St Arnaud Range; Arnst basins & Paratitahi Tarns from Rainbow Ski Field

In July 2018 we were fortunate enough to catch the St Arnaud Range after a cold NW front, which whipped a mass of moisture laden, cold air from the deep south and coated the hills with a stable puff of fresh cold powder. We joined a throng of keen Nelson skiers in a convoy up the Rainbow Ski Field access road. The road was in great condition, but still a little too bumpy for our street car, so we thumbed a ride. The first car stopped and so we jumped in for a beautifully scenic drive to the car park.
Looking east across the valley and road to Pk 1916
The goal of our ski tour was to head south along the St Arnaud Range to get to the Paratitahi Tarns, skiing along gentle benches and small passes. The route out to Mt McRae is well traveled by locals. It appears that a standard ski trip from the ski field is to catch the lift at Rainbow to the top, then ascend Mt McRae from the saddle at pt 1696 via the north ridge, then bomb down the slopes to the road and repeat the circuit.
Heading out from Rainbow car-park toward the southern boundary
We were looking for more of a ski tour, so we started by traversing out from the car-park on a groomed cat track leading towards the WSW. This cat track traverses from the area boundary, and is the exit route from the West Bowl and the run ‘The Planets’.
Gentle rolling terrain on the Rainbow Ski field boundary
Outside of the boundary there are gentle rolling slopes which are perfect for beginner tourers and for training.
Mt McRae centre left
We worked our way up Mt McRae, ending up on its northern ridge. The views are superb, looking west to Lake Rotoiti, and a good view at some really fun looking terrain at Rainbow ski field. Skins off and we skied down a shoulder a hundred meters or so in some lovely dry powder. Then skins back on to traverse along a gentle bench to reach a small pass just to the east of pk 1880. Another common route to the pass is to ski to directly from the summit of Mt McRae.
Skiers bombing off Mt McRae’s south basin
The next basin starts off with gentle slopes and large hillocks to traverse around, before steepening just before the wee tarns at around 1675m.
Skiing to the tarns in the basin SE of pk 1880
Looking up to the wee pass just west of pk 1915
Pk 1915 and slopes leading to the Paratitahi Tarns
From here we easily ascended up to the col just to the west of pk 1915, and then down easy slopes (watch for wind-slab potential at pass) to the Paratitahi Tarns and the headwaters of the Arnst. There are many potential ski lines from this basin to choose from. I hear Mt Peanter is a good ski descent. The main basin is relatively flat, would offer many camp sites, and make some picturesque meandering.
Paratitahi tarns and Peanter Pk
‘We returned via the way we came, as I don’t imagine there is any easy way out via the Arnst River. But on the return journey there is a lovely ski line, descending directly down to the road from east of Mt McRae. This route is reminiscent of Hemi’s at Ohau and drops you about a kilometer from Rainbow Ski Field. It is a common descent route, with skiers often starting from the summit of Mt McRae, descending immediately south of the peak and curving down east toward the road.
Skiing down to the road, east of Mt McRae, at around 1650m
There is a cliff band at around 1500m which runs north south parallel to the road. It is important to be on route to catch the right break in the cliff band, which offers a good descent to the road, on easy to moderate slopes. This route would often be tracked as it is popular, but if not, and in inclement weather with no experience of the area, it could prove to be troublesome as route finding is not terribly apparent from above. So choose your weather day if you are new to the area.
Working way down to road through the cliff band at around 1500m

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