Is Soho Basin the best place to ride you’ve never heard of?
It’s the size of a resort but doesn’t have a chairlift.
There’s untracked powder as far as the eye can see. There’s cruisey wide-open bowls, chutes or hits for the adventurous. There’s an extraordinary lunch served in amazing surrounds. There’s a dozen of you but probably less. There’s no pressure.
It’s Soho Basin in New Zealand, and I suggest you get there before the word gets out.
What the hell is Soho Basin and where exactly is it?
A boutique cat skiing/boarding (oversnow operation), Soho Basin was introduced to the world at the tail end of the 2015 season. I’d read about it in an NZ Herald article at the time and was fascinated. There’s scarcely been anything written about it since so I was determined to check it out. Oh my – it didn’t disappoint.
Essentially Soho has one cat (which can run with another cart) so there’ll be a maximum of 24 guests in one day. Most times there’ll be less than a dozen people. It accesses an area of terrain about the size of Coronet Peak (260 hectares).
If you can get to Cardrona (you know that cute little resort with the ace freestyle facilities about 30 minutes from Wanaka) you can get to Soho Basin. It’s the last left turn before you get to the main car park area at the Cardrona base. Blink and you’ll miss it though as it’s essentially a big sign-posted shed. Looks however can be deceiving …
Is it much different to heli-skiing or even other cat-skiing?
Yes. For starters the rack rate for a day is $NZ685. For that you should get around a dozen runs with between 350-550 metres vertical drop. Fourteen is possible for fast groups. In terms of pure vertical that stacks up pretty closely with a seven-run heli-day (perhaps even better) . And the cost of doing that in a heli? Around double at $1325. Heli can, let’s face it, have a bit of a macho vibe – but here it’s rather more relaxed and I’d reckon a perfect day for the ladies and couples.
In a way it also differs quite a bit from the traditional snow cat operation that you’ll find in North America. The riding vibe is also substantially more chilled. Instead of head and tail guides keeping a tight rein on where you go, this is a fair bit looser. You’ll be given some direction and advice in regards to terrain selection but ultimately it’s up to you. You’ll meet back at the cat and do it all again.
That lunch …
Soho has teamed with Amisfield Winery to put on a fantastic spread for the lunch break. A typical cat skiing experience means a few wraps, cookies and some water in the cat while going up to your next run. Not here. There’s an antipasto platter, homemade soups, beef cheeks, sourdough bread and a selection of champagne, beer and some of the great Amisfield wines on offer. I initially had mixed feelings about wasting riding time over lunch but the spread is so good it doesn’t feel like an intrusion on the day. As Soho operations manager Mark Dewsbery put it: “When we have meetings here we don’t talk about skiing. We talk about the experience. It was never about serving up sausage rolls for people”.
The future of Soho and some final thoughts
They aim to operate about 40-50 days a season here. Soho generally need about a metre of snow on the ground to get things going and as such had only just started rolling (four days in) when we rode there at the start of the month.
In the next five years they’ll look at adding some huts for on snow accommodation on the mountain. In the meantime you’ll either stay in the Cardrona Valley, Wanaka or Queenstown.
Quite simply this is the best snow experience I’ve had in NZ (my first trip there was in 1993). The team at Soho don’t want you to have a dud time so will only operate when conditions are good and you’ll more or less get fresh tracks.
Leave room in your ski or snowboarding trip to Wanaka or Queenstown to fit in a day there. Just after a storm on a clear day is ideal if you can swing it. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.