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New Zealand: the mountains
There's no doubt about it, New Zealand skiing and boarding is going through a boom time right now. True snowsports enthusiasts have been making the trip since the late eighties. Later, Terje Haakonsen's legendary film Subjekt was partly filmed in New Zealand. But in recent years, the country's reputation had been steadily cranking its way through the notches with each passing winter. It's now firmly established as the summer stop-off du jour for most of the world's top northern hemisphere pros. Snow Park, one of the top dedicated freestyle resorts, has a worldwide influence that belies its tiny riding stature, and to further enhance New Zealand's freestyle reputation, 'The Stash', a Burton freestyle run made out of natural obstacles, of which there are only three in the world, was opened in The Remarkables in the winter of 2008. And that's without even mentioning the natural riding terrain in resorts such as Treble Cone and Cardrona, and the amazing, affordable heliskiing. And how about the towns Wanaka and Queenstown as bases to access all this? Few resorts can match this pair for location, atmosphere, facilities and sheer ambience. Even when the snow is bad, there's a lot to do. Each of these disparate elements combine to form the Kiwi snow experience, so is it any wonder that hordes of skiers and boarders are making the trip each year? Understandably, some locals have expressed gentle concern at the changes being wrought by and on behalf of this traffic: particularly in Queenstown which, being world famous, is destined only to get busier. But perhaps these worries are premature. As has been pointed out, compared to its glitzy European counterparts, Queenstown is still a village.
New Zealand weather is dictated by its southerly latitude and isolation out in the southwest Pacific. Westerly winds come in from across the Tasman Sea, cooling and rising as they pass over the Southern Alps to create storms. These fronts are followed by periods of clear weather, a cycle which usually lasts six to 10 days. The other important system is the southerly, passing up the east coast and causing temperatures to drop and snow to fall. Systems from the southeast in particular bring heavy snowfalls. Again, these storms will be followed by periods of calm, clear weather. Temperatures in the NZ winter are also generally chilly; as low as -10°C has been recorded, although a low of around 0-2°C is more usual. The main feature of New Zealand's weather is its unpredictability, meaning days featuring snow, sun, wind and even rain are not uncommon.
The very fact that New Zealand's winter coincides with the northern hemisphere's summer largely accounts for its popularity. For many chasing the endless winter, and for many professional skiers and film crews, two months in New Zealand during July and August is a far more appealing prospect than trying to make the most of conditions on one of the French or Swiss glaciers.
Off-piste skiing, either in the main resort centres, the Club Fields or via heliskiing is huge in New Zealand. Skiers are left to make their own decisions, and are expected to be equipped with full avalanche equipment. Take the usual precautions – don't ski on your own, let the patrol know where you're going and follow all local advice.
Find out what it's like to ski or snowboard in 24 countries. The pros and cons, costs, the mountains, the resorts and a whole lot more
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