Great options for experienced ski tourers
Enjoying fresh powder in Upper Tin Hut Stream
A ski tourer's playground
Professional ski guides will look after you
Looking across to Aoraki / Mt. Cook from Ailsa Pass
Skiing from the hut door!
A cosy alpine retreat
Ski & Split-board Touring - Gamack Range
Backcountry ski/splitboard the ranges north-west of Lake Tekapo
The Cass Valley and Gamack Range near Lake Tekapo is an exciting backcountry skiing & split-boarding venue in the middle of an impressive landscape with a good variety of terrain. The mountain range is just east of the main Southern Alps and from the tops provides stunning views of Aoraki / Mount Cook and many more of New Zealand's 3000m peaks. Being close to the Main Divide, this area receives regular snow fall and has great skiing for intermediate to expert ski / split-board tourers.
Add in a cosy, heated hut and you have the recipe for a great backcountry holiday! The huts are provided by Glenmore Station. Will and Emily Murray, the station owners, are great ski enthusiasts and have built the huts in their favourite backcountry locations. The huts are very well sited to provide diverse backcountry experiences from each hut. Ski / split-board tours on a variety of aspects are possible from all huts, but each location has its own character. And have we mentioned whiskey? Part of the attraction of visiting Lady Emily and Falcon's Nest is the "world's highest whiskey bar (hut)". Order your own bottle and then work for it to enjoy a dram with your friends.
AND - there is more. Once a year, in mid September, we offer the opportunity to ski between the huts: The Alpine Recreation Gamack Range Ski Traverse. If you have been to the Cass Valley huts before, then you might have thought that it would be fantastic to link them all - or maybe just 2 of them. Are you up for the challenge?
|Participants||3 days||4 days||5 days||6 day traverse|
|returning client discount (on individual bookings), if you have been on an Alpine Recreation trip before.|
|Group Booking Discounts (NZ$ per person)|
|Group booking of 3|
|Group booking of 4|
|Group booking of 5|
|Group booking of 6|
|Group booking of 7|
|Group booking of 8|
- IFMGA/NZMGA certified mountain and ski guide
- Department of Conservation licence fees
- Heated hut accommodation
- Local accommodation for any nights required during the trip
- ALL meals (including snacks & energy bars) for the duration of the trip
- ALL avalanche safety and ski mountaineering equipment (with the exception of ski boots)
Meals and accommodation before/after the trip are NOT included.
+Minimum & Maximum Numbers
A minimum number of 2 participants is required to run this trip. If you end up being the only person booked on the trip, you will be offered the choice of:
- paying an additional fee of NZ
- rescheduling to another trip/date
- a full refund
The maximum number of participants per guide is 4. The maximum group size is 4.
Take advantage of our group booking discounts and get a group of family and friends together. The amount of discount you will be eligible for will depend on the group size - the more people you book, the more your discount will be! If our scheduled dates don't suit your group's travel plans, please contact us as we can reschedule a trip to suit (subject to guide availability).
Please note that group bookings are not private bookings - if you wish to keep your group closed (ie. you have a private guide just for your group), a surcharge will apply. Alterntatively you can book a group of 4 (which will ensure there are no others in your group).
+Cass Valley Access: Aircraft & 4WD Transport
4WD Access to a base location in the Cass Valley
"Normal" access to the valley is included in the trip price if your guide acts as the driver. By "normal" we mean: the guide drives with the group directly to one of the 3 base locations in the Cass Valley. Depending on the river level and track conditions, access to the valley may not be possible at all or only to certain locations. Please check the list below for the different walk in points for each hut.
If your group flew in from Tekapo without taking a 4WD into the Cass Valley and flying out is not possible, a 4WD pick up can be arranged for NZ$350 from Memorial Hut, NZ$260 from Tin Hut or NZ$200 from Waterfall Hut. Prices are per group (subject to low river levels).
To maximize your skiing time, you can fly to all hut sites. Maximum occupancy for the helicopter is 4 guests + guide.
Flying in may be the only option during or after flood events. The Cass River rises quickly, but takes its time to recede again. A guide may also decide against a drive in option, if heavy rain or snow is forecast during the duration of the trip.
Please note with larger groups we can often arrange a combination of driving in and flying to minimise the cost to the group. The most expensive part of the helicopter price is the shuttle time from MacKenzie Helicopters base in Tekapo to the Cass Valley and back. Shuttling extra people in from the lower 3 Cass Valley base locations only adds a fraction of the cost making the flight cheaper, as the shuttle gets shared by all guests. In addition, a 4WD drive is then located in the Cass Valley for the option to ski/walk out (ie. the extra cost of a pick up at the end of the trip will not be required).
Cass Valley access points
- MacKenzie Helicopters Tekapo Base - this is base location for flying in or flying out to all three huts. All trips with a flying component start and/or finish here.
- Waterfall Hut, lower Cass Valley (easy access with 4WD + closest to Tekapo - approx. 1-1:30 hours drive from Tekapo):
From here you can walk/ski into O'Leary's Hut (approx. 3-4 hours). Access is up a long, steep tussock slope then easy going on tussock and scree in a wide valley - much easier with low snow levels.
- Tin Hut, mid Cass Valley (moderately difficult access with 4WD - several river crossings & approx. 2 hours drive from Tekapo):
From here you can walk/ski into Falcon's Nest (approx. 4-5 hours). Access is up a steep tussock slope then hard going in a rocky river bed - much easier with low snow levels.
- Memorial Hut, upper Cass Valley (moderately difficult access with 4WD - several river crossings & approx. 2.5-3 hours drive from Tekapo. The last section is the most likely to flood and can be impassable after heavy rain/snow).
Access is up a long, steep tussock slope then easy going on tussock and scree in a wide valley to reach Lady Emily Hut - much easier with low snow levels.
Please use the following price table to calculate your group's flight cost to the various locations.
Gamack Range Backcountry Ski / Split-board Tours are based at either Lady Emily Hut, Falcon's Nest Hut or O'Leary's Hut. For 6 day hut-to-hut traverses, dates are given for the 3 different starting locations.
Green : Minimum reached - guaranteed departure.
Orange : Only 4 or fewer places available.
Red : No availability.
Venues: Lady Emily Hut, Falcon's Nest & O'Leary's Hut
Lady Emily Hut, Falcon's Nest & O'Leary's Hut
Lady Emily and Falcon's Nest Huts sit at an altitude of 1500m in the Gamack Range, with Lady Emily overlooking the upper Cass Valley and Falcon's Nest tucked into the fork of Upper Tin Hut Stream. O'Leary's Hut sits a bit higher at 1800m, overlooking Waterfall Stream. They are each located in beautiful settings, with great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, providing a fantastic location for star gazing - the Mackenzie District is renowned for the clarity of its sky and freedom from light pollution, which is why the area was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Reserve.
Each hut has its own special ski touring character:
Lady Emily: Provided the 4WD access to Memorial Hut is possible, this is the easiest hut to walk to. Most winters skinning is possible after just 45min walking and the skiing below the hut level on the tussocky slopes and alpine meadows offers the best bad weather skiing options on days with low visibility higher up in the Cass Valley. The terrain is playful and offers something for everyone. The access to "Bad Decision" (Whiskey Hut) is probably the easiest as well with approx. 3.5 km distance and 600m of climbing.
Falcon's Nest: As the middle hut, it has good access for all aspects. This is the place to be when choice is required and for a group of mixed ability, as it allows the easiest combination of mellow and steeper terrain. Access to "Bad Decision" (Whiskey Hut) is relatively short (approx. 700m climbing over 3.5km distance). It is your place to have it all.
O'Leary's: Steep and south-east facing. The slopes around the hut are steep and require good avalanche stability. This is the place to be for a powder day after a cold storm out of the south. There is great access to solar slopes for spring skiing, but you have to work a bit harder for it. Access to the Whiskey Hut ("Bad Decision") is practically impossible for an "average" ski tourer. It would require a 20km day with 2600m+ ascent.
The huts are privately owned and were built by Glenmore Station. They are an ideal base for backcountry skiing with ready access to a range of slopes suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers.
4WD or helicopter access is required. The huts can be reached in 2 hours' walking from the vehicle and are located in a beautiful setting, with great views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Warm & cosy
The huts are equipped with firewood, gas, bunks, pillows and mattresses. A wood-fired stove means there are good heating and drying facilities. Alpine Recreation has stocked the huts with sleeping bags for each bunk. This will keep the pack volume down for walk-in / ski-in trips.
Lady Emily consists of two rooms, one room sleeping up to 4 and a second sleeping 6. The 4 bunk room has a large wood burner with heat overflow warming the 6 bunk room. Falcon's Nest and O'Leary's consist of 1 large room with 8 bunks and a log burner. There are no showers and the toilet is a traditional longdrop loo.
Ski Touring Fitness & Experience
A high level of fitness is required. Participants need to carry a moderate to heavy pack, if walking in, because you will be carrying your skis and ski boots to the snowline. It can take 2-4 hours to reach the hut, with 400 - 800 vertical metres of height gain, depending on which venue is chosen. On subsequent days packs will be light, but participants will be doing the equivalent of a 6 hour walk/climb.
The Gamack Range is suitable for intermediate to advanced skiers. Guides will give instruction on downhill technique as needed. Ski touring in the Gamack Range is unsuitable for skiers with little or no off-piste experience. Please refer to our Two Thumb Range options as an alternative.
Previous backcountry ski touring experience is recommended. Previous tramping or hiking experience is essential.
8:00pm gear check at Alpine Recreation's Edelweiss Lodge, 8 Erebus Place, Lake Tekapo. You'll be carrying a moderate to heavy pack, (depending whether you are flying in or not), including personal gear and group food. Cooking equipment & sleeping bags are at the hut.
7:45am meeting at Alpine Recreation's Edelweiss Lodge, 8 Erebus Place, Lake Tekapo. Then drive to MacKenzie Helicopters Base if trip is fly-in or departure for Cass Valley if walking / skiing in.
Option to fly in to Lady Emily, Falcon's Nest or O'Leary's Hut with MacKenzie Helicopters. Head up valley for an afternoon backcountry ski tour.
Alternatively, if taking the 4WD option, from Lake Tekapo township we drive along the western shores of Lake Tekapo and cross Glenmore Station. A 1-3 hour 4WD journey takes us up the Cass Valley to either:
- Waterfall Hut (1 hour) at 900m.
From here it is a very steep 1 hour climb into the Waterfall Stream Valley, then a gentle 2+ hour climb in the valley to O'Leary's Hut at 1750m.
- Tin Hut (2 hours) at 950m.
From here it is a very steep 40 minute climb into the Tin Hut Stream Valley, then a rough and rocky 2+ hour climb in the river bed to Falcon's Nest Hut at 1450m.
- Memorial Hut (3 hours) at 1100m.
From here, it's a very steep 1 hour climb up out of the valley to Lady Emily Hut at 1450m.
Note that if we have snow to low levels then access to the huts is much smoother and quicker, mostly on skis except for the first steep climbs up the tussocky flanks of the Cass Valley.
After arrival at the hut there may be time for a short ski tour. Relax with a hot drink beside the wood stove as your guide prepares a tasty dinner.
Based at O'Leary's, Falcon's Nest or Lady Emily Huts, we will climb the peaks and ridges nearby, with a variety of tour options available, depending on your energy levels. Great views of the Southern Alps from the upper ridges.
A visit to "Bad Decision" (Whiskey Hut) will be on the program for all trips to Lady Emily and Falcons Nest, but the distance there and back from O'Leary's is simply too far (20km & 2600m of climbing). Please have a look at our Gamack Range Traverse option to sample all three huts in one 6 day tour.
Short morning ski tour then return to Lake Tekapo via a ski / walk down to Waterfall Hut / Tin Hut / Memorial Hut and 4WD out the Cass Valley, arriving back around 5-6pm. Please note that the huts in the valley (Memorial, Tin and Waterfall Huts) provide extra safety in case of impassable river crossing. All huts are equipped with a fire or a wood stove and can be used as comfortable overnight emergency accommodation.
Alternatively, if flying out, there is time for a longer morning ski tour.
Alpine Recreation provides alpine touring skis, poles, skins, avalanche transceivers, shovels and crampons. You need to bring your own alpine ski touring boots. Outdoor clothing and packs can also be provided at no extra cost if necessary