Want to shred deep powder without fighting in queues for first lifts this winter? Of course you do.
Then you’ve come to the right place because we know that backcountry is your best friend and we know how to get beginners to experts there in both rustic and luxe style.
Ditch crowds for off-piste serenity, and swap chairlifts for skins with these epic experiences in Australia and New Zealand this winter.
This full-day tour costs from $275 and will teach you the basics of navigating and staying safe in the backcountry, plus practical elements of how to take skins off and on (harder than it sounds), climb uphill, and cruise down slopes that are moderately challenging but mostly good fun.
While some first-timer tours require you undertake safety theory courses before heading out, SMBC puts you in the hands of a qualified guide who will get you skinning and skiing on day one.
“We help you take all the guesswork out of it,” says SMBC owner Doug Chatten. “If you’ve been gazing out beyond the resort boundaries thinking, ‘wow that looks amazing, I want to get out there but I’m not sure how to do it’ – this tour is for you.”
Those with some experience can progress to SMBC’s iconic “3 Peaks High Route” tour ($320) that will take you from Guthega, along the Main Range and up Australia’s three highest peaks: Mt Twynam, Mt Townsend and Mt Kosciuszko. Fitness is more important than skiing ability – you’ll be covering 25km and approximately 10 hours of climbing.
In Thredbo, Backcountry Tours supported by the North Face have options for every level of backcountry experience. You first need to complete the one-day introductory course, ($199) which is a basic familiarisation and safety course in the Ramshead Range and Bogong Creek area.
After that, you can explore beyond the resort boundaries on a range of guided tours and even undertake the two-day Avalanche Skills Training AST1 certification ($330). New this year are the exciting Women’s Beyond Boundaries Tours ($309), for intermediate-advanced women (ladies only, sorry fellas) who want to score fresh powder and hone their skills in a confidence-boosting crew. Keep an eye on their website for dates release.
Across the ditch in New Zealand, Queenstown Mountain Guides offer ski touring and mountaineering trips in the Remarkables for beginners, while skiers with some backcountry experience can head to Mt Cook, and Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers. Single-day trips start from NZ$250 and no previous touring experience is required – you just need to be intermediate level and able to ski off-piste.
For experienced tourers
Fancy sleeping in igloo-like “geo dome” tents on the side of a mountain? Adventure Consultants New Zealand offer a remote four-day backcountry experience based out of the Geo Dome Camp in the McKerrow Mountains. For NZ$2090 per person, a helicopter will drop you at camp, where you’ll sleep, eat and tour from daily, as well as gain the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) Avalanche Awareness qualification. There’s also a six-day glacier ski touring option staying in huts around the Mt Cook area with the same company.
If you really like to brave the elements, Queenstown Mountain Guides’ three-day Backcountry Skiing Heli Camp is for you. From NZ$1500 you’ll be choppered into the wilderness surrounding Queenstown and set up camp in lightweight, expedition-style tents. Learn how to survive the elements building snow walls, dig foot wells and sleeping in the snow – all skills you can apply to your own, longer expeditions.
Got the gear, safety certifications and experience? It’s a little-known secret that the Remarkables has some of the best, most accessible backcountry terrain in the world; the area became home to the Freeride World Tour Academy in 2022 for this very reason.
“Beyond the Remarkables Mountain Range and out into the Doolans and the Hector Range, there’s any amount of touring available to the public,” says Ross Lawrence, Ski Area Manager of the Remarkables who goes skinning most mornings before work.
“The ultimate experience is getting that untracked powder snow where you can leave your own turns and admire them. But I think people also enjoy the journey on the way – the incredible views, the remoteness. If you’re out on a blue-sky day with snow all around you, nothing beats it.”
For less skinning, more skiing
Many skiers relish the untracked powder of the backcountry, but don’t necessarily love to puff uphill to earn their turns. If that’s you; in Australia, the Falls Creek Backcountry Tours might be your jam. These run powder hounds into the pristine backcountry of Falls Creek via snowmobiles.
A few changes are coming to the tours in 2022 including new full-day tours (removing the half-day option) that include lunch. Bookings are not yet open for the season but, when they do, a snowmobile sled with driver will cost $1500 for the day and can fit up to six riders ($250pp).
Need extra bodies to fill your sled and keep costs down? Try posting your plans in Miss Snowitall’s Aussie Facebook group.
For deeeeeep pow
Heli-skiing might be the ultimate backcountry experience. While it’s not an option in Australia, a handful of New Zealand companies offer heli-skiing in the Southern Alps for intermediate skiers who are confident off-piste.
Southern Lakes Heliski is the best-known operator out of the Queenstown area and prides itself on higher qualified guides, more terrain and more vertical than any competitor in the region. It offers a variety of daily and private charter packages starting from NZD$1350 per person for eight to 10 runs. That’s enough to make your thighs burn. But then, can you ever really get enough heli-skiing?
“There’s no one around you, you’ve got the convenience of a helicopter, not queuing for lift lines, and obviously – this incredible snow quality,” says James Hamilton, Chief Guide at Southern Lakes Heli who has guided in backcountry regions around the world for 25 years.
“In New Zealand, we ski in total high alpine terrain, which means you’re above the tree line, skiing pristine bowls while looking at braided rivers, green pastures, and lakes below. The scenic value is outrageous.”
For something a bit extra
Soho Basin combines the luxury of ski resort hotels with the remoteness and incredible powder skiing of the backcountry. This is a private ski area located off the road to Cardrona resort, with 264 hectares and more than 500 vertical metres, plus a snowcat on demand, available to private charter groups of 10-12 people.
A charter costs NZ$12,000 but includes exclusive use of the resort and snowcats, a private chef, three-course lunch, après drinks, a barbeque, snacks and s’mores at the end of the day. Grab 11 mates to split the cost and you’ll always remember that epic day you were queens and kings of your own ski resort.
Similar with just a touch less luxury: you can rent out former ski resort the Invincibles Snow Fields near Glenorchy on New Zealand’s South Island. Spend four nights with five friends in a cosy mountain hut at 1650m above sea level, waking up to fresh turns in 950 hectares of private backcountry.
A helicopter will drop maximum six guests at a time off with a guide and supplies, but once you arrive there’s a single 700m rope tow and no other lifts. Get your skins on or simply mow freshies in the pristine bowl off the rope tow.