Living in Wanaka, you can’t help but feel the mountains beckoning at any time of year. Looming large across the sapphire lake, the Southern Alps are undoubtedly at their finest in winter, covered in fresh snow that seems to twinkle in the sunlight.
By June, snow enthusiasts descend on Wanaka, and the energy and vibe of the town changes as, collectively, we begin to get excited for the snow season to begin, dusting off our skis and waxing our snowboards.
Learning to snowboard only a few years ago, I’ve worked hard to become a solidly intermediate rider, looking forward to powder days and chairlift banter with friends at Cardrona.
I enjoyed days on the mountain and the apres atmosphere afterwards, revelling in the adventure and working on improving and becoming more confident. But I never thought I would be good enough to go heli-skiing in Wanaka.
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Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need back-country or powder experience for heli-skiing, Southern Lakes Heliski provides you with the gear, such as transceivers, and the knowledge to get down as safely and as enjoyably as possible.
Surrounded by world-class athletes and Olympic skiers and snowboarders in Wanaka in winter, I was under the impression that heli-skiing was for pros.
‘Don’t you jump directly out of the helicopter on to a needle-like mountain ridge surrounded by gnarly cliffs and chutes?’ Well, no – I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Southern Lakes Heliski has access to more than 16 mountain ranges with hundreds of pristine runs that include intermediate terrain, as well as expert and advanced runs. So, with some of my girlfriends, we put together an adventure we’ve always dreamed of: heli-skiing in Wanaka.
Last week, dawned clear and still, with Black Peak – a Wanaka mountain across the lake – illuminated red and gold at sunrise. That was our target. Nervous but fizzing with excitement, after a solid and in-depth briefing by expert, seasoned Everest guide Lydia Bradey, we piled into the helicopter.
Sharing this adventure with a group of strong and independent women who all love the outdoors made the day even more enjoyable. Supporting each other and shouting encouragement, by the end of the day our faces hurt from smiling so much.
Before long, we were alone on the top of Black Peak, in soft snow with Mt Aspiring looming in the distance. We clicked into our skis and boards, looked down, and took deep breaths before heading off into the unknown. It took me a run or two to get the hang of it but, by lunchtime, we were flying through powder, with whoops of joy occasionally interspersed with a face-plant (usually by me).
It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to flying, and our four-run day turned into a five-run day as we couldn’t bear to say goodbye to such an experience. You’ll smile, you’ll fall, you’ll do things you didn’t think you were capable of. Heli-skiing much more than a day on a mountain, it was a challenge and a life-changing adventure that none of us will ever forget. Now, how do we go back to piste and chairlifts?
The writer was hosted as media by Southern Lakes Heliski in Wanaka.