Sophie Piearcey is a blogger, photographer and influencer from Queenstown who made the journey over the hill to Snow Farm for the first time this winter.
Our adventure to Snow Farm NZ was long overdue. Six years overdue to be exact. We had planned every winter to make the trip over the hill to Wanaka to visit this awesome place, but it never came to fruition. So, we bit the bullet post-lockdown, booked the hut, and then went full on backcountry expedition, packed our bags, sleeping bags, and enough snacks to feed the whole of Wanaka should they also make the pilgrimage to the Snow Farm hut that evening.
It was an exciting time; I mean any trip over the Crown Range is an exciting adventure & Lake Wanaka is the perfect destination for mountain lovers like myself. I packed up my warm clothes, waterproofs, and my cameras before setting off for the hour drive up to Snow Farm. The weather gods, so far on our side. Snow Farm is situated on the Mt Pisa ranges, directly opposite Cardrona. It was the first cross-country ski area in New Zealand and they were about to witness a world-first for Sophie Piearcey, cross-country skiing rookie.
How hard could it be? We can snowboard, we are familiar with the snow and we hike… surely this would be a walk in the park. Check-in was a quick process and the gear room looked nice, albeit overwhelming. Snowboards are our thing, not skis. We asked if we needed a lesson, but were assured by the staff that it’s easy and we would be fine. So out onto the snow we went. I am so happy we opted for the bag drop to the hut (pro-tip) so the extra weight didn’t halt our already pathetic attempt of nailing cross-country skiing. We slid around for fifteen minutes, walking back and forward, getting used to the ski, arm movements, and ice under our feet. When we hit the trail, all I needed to do was round the corner, away from the base building so my falling into a heap and resembling a dead bug wouldn’t be witnessed by those who actually knew what they were doing.
Thirty minutes later, (yes thirty minutes it took me to get down the first bit of the track) I felt good. Now, for those who have never cross-country skied before, you are in for a real treat. It’s like walking on skis on snow, with a few hills thrown in for good measure. The skis are way thinner than ordinary skis, but the poles do help to push you along the flat sections. Cross-country skiing is a lot like walking, in fact, it is walking, but a largely exaggerated gait, lunging your arms forward to get momentum. When approaching hills you just bend down a little, lean forward, and wait until the hill runs out, then just keep walking. Sounds easy right? It is, I have the bruises to prove it.
Our destination was Meadow Hut, a quaint little backcountry hut nestled into the Snow Farm hills. A network of tracks will lead you through the rolling Pisa Range and tease you at every corner. After a good two and a half hours, we rounded what was eventually the last corner. The hut was in sight, down a grassy bank, but in sight. We could carry on and tap on another hour, but the urge for tea and some kind of sugary treat was too strong for Soph, so we popped the skis off, chucked them over our shoulders, and made the short trek down the hill to the hut.
Meadows Hut sleeps twenty people, with bunks mattresses, and an upstairs area. We were the first to arrive and we had no idea who would be joining us. There was a fire; a log burning fire that on this cold wintery night was greatly received. Kettle, gas hobs, pots, pans, and a sink to wash up - this hut means business. The kettle whistled away as we explored the hut surroundings. The snowmelt was pretty big that weekend which meant we could see the stream on the side of the hut and walk around the trail leading away without our skis. It was cozy and I fell in love with the charm of this rustic old hut instantly.
Our gourmet dinner of Watties packet pasta, mushrooms, and endless cups of hot tea warmed our cold bodies before we retreated to our sleeping bags. The sun disappeared pretty quickly behind the mountain and the cold set in, we were so grateful for the log fire that kept the hut warm until the morning light.
Whenever on a backcountry adventure, I wake for sunrise, even if it’s predicted cloudy. It was cloudy, but some snow flurries just added to the magic of this place.
I whipped up a nutritious and delicious oats & honey feast on the stove and we consumed enough tea to keep us hydrated for the day. We packed our bags and left them for the snowmobile to pick up and return to base. The walk up the hill took only a few minutes and before we knew it we were back on the trail, homeward bound. Today was easier, I feel like our flailing and failed attempts yesterday put us in good stead for the morning adventure.
Confidently I asked Robbie to film me walking away and rounding the corner. As soon as I was out of view and earshot, I screamed. The hill I had just approached was way steeper than I remembered and I lost my sh*t. I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes and Robbie, who had the same realization, caught up pretty quick. Then I saw the blood and instantly thought Robbie had knocked his teeth out. Turns out his pole had scratched the side of his nose, and caused a little blood to splat on the snow. Crisis averted and we only managed to stack it once more before returning to the base.
I think it’s safe to say that our cross-country skiing adventure was eventful, full of expletives, and one to remember. I felt an immense sense of pride after. We had mastered a new skill, explored new terrain, and embarked on an epic adventure right on our doorstep.
The Snow Farm team welcomed us back with open arms, eager to hear how our first cross-country skiing experience went. Eventful was our summary. "What an adventure," I kept saying to Robbie on the way home. We soaked in the last of those alpine views before falling into a coconut hot chocolate and basket of sour cream wedges at the Cardrona Hotel, a must-do when passing through the Cardrona Valley.
Until we meet again Snow Farm, stay awesome. We can't wait to return.