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July 2012 Issue
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Go off-piste ski touring

Louise Parker surveys the terrain above Dumb-bell Lake. Photo: Mark Banham
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Lift your game
Think you’re a good tramper, sea kayaker, climber, mountain biker and skier? Shift your horizons with one of these game-changing adventures


Go off-piste ski touring

You can: Confidently ski the front-country including off-piste black runs in a variety of conditions.

You want: Broader horizons, solitude, adventure, challenge… and un-tracked powder snow as far as the eye can see.

The trip: Ohau Ski Field is one of the best kept secrets of the Southern Alps – and its backcountry may as well be on the dark side of the moon for all the people who know about it. This combination of easy access and instant solitude makes it a great place to start your touring career.

Before you head out there, check and have a chat to the local ski patrol to get an idea of what the conditions are going to be like. While you’re still learning, if the avalanche rating is more than moderate it’s best to exercise discretion and stay in-bounds – the backcountry will still be there next weekend.

Once that’s taken care of it’s just a matter of hiking to the top of the Ohau Headwall and choosing a route for the day. If you’re feeling timid, you can hike to the summit of Mt Sutton and descend east into Hemi’s Bowl; a collection of nested bowls that deposits you back onto the ski field road about half a kilometre from the car park. If you’re feeling more ambitious, turn south from Mt Sutton and tackle the classic terrain of Dumb-bell Lake.

Dumb-bell can easily be explored as a day-trip by descending into the lake and climbing back out from the north, or in the right conditions you can ascend the eastern rim of the cirque and ski down into Parsons Creek to connect with the road at the 1000m contour.

If you’re keen for a more serious adventure, then load up with more supplies and head out into the terrain south of Dumb-bell Lake. The features here are almost universally un-named, carrying only monikers like ‘peak 1929’ and ‘lake 1514’, it’s about as close to a blank spot on the map as you’ll find these days – but still able to be explored in a long-weekend.

You’ll need: Outside of the resort boundary you’re 100 per cent responsible for your own wellbeing which necessitates bringing a bit more stuff than you might for a day on the groomed runs.

Aside from your regular skiing gear (skis, boots, poles, goggles helmet etc) and a prudent amount of outdoor equipment (first aid kit, spare layers) you’ll need an avalanche transceiver, snow shovel and probe, a set of climbing skins and a mechanism to allow your skis to walk up hill. Most ski tourers start out just using binding adapters like Alpine Trekkers that allow you to tour using your existing skis and bindings. They’re fiddly enough to have earned the nickname ‘day wreckers’ but the cost saving is worth it for your first season in the backcountry.

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