When faced with the prospect of heli-skiing Canterbury’s breathtaking Arrowsmiths, my veins filled with ice colder than a New Zealand winter as visions of a 20-metre plunge out of a helicopter flashed across my mind. Thankfully, these extreme ideas couldn’t have been much further from the truth.
The fact is, heli-skiing has become a more than accessible and affordable choice for those looking for a challenge that can’t be found skiing and boarding in a resort. And, contrary to the myth, heli-skiing doesn’t require you to be an X-Games competitor – if you’re familiar with powder and have an intermediate level of ability, there’s plenty of options available.
With heli-skiing not permitted on Australian snowfields, it’s another reason why many are choosing to make the short flight across the Tasman to experience New Zealand’s top-draw snow. Methven Heliski has been in operation for nearly 30 years and has long been established as one of the premier picks for heli-skiing New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Operating out of Methven, half an hour’s drive from the well-known Mt Hutt resort, Methven Heliski cover over 200 – and counting – runs across the Arrowsmith, Ragged and Palmer Ranges, meaning there are plenty of options available across the spectrum of skiing and boarding abilities. Those experienced with heli-skiing will relish the range of glaciated terrain, landing above 2,500m and tackling 1km-plus vertical drops, and getting into 3km-plus runs. The variety of East-West terrain means that the day’s runs can be catered according to the conditions. If you’re lucky, you might get the chance to land on one of two peaks and take in the unique view of both the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean.
Kevin Boekholt, who has been running Methven Heliski since its inception in 1986, leads a dedicated team with vast experience across New Zealand, Europe, North America and Japan terrain. All are internationally accredited guides who possess an intimate knowledge of the local terrain. Their understanding of the surrounding environment and its weather conditions are second to none, and constant, thorough monitoring of potential avalanche risks means safety is absolutely paramount. If an incoming weather system is likely to affect heli-skiing conditions, they’ll have identified and acted upon it before it even happens.
A day out with Methven Heliski is about more than just heli-skiing. The day begins at their Methven office in the town centre, conveniently located across from Big Al’s Snow Sports for those needing any last-minute equipment. Groups then take the picturesque drive to Glenfalloch Station, a high-country farm which acts as a base for the day’s adventures – unless you’re lucky enough to be pitched up at one of the two renovated cottages on site, meaning heli-skiing is but a 100m walk from your accomodation. Along the winding back country roads lined with sheep and cattle, the braided streams of the Rakaia River are omnipresent, and the Arrowsmiths tower over the landscape. It’s an awe-inspiring look at Canterbury’s high country, and a prelude to the aerial scenery that awaits. Following the day’s heli-skiing, which will generally involve between five and ten long-distance runs, it’s back to Glenfalloch to take in lunch amid the idyllic wilderness of the Southern Alps.
Despite it’s popularity, Methven Heliski retains its boutique feel and many customers are well-acquainted with Kevin and his crew, returning for their second, third or fourth time. Or even longer. Austrian couple Christof and Britta, aged 84 and 73 respectively, first came to Methven Heliski in 1989 and have returned over a dozen times since, with New Zealand’s Southern Alps part of a yearly routine that includes Canada, Greenland and Northern India. Boekholt believes it is a mixture of the terrain and the overall experience that brings skiers and boarders back from all over the world.
“About 70 percent of our guests are return clientele,” he said.
“They come back because they like the terrain – they’ve skied at other places in New Zealand and discovered Methven Heliski and think it’s the spot to go, and come back year-in, year-out.
“It’s almost strange at times for me, I can go weeks and weeks and weeks without skiing with anybody I don’t already know.
“Our attitude to safety is very important for us. We’re not a big operation, so we can actually take time out and guide people in the mountains – the Arrowsmiths are big peaks, these aren’t foothills, and you’ve got to be pretty careful guiding around there, and people really appreciate that.
“They like the excitement of going into big mountains, and they respect the experience that the guiding team brings to the operation.”
Considering truly unique, exhilarating on offer, it’s not hard to understand why so many keep coming back.