it all started and the 1983 tour was the one. It wasn't actually my first trip - had been on 3 previous trips (1980-1982) but they were pretty standard travel around some of the standard tourist spots on both islands together with a week skiing each time at Mt Hutt as well as some time skiing at Coronet Peak & Whakapapa.

But the 1983 trip was my introduction to Heli-skiing which became a major factor in my continuing to return year after year. So I got this idea of doing a sort of very retrospective trip report showing where the addiction all started. I didn't keep any notes on that trip. Some things stuck quite clearly in the memory, others though are rather more vague. I recall the phrase 'just a cleansing ale' coming up regularly though which may have been a factor. I did take a few pics though which I had scanned some years ago and I did at least note what places we skied on what days, so do have a basis for a TR.

So here goes...
 
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Heinz

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It was a 2 week tour from Sep 9-23 in 1983. It was a Value tours 'Vagabond' tour where 6 blokes led by tour guide Roger Buick traveled around the South Island in a van stopping off at various random places to ski depending on conditions or sometimes on what Roger had in mind. I didn't know the other guys, only met them for the first time in Christchurch (or maybe in Sydney on the way over).

Roger got the van organised and we headed immediately to Methven. This was a place I was used to from the 3 previous years so nothing new here. While there we obviously planned to have at least one day at Mt Hutt, however...
 

Heinz

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Mt Hutt can be a notoriously fickle place when the wind blows from the Nor-west. I don't recall if that was the case for all of our 3 or 4 days in Methven, but I suspect it was. So with Mt Hutt off the agenda we looked at other options.

On one of those days Roger thought of trying to drive up to Mt Olympus. I don't recall why he thought this was a good idea but it was the one we went with. As we slowly crawled up the road in the van it seemed less of a good idea until we reached a point where the van simply could go no further. I don't even recall whether the resort was open or not. Didn't recall any other traffic. Walked ahead a short way to see if we could see the field. We did spot a base building a few turns ahead of us but no signs of life. In any case we had no option but to turn around and head back to Methven and I suspect our first cleansing ales of the trip in the Blue pub.

This was as far as we got on Mt Olympus.
 
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Heinz

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Sep 11 - Porter Heights

The next day with Hutt closed again we opted this time to head to Porter Heights a small field close to Christchuch. Don't recall much from this day - Porters was a field with 2 or 3 T-bars of reasonable length (actually one may still have been a rope tow back then). There was a bigger crowd than usual though as with Hutt closed quite a few people took the same option.





 

Heinz

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Another day we opted to take a jet boat ride on the Rakaia gorge and have a look around. No good pics of the jet boat ride itself but a couple of the scenery. I suspect a few more cleansing ales may have been consumed later...



 
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Heinz

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Then yet another Mt Shutt day. Roger then had some vague ideas of getting to Temple Basin. Rest of us really had no idea if this was possible and in the end it wasn't, though I don't recall how far we got to. We did get up to Arthur's pass, where I think it was raining (I have this feeling that every time I have been through Arthur's it has been raining.).

And so ended a somewhat less than successful stay in Methven.



Somewhere along the way, I think on the West Coast side we spotted this - no idea how long it had been there - no one was there at the time.
 
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Untele-whippet

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My first NZ ski trip was 84, Youth Hostel winter warden Mt Cook, Wakefield day trips, Tasman Saddle, Mueller Hut. Carol King, Cat Stevens.
 

Heinz

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Sep 14 - Tekapo

So it was time to continue south. The rain we had on Arthurs pass the previous day did result in snow further south and a fine day with blue skies beckoned so our luck looked to have turned as we headed to Tekapo ski field. I do recall the van struggled to make it up the last part of the road with the fresh snow, but we eventually reached the car park.

Back then Tekapo just had the double chair and pretty mellow terrain. This was long before the field was closed and later re-opened as Round Hill and later had a rope tow up the steep ridge.

But with fresh powder, blue skies and few people we didn't care at all and had a great day getting fresh lines all day. After skiing we continued on to Mt Cook village to stay in one of the cabins.

On the approach to the ski area (middle left I think)




Our trusty(?) van.
 
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Heinz

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Sep 15 - Tasman glacier

The fine weather continued, so perfect for skiing the Tasman glacier by ski plane. For this to happen good visibility is required on the saddle at the top of the glacier for the planes to land. This is more of a tourist experience than a pure skiing experience, but is very spectacular.

Skis are strapped to the underside of the planes wings, you fly up to the saddle, then as a group with a guide ski down where the planes are waiting to take you back up for another run. The standard day consisted of 2 runs, we did an extra. The top part is the most interesting skiing wise. Don't need to be a great skier, just need to be able to ski in control and be able to ski in the guides tracks when he says, when working your way through then crevasses. You do a couple of variations where you can ski in between massive seracs. The upper section also has a bit more pitch. Once you get past that though it really mellows out and you end up mostly just letting the skis run straight while you look all around and admire the views including that of mt Cook.

I think on the third run it was a bit more about the skiing, looked for a steeper pitch at the start and less stopping. Was a great experience overall but just a taste of what was to come.

Mt Cook on the way up.


Planes on the Tasman saddle (note. no fat skis either)


Looking down (Mt Cook again on the right)
 
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Heinz

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The guide was Paul Bayne. He would a couple of years later move to Wanaka and work for HMH - skied a bit with him there also. Then in 1988 he was part of the Australian Bi-centenial Everest expedition and would make the summit after spending several days in the death zone above 8000m. Not sure where he went after that.



 
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Heinz

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You were lucky it get Round Hill in a good snow year. Nothing like that this year. Fantastic pictures.

And as it happens that has been my one and only day at Tekapo/Round Hill.
 

Heinz

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Sep 16 - Ben Ohaus

So another fine day dawned, we were still in Mt Cook so it was time to give heli-skiing a crack. The day on the Tasman with the ski planes was a good warm for the routine. While the ski plane was allowed to operate on the glacier in the national park, heli-skiing had to operate outside the park. So we left from Glentanner station a bit outside of Mt Cook. But of course with a heli we weren't restricted to landing on a flat open saddle, we could land pretty much anywhere.

We had booked with Alpine guides who were I think the first heli operation in NZ starting in the mid 70's though always on a small basis. Their permit area then included the Ben Ohau range. I would return there several times around 20 years later when HMH got the permit to fly in that area.

Heli-skiing in 1983 was different inn many ways to what it is now. Possibly the biggest difference was in the equipment. We were all on regular skinny GS cut skis, no fatties, no rocker, no twin tips and relatively little experience in backcountry snow conditions in all their forms. And we encountered a few on this day. Somehow I manged to actually note the runs we skied. We had a couple on a run called Stonies and another on one called South Wales, which were generally pretty good powder. The run that really stuck in the memory though for the wrong reason was on a steep glacier run called Zodiac which was all of 4000 vertical feet. I saw a good photo of it from the air this year in the HMH Wanaka guides room - looked amazing. Sadly on this day in 1983 it was pretty much 4000' of variable breakable wind slab which proved to be quite challenging - I do recall a bit of traversing and some kick turns. On some runs like this one, once you are in you are pretty much committed to skiing the whole thing as there aren't many pickup options in between. These days on current gear it may have been a bit tricky, but still probably not too bad. Have happily skied that run in more recent years in much more favourable conditions and more forgiving ski gear.

Still, it was our introduction to heli-skiing and we got through ok, with three good runs and one quite challenging one.
 
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Heinz

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Funny, I look at this pic and it looks more like then type of terrain in the Gammacks - another range opposite the Ben Ohaus that I have skied a few time in more recent years. But it certainly would have been in the Ben Ohaus.


 
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Heinz

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Sep 17 - Treble Cone

After the heli day in the Ben Ohaus we continued our south and onto Wanaka that eveing and booked into a motel. Walked part that motel this year - doesn't appear to have changed much. Was my first stay in Wanaka although I did pass through and had a brief stop on bus trip from the West Coast through to Queenstown in 1981.

For our first day in Wanaka we headed up to Treble Cone. Don't actually recall much from the skiing there - was good - but we were backing up after heliski day. Obviously the lake views made an impression and we also encountered the Kea's in the car park.

Back then the lifted skiing was just in the main basin with a double chair and 2 T-bars. Have now actually just finished reading the just released Treble Cone book that I had picked up in Wanaka. A very good read and interesting reading about several familiar names from those early days. Treble Cone only opened as a commercial resort in 1976 and in fact 1983 was the first year they put the double chair in. This chair was in then moved to the Saddle in the 90's before being removed when the Saddle quad went in. Was also interesting to read that they seriously looked at putting in a gondola when planning in the 70's as it was initially considered impossible to put a road in! The government weren't backing the idea with funds so that idea had to be canned and they eventually had to take on the precarious task of putting the road in.
 

Heinz

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Just a few pics.

One with the obvious lake view. They don't change much, always good. I think they were doing a burn off of tussock in the valley that day, hence the smoke.


Looking down to the upper T-bar (T2)


Looks like this would have been somewhere in Powderbowl.
 
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Heinz

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That evening Roger invited Paul Scaife to join us for dinner at the Pembroke Inn which turned out to be a key moment. Paul was the founder and owner of Harris Mountains Heli-skiing who I would enjoy many great days in the subsequent years until his tragic death in an avalanche in 2003.

The Pembroke Inn was also the place of many very enjoyable evenings through the 90's when Murray Christie held the lease there and ran Muzzas bar.

Anyway, obviously one of the discussion topics that evening was the heli-skiing out of Wanaka and who might be interested in doing it the next day. I was still keen as was Roger however it seems that the day in the Ben Ohaus and the crust on Zodiac may have been enough for the others and they declined.
 
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Heinz

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Sep18 - Central Harris mountains - Towers ridge

So this was THE day. A major factor in why I am still coming back doing this 31 years later.

We got a call that morning. The way the numbers worked out there was only enough for a single heli load, which meant that there was only one seat available for our group. This meant that Roger missed out and I got the seat. So I went around to the HMH office - which back then was basically just a desk in the front of the Tourist Craft shop in Helwick St and met Paul. We loaded our gear in his Toyota jeep and drove around to the THC hotel to pick up the other 2 guys. The THC (Tourist Hotel Corporation) was back then the only pub in town, later became Cliffords and is now the Wanaka Hotel. The other 2 guys were Chris Dawes and Frank from Melbourne. Chris was already a regular client and would continue until he was tragically killed in momentary lapse in concentration in 1993.

So when Chris emerged from the hotel, Paul simply asked "What do you want to ski today - powder or corn?". This was September after all and we were in spell of fine warm weather so great conditions for corn, but there was still powder out there. After a bit of consideration Chris responded with powder. I was more than happy to go along with that!

So we then headed out to the Ken Tustin's (the pilot) place behind the golf course, geared up and headed up in the Hughes 500D to Towers ridge in the Central Harris mountains which in those days was their main terrain. Towers ridge is the ridge which includes Treble Cone itself. In those days they often actually operated out of the car park at Treble Cone. We skied our runs I think somewhere to the south of TC.

Powder was what we opted for and powder was what we got. And with only 4 of out there for the day there was plenty there for us. It was still pretty early days for powder skiing myself and with skinny skis still had quite a few uncertain moments trying to work out the best way to deal with it, but great fun was had doing so. Paul also offered to take my camera and get a few shots of me. Just the type of guy he was.

Then the picnic buffet style lunch which was another thing he pioneered. The first of many to come.

With just our single load we had plenty of time and we had an easy 6 runs all in great powder without having to go far at all. Almost like a charter these days, except in those conditions, good skiers and modern gear you would be doing 12, 15 or more runs. Even in a regular day with 3-4 loads we would have done 10-12 runs. Still back then it was an awesome day. I was then already pretty sure about returning the following year.
 
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Heinz

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Towers ridge was one of the mainstays of Harris Mountains in the early days which Paul Scaife explored extensively.
Southern lakes Heliski now has the permit for terrain, but this was several years before they even came into existence.





 

Heinz

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Paul Scaife started HMH around 1978. He was a man with a great passion for the mountains, climbing and skiing. It was his drive and passion that started the business. He had great vision, always coming up with new ideas, though sometimes he would try too many and they wouldn't all work, and organisation wasn't one of this strong points, so he did pick up the tag of Captain Chaos. He was extremely fit and twice won a mountain ironman competition in the 80's.

I always found him very welcoming, from the first day where he offered to take pictures of me skiing. Later years invited me on days off with trips with his family. Spend some entertaining times with him and other guides upstairs in the old HMH A-frame office in the 80's discussing some of his latest ideas for events like the Powder 8's.

He was always fun to be with and there were some quite interesting moments skiing with him. One of his things was to always ski as far as possible down a run as possible and if possible to the valley floor, so he could lie down and take a sip out of a mountain stream. This sometimes required working our way through bits of snow in between tussock - it was more about the feel of being in the mountains than the pure skiing. These days we would more often just pick up higher and look for the better snow.

The early days were often a bit more experimental and could be seen as a bit cowboyish these days. It was a newly developing industry so the best practices had yet to be established. I recall a few times in the 80's when he carried bomb's in his pack, then when we got to a slope he wasn't sure about, got us to stand back from the cornice while he set up, lit a fuse and chucked it out of the slope below. Usually nothing went but there was one where a face at least 100m wide avalanched as we watched in amazement.

He was though a man of the mountains rather than a businessman, so eventually he sold out of the business in the late 90's to concentrate more of climbing. He was is his 50th year with a mission to climb 50 peaks for charity which I think he achieved before he was 1 of 4 that were tragically killed in an avalanche while climbing Mt Tasman on New Years eve in 2003.

Here is the great man in 1983.
 

Heinz

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One of Pauls innovations - a buffet style lunch rather than the customary brown bags that were standard practice elsewhere at the time.

The guy of the left is Chris Dawes. He had already been a regular for a few years and in later years became the second client to reach 1 million vertical feet with HMH before being tragically killed hit by a rotor blade in 1993 in a lapse of concentration reaching for his cap which had blown off. It apparently made the news in Australia but I was unaware as I was in South America at the time. I arrived a week or so later and was only after hearing warnings of 'holding onto caps etc' in the heli briefing that I learnt the news.

That day in 1983 was actually the only day I ever skied with Chris. He generally a September regular whereas I generally settled on August.



Chris
 
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Heinz

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More Towers ridge (it was a good day). Note the snow was slightly wind affected, but one thing Paul told us early on was to look and try and read the snow texture. The dappled effect stuff we were skiing was the good stuff - the wind had played over it but not created a crust. The smoother looking snow was in this case usually where the wind had done more work and created a breakable crust which was much less enjoyable especially those days with skinny skis.










 
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Heinz

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So after our 6 runs it was time to head home.





And park the 500D in Ken Tustin's back yard. Had many days flying with Ken in the early days. He had quite an interesting life as a pilot and other pursuits. Back in those days when not working he would quietly be spending time with his other passion/obsession in looking for evidence of Moose in Fiordland. He would be doing this unbeknown to all but a select few until he wrote his first book 'A wild Moose chase'. I think he his still looking. He had many great adventures as a heli pilot which he also wrote in another book "Chopper Chatter"a couple of years ago. He had to retire from flying around 10 years ago due to a health condition.


 
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Heinz

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Sep 19 - Cardrona

Packed up and left Wanaka and continued our way south to Queenstown, skiing Cardrona on the way. Don't recall much from this day, except a feeling of finding it hard to get motivated returning to resort skiing after an awesome heliski day. Subsequently I don't think I skied particularly well that day.

Had this issue a few times over the years, so if I had 2-3 days heli I would more likely take day off if weather prevented flying rather than ski a resort. After a day off it was then no problem.







The day lodge in 1983. This was pretty early in Cardrona's existence. I don't recall how long this one stayed around, not very long I suspect - it was pretty basic. Cardrona facilities have certainly changed quite a bit since then.
 
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expatgm

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Hi Heinz , I think HOT belonged to Tim Wallace, did you ever fly with Tim before his accident ?
Back in those days he was busy with Venison recovery.
 

Heinz

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No don't recall ever flying with Tim Wallis. He certainly was an interesting character though, reading the Treble Cone book - the number of free lifts he gave guys in the early development days.

That machine may well have been his though, Ken was just flying it at that time.

Heard lots of stories about the deer hunting days in the 70's (also in Ken's book). They were pretty wild days. No way they would be able to do much of that sort stuff with the regulations these days.

I did fly once with Bill Black in 1992 when he came up from Queenstown with AJ Hackett and a bunch of his mates all on snowboards.
 

Heinz

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Sep 20 - Coronet Peak

Back then the skiing option fro Queenstown was Coronet Peak. The Remarkables ski field was still a couple of years away from opening. The following year I did have a heliski day in the Remarkables on the back side of where the resort was planned.

Again not much of a memory of the skiing that day. Juts a couple of pics.



 

Heinz

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Sep 22 - Mt Hutt

Then it was time to make our way back north and home. We opted to start back a day early and have another crack at Mt Hutt rather than staying on in Queenstown. I don't recall what the decision hinged on, but as it turned out this time we were in luck, Hutt was open and we had some good skiing in spring conditions.







And spring conditions also meant a final few pleasant cleansing ales in the sun outside the Blue pub in Methven.

 

Heinz

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Then it was back to Christchurch and back home. To add a bit of context to the timing of this trip it was during the final series of the Australian America's cup challenge with Australia II. We had followed the series on the news in NZ. I spent a night in Sydney on the way back with some of the group and we watched what was meant to be the deciding race but which was ultimately cancelled due to lack of wind I think. So ended up watching the actual final race in the early hours after my arrival home - dozing off through much of it, but wakening for the final decisive leg. I still managed to make it in to work that day though despite what Hawkie said.
 
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