Mt Olympus to Cheeseman ski field, Craigieburn Range, Canterbury

Nearing the summit of My Olympus, the Wilberforce and Harper valleys in the background

Mt Olympus to Cheeseman ski field is a suitably popular backcountry ski route, and is close to Christchurch. There are many good touring options in easy to moderate terrain.

Boot packing up Mt Olympus from the SE

We did this tour starting at Mt Olympus, (after a good night of partying at the Olympus lodge) and heading to Cheeseman, but it can also be skied from Cheeseman ski field to Olympus. Both fields are on the east side of the Craigieburn Range; Cheeseman ski field to the north, Olympus ski field to the south. To the SE is Porters Heights ski field. Another option is to join the Craigieburn ridge from Porters Height.

Skinning up Mt Olympus from the top of the rope tow

We used the rope tow to get as high as possible, as we could save some time, and use it to ski in the many sunny bowls on the route. You can ask Patrol if they wouldn’t mind if you leave your nutcracker tow grip and belt at the top near the bullwheel. Or as another skier if they wouldn’t mind returning it for you to the lodge; should your plan be to not return to the Mt Olympus ski field.

Skiing north slopes of Mt Olympus

From the top of the rope tow, the initial slopes  are the steepest, getting up and over Mt Olympus. The snow can be firm and I would expect that on many occasions, early in the morning, one would be most likely to be bootpacking up. If conditions are really firm then crampons could be required, and there is some exposure. This is the crux of the trip and classifies the tour as moderate.

A view for the Cragieburn ridge from Mt Olympus to Mt Cheeseman in the centre. Cheeseman ski field is the peak to the left of Mt Cheeseman

The rest of the route to Cheeseman skifield is easier and involves travel along a broad ridge. On occasions this may have been stripped of snow by the wind and require travel on either side. The resulting windslab to the lee of the winds at the head of the bowls would be worth considering. Most basins lead back to the bottom of the ski fields so there are many ‘bail out’ options. It is good to note that Craigieburn ridge is exposed to the wind, and would be uncomfortable in inclement weather.

Skiing sunny north facing slopes on Mt Olympus
Looking north towards the south face of Mt Cheeseman (centre right). Note the ski tracks skiing from the ridge
Skiing north slopes of Mt Olympus. in the background is the Ryton Valley, and the ridge leading from Porters Heights ski field to Mt Cheeseman

There are multiple basins and bowls along the way offering lots and lots of really fun diversions to ski in. There are some lovely couloirs and crags in the head of the Ryton Valley to ski from, and around Mt Olympus itself. The Ryton Valley also offers some wonderful skiing, and can be used to get back to the bottom of the My Olympus Road. As an option, one could play in the Ryton basins, then ski down the Ryton Valley (with good snow cover) and stay overnight in the Mt Olympus Bottom Hut (bookings can be made thru Mt Olympus ski area). This is a good option if the Mt Olympus Ski Area top hut is fully booked already.  It is relatively easy to hitch hike back up the Mt Olympus ski field the next day. Or an hour’s skin or walk will get you back up to the lodge.

The view down the Ryton basin

Some slopes catch the sun perfectly for lovely corn skiing, whilst shaded slopes can hold powder for long periods.

Looking north from the summit of Mt Cheeseman, over to the lifts, just visible in the centre of the photo, which are the top tows of Cheeseman ski field. The steep couloirs of Mt Wall are behind.

Time takes around 3 hours each way without spending much time exploring and skiing. So a good option is to spent the night at Cheeseman ski field lodge before returning to Olympus.

A look along the Craigieburn range towards the north side of Mt Olympus
Some interesting touring skis. These guys were ski touring from Porters Heights to Broken River in a day

Best time of year is August to early September.

This trip was late August 2017.


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