We’re less than a kilometre from The Remarkables ski field – the comfy chairlift, air-conditioned restaurant and bar.
But safety-wise, this is a completely different proposition. It’s backcountry, potential avalanche country.
So everyone on this day-long backcountry tour has the basic necessary kit, just in case – avalanche beacon, shovel and avalanche probe – along with boots, poles, snowshoes, water, food, base layer, hat, gloves, wind shell, warm top, backpack, sunglasses, goggles, sunblock, lip balm …
Our experienced Aspiring Guides guide Mark Austin has God-only-knows-what in his huge pack – satellite phone, first aid kit, shelter, flares … snowmobile?
And today the conditions present a “low” risk of an avalanche, so the four in our group can enjoy a taste of off-piste skiing or boarding without worrying too much.
I say off-piste boarding because that’s what it was sold to me as by the editor. Untracked, virgin snow, he said. The best on the mountain, he said. Halfway into a steep snowshoeing climb up towards the saddle behind the ski field, my thighs and lungs are burning. I realise it will take a lot longer to go up than shoot back down. This will be hard work.
Once we pass over the saddle and onto the other side of the mountain, the Wye Valley, we’re isolated.
We swap snowshoes for boards while the skiers strip off their skins, and off we go.
At first the snow is crunchy, but once we hit sections warmed by the sun, we’re gliding through enjoyable untouched snow. It’s exhilarating and all over too quickly. Now we’re at the bottom of a steep valley.
After lunch, we don snowshoes and begin the long trek back up. You have to be reasonably fit to do this, and the fitter you are the more enjoyable the tour will be.
It’s aimed at more intrepid souls, who want to see what’s over the next ridge.
There are 2000 people less than a kilometre away but you get a special feeling of solitude. We see six other people all day.
There would even be what mountaineers refer to as ‘the beckoning silence’ – were it not for the continual scwhop-scwhop of helicopters ferrying heliskiers to the top of runs elsewhere in the valley.
I have to admit I’m slightly jealous of them. And judging by the occasional wonderful string of expletives rattled off by one of my exhausted companions, she is too.
But there is immense satisfaction in reaching a summit and earning the untouched ride down.
All you need to know
What Remarkables backcountry ski/snowboard touring
Where The Remarkables
Cost From $195 per person if minimum of three in a group or $480 (solo) book with Aspiring Guides Queenstown on 0800 SKI TOUR or 4439422