Page 4 – Alternative snow sports
A number of snow sports have developed out of or alongside conventional skiing. They take place on club and commercial ski fields and elsewhere.
Snowboarding began in New Zealand in the early 1980s, and appeals mainly to young people. A board, halfway between a skateboard and a surfboard in size, is used instead of skis. The rider’s boots are attached one ahead of the other, and the stance is side-on rather than forward-facing.
The skiing industry was slow to adapt to the new sport, but most commercial ski fields have now allocated areas for it. Club fields cater more to ‘freeriders’, who enjoy the challenge of unmodified terrain. Freeriders often walk to adjacent snow fields to find fresh slopes.
Off-piste areas are skiable slopes that lie outside the boundaries of a ski area, but can be accessed using that area’s road or lifts. Some ski areas will sell a single-ride ticket on their lifts. An off-piste skier might travel to the top of the ski area, and then embark on a trip, perhaps along the adjacent range. Alternatively the off-piste area may be treated as an extension of the ski area. Off-piste skiing has become very popular at some club fields.
The right gear
In the early days it was difficult and expensive to import skis, so many people made their own. These were wooden, with metal and leather bindings that often came adrift. Until the late 1920s, skiers carried only one pole, which they dragged in the snow like a rudder to help with steering. Skiing technique was as basic as the equipment. Most skiers aimed simply to glide down a gentle slope in a straight line. Now light boots and skis made of fibreglass and plastic make all kinds of manoeuvres possible.
Telemark skiing harks back to the early method of skiing, using narrow skis and boots fastened to the ski only at the toe.
Telemark skiers in New Zealand tend to favour club field skiing, or back-country ski touring. Mountain contours in New Zealand tend to be steep, so telemark skiing is more physically demanding than in other countries.
Activities and events are organised by the skiers themselves. While small in number, they form a strong subculture within the skiing community.
Nordic (or cross-country) skiing uses lighter equipment than Telemark skiing. It takes place on flat terrain away from established ski fields. This type of terrain is, however, in short supply in New Zealand.
This activity combines skiing and climbing. People ski across snow country to reach climbing opportunities, or climb to the top of skiable slopes, far from the busier snow fields.
Ski mountaineers attach ‘skins’ underneath the skis to prevent them sliding backwards when travelling up moderate slopes. On steeper slopes, they carry the skis while using climbing methods and equipment.
Much of the Southern Alps is well suited to ski mountaineering. Many such trips are based around the large glaciers, of which the Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef are best known. Guided trips are available for people of different skill levels and aspirations.
Skiers and snowboarders have another option to reach uncrowded and untracked terrain: aircraft. Helicopters in particular operate on commercial fields and in every skiable territory throughout New Zealand.
Helicopters also frequently carry parties of ski mountaineers. They can quickly reach high-altitude huts, taking advantage of brief spells of clear weather.