"I never in my life saw anything like it," says Stein Eriksen, an Olympic skiing champion who is familiar with icy landscapes from the Alps to the Andes. Eriksen (second from left) stands on New Zealand's Mt. Ruapehu with fellow skiers watching the steam from a live volcano rising out of the clouds, an awesome enough sight. But the scene he spoke of with such wonder was the face of the Tasman glacier. " You can visualize such formations in ice cream," he says, "but to see the tremendous walls around you, ice-cream puffs high as 70-story buildings...." Some of the things that awed Stein are visible on the following pages.
The forbidding darkness of a chasm 100 feet deep contrasts vividly with the ice-white world of the surface where Stein Eriksen risks a crossing on a narrow snow bridge.
The puff of snow in his tracks is the only sign of motion in a vast and eerie snowscape as Stein Eriksen skis over an ice chamber hollowed out by the great Tasman glacier.
WONDERLAND'S SNEAKY SPECIFICS
Appealing as the snow may look, a glacier can be a dangerous place for a skier. It is a living, moving thing. Formations change, crevasses open and close and there are no trees, rocks or landmarks of any kind to provide direction or even perspective. A condition known as "whiteout" may result, in which all directions, up, down, north, south, east and west are lost. And so is the skier.
Stein Eriksen skied the Tasman glacier for moviemakers John and Lois Jay, who have long wanted to record skiing in Australia and New Zealand. The Jays have made ski color films around the world for 23 years, and they waited 10 for friends down under to say the time was right and the sport had grown enough to justify a movie there. As part of this film they decided to fly to a spot where skiing is above all breathtaking—the Tasman glacier, 10,000 feet up in New Zealand's Mt. Cook area. The Tasman is moving only three feet a day, a rate somewhat less treacherous than that of other glaciers in the Southern Alps range. A Cessna 180, piloted by an expert familiar with the area's freakish air currents as well as the surface tricks of the changing Tasman, was used as a ski lift, enabling the party to explore the variety of frozen slopes presented by the glacier.
Eriksen came away awed by what he saw and eager enough to return, but prospective Tasman sportsmen should know that if all that whiteness looks like fine powder snow, it has a curious consistency. "It is," Stein says, "a little like skiing in cement."
Like an emperor of ice cream, Eriksen peers clown from a snowy height that he reached by slow sidestepping.