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September 15, 2015

A swift winter fatbike overnighter high on the Pisa Range with easy access, a great little hut and amazing riding if the conditions are right.

Area: Queenstown Lakes / Central Otago
Time: 1 or 2 days
Distance: 18kms

If the cattle herding at the ski field lift line is getting you down (people still do that?!), then this quick escape to a high hut with some great fatbike terrain might just bring you back to life.

The route as described here makes use of the Snow Farm NZ nordic ski trail network. Snow Farm is very supportive of winter fatbiking (and summer use is free). It’s the only place in New Zealand where you can ride groomed snow trails. You’ll just need to buy a trail pass to use the tracks (or your Snow Farm season pass if you have one of those).

A quick jaunt up the SnowFarm access road from Cardrona (or a long but scenic ride up if you prefer), brings you to the SnowFarm base building. The open cast mining you see wreaking havoc on the landscape is in fact test tracks for new cars. DOC has marked the easement that gives access to the Pisa Conservation Area with the usual orange markers, leading away from the right of the main building, initially on one of the cross country ski trails.

With your trail pass you can hook onto the River Run trail past the large and warm Meadow Hut (you can stay here too – enquire at Snow Farm), to the turn off to Kirtle Burn hut. Here you leave the main trail network. This 4WD track gets groomed later in the season and becomes easily fatbikeable (again, ask at Snow Farm). Earlier in the season you may find deep snow, or you may get lucky with a good freeze and it can become rideable.

A word of caution: the Pisa Tops are notoriously prone to fast weather changes, and the terrain makes navigating in poor visibility potentially disastrous. A GPS can be a worthwhile insurance up here.

Kirtle Burn Hut is a basic DOC 6 bunker, no fire (there’s not a tree in sight up here), so bring your warm gear – the mercury may plummet overnight. It’s a great base for exploring the tops from, especially in late season when you can get immaculate freeze-thaw conditions which solidly lock up the smooth windblown snow surface into a giant crystalline adventure playground on a fatbike – you can just point your 4 inch tyre anywhere you like the look of and go for it. Swooping snow filled gullies are mind-bendingly fun, rendered into frozen half pipes!

The ride out can be back the same way, or continue on the Top Beat track, joining The Loop track which brings you back to the base building, where you can grab a feed and a beer – nice!

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