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New skis, Whitehorn Pass, near Arthurs Pass CREDIT: Southern Public Relations
End of trip at Hollyford Divide; Bradshaw with family. CREDIT: Southern Public Relations
Queenstown businessman and adventurer Erik Bradshaw has become the first person to ski the length of the Southern Alps completing an adventure that required not just physical fitness and good equipment, but also an intimate understanding of the mountains and the risk factors.
43-year-old Bradshaw began his journey on August 8 from St Arnaud (Nelson Lakes) and finished on October 26 in Fiordland. He skied along the spine of the South Island - a journey of 800km and the vertical metre equivalent of climbing Mt Everest 6 times.
This is the first time the Southern Alps have been traversed on skis and the second ever winter traverse - Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain traversed the Alps in winter 1971.
To complete the journey Erik had to make the best use of his already advanced kiwi ingenuity - he invented new ski equipment including a unique exoskeleton binding comprising of carbon fibre and Titanium that fitted over a normal walking boot to transform it into a ski boot with crampons.
He also needed an intense and detailed personal plan to cope with extreme winter conditions in the Alps.
"Without doubt it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I had to know what would work and what was too dangerous. If I was too timid I would never succeed, but if I was too bold I wouldn’t make it home again. Developing a good understanding of how my body worked was critical as I pushed myself very hard for 12 hours per day, skiing and climbing then camping in sub zero temperatures. Waking the next day and repeating day after day. To do that without setting tired, sick or injured required a careful and innovative approach."
The traverse was completed in several legs with Bradshaw restocking and repairing equipment when his journey brought him into contact with civilization. At one point he broke a pair of expensive European skis and had to call on that ingenuity to make a replacement pair with the help of friend Richard Harcourt during a supply stop.
During the traverse Bradshaw survived sub zero temperatures and raging storms in a tiny tent.
"Sometimes it was miserable, in a small tent coated in ice being flattened by a storm knowing you are a long way from home. But other times it was breathtakingly beautiful with towering snow capped mountains, blue skies and amazing snow.
"When I first thought of attempting this ski traverse I thought it was a crazy idea, but as I developed new ski equipment and experimented with how to travel fast in the mountains I realised I could succeed with great preparation and focus. In the end, the hardest part was maintaining the optimism and mental drive to keep pushing over what is a huge chain of steep mountains."
Highlights of the trip were the more remote areas such as the Snowball and Volta Glaciers, the Upper Hunter and Te Naihi Rivers and the Garden of Allah and Eden Ice Plateaus.
“It was a real treat to visit such places and some areas such as the Te Naihi have probably never been visited on skis before. And, we have fantastic powder skiing in our mountains that I hadn’t experienced before."
Bradshaw started backcountry skiing when he was 15 and has been a keen mountain climber since he could walk. He has climbed and skied throughout New Zealand and the world including the Antarctic and in 2006, along with partner Christine Ryan, was awarded a Royal Humane Society Bravery medal for the rescue of trampers in the Matukituki. He and Ryan established and continue to run a tourism specific software business Ibis Technology which provides a fully integrated, real time, comprehensive management systems for some of the biggest companies in New Zealand tourism. They have a 15 month old son and live in Queenstown.