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For 4 decades Harris Mountains Heli-Ski has been providing access to the back-country.

We sat down with GM and heli-ski guide of 23 years Hugh Barnard. Asked a cheeky question about the vintage of their guides, and discussed what the future holds for Heli skiing and snowboarding.

LWT: Aside from the obvious – what is the best thing about being a Heli-ski guide?

HB: It’s definitely the teamwork aspect that I love the most. I’ve worked as a mountain guide in the past and it’s a very independent role. But with heli-skiing we have really strong relationships with the entire team.

It’s awesome to see everyone’s individual strengths shine through from the pilots, to the avalanche specialists, and the operations and logistics team. There is no better feeling than watching it all come together and having an epic day up the mountain!

People having lunch on the mountain in the 90's

LWT: And out of pure curiosity – what is the average age of a heli-ski guide?

HB: *Laughs* Our guides are mostly in their 50’s and a few over 60. You simply can’t beat 35 years of local knowledge and experience in this industry!

In saying that, heli-skiing is still relatively young. So we’re now seeing that second wave of the next generation coming through. Some of our guides have their sons joining our team this year, which is really cool to see.

LWT: Why do you think guides come back year after year?

HB: I really feel it’s the comradery and connection. For example, the core 8 guides I have in my full time crew in Wānaka have worked together for 12 seasons in a row now. And some of us have worked together since the early 90’s! That’s quite an incredible thing to have going on when you think about it.

Photo of Hugh Barnard the GM of Harris Mountain Heli-Ski

LWT: Has heli-skiing become more accessible?

HB: The obvious change is the ski technology developments. Back when I was guiding in the early 90’s skis were incredibly narrow. Since the invention of wider powder skis and snowboards it means that you don’t have to be as fit or as skilled to have a really enjoyable time.

4 people heli-skiing down the mountain in 1988

LWT: How have you managed to navigate the last two years and what changes have you experienced?

HB: It’s been really interesting but generally speaking a really positive experience. When I first started as a Heli-ski Guide we had a market made up 95% of Internationals and only 5% of New Zealanders. But the last two years it’s been almost 100% New Zealanders with a few Australians in the mix. That’s pretty wild!

The last two years have really allowed us to broaden our market in New Zealand. We’ve cultivated a different type of clientele than we’ve had in the past. It’s great to see Kiwis getting amongst it!

LWT: With the knowledge that we have today of climate change, how do you envision the future of Heli-skiing?

HB: This year has already brought exceptional snow. Which is a reflection of what we used to have and what we hope to continue to have in the future. Climate change and global warming is very apparent. We’re seeing the freezing level going up which means the snow level isn’t as low as we would like it to be.

We are continuously looking at ways that we can continue to offer our services with less impact on our environment. This includes honoring the “value over volume” model. We also look forward to the day that someone invents an electric or hybrid helicopter!

Hugh Barnard heli-skiing down the mountains
To book your Heli-ski trip you can connect with our team at i-SITE who will happily tee-up a deal with Harris Mountains Heli-ski.
Be sure to keep an eye on our daily Snow Report and other Winter activities to do during your time in Wānaka!