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- Ski Selwyn
By Sam Masters
The Selwyn Six (Mt Olympus, Porters, Broken River, Mt Cheeseman, Craigieburn Valley and Temple Basin) are the soul of New Zealand freeride. There is nothing in the snowsports universe quite like these mountains. They are a treat for the adventurous, with lashings of Kiwi ski culture, all served up on the arc of the mighty Southern Alps.
The Selwyn Six resorts have accommodation on mountain or nearby (at Methven, Castle Hill or Arthurs Pass depending on the field). It is far better to be anticipatory; as storms approach Canterbury, figure out which resorts stand to benefit most. If it’s a clubbie head up the night before and stay in the on-mountain accommodation. Some club fields will open the tows before they open the road. It is this window that is the basis for many of the legendry stories you’ve heard about the clubbies (“45cms of fresh and it was just me and cook skiing...”).
Temple Basin is a myth, a rumour, the sweet melody of an ancestral hymn barely remembered. It is a place of pilgrimage, a test of endurance, and lies as close to the sacred heart of the Main Range as you can get. No trip to Temple is ever anything less than an adventure. A description of the facilities, infrastructure and even terrain is unnecessary. You just need to get up there, breathe deep, soak up the view, and smash some turns. That is all.
The BBQ on the Palmer Lodge deck - with Keas lapping the lard out of the fat reservoir - is quintessential New Zealand. Happy punters fry Pak’nSave bangers, venison, and crayfish in quick succession. Everything tastes better off that hot plate - and if you’ve made the mistake of bringing a vegemite sandwich, to save weight, then you’ll be gazing at the griddle with labrador eyes all afternoon. If you do manage to actually go skiing then the ridge tow accesses some of the tastiest side country in Canterbury.
Broken River comes into its own on Sunday arvo after a big weekend session. Everyone is skied out but too full of endorphins to quit the alpine and head home. It’s a time for beersies on the deck, banter around the BBQ, the occasional boast, and the final realisation that the party must draw to an end as the sun sets behind the ridge. Or maybe not.
Just to get to Craigieburn Valley you have to escape the Canterbury Plains; essentially a 60-minute remix of one paddock surrounded by a hedge. No two roads meet at right angles over the entire province; there are still international tourists trapped driving around in circles since before Covid-19. Craigieburn has some of the best freeride terrain in the country, with more options than a Wall Street broker. Craigieburn Valley is steep. The don’t call it CragieBURN for nothing – by mid afternoon a few lactic grenades have exploded in your quads and you’re wondering if you’ve got another lap down to Avalanche Corner left in the tank.
Porters is a commercial resort with the luxuries of alpine travel like a chairlift and espresso coffee served in the plush café. When it has coverage, Big Mama is one of the best corn snow runs on the South Island. If not then high on Bluff Face lurks cold, chalky, deep winter snow at almost any time of the season. This run hardly gets a sliver of sun and the snow stays cold. Porters is also the closest ski resort to Christchurch (89km) for those watching the clock.
It’s tough to have anything but a cruisy day at Cheeseman. It’s a family favourite with mellow runs off the T-bars, and deeper adventures in the surrounding backcountry. If your motto is “never be in a rush to have a good time” then you’ll be surrounded by like-minded individuals who have left the 9-to-5 bustle at the office.
Mt Olympus is the total package. The best place to start or finish a Selwyn roadie. It is a unique experience on a global snowsports scale; when conditions are on, there really is no place like it elsewhere in the world. Mt Olympus is both the proving and breeding ground of some of the best Kiwi freeriders and they rate it:
“I can't think of a better representation of NZ freeskiing culture.”
– Hank Bilous
“Mt O is a ski field like no other, the club has done an amazing job retaining the vibe over the years.”
– Craig Murray
“I think one of the best skiing experiences possible is staying in the Mt Olympus top hut when there’s a decent snowfall and they close the road.”
– Jamesa Hampton
When it comes to great times at the Selwyn Six then extensive research, experience and luck will play their part, as is so frequently the case in life. The foolhardy and unprepared, however, can still have their day. That’s the nature of good snow and good weather - it doesn’t always reward the deserving and righteous. That might just be its principal attraction and reason enough to load up the ski wagon, hang a “gone skiing” sign in the window and head into the great Cantabrian unknown.