Ski Antarctica Review

Ski Antarctica Review

Skiing in Antarctica with Ice Axe Expeditions Review

The Powderhounds have visited many very special ski destinations around the world, but we really wanted to tick off a major bucket list item – skiing in Antarctica. Our anticipation was pretty high for this Ice Axe Expeditions trip as we’d heard Antarctica is an exceptional place, but our expectations were completely blown away. The Ice Axe Antarctica Ski Tour would definitely be the best trip we’ve ever been on!!

Obviously we didn’t go to Antarctica for thigh deep powder but us powder hounds really enjoyed the skiing nonetheless, and the skinning was a great opportunity to get to even better vantage points to appreciate the vistas. And we didn’t travel to Antarctica just for the skiing or snowboarding. It was the whole package that made it extraordinary: the boat trip and cruising around to enjoy the vistas; staying on the deluxe ship; the awesome people we met; the abundant wildlife; and the further appreciation we gained of the wondrous continent, thanks to the scientific and expedition staff and the mountain guides.

It’s our job to review man-powered and mechanised backcountry skiing operations and we’re usually pretty good at critiquing even the smallest potential shortcomings, but with this Ice Axe Expeditions trip, we completely struggled to find any real inadequacies. It was phenomenal – definitely add it to your bucket list. As a guide to our ratings for backcountry operations, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score.

You’ll find general information on the Ice Axe Antarctica Ski Cruise here or you can make a booking inquiry here.


Ski Antarctica: Summary of Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Many of the pros of the trip were associated with the magnificence of the Antarctic Peninsula and the profound beauty of the untouched wilderness. Views from the ship, the zodiacs and the ski terrain provided optic nirvana!
  • Both the Ice Axe Expeditions and Quark Expeditions teams provided a very highly polished operation and worked through the required logistics in a very organised fashion.
  • The Antarctic Peninsula has a seemingly infinite number of mountains and potential skiing and snowboarding lines, only limited by finding possible landing zones for a zodiac to get ashore.
  • There was a lot of flexibility to ski as much or as little as you wanted, to undertake technical climbs or easy skins, and to ski steep or mellow.
  • The mountain guides demonstrated a very strong emphasis on safety and professionalism.
  • There were plenty of opportunities to go on zodiac cruises or go ashore, and the wildlife was abundant (and the penguins’ antics very cute!).
  • Without being over-the-top luxurious, the ship was deluxe and it felt pretty decadent to return to the ship after skiing (or for lunch). No roughing it!
Cons
  • Can’t think of any really….
Pro or Con Depending On Your Perspective
  • It takes a mighty big effort to travel to Ushuaia in Argentina and then onto Antarctica, but this is part of the adventure, and the isolation and really getting away from it is a huge part of the attraction of going to Antarctica.
  • You might need to save up to go skiing in Antarctica, but it’s a fantastic investment in adventure happiness.


Powder Snow
You’d be pretty crazy to expect powder snow in Antarctica considering how little it usually snows, but very surprisingly it snowed whilst we were there and we scored some mid boot powder runs. As to be expected, we also skied some crust, breakable crust, polar groomers, and corn.
Overall Terrain
You could be forgiven for thinking that Antarctica is pretty flat, but the Antarctic Peninsula and the surrounding islands are beautifully mountainous and offer an enormous range of heavily glaciated slopes ranging from mellow bowls to steep couloirs. The abundant terrain options were only limited by the locations where they could get a zodiac ashore, considering the many ice cliffs that adorn the shores. Groups that wanted to achieve a lot of vertical often moved LZs a few times during the day.

IceAxe clearly put a lot of work into the guest groupings to match like-minded skiers and split boarders and to ensure a good fit with respect to speed and skills (on the ascent and descent). Some groups stayed on reasonably gentle slopes whilst others chased the technical steeps. There was also a lot of flexibility regarding the length of the runs, how much vertical you skied, and whether you returned to the ship for lunch.

On the first day there was only one zodiac landing site available so it seemed rather crowded on the slopes. Most other days we spread out somewhat, but there were also a couple of other times when multiple groups went up the same line so the slower groups didn’t necessarily get freshies because it wasn’t safe to spread out across the slope too far. But I guess skiing in Antarctica is not really about the freshies!
Alpine Terrain
It goes without saying that there was a might lot of it and abundant variety.
Tree Skiing not rated
Unless you consider penguins to be trees, there was no tree skiing.
Strong Intermediate Terrain

All types of terrain for differing ability levels was on offer and the groupings ensured that the few who wanted to stay on mellowish terrain, could. Of course whilst the terrain was appropriately “strong intermediate”, sometimes the snow conditions required expert skills.
Advanced Terrain
This was the mainstay for most groups and there was a huge array of possible lines on offer.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
With variable snow conditions, it could be more technically challenging to get up steep slopes than go down for inexperienced mountaineers, but there was lots of great expert terrain with plenty of variety.
Guiding
The guiding team was comprised of a range of the Who’s Who of A-lister guides who have a wealth and diversity of experience. Some of them gave presentations about some of their crazy climbing and skiing pursuits, which was pretty impressive to say the least.

With a maximum ratio of 4:1 guests to guide, each group was teamed up with another group so that effectively there was a lead and tail guide. Our mountain guides were exceptional, with an impressive combination of professionalism, organisation skills, communication skills, emphasis on safety, charisma, humour, discretion, and the ability to read minds too! Andrew’s mantra whilst skinning up was “don’t forget to look around”. As if we were going to forget to gawk at the amazing landscapes!

We undertook the 2 day introductory mountaineering course in Ushuaia, which was a great warm up to skiing in Antarctica. The 3 guides had a wealth of knowledge and experience and were able to impart plenty of information in a professional manner whilst also making it fun.

Safety
Well it goes without saying that there are lots of risks associated with skiing in Antarctica that require mitigation. An orca attack would be highly unlikely but falling into one of the many crevasses was probably the biggest risk, and others include avalanches and falling and sliding into the icy water. It was obvious that the mountain guides (in conjunction with the Quark expedition staff) put a lot of emphasis on mitigating the risks, even though we didn’t see what happened behind the scenes in the regular guiding meetings. Out in the field, our guides made it very apparent that safety was the number one priority, without compromising on fun.

Other Activities
I’d rate “other activities” 10 out of 5 if possible! Besides the skiing, the Quark expedition team offered excursions to go ashore to visit penguin rookeries and we also checked out a whaling ship wreck and visited a Polish research station. There was also the option for zodiac cruises to check out seals, penguins and whales. As if the skiing wasn’t enough, the wildlife spotting just provided an excitement overload for us! We saw plenty of wildlife but the highlight was when a curiously friendly (and they’re usually not friendly) leopard seal came to frolic around our zodiac for what seemed like an eternity.br />
Kayaking was another activity on offer and a great opportunity to take in the views from a different perspective, although Quark didn’t provide the flexibility just to do just 1 or 2 kayak trips. The number of kayaking spots was limited and you had to commit to doing a lot of it.

During the Drake Passage crossing (which is an activity in itself!) and throughout our time on the Antarctic Peninsula, there were an array of optional presentations from the Quark expedition team regarding the wildlife, ice and the climate, and the history of Antarctica, which was a great way to gain a better appreciation of the magnificent place we were visiting. Some of the mountain guides presented and showed videos of their guiding destinations which was awe inspiring. And if you felt a little tired or queasy from the Drake Shake, there was the option to watch the presentations on the TV in your room.

Accommodation
Without being uber luxurious, the comforts of the ship were eons away from roughing it, especially when you consider what the first expeditioners to Antarctica had to encounter. It was incredibly refined to head ashore to explore the mountains or penguins then return to the luxury of the ship for a beautiful lunch and then for après ski festivities.

Our standard cabin was more spacious than we expected and the beds surprisingly comfortable. The bathroom was suitably petite which was ideal during the Drake crossing. We had a peek into a couple of the suites which were delightfully deluxe.

The level of service from the “hotel” staff was absolutely exceptional, and despite there being about 100 guests, the service felt rather personalised.

Then there was the food! A huge range of buffet options was available for breakfast and lunch, and dinner was a 3 course a la carte affair and the drinks service incorporated a decent range of beverages. And to truly kill the waist line, they also provided sweet and savoury nibbles for après ski. Without being hat award winning cuisine, the food was much more gourmet than we had expected.

As you’d anticipate considering we were out in the middle of nowhere, the satellite communications were costly and slow. It was a perfect chance to really get away from the world!


Value For Money
On the face of it, the trip appeared expensive initially but once we got there we fully appreciated the value of it. It would cost a lot less to go on a 3,000 passenger ship to Antarctica due to the efficiencies associated with a critical mass, but you’d never go ashore and wouldn’t get to ski, and you’d possibly feel like you were still in the city.

For only approximately 100 guests (plus the mountain guides), there were many many staff (87), and it quickly became apparent that the operational logistics to run the ship required significant manpower, and then heading ashore to go skiing also required a lot of resources.

This was a very wise investment in the trip of a lifetime!


Notes Regarding Review The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff and other guests. Our review has some limitations as it’s not possible to ski every run and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different. The ratings are from our perspective only.


Bookings & Information Requests If you have any questions or would like to make a booking inquiry click here.