The Craigieburn Range is in Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand.
The Craigieburns are a conservation area managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and are one of Christchurch’s favourite winter playgrounds. The range is made of shattered sedimentary rock, with long shingle slips and beech forest at lower elevations. The skiing is above the bush line, in broad basins and open faces of moderately steep grade. The peaks and ridges contain some rocky knolls with narrow chutes between, although there is usually an easy way around if you are traversing the ridge. The highest peak is Mount Enys (2194 metres) and the winter snowline lies around 1300 to 1400 metres. Snow conditions are usually best from mid July to late September, but can start earlier and persist into October in a good year. North-westerly weather systems bring the bulk of the snowfalls, more so at the northern end of the range, but southerlies can also bring good snowfalls.
There is downhill skiing on 5 small ski areas, with possibility for ski touring between. Most of the ski areas are operated by ski clubs (see Club skiing in NZ), with lodge accommodation on the mountain. These ski clubs sell Ski Weeks, which are all-inclusive packages of accommodation, food and lift fees. Staying at the ski club lodges can be good value, great fun and a handy base for touring the range, climbing a peak or crossing from one ski area to the next and returning the same day. Often when snow is stable and the weather fine, there are quite a few people going out beyond the ski areas to ski or snowboard the "back basins" without ski touring equipment, creating foot trails part way along the ridges.
Snow conditions can be highly variable, depending for example upon slope aspect, and often quite different in adjacent basins. Ridges are frequently wind affected, and can be quite icy, or even bare of snow. Beware also of cornices on the high ridgelines. The Craigieburns have their fair share of avalanches, and everybody in the group should carry and be familiar with transceivers, probes and shovels. If you are going out from a skifield it is both courteous and potentially life saving to consult the Ski Patrol about backcountry avalanche risk before going out, particularly if you intend leaving your car in their car park. The ski areas all have backcountry risk advisory boards, and some way of leaving intentions.
- N.B. Make sure that you check out with the patrol when you return, or unnecessary searches can be started!!!
To get to the Craigieburns, follow Yaldhurst Road out of Christchurch and continue on Highway 73, the West Coast Road, through Springfield and over Porter’s Pass. The skifields are well signposted, all of them up gravel roads which often require chains or 4WD in winter, roughly 75 to 90 minutes drive from downtown Christchurch – slightly further to Mt Olympus, which is via Windwhistle rather than Porter’s Pass.
A selection of backcountry routes between the ski areas is presented below. Full details in the NZ Alpine Club b/c skiing guidebook.
--JamesB 17:06, 29 October 2006 (EST)
Craigieburn Valley to Broken River
A short and straightforward crossing. Check with the ski patrol at Craigieburn Valley about snow conditions. From the top of the ski tows, skin or walk about 20 minutes up to the summit of Hamilton Peak, (1922m), and from there you are looking south-east down to Allan’s Basin, adjacent to the Broken River ski area. Alternatively Hamilton Col, a col to the SE of Hamilton Peak (1770m) can be accessed quickly and easily by traversing across Hamilton Face from the Craigieburn top tow, and climbing up a few minutes on foot. This also leads into Allan’s Basin.
It’s a great ski down into Allan’s Basin, traversing to the skier’s right at around 1580m elevation and crossing the ridge that comes off Nervous Knob to reach Broken River ski area. There are usually skier tracks to follow. In years of good snow cover, rather than traversing to BR directly, it is possible to continue skiing down the centre of Allan’s Basin all the way down to a bend on the skifield access road. Then it’s about 20 minutes walk up the track to the BR lifts. Broken River ski club honour Craigieburn Valley ski tickets (and vice versa) so you can do a few runs here before returning. Always introduce yourself to the very friendly ski patrol, so that they know who’s on the mountain at all times.
To return to Craigieburn, ride Broken River’s highest rope tow, that leads up the ridge to Nervous Knob. Ski along the ridge to the north-east for a few minutes, and from there it’s a further 15-20 minute climb along the ridge to just below the top of Mt Hamilton, where you look down onto Hamilton Col (mentioned above). Ski down and left onto that col, and down the Hamilton Face back to Craigieburn. Alternatively climb further along the same ridge to the summit of Mt Hamilton.
Broken River to Cheeseman ski area
From the top of the main rope tow at Broken River, put on skins and travel south-west along the undulating ridge – over Sunny Peak, on to the spot elevation 1884, and continue to another small bump (map reference K34: 018850), where the ridge to Mount Wall heads east. Approximately 30 minutes from Broken River ski area, the day lodge of which is still visible.
The basin that descends to the NE of here is known as "Yukon bowl", and is a pleasant 240 vertical metre ski descent down to a flat area where skins can be re-applied for the climb back out. There are steep rocky slopes below here, and on either side, so going back up the fall line is the best option, rather than trying a short cut return directly towards Broken River.
From 018850, to go on to Mount Cheeseman, ski down the main ridge to the south-west and skin up, over the point marked 1834 and then a few zig-zags up the north ridge of Mount Cockayne, which overlooks the Mount Cheeseman skifield. 3.5 km and 90 minutes to 2 hours in total from Broken River to Cheeseman Ski Area. In reverse, similar times from Cheeseman to Broken River.
A ski descent can be made SW off point 1834 into the headwaters of Cockayne Creek, if snow conditions suit.
Cheeseman ski area to Mount Olympus
The skifield of “Mount Cheeseman” is actually on the south-east slopes of Mount Cockayne – a mountain named after Leonard Cockayne (1855-1934), a well-known Canterbury botanist and conservationist. Cheeseman is a friendly little skifield, with 2 T-bar lifts, snow groomers and an on-snow accommodation lodge, and it’s a good alternative to Mount Hutt when skiing from Christchurch. Cheeseman sell single T-bar ride tickets to the top of the skifield for a modest $5, giving good access to backcountry basins. There’s a backcountry avalanche risk advisory board at the top of the lifts.
The large basin to the south of the ski area, in the headwaters of Tim’s Stream, is known as "Tarn Basin", and is popular with skiers and boarders going out from the ski area. There are good turns to be had from the top of the lifts (1840m) all the way down to the 1500 metre level, or lower. Many people ski only as far as the frozen tarn at 1620 metre elevation, before returning to the ski area via a small col on the intervening ridge at 1760m. To head towards Olympus and the Ryton Valley, tour south-west 2½ km along the ridge to the peak of Mount Cheeseman itself (2030m) in 75 to 90 minutes. Beware of cornices that often form on the eastern side of this ridge. There’s a good run off point 1950 east down into Tarn Basin, and also a nice basin to the west (the headwaters of Hut Creek), which sees a lot less traffic than Tarn Basin.
From the top of Mount Cheeseman itself, you look south-west into the undulating slopes of the upper Ryton Valley. Ski off the peak into the Ryton for 150 vertical metres, and then traverse to the skier’s right (west) to reach the central gully of the Ryton, which often holds lovely powder snow. This gully is a nice consistent 20º gradient down to flats at the 1420m level, i.e. a 600 vertical metre run from the top of Mt Cheeseman. 75-90 minutes skinning back to the top for another run down. You can spend a whole day here cutting fresh tracks and return to the Cheeseman ski area, or go on to the Mount Olympus ski area.
To Mt Olympus ski area from the peak of Mount Cheeseman, it is easy travel west on the ridge towards spot elevation 1836, and then across a broad saddle and then a gradual 200 metre climb SW onto the north shoulder of Mount Olympus at about 2000m. Depending upon snow cover, it’s a ski traverse or it may be a walk on rocky slopes to get around to the west ridge of Mt Olympus, where snow slopes lead down to the upper basins of Mt Olympus ski area. (Windwhistle Winter Sports Club). 7½km or around 3 to 4 hours from skifield to skifield direct.
Mount Olympus and the Ryton Valley
From the top of the lifts at Mt Olympus ski area, ski through a basin to the north, which contains a tarn in summer. A snow ramp is then seen ascending to the right (as you look at the slope), which is a convenient way to access the flattish ridge at around 967795. Sidle the north-western slopes of this peak by initially ascending the west ridge to around 2000m elevation. Either continue NE towards an 1800m col and gentle slopes at the head of the Ryton Valley, or descend into the Ryton SE from point 1974 where the slopes steepen as they descend.
An alternative way to access the mid Ryton Valley is via "The Sphinx", a col at 1920m, grid ref 973789, very obvious from window of the Mt Olympus main lodge. The locals will point the way. Traverse across to the east from the top of the lifts until directly under the Sphinx and climb on foot straight up 160 metres or so to the col. From there SE-facing slopes lead down to the floor of the Ryton Valley.
In good snow cover it is possible to ski all the way down the Ryton to "Coach Corner" at 1000m elevation on the access road (grid ref 969757). The last few km may not have much snow on the valley sides, but an old farm track usually holds enough snow to allow ski or snowboard travel.
Skifield contact info
- Craigieburn Valley Ski Area. PO Box 2152, Christchurch. Phone (03) 365 2514, or club lodge (03) 318 8711. Craigieburn website
- Mount Olympus. PO Box 25055, Christchurch. Phone (03) 318 5840. Olympus website
- Broken River Ski Area. PO Box 2718, Christchurch. Phone (03) 318 7270, or club lodge (03) 318 8713. BR website
- Mount Cheeseman Ski Area. 199A High St, Christchurch. Phone (03) 379 5315. Mt Cheeseman website Snow report 366 6644
- Porter Heights Ski Area. Accomodation – phone (025) 340 909, or (03) 348 5922. Porter Heights website Snow report 366 7766
- Black Diamond Safaris, Snowork Tours and Alpine Expeditions are three Christchurch transport companies that go up to the club ski areas in 4WD wagons.
Season passes to the craigiburn ski areas
A season pass that covers the entire Craigieburn range is available, and very handy when ski touring between these skifields. See Chill, a good website with info on the club fields and skiing there.
Check out Mapworld. Corner of Gloucester and Manchester Streets, Christchurch. Website
- The map to buy is the 1:50 000 scale topographical map 260 - K34 Wilberforce, which is available from DOC offices and map retailers, and covers the whole range, except for the Porter Heights skifield which lies just off the lower edge of the map.