Ski Touring on the Mannering Glacier (Photo: Alpine Recreation)
Ski touring or back country skiing involves off-piste skiing or snow boarding and the use of specialised ski bindings, touring boots and climbing skins. Snowboarders use “split boards”. For climbing, the board is split into two skis and climbing skins (similar to those used by skiers) are fixed to the ski base; For descent, the board is cleverly clipped back together.
Back country riding terrain in New Zealand is frequently accessed from local ski areas or by helicopter or ski plane for the high huts and glaciated regions, although hardy purists may make the trek literally from sea to mountains. Management of avalanche terrain and conditions is a huge part of the equation when considering whether or not to climb and ski a slope. New Zealand ski guides are highly trained for avalanche knowledge and risk management.
A ski guide will select the terrain to match weather and avalanche conditions as well as the fitness and ability of his or her guests. Led by the guide, the crew will release the heels on their ski bindings, fix climbing skins to the base of their skis or split board and zig-zag their way up the chosen slope. After absorbing the views, taking photos, a breather and food and water, skins are stripped off, clothing layers added and heels locked in or snow boards put together for the freedom of the descent. Ski guides know how to sniff out the goods and will find the best snow and line to suit the group. Although you’ll get more runs at a ski area, there’s something special about “earning your turns” by good honest sweat. Ski touring allows you to move through the environment at your own pace. You have time to stop and look around and really get a feel for the snow beneath your feet and the mountains around you.