Incontrovertible video evidence:
With that said: Mt. Hutt is crazy.
First, it's one of the largest ski areas in New Zealand, but in terms of sheer size it's not actually all that big. Sure, it's almost 700 m (2250 feet) from top to bottom, but there's really only one basin with one lodge and a grand total of three chairlifts. It was this more than anything else that drove home just how few New Zealanders there are: at about 4.5 million, the population of New Zealand is a bit less than the population of Fukuoka Prefecture, or roughly two Pittsburgh metro areas.
And that population supports 25 ski areas. No wonder even the biggest of them feels a bit small!
Nevertheless, despite the small size (and the vagaries of the weather), Mt. Hutt is still a really good place to ski. Like pretty much all of New Zealand's ski fields, it's entirely above the country's very low tree line, meaning that you get a lot of skiable terrain in a relatively small area. In addition, Mt. Hutt packs a surprising amount of beginner and intermediate terrain into a fairly steep and narrow basin. But mostly importantly, the top of the hill has some blisteringly fast, wide-open steeps - with views stretching out over the whole Canterbury Plain, when weather permits.
|The gate to the back country.|
|You can see here why they built the place so high up: in New Zealand, the low areas stay pretty mild throughout the year.|
But by far the craziest thing about Mt. Hutt is the ascent. The "base" lodge is actually about two-thirds of the way up the peak, roughly in the middle of the ski area. If Hutt were in Europe, where it would have a bigger client base, they would have solved this problem with a cable car or alpine railway.
Here, the solution is an unpaved access road that climbs almost 5000 ft (1500 m) in the space of 8 miles (13 km). Basically, you turn off a road in the middle of nowhere on the flat-as-a-pancake Canterbury Plain, then go straight up an even smaller road even deeper into the middle of nowhere.
|See if you can spot the road snaking around in the distance!|
|PS: We're on a bus for this one. Not a road I thought either of us should have to drive!|