Frigid Times at Fox Peak
By Ollie Hunt
Cover Photo: Ollie on top of Fox Peak, surveying the best place to put skis on in ‘light’ winds. Photo: Remy Rae.
Nestled in the Mackenzie country just north of Fairlie, Fox Peak is a unique club field.
When I was about 10 I skied Fox Peak a few times with my family, and we experienced some epic powder days. This, as well as seeing some of the terrain out back on a trip south with Charlie Murray - when we were about 16 - meant I have long been keen to get back and ski above the top of the field.
Unfortunately, in recent years, Fox Peak has not had sufficient snow for a reasonable season - or a season at all last year.
This year Fox Peak has been luckier, with enough snow to open and some powder days - and with a few friends keen, we made an overnight trip.
Warm sleeping bags recommended. Photo: Remy Rae.
Arriving just a shade after 9pm on Friday night (24 Aug), we were lucky there was another group in the lodge before us - otherwise it may have taken some time to warm up the hut. Stowing our gear in the drying room the three of us nestled into our sleeping bags in one of the three storey bunk rooms for the night. (I would highly recommend a good sleeping bag if you do not have time to heat up the hut).
Creative cooking with Andre Laredo. Photo: Remy Rae.
Waking the next morning we were warned of maintenance on the field, so had a leisurely start - lounging around the hut cooker.
Compared to last time I visited Fox Peak, as a teenager in Charlie’s Corolla, the road has been reconditioned nicely - especially smooth ride in Remy’s ute.
Arriving at the field we found that though there had been a decent dump the week before, strong winds had severely affected the snow pack, ripping snow away and exposing tussock in places.
The Tasman and Apex tow had been torn into by the wind. Photo: Remy Rae.
Fox Peak has three 700m rope tows, more or less in line with each other, which take skiers up 580m vertical. The final 430m (vert) hike to Fox Peak - 2330m above sea level, is almost perfectly in line with the top tow.
In the years I went with my family, we never managed to ski the top lift - maintenance issues prevented this. This year we were luckier, and all three tows were open during the day - though a bull wheel bearing delayed the Tasman tow (middle) opening.
We skied the Meadow tow (first) for a few runs, but once the Tasman tow was opened, we headed straight up all three. We shouldered our packs & skis and began hiking towards the Peak. Wind had affected the upper mountain too, so hiking on the firm snow was faster and easier than skinning - though at times icy patches warranted careful footing.
With only firm snow remaining from wind scouring the ridge, the hike was not too strenuous - though the wind meant it was rather chilly.
Leaving the top of the Apex tow at 12.40, we were standing near the peak at 2.00 - searching for a place to put on skis as the wind made it rather difficult. Photo: Remy Rae
I elected to go right to the peak as you may be able to see in the cover photo - which didn’t offer many easy places to put on skis either, but an awesome 360 degree view.
While the snow conditions were abysmal on the first pitch off the peak (boilerplate ice), the view from the top was fantastic - looking to the northwest shows some of the potential in the terrain - if you have good backcountry skills and stamina to match. Photo: Ollie Hunt.
Looking to the east from the peak you could see out all the way to the sea. Photo: Ollie Hunt.
Aside from the wind chill, the wind had severely stripped the snowpack, the ski off the top of the Peak was not the most pleasant of the season. Descending through a mixture of ice, which turned into a crust, and then some nice windblown powder, we skied the full 1000m vert back to the lunch hut without much pause, a leg burner given the conditions.
While the snow wasn’t amazing, the terrain is, so we spent the remaining few runs checking out the terrain.
Fox Peak and the touring accessible from it have so much potential in the right snow - fingers crossed the forecast cold spring has a few more snowstorms in store for us.
The Chill Pass
Chill Passes allow you to ski at up to 12 ski areas across the South Island. The flexibility to ski in the Waitaki, Mackenzie, Canterbury, Kaikoura and Nelson Lakes Districts is what makes the Chill Pass truly New Zealand's ultimate multi-mountain ski and snowboard pass. There are two types of passes, the Season Pass with unlimited access during the season, and the Travel Pass with a set number of clips for skiing and non-ski day options.