Ode to New Zealand's club fields
There are 11 club fields in New Zealand -- they are all open to the public, but they feel like you've been invited to an exclusive club. Unlike more commercial ski resorts, they operate a nonprofit structure under the management of their respective ski clubs.
The riding at the club fields feels raw and untamed. Snowmaking is nonexistent, and grooming is limited.
The nutcracker lift is unique to the New Zealand club fields. The antiquated surface tows are powered by diesel engines, and the rider must wear a harness and a hinged contraption -- the "nutcracker" -- which attaches to the tow rope heading uphill. It takes a bit of getting used to but gets you up the hill quickly and efficiently once mastered. Alex Yoder displays perfect style, negotiating a pulley at Broken River.
Keeping It Real
"Club fields bring us back to the basics and force us to really appreciate the power of nature," said Charlotte Berry, the mountain manager at Temple Basin. "Clubbies are keeping it real."
The on-snow facilities at Temple Basin are simple, but they get the job done. There are beds for about 40 folks in hostel-style rooms and they are communal meals. It adds up to all-inclusive, ski-in, ski-out packages for about $80 per day. The views aren't bad, either.
When a big storm hits, operation at the club fields can be halted until the little hill can be unburied. But in recent years, big storms have been less frequent.
Most of the staff at the club fields work there for the riding. So don't be surprised if the ticket-sales window or the lunch counter shut down temporarily on powder days.
Temple Basin is situated on the divide of New Zealand's Southern Alps and often receives the most snow from westerly storms coming from the Tasman Sea. Forrest Shearer enjoys the product of an 18-inch dump in the area's backcountry.
View from below
The mountain roads in New Zealand, particularly to the club fields, are usually made of dirt and often feature precipitous drops and no guard rail. Good thing the views keep you distracted from possible doom. Alex Yoder shown behind the wheel.
Getting to the club fields is the first real challenge. You'll need four-wheel drive and tire chains just to reach the lodge, and some roads are prone to avalanche exposure, ice and more.
Club-field visits accounted for only 2.5 percent of the 1.3 million New Zealand skier visits in 2013, according to the Ski Area Association of New Zealand. Higher visitor numbers would help ensure a more sustainable future.
"We are seeing larger snow events that are further spread apart. We aren't getting the consistent 10- to 15-centimeter events," said Ben Savill, the president of Hanmer Springs.
Scope your line
Scope your lines in the Temple Basin backcountry from the comfort of the area's small hut. These lines take a couple of hours to reach from the highest of Temple's three vertically stacked nutcracker tows and go only when there is good snow stability.
Most of the club fields have a communal gathering spot or bar where you'll find skiers and riders at the end of the day. Guests staying in the lodge have chores such as cooking and cleaning to help contribute to the club.
While the lift-serviced terrain is fun, it's the backcountry access that make the club fields special. Alex Yoder, left, and Forrest Shearer, right, navigate a tricky ridgeline at Temple Basin.
It took about an hour and a half for Forrest Shearer to reach this couloir from the top of Broken River's tows. On the backside of this ridgeline, known as the Remarkables, is Craigieburn and its legendary terrain.
The Goods Lift
To reach Temple Basin's base lodge, you'll hike 45 minutes uphill from the parking lot. But at least you don't have to carry your gear: The goods lift, shown here, will deliver your stuff up for you.