Guiding in New Zealand

Hakuba MountainLife Blog

Guiding in New Zealand

One of the big benefits of pursuing professional guide qualifications under the ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) is that it has opened up new working opportunities that before were just not possible. For example, I have been very very fortunate in New Zealand, where I am working for Alpine Guides Limited. They run a number of guiding operations which I thought I'd describe briefly in this blog post. I am still very new in the organization, but so far being part of a tight professional team of guides has added a lot of context and meaning to the avalanche and guide training I've taken over the years. And it will certainly make me a much better guide in my home town of Hakuba, Japan. Living and operating in Hakuba is more than great, but professionally it is so valuable to get out into other operational environments, particularly ones which are more demanding than my home zone in Japan.

The following guiding operations all fall under the same umbrella. It is very exciting and quite humbling for me to be associated with such a diverse range of guiding activities.
Alpine Guides Limited are based in Mount Cook Village, and what a spot that is! They offer heli-camp ski touring, avalanche training, hut based ski touring and winter/summer alpine climbing and glacier hiking. So far I have been involved with some avalanche training and will be on the guiding team for heli-camp ski touring in September. The idea is we all fly into a zone, set up a base camp, and go ski/splitboard touring for 4 days. Which sounds like exactly my kind of thing.
So far I have spent the most time with Methven Heli - both involved with regular heliskiing, and also heli-accessed ski tour guiding in remote parts of the mountains. And... so far I believe the claims that we ski the best heli ski terrain in NZ. Certainly the mountain area we cover is very large, the options diverse, and sometimes, the runs can be really pretty big. Some would find them a little intimidating. Becoming a good heliski guide takes a few seasons, and I am very lucky to be part of an experienced team. All the other guides have been working here for a long time (a great sign). And a huge percentage of customers are return customers (another great sign). It is important not to forget where I came from and not to take these things for granted.
This is a new take on heli skiing in NZ and the Mount Cook region. The tenure is massive, and involves numerous diverse mountain ranges which helps manage conditions. Besides a day watching over as a film crew did their thing, I have not really been involved with MCHS yet, however the the opportunity is there to be called in to help out with busy days in the future. My Japanese friend, Taichiro (Tai) Naka, guides with them and loves it. He is working on his full mountain guide certification with the NZMGA. If I were a committed heliskier from Europe or North America, I'd be booking 10 days in August or September at the Hermitage in Mt Cook Village and going heli skiing every good day with these guys. It is classic destination heliskiing, with a very experienced guide team in a unique and intense mountain location.
This guiding service makes a lot of sense for a lot of people. You fly into the the top of the huge Tasman Glacier by ski plane, rather than helicopter. Then land on the glacier, and do a few very very long runs with the plane as a ski lift. Like heliskiing, but more peaceful. This is a great way to get regular skiers and boarders into a mountain environment in which they might never have dreamed of riding. In my past experiences, some of the most rewarding guiding moments have come from helping new customers in situations just like this.

So come heliskiing, or heli-camp touring, or any of the above in New Zealand! Amazingly, a few heliskiers here have already been regular followers of the Hakuba MountainLife Facebook page. I hope I meet more of you in the future. If you want to arrange some helicamp ski touring, get in touch!


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Previous articles...

Where To Get Started in Hakuba's Backcountry. Part 1.

I am converting a few of our Hakuba MountainLife Magazine articles into blog posts to make them accessible to a wider audience. This post has the "Where to Get Started" articles from our 2012 and 2013 issues. There are a few more from the series that I'll post later. They are all aimed at helping less experienced people get going in Hakuba's backcountry, however they should not be used like a guide book. Many people use our professional backcountry guiding service in Hakuba to take them into this terrain safely. Others like to adventure themselves.

Thoughts on Guided Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding in Hakuba

As the local Hakuba backcountry ski season approaches I like to review past experiences and training. This gets my brain back into professional guide mode after being out of the game for the last 2 months in between north/south winters. A great place to start is to remind myself of what is expected of a professional guide, and think about times in the past when I hit the nail on the head, and more importantly, where I did not do well. Don't trust any guide who claims to never do a poor job! Guiding is a fun job with many nuances and challenges.

Operational Risk Management

We are a backcountry guiding operation, and safety comes first, always. In this blog we describe some of our daily risk management routine. This has been daily habit for several years now, whether we are guiding that day or not. This is what we believe to be the minimum required professional standard of care owed to paying guided customers. Do not assume everyone does this.

Gear That Outperforms: Gloves

People often ask me for reviews and opinions. So occasionally I will list a few gear items which I think outperform the others. Pieces of gear which do their job really well, and make my job more fun, more comfortable, or safer. In this blog post, it is a pair of sunglasses, and a pair of gloves. Let's get one thing honest from the start: I do not get any free gear from brands. Typically I try to buy from brands which support the avalanche and guiding industry, but only if their products are good in the first place.

Remote Terrain, Kita Alps, Japan

Take a look at the photos in this blog post. One of these days I will run a guided trip into this section of the Kita Alps. It is, without a shadow of doubt, the best ski touring (and guiding) terrain in all of Japan. It won't be an easy trip, nor cheap. I would anticipate at least a 5 day tour. Depending on the depth of soft snow (ski penetration) it takes 8-12 hour just to reach the fringe of the zone, without one single downhill turn along the way. It would be a shame to take two days just to execute that approach move. Tough first day, ey.

Mount Steele, Yukon, Canada

In early June 2016 we made a trip to Mt Steele in Kluane National Park, Yukon. Due to a large storm and inappropriate avalanche conditions relative to the final 1000m of ascent terrain, we did not bother trying for the summit. There were four of us in the group, of which three were old friends from Canmore and originally Swiss migrants to Canada, past and present Mountain Guides, and very active outdoorsmen. The oldest in the group was 72, I was the youngest, 43. Two in the group had been to the summit of 'nearby' Mount Logan in 1977. It was a privilege for me to be invited to join this great group on an expedition style trip.

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