There’s an adventure to suit anyone at the so-called Selwyn Six.
The district’s ski areas are within easy reach of Christchurch – apart from the well-known Mt Hutt in the Ashburton District and Temple Basin in Arthur’s Pass.
Aside from their proximity, these ski areas don’t have a huge amount in common. Rather, it’s the variety that makes this an interesting area to explore. You can narrow your choices of the Selwyn Six quite quickly if you sort them by their lift systems. All but Porters and Cheeseman require “nutcrackers.” These bulky steel contraptions are attached to a belt or harness and you use it to hold onto a fast moving rope tow. Once mastered, it’s a great way to travel, but learning can require patience and a robust ego, even for really experienced skiers.
The ski field formerly known as Porter Heights has the distinction of being the closest ski field to Christchurch at 89km. The gravel road is also mercifully short. Another distinction is that Porters is the only ski field in the Selwyn Six that has a chairlift. So if it’s easy, accessible skiing you're after, or you have beginners in tow, this is a good choice. There are still some long, steep faces to keep the powder hounds happy when the conditions are at their best.
BR, as it’s known to locals, is a friendly club-field with an epic journey in. It starts with a winding beech forest road, then up New Zealand’s only alpine tramway to the ticket office and accommodation lodges. The ski field is a 15-minute walk up the “Stairway to Heaven.” From there, the sunny and social day lodge is one rope-tow away. Great off-piste skiing in the sheltered bowl and BR’s own boutique lager are your rewards – as well as occasional night skiing.
Craigieburn Valley Ski Area calls itself the holy grail for advanced or expert riders. This club field is famous for its steep terrain and chutes. The Middle Basin run is often compared to a heli-ski experience – the main difference being the 15-minute walk back up to the lifts if you go all the way to the road. For backcountry enthusiasts, there’s also the option to hike or tour over to neighbouring Broken River.
The only club-owned ski field where you won’t need a nutcracker, Cheeseman is a family-friendly ski area that’s accessible for all levels. On a fine day, the large day lodge with a wrap-around deck is a major asset. There is a ski-in-ski-out accommodation option as well as self-catered backpackers in the forest with its own ice skating rink.
Mount Olympus was always known as “a drinking club with a skiing problem.” With a hot tub, a late-night bar and a wall of dress-up boxes, Mount Olympus is definitely the party club. The lodge is well designed for it, with quiet, recently-renovated bunk rooms well away from the dance floor (complete with lasers and smoke machine). The Mount Olympus lodge sits high on the field so be prepared to carry your overnight gear up the rope tow on your back – it’s all part of the adventure.
This 89-year-old ski club is the furthest from Christchurch and it feels a world apart. The 40-minute hike from the Arthur’s Pass car park would have been a tough ask in the days before the goods lift was installed in 1962. It’s always been a place that attracts hardy souls. The large hut is perched in the midst of the main range where it is the first – and sometimes only – of the Selwyn Six to benefit from westerly snowfalls.