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Going guided: Tasman Glacier heli-skiing

Image of the June 2020 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
June 2020 Issue

Skiing the Tasman Glacier with all-day views of New Zealand’s highest mountains needs to be on every skier's bucket list.

It was a dream come true for Queenstown skier Sally Mingaye-Hall.

For 30 years she and her husband Steve had wanted to ski the Tasman Glacier, but children, weather and life in general forced a delay.

Last year, they finally managed it with their three sons aged between 14 and 23.

“It was the most awesome, spectacular experience,” Mingaye-Hall says.

“Skiing the Tasman is a very unique, iconic New Zealand experience.”

Mountain guide Charlie Hobbs says it’s a bucket list trip: “When skiing the glacier you have Aoraki/Mt Cook right in your sights the whole way, for the whole day. It’s incredible.”

It’s possible to ski glaciers in other parts of the world, but Hobbs, who runs Southern Alps Guiding, says the Tasman is unique. There’s the stunning surrounds of New Zealand’s highest mountains. And then there’s the space: at 23.5km, it’s the longest glacier in the Southern Hemisphere outside Antarctica. And with 101km2 to play on, you won’t be sharing your runs with anyone else.

“If it was in Europe there would be thousands of people skiing it, but because we’re in New Zealand we have it all to ourselves most of the time,” says Hobbs.

Hobbs flies clients to the head of the glacier and, depending on their ability, will either land them near Kelman Hut or on the Main Divide near Elie de Beaumont (3109m) or Hochstetter Dome (2810m).

The first run is a descent of more than 10km – “or to when the snow runs out”.

“The fitter you are the more you are going to enjoy it,” says Hobbs.

The terrain varies according to the season, with winter providing powder and spring bringing corn conditions not unlike what you might find on a groomed ski field. “It’s called ego snow because it is easier to ski and it makes you look good,” says Hobbs.

Mingaye-Hall says going with a guide enhanced her experience. “Their knowledge is just phenomenal – of the terrain, the general area of Mt Cook – the stories they can tell you, the points of interest they can identify and talk to you about. It’s all so intriguing.

“We wanted this to be an amazing memory for the rest of our lives. You don’t want to be concerned about crevasses, terrain, avalanches – we just wanted to take all the positives out of it.”

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