Having ridden with Harris Mountain Heli-Ski a couple of years ago, my husband and I were eager to book again this year and decided to do so as soon as we arrived in Queenstown. The Harris Mountain counter can be found inside ‘The Station’ which is located on the corner of Shootover Street and Camp Street. We spoke to the staff and advised what days we were available to fly. The staff always do their best to get you out on your nominated day/s, however having some flexibility and providing alternative dates helps if the day needs to be rescheduled due to poor weather.
At the counter and also online, there is a quick questionairre you can complete to determine your skiing or snowboarding ability ranging from levels 1 to 4. This helps the guide know what terrain would be most appropriate for your ability to ensure the day is as fun and rewarding as possible. This will also determine how many runs you choose to do, there are a few different options ranging from 3 runs to max vert which is approx. 10 runs. We opted for the classic 7 run package.
Our confirmation call came at 7:45am, the weather was looking good and heli ski was on! We were picked up from our accommodation at 8:45am by our guide Johno and we were told that we would be snowboarding in the North Buchanan mountain range and would be flown from Queenstown to Wanaka by helicopter. We were feeling pretty lucky as this meant extra flight time in the heli on an incredibly scenic flight to Wanaka. Before we knew it we were up, flying over stunning mountain ranges before flying alongside Matukituki River and landing in a large paddock just outside Wanaka.
Once landed, we were put into our group for the day (6 people in total including our guide and pilot). After introductions, we were given an avalanche and transceiver briefing. Johno’s delivery of the training was spot on and super easy to understand. Avalanches are rare, however, in the back country which is not controlled in any way, they do occasionally happen and knowing what to do if it does happen definitely beats being unprepared.
Excited and slightly terrified, we loaded into the helicopter and up into the mountains we went. The views were nothing less than breathtaking.
The helicopter landing at the top of the mountain was incredible, with skill and precision our pilot Scott gently landed the heli at the very top of the mountain peak which often had a sheer drop over the other side. Once landed Johno unloaded our boards/ski’s and then opened the doors for us to get out. Staying low, one by one we jumped out and waited in a line in a crouched down position until the heli took off again. The view from the top was beautiful, for me it was a feeling of freedom and being totally immersed in the moment.
Before our first run, Johno skied a little way down to do a snow pack test while we waited at the top. Once he was happy with the way the snow had bonded together he called us down one at a time giving the rider in front roughly a 50 metre gap. The first run was exhilarating, the snow felt great and everyone was super stoked.
The next few runs were fun and playful. Most runs were slightly steeper at the start however mellowed out to a rolling wide open slope, it was like a playground, an open canvas to carve whatever line you wanted. The snow wasn’t overly deep but still enough for the board to glide through in silence.
After five runs it was time for lunch. Lunch in the valley was out of this world, with 360 degree mountain views, the sun beaming down on us and a selection of tasty rolls, savoury pastries, soup and chocolate slice, we were in heaven. We ate and chatted for about half an hour before it was time to go back up in the heli for our last two runs.
Our second last run was down a chute (steep gully). Johno had assessed the snow pack during lunch and was happy for us to go down. The chute itself was fairly steep and the snow not as soft, however I enjoyed the challenge and can now say I successfully rode down a steep chute.
Our last run of the day was nice and long bringing us out alongside a stunning creek. Smiles and stoke could be seen on everyone’s faces. We were picked up at the bottom of the run and taken back to the paddock. Once unloaded from the helicopter we chilled for a while and reflected back on the amazing day that was. Thanks to Johno, our pilot Scott and all the crew at Harris Mountain for making this an unforgettable day.
If your looking to avoid the crowds and have some fresh powder to yourself then I say go for it and book a day with Harris Mountain. You most definitely won’t regret it!
On a final note, here is a few essentials to take on a heli-ski adventure
- snowboard or skis and boots (we took our own gear but you can hire gear for the day from any of the hire shops in Queenstown or Wanaka
- A phone with a camera or a GoPro so you can photograph some of the epic mountain scenery.
- sunscreen – on a sunny day the reflection of the sun from the snow is enough to give you a touch of sunburn
- dress warm – wear top and bottom thermals under your ski gear and thick socks, it does get chilly up there.
- No need to bring a transceiver, Harris Mountain provide one to every rider.