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  1. #1
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    TR: New Zealand 'Adventure' Ski Touring

    Thought I'd knock up this naughty little TR to possibly give some inspiration for ski touring off the beaten track in New Zealand and also a few tips which may help with sniffing out your own missions over there. I absolutely won't profess to being an expert on it, but I ended up fannying about in the mountains a fair bit in NZ, so invariably stumbled across a few choice nuggets of information.

    What makes New Zealand a flipping incredible ski touring destination? – The ski fields only cover a minuscule percentage of the insane mountainous terrain that the Southern Alps encompasses. If you’re willing to go off the beaten track, you can easily end up in areas that see only a handful, if any, skiers per year. A lot more planning, effort and type 2 (maybe 3) fun goes into the tours, but that’s part of the appeal. The climate and environment is just so unbelievably varied and changes dramatically in very short distances. Particularly going from East to West. IMHO this all leads to some of the most mind blowing mountain scenery on the planet!

    Bit of background... I moved from Chamonix, which had been my base for nearly 4 years, to Wanaka, where I ended up living for 2 years, but now back in the Chamonix area. I mainly spent my first year in NZ getting to grips with how it all worked. The mountains and in particular, the access are utterly different to the European Alps. So that first winter I was predominantly touring from the ski fields with a couple of trips to some of the more popular mountain huts; these being Brewster and Mueller. The following winter I got really stuck into it, with 10 great adventures into cool areas. 9 of which I filmed and made into a cheeky little video series, Ski Tourin' Aotearoa. I'll go through each trip below and link up the episodes.


    Scroll down to Post 4 if you just want to read my waffle on trip planning over there.


    The TR:

    Sentinel Peak



    Located above ‘The Neck’, essentially where Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea almost join, this is a great peak which is rarely visited in Winter. Sporting some lovely south facing little chutes off the summit ridge and simply epic views of both lakes. Access is good, you can either go via the Sawyer Burn track, where the terrain is a lot more complex. Or do as me and Ian did and approach from the West, up a nice farm track, a minimal plod across across some fields and then into the snow. Please note this way does cross private land, so you DO need to get permission from Hunter Valley Station. The skin from there is pretty straightforward. We had to do a bit of terrain management due to the potential instabilities in the snow, so we went the ‘scenic route’ along the top of the ridge. Ski back was sublime, with a small skin in the middle to get back into the correct bowl. Having pushed our bikes up the farm track in the morning, we had great 900m bike descent to finish off the day.

    Rob Roy Glacier Track



    Located in the West Matukituki valley of the Aspiring National Park, this is a very popular hiking track that winds through the gnarled beech forest, terminating underneath the imposing South East glacial face of Rob Roy Peak. Our objective was actually Homestead Peak and its fun looking West flank. Well this tour was an absolute failure. We, being me, Manu and Jamie, left too late in the morning (9.30am if my memory serves me right) and instead of keeping to the ridges on the ascent through the undergrowth to the snow line, we thought the gully looked like a better option. It wasn’t. Upon reaching the snowline, the snow was unbelievably crap, but nonetheless we soldiered on. However, one pulled Kingpin binding later and we delayed again. With the day getting on we thought ‘sod it’ and decided to cut out losses and head back. What followed was perhaps the worst pitch of skiing I’ve ever experienced. The top bit as shown in the video was ok, but the rest was simply the most horrendous crust known to man. So bad that I was too traumatised to even film it. Regrettable in hindsight. Anyhow, bushwacking down to the valley floor, we bumped into Ryan Taylor and Ryan Marvin who were camping up to attempt a new line on Rob Roy Peak the next day. A couple o’ cups of tea later we plodded back down the track to our cars. A terrible tour for skiing, but amazing scenery and great memories… in hindsight.

    Mt St Mary



    Arguably the number one tour from my time in New Zealand. Great crew, bit of type 2 adventuring, a summit and a cracking ski down. Due to some work commitments, I ended up one-man wolf packing to the Snow Gorge Hut. Accessed from Ohau ski field, it was about 3 or so hours of skiing, skinning, falling in creeks, more skiing and skinning and then a plod across a river plain in the dark. All good stuff. The hut was more of a shed, but it was great to see the boys and get stuck into a good mug of tea. The next day we went up Mt St Mary. Minus a minor wrong turn, it was a great ascent, with an interesting mix of skinning and boot packing. The summit was ridiculously scenic and the skiing almost sublime. A few patches of OK snow, but mostly velvety fun. All in all, a fantastic 12-hour round. trip Day 3 saw me and Ian bugger off for a home due to more work commitments. The skin and ski back to the car took around 6 hours I think and like the day before, we bathed in grade A scenic delights. Whilst we floundered around on way back, Manu and Joel bounded up Mt Stafford and stayed another night at the hut.

    Mt Melina



    A spite of unsettled weather, followed by a spike in temperatures on the only weather window that week, saw me, Jussi, Kaz and Sarah sniff out some mellow but still tantalisingly tasty terrain on the lower peaks. This came in the form of Mt Melina, just off the Ahuriri Valley. Gleaning some info from a nice trip report on skitouring.co.nz, we frolicked off on our bikes and up the Avon Burn. An hour or so later, with a few river hops thrown in for good measure, bikes were abandoned for the long stumble up to the snow line. Sidling a steep valley for quite a while, we finally came upon a few sacred tendrils of mushy spring snow. Alas, mighty Thor or whoever the fuck is up there in the sky, had other plans for us. And before we knew it, we were nipple deep in the finest pea soup fog, this side of inner London and the bleeding River Thames. Moral was admittedly rather low at this point, but firmly within the realm of type 2 fun, we soldiered on, using the GPS for guidance. Well shiver me timbers. Upon reaching the summit ridge, the clouds suddenly started to rise and disperse. Blessed were we indeed. Exciting yelps followed and we bounded on up to the top. What followed was, to put it bluntly, a fucking right good ski. 
    Velvety compressed powder, quickly morphing into corn and finally a wicked wave like ridge of slushy spring sexiness. After this it was a trundle down the valley, a hop on the bikes and wheelie back to the car.

    Ohau Peak



    With the weather having an unexpected angry fit (an all to common occurrence), our plans for a bigger mountain were shelved in favour of simply finding somewhere with half decent conditions for the day. Spying this tender, but nice looking peak on the drive out from my last tour. I grabbed the lads and off we went with our bikes to the Mackenzie plains and Lake Ohau. Situated South West of the Lake itself, Ohau Peak is relatively modest in height (1911m), but offers fantastic spring skiing on its south eastern flank, with comparatively easy access, along a purpose built mountain bike track (part of the Alps to Ocean trail). After the bike in, push up and short hike to the snow line. We ended up having a bountiful corn harvest, with two laps of the flank. The South Western side of the ridge had some simply delightful looking steepish terrain. But the high winds kept the corn locked up there that day. All in all a great day and a highly recommend, easy going peak to tour. A mid winter mission could be particularly fruitful here, with even easier access and loads of terrain to explore on various aspects.
    Last edited by Jarmey; 08-17-2018 at 02:54 PM.

  2. #2
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    Nov 2012
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    TR continued...

    Twin Stream



    Coming from Europe, the idea of using helicopters to access ski touring areas, seems… well, a tad nuts. Though there ARE limitless options in NZ that you can access without a heli and with a bit of determination. There’s also a bucket load of delightful terrain, where a helicopter bump makes a shit ton of sense. That said, Mt Dark, situated above the western side of Lake Pukaki, had always been on my hit list as a walk in, walk out tour. Well, that was until I realised, from reading a cracking little report on another valley in the range (Whale Stream), that with a group of 5, the short flight to Mt Dark from Glentanner, only works out at $80. Cheaper than a day ticket at most ski fields. Winner.
    Joined by a great crew, comprising of Manu, Bella, Tyson and Ian. We hatched a plan to ski the steep(ish) south face of Mt Dark and then climb/ski some other lines at the head of Twin Stream, before dragging our feet outta there.
    However, 5 minutes into the heli ride, we realised huge swathes of ice on all the southern aspects had doused that idea. Opting instead, via recommendation from the pilot, to get dropped off on an eastern sub peak of Mt Dark, called Mt Mary. From here we trotted up a short icy slope, along a ridge and then dropped into a fun steep little line. A ski down the mountain under the watchful gaze of Mt Cook, was followed by a skin back up the same route to have some lunch and ski some more of the wicked fun terrain up top. 
    We opted for the scenic route on our way down, which involved some short skins, scrambles and traverses to take in a few different basins and aspects. Snow was a real mix, but generally very good corn or chalk, depending on the aspect. The trudge down from the snow line, back to Glentanner and Lake Pukaki, was nothing short of spectacular. With the imposing faces of Mt Cook in the background, contrasted by the brilliant turquoise of Lake Pukaki and it’s tentacle like braided rivers. It’s certainly a landscape that is burned into the very core fibre of your memory.

    Mt Barff



    New Zealand Ski Touring access. Blood, sweat and tears. Well in this case, thankfully no blood, maybe a few tears but certainly a fuck load of sweat. We set out from Raspberry Creek on the Wednesday for a casual 15km trot to the bottom of the Liverpool track, followed by a 500m rooty scramble to the Liverpool Hut. However, barely a hair’s breadth from the carpark, the almighty weather gods thought bugger that and unleashed, what felt like gale force winds and a torrent of watery hell. Unfortunately no footage of this torrid turmoil exists, as I was having way too shit of a time and my bin bag camera cover would have likely done a rather pathetic job. Anyway, I digress. Upon reaching the Aspiring Hut, soaked to the bone and positively gagging for a spot of tea. The 3 males of our group (including yours truly) sniffled that we were just simply too wet and elected to light the fire, dry the garb and hop into our sleeping bags. Worth noting here, that the lone female (Bella - who’s clearly made of sterner stuff) was dead set on carrying on into the rain. Day 2 dawned with a perky 3am wake up and due to our previous pathetic male whimpering, we had quite a ball buster of a day on our hands. 5km and 3 awkward swing bridge crossings later we were at the bottom of the Liverpool track. Here an hour or so of rooty fun prevailed to get above the tree line and on to the snow line. A wrong turn up the wrong access couloir saw us gain a fair bit of height, before losing it all again to get back on course. Probably wasted about 2 hours here, bollocks. At this point Bella decided to save her legs for the ascent up to French Ridge later in the day and went for a chill at the Liverpool Hut. Us lads continued crampon’ing up that particularly heinous type of breakable crust. Too firm and slippy for your skis to break through and grip too, but breakable enough for you to crunch through with every step when on crampons. 200 vertical meters from the top the crust seemed to worsen considerably and we decided to cut our losses and ski from there.
    The hard crust actually ended up skiing a hell of a lot better than we imagined. Initially scratchy, but the sun had softened the middle and lower slopes to a semi corn consistency, that was ripe for mini slashin’ n carving’. A stumble back down the liverpool track and it was time to part ways. Manu, Gerry and Bella were off up to the French Ridge Hut (1000m of rooty fun) and I had my 15km walk back to Raspberry Creek. Pretty knackered by this point, the solo slog back to the car was, ahem, a delight. A riveting audiobook kept spirits high however and I was soon back in Wanaka for a mountain of food and a comfy bed.

    Cass Valley, Mt Hutton and The Scorpion



    With a delicious looking late October high pressure period on the horizon, plans were quickly hashed with Manu, Jethro, Bella and Lucy to drive up the Cass Valley to the Memorial Hut. From here we wanted to climb and ski Mt Hutton, before hitting the mellow, but scenic Scorpion loop for the final day. Day 1 consisted of a couple of hours off-roading to get to the hut. A treat in Jethro’s off road behemoth. However, the trip was tad more interesting for Manu in his 4x4 Toyota Hi-Ace van. After a naughty bit of backtracking and river navigation, we all arrived at the hut and settled in for delightfully civilised night. (Worth noting here, that the track to the hut is usually easier. Recent floods had wiped out sections, making it a slightly more torrid affair).
    Day 2 dawned with a nice n’ early start. Coffee’d up and ahem, raring to go. We jumped in the truck for a kilometre of easy drivable terrain. From here it was 9km or so amble to the snow line. Skinning up into the Huxley glacier was divine, with the rapidly rising low cloud and morning light, giving all but the most carnal of pleasures a run for their money. 
    However, with that sudden visibility, came the realisation that a motley collection of hazards awaited us on the route. Seracs, far larger than what we had anticipated from Google Earth, hung like 3 storey houses over the lookers right of the glacier. Huge avalanche debris paths were strewn from the previous storm cycle. And moderately precarious ice blocks were dotted around the main glacier and route. Low risk in colder and more stable conditions. But the rapidly rocketing freezing level, just made the prospect of summiting a tad unrealistic. We still managed to skin a fair way up the route and as a consolation prize, found a beautiful looking couloir to rip. ‘Hot’ powder was on the menu and barring the snow in the couloir, which wasn’t great, we had a fantastic ski. A long trudge later and we were back at the hut chowing down on beers and Shepherd’s Pie. Lucy’s daughter, Fern, a local Shepherd. Joined us and true to her craft, brought the said pie. Day 3 was a slightly more relaxed wake up. Our objective was the mellow, but long and scenic Scorpion loop. A bloody FREEZING river crossing and rapid height gain up a steep grassy valley side, saw us at the snow line far quicker than the day before. The Scorpion loop was comprised of pleasurable skinning up to a scenic col and then a long multi phase descent back down to the Lady Emily Hut. From here we rejoined our route from the morning to descend back down to the Memorial Hut. Snow was a mix of really flipping slushy and nice ‘hot’ powder. All that remained that evening was to exit out of the valley in the 4x4’s. Again an easy job for Jethro, but quite the headache for Manu in his van. Shovels came out a few times and after negotiating the trickiest of sections, Manu managed to burst his tyre on some flat easy ground. Anyhow, the wheel was swapped and we trundled out the valley to the nearest Japanese restaurant in Tekapo. For a bloody good feed.

  3. #3
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    Nov 2012
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    ...last part of TR

    Mt Sealy North Couloir



    Mt Cook National Park is certainly a place that delivers visual splendour by the brimming bucketload. One of the finest and easiest ways to gaze at Cook’s majestic flanks, is the popular hike up to the Mueller Hut. With the valley floor at 900m and a delightfully built, but never ending staircase, this makes the ascent to the snow line a piss easy undertaking, by New Zealand standards that is. Anyhow, a gentleman’s early evening start saw the sole subject of her Britannic Majesty; this being me, the Swede; Sarah and the Yanks; Ryan and Tyson, bounding up the Sealy Tarns steps, skinning some crusty love and chowing down at the Mueller Hut just as dusk was descending into darkness. Drunk with the sheer bloody epic’ness of the view, we smashed some grub and had a good yarn with a swathe of the many fellow hut occupants. A delightful mix of hikers, mountaineers and ski tourers. Rudely awoken by our 4am alarm clock, fruit was sliced, porridge consumed and before we knew it, we were skinning into the frigid inky black. Soon the landscape was bathed in the desaturated colours of pre dawn and we were throwing our skis on our backs, strapping on crampons and downclimbing a steep section of bulletproof snow. After alighting on a more pleasant gradient, the snow seemed too hard, even for ski crampons. So about an hour of plodding ensued, before we flopped onto the Annette Plateau, synchronized nicely with a seeping dawn and softening snow. From here we skinned towards Mt Sealy and its beautifully perfect looking North Couloir. With the sun now rapidly rising, we were on a race with time to get to the top of the couloir, before its North Facing aspect turned it into a rock fall bowling alley. Conditions were great for climbing and we front pointed up the 300m meter couloir and arrived on top to savour the view. 
    With nice layer of corn now formed, the couloir skied superbly, with an average pitch of 45°, almost 50 in places and mellower at the bottom. From here we skied over towards the Annete Plateau. Picked up Sarah who was having a lovely snooze in the sun and made our descent down the Sawyer Stream. Now this run is usually an objective in itself from the Mueller Hut and with the great terrain on offer, it's easy to see why. That said to get from the bottom of Sawyer Stream back to Mt Cook Village, is pretty fucking heinous and involves some character building bushbashing, rock hopping and a naughty little 300m screen slope ascent. However the final walk down from Red Tarns to the village, is simply spectacular. We arrived in good spirits, satisfied with an objective complete.

  4. #4
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    Nov 2012
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    Chamonix
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    Some (hopefully) useful tips

    Mapping etc. - Google Earth works incredibly well for NZ ski touring. Download the Google Earth Pro app for your computer (its free), this lets you adjust the time of day which shows you exactly where the sun is going to hit the terrain at a specific time and date. It also allows you to cycle through different satellite images going back through the years. There seems to be way more of them for NZ than here in the French Alps for some reason. Bloody useful for viewing the mountains at different times of year. You can usually find a winter image in NZ.

    I then liked to use Topo Map NZ to show me where the hiking trails and mountains were.

    I used the same topo map on my phone in the Galileo Pro app. This lets you download it and use offline. With phone in airplane mode, this made for a great GPS tool, with the battery lasting days. Obviously it was always then worth carrying a paper map and compass as backup.

    Cawthron Eye is really handy. It uploads 2 satellite images per a day for New Zealand. It then stores them for quite a long time, you can cycle back months I think. The images are zoomable to a reasonable detail. Basically enough to give you a good idea of the snow cover on mountains and in valleys. The big caveat here though is that it clearly only works well when the sky is... clear. That said I still found it super handy over the time period I was there.

    Weather – Touring in NZ is all about chasing the weather windows, identifying where that good weather/snow is likely to be and making a bee line for it! I mainly used the following 3, usually comparing them all to get a rough idea.

    Metvuw, it's what a merino sheep farmer over there told me to use and they know their shit.

    Windy of course is also good, particularly for getting a rough idea on the cloud cover and then comparing the different forecasting models.

    The Met Service Mountain Forecast - here's a link for Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.

    A interesting insight into the above forecasts from Island Bay:

    Quote Originally Posted by Island Bay View Post
    A note on your weather resources: metvuw only runs on one global model - GFS - so it’s very limited, and you can end up putting all your eggs into one wrong basket. Windy let’s you use ECMWF or GFS. MetService forecasts have human input and are based on the model performing best at the time.
    Avi Forecast - https://avalanche.net.nz/ - good forecasts to a solid detail. They’re mainly centred around the ski field areas and I’m pretty sure they finish when the ski fields close for the season. Lots of the best touring can be after this period, in October and into November, so make sure you’re clued up on your own avi knowledge.

    PLB/EPIRB Locator Beacons or similar – I’d say having a least one amongst your group is pretty worthwhile if you’re heading out into the wilderness in NZ. It gets really remote there, no phone signal and in some cases it can be a couple of days walk to get out of an area. This is the cheapest one I could find, light (140g) and actually had the best battery life (10 years standby). Think it cost me $330NZ.

    Light kit really comes into its own in New Zealand – you spend so long with it all on your back, getting to the snowline, that it really can make a difference if you’ve shaved off some kg’s. That said my setup wasn’t that light (Blizzard Scouts & Beast 14’s), but I was constantly wishing it was! This extends to things like a sleeping bag with a good warmth to weight ratio etc. etc. The snow is so variable over there that you’ll want something that can also handle the shit snow. You’ll often end up skiing powder, crust, ice and isothermic slush puddles all in one run.

    Hardwear – For general NZ ‘adventure’ ski touring/ski mountaineering, I’d bring all the usual suspects over with you and then use accordingly. Ice axe, crampons (I mainly used alloy, but on occasion my steels – a lot of people just used steel), ski crampons, glacier gear, 30m rope, harness etc. etc. Tent could also be handy, I didn’t bring mine, was then too stingy to buy one there, ended up wishing that I had. Some cool trips can be done with one.

    Good trail shoes – lots of walking. And consider some light gaiters, I wish I had in hindsight. So much bushwacking.

    Transport – A car is essential, a proper 4X4 would be amazing (lots of farm track access), a cheap second hand mountain bike could be a good investment. I did a fair few bike accessed tours. If you’re feeling particularly ‘progressive’, there’s a lot of potential for incorporating pack rafting into some delicious looking objectives.

    Time of year – Of course it varies, but in the 2 years I was there, the best touring on more interesting objectives was generally August, September and October. November was also good, but generally fewer weather windows. Start of December can be nice on the high stuff.

    Further Reading

    Some of my mates over there run great blogs/open source sites packed with trip ideas:

    Ski Touring NZ Jethro Robinson’s open source site, most trip reports have an annotated map. Check out his FAQ section – Jethro is the MAN when it comes to NZ ski touring knowledge.

    Joel O’Rourke’s blog. Lots of good missions on there.

    Ryan Taylor’s blog, lots of ski mountaineering, check out his 12 months of skiing post.

    Manu Nadler’s blog. Super detailed posts on his all his NZ tours. Open in Google Chrome to translate into English. I’ve directly linked to Mt Cook East Face post, a banger!

    These are some excellent blog posts on the (gnarly AF!) ski mountaineering side of things from visiting skiers:

    Ross Hewitt - https://rosshewitt.net/2015/11/12/skiwi-going-big-down-under-in-new-zealand/

    Tom Grant - https://www.scarpa.co.uk/blog/tom-grant-conquers-mount-cook/

    Ben Briggs - https://www.mountain-equipment.co.uk/blog/ben-briggs-first-descent-new-zealand/

    Noah Howell - http://www.noahhowell.com/category/new-zealand/


    Hope that all helps. Will try and add to it if I can think of anything more.
    Last edited by Jarmey; 08-17-2018 at 08:57 AM.

  5. #5
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    Dang man thanx for the effort! I’m sold


    Sent from my iPhone using TGR Forums

  6. #6
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    Nov 2012
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    All good in the hood, get over there for a trip!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
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    Land of the Long Flat Vowel
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    Fuqn hell, mate! Just skimmed through this, and I cannot wait to really sink my teeth into it. Epic effort!

  8. #8
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    Land of the Long Flat Vowel
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    A note on your weather resources: metvuw only runs on one global model - GFS - so it’s very limited, and you can end up putting all your eggs into one wrong basket. Windy let’s you use ECMWF or GFS. MetService forecasts have human input and are based on the model performing best at the time.

  9. #9
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    solid intro posts

  10. #10
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    Jun 2006
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    2,979
    Yeah, instant mag for that TR
    Education must be the answer, we've tried ignorance and it doesn't work!

  11. #11
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    All sorts of awesome.

    Cheers

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
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    Thanks all, appreciate it!

  13. #13
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    Nov 2012
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    Quote Originally Posted by Island Bay View Post
    A note on your weather resources: metvuw only runs on one global model - GFS - so it’s very limited, and you can end up putting all your eggs into one wrong basket. Windy let’s you use ECMWF or GFS. MetService forecasts have human input and are based on the model performing best at the time.
    Cheers for the insight mate, good to know. The ability to compare different models is why I like Windy and I noticed that they list GFS as the most basic, so interesting to hear that Metvuw solely uses that one.

    I'll paste your quote into the original post, as that's some super handy info!

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