Winter in New Zealand is the highlight of the year for skiers and snowboarders! With all those amazing mountains around us, it doesn’t come as a surprise that most of us want nothing more than to hit the slopes on a bluebird day.
But who were the first ones to discover that the Southern Alps were the perfect fit for this?
Funnily enough, it was the Norwegian gold miners who introduced skiing to our area! Back in the day, in the 1860's and 1870's, skis were used as a method of transport to reach their diggings in winter. It only took the New Zealanders a few years to figure out that these simple wooden planks could provide access to the mountains. In 1893, two Kiwis used homemade skis on an almost successful ascent of New Zealand’s highest peak: Aoraki - Mount Cook. Around the same time, some pioneer high country sheep farmers discovered the versatility of these skis and started using them to muster their flocks after heavy snowfalls. By the early 1900s skiing was a common sport with dozens of local ski-clubs being formed on mountains all across New Zealand. Skis at that time were often made from native timber or fashioned from blades of farm implements.
Coronet Peak in Queenstown, was the first commercial ski resort to open to the public with its very first tow rope back in 1947 and only a few years later the idea of taking people skiing using an aircraft became a reality. Eight years later in 1955, New Zealand's first ski plane flight took off from Mt Cook Village, under the name Mount Cook Ski Planes, they are still operating in the area today.
At this time Harris Mountains Heli-Ski founder Paul Scaife was a mere four years old, growing up in amongst the Southern Lakes region which was evolving into one of the most popular ski areas in the world. After experiencing heli-skiing in Canada, where it was established in the early 1960s, he came back to his home country and started his own heli-skiing operation. Soon Harris Mountains Heli-Ski became the largest heli-ski operation outside of North America.
Seven years after HMH began, another big ski resort was looking to open its gates for the first time: The Remarkables, Queenstown. Even though snowboarding was already quite popular at that time, you wouldn’t have seen anyone using only one plank in the boundaries of the official resort. In fact up until 1987, the sport was banned from NZ ski fields because it was considered 'too dangerous'. But that opinion didn’t last for long and in 1989, nine years after their first opening, Cardrona was New Zealand's first ski resort to build an international 4-6ft halfpipe bringing skiers and boarders together from all corners of the globe.
Today, roughly 150 years after the first people skied New Zealand’s mountains, the country is a mecca for skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. Harris Mountains Heli-Ski is proud to be a part of this exciting winter sports community, taking guests to hidden valleys and secret slopes for over 40 years. While history is ever changing, one thing has remained the same since the 1800s: the majestic summits that form one of the most exhilarating ski areas in the world, New Zealand's Southern Alps.
Why not become one of the lucky few to experience what these mountains have to offer and book your heli-ski trip of a life time!