Core Mountain Skills  -Details for Summer 2018/19


The Core Mountain Skills course is Alpine Guides 5-day introductory level mountaineering course, for summer conditions. It is a perfect starting point for people developing an interest in the high mountains, including traveling and camping above the snow line. The CMS is essentially our Mountain Experience Course (MEC), with the format adapted to better suit 'summer' conditions. You will complete the course prepared for your own alpine adventures, or ready to take up a more technical challenge, like our Alpine Skills Course (ASC). All “technical” climbing equipment is supplied, and the cost of the course is kept down by not using aircraft access.

One of the strengths of the course structure is the extremely flexible formatThe course uses Mount Cook Village area, and venues in the surrounding local mountains. Every trip will be slightly different as we choose the mountain venue depending on the weather, and general conditions at the time.

Apart from the great experience, we always aim to climb at least one peak, or cross an alpine pass - or both. 

You will finish the CMS with many new skills that will serve as a grounding for future adventures in the mountains.

What You Will Learn

The safe enjoyment of the mountain environment depends upon sound judgment, good technique, and the right equipment. Our guides will help you develop skills through the practice of climbing on rock, snow and ice, and spending time in the alpine environment.

After the course you should:

  • Be able to camp above snow line/construct a bivvy

  • Be confident on uneven/loose alpine terrain

  • Have basic rock climbing/rope skills

  • Be able to cross alpine passes/climb moderate peaks with confidence

  • Be ready for a more advanced climbing course, like our Alpine Skills Course (ASC)


When conditions allow, training with crampons and ice axe will be included. The amount of exposure to snow varies with course venue and the prevailing mountain conditions.

Topics covered on your course will include:

  • Equipment, what to bring and how to use it

  • Awareness of terrain/route finding

  • Climbing on alpine rock, snow and ice

  • Alpine camping/bivvying (and snow shelters, if conditions allow)

  • Avalanche awareness

  • Map reading/Navigation

  • Weather forecasting

  • Basic first aid

  • Rope and rock climbing techniques

Pricing 2018/19

Cost: NZ$1,950 per person
The course fee includes the following:
  • Guiding fees

  • Alpine Guides Technical Manual

  • All meals (including snacks and energy bars)

  • Hut fees

  • Local transport

  • A range technical equipment

  • Local accommodation for any nights necessary during the course

Experience Required

Core Mountain Skills is for people with a background in hiking/tramping. You must be used to carrying a moderately sized backpack over uneven terrain for several hours at a stretch. No prior knowledge of rope systems or climbing is required.

The most important prerequisite is a high level of aerobic fitness. The Core Mountain Skills course is not about classroom lectures but getting "out there" and gaining knowledge of the alpine environment by "doing it".

 With all travel being on foot, the ability to carry a moderately-sized backpack (for several hours) is required.

  • You must be able to continuously carry a pack of up to 15kg for 4-5 hours

  • You must be comfortable on uneven terrain

Read more about fitness for mountaineering here.

Maximum and Minimum Bookings

All CMS courses are limited to a maximum of 8 participants. The maximum guide to participant ratio is 1:4.
Minimum bookings

We guarantee to run the course you are booked on, with the following modification:

One or 2 people only: we shorten the course to 4 days.

We think that shortening courses, rather than cancelling them is the best service we can offer, as it minimises any affects on your travel plans, and still provides a great mountaineering experience.

Smaller teams can cover instruction topics more quickly and efficiently than a larger group. There is a better chance to get on to more challenging ascents.

In the unlikely event that your course is shortened we may move the start time of your course, but within the scheduled course dates. If your course is shortened we will discuss this with you well in advance of the start date.

Reporting Details

All CMS’s begin at 08:30 on the start date, and finish at 17:00 on the last day. We will provide accommodation on the final night, if required.

Please report to Alpine Guides office in Mt Cook Village.

Read more about transport options to Mount Cook here. 


Course Structure

Dynamic mountain weather makes fixed itineraries impractical. The CMS is designed to work around changeable weather and snow conditions.

The CMS is split into two main parts - based on where training takes place:

1. Village Section
  • Introduction to the area and plans for the trip

  • Equipment - what to use, how to pack for the mountains

  • Climbing Mt Sebastopol and Sebastopol bluffs: moving on loose terrain, scree slopes, ridge travel

  • A full day of rock climbing instruction, including rope handling skills, abseiling, learning basic knots and hitches.

  • We often (but not always) spend the first night in Mt Cook Village

2. Alpine Section

The CMS' alpine venues include the Mueller Range, Mount Barth, Ball Pass, Sefton Bivouac, Whale and Twin Streams, amongst others. These areas provide a range of alpine terrain and opportunities to train and climb peaks on snow, ice, and rock.

These locations are all either within walking distance, or can be walked into after a short drive from Mount Cook Village.

  • Mueller Range - allows access to the Annette Plateau, with peaks like Annette (2,235 metres) and Mount Sealy (2,557 metres) close by.

  • Ball Pass - Cross the classic alpine route from Tasman to Hooker Valley. Climb Mount Rosa (2,161 metres), or Mount Turner Peak (2,338 metres).

  • Temple Valley - Gunsight Pass between North and South Temple

  • Dassler Pinnacles (2,325 metres) from Red Hut in the Hopkins Valley.

  • Twin Streams and Whale Stream in the Ben Ohau range are renowned for great alpine rock and allows access on to peaks like Mount Dark (2,496 metres).

  • Mount Barth (2,456 metres). A glaciated peak in the Ahuriri Valley, just over one hour south from Mount Cook. This offers a great location for snowcraft, bivvying and ridge travel.

During the course we will include map reading and navigation topics, study mountain weather and avalanche awareness. Each day’s activities can have you out and about for at least 8 hours.

In the mountains you will be creating a camp site. This can be as few as one, or up to 3 nights. Small parties may take a tent, but normally the campsite will be a bivouac.

For bivvying in the mountains you will require:

  • A good quality sleeping pad

  • A sleeping bag, and sometimes (but not always) a bivvy bag

Modern 3-season sleeping bags with breathable water-resistant shells are ideal for alpine camping in fine weather. They can eliminate with the need for a further layer (a bivvy bag).

We supply bivouac bags free of charge, if required. You are welcome to bring your own combination of sleeping bag/bivvy bag.

Your guide will provide cooking stoves and fuel, and each person will be expected to carry a share of food and cooking equipment, and to assist with preparing meals. We provide eating utensils. 

Private Courses

Private courses can be arranged at any time from December, for one or more people. A private course allows you to choose the dates and duration, and tailor the content to your specific requirements. 

Contact us about arranging a private course. 

Snow Cover Variation

Because we walk in and out of our training venues, CMS's use locations over a range of altitudes (750 to 2,300 metres). At these elevations there is a mix of permanent and seasonal snow.

The amount of snow cover and depth you encounter will vary with the course venue, the time of year, and because of major prevalent weather patterns (like La Nina/El Nino).

"Late-Season",  January to April

  • Do not expect snow below approx. 1,800 metres

  • There will be more exposed rock

  • Greater distance to travel to reach snow instruction venues

  • More exposed hard ice

Read more about seasonality, weather, and snow conditions here.

Footwear for your course

Core Mountain Skills requires fully-shanked alpine boots. Technical leather alpine boots are ideal. If you do not own appropriate boots we have these available to rent.

Read more about the appropriate boots for your course in our Gear Guide. 

We supply a range of crampons, which fit practically all boots. Rock shoes will be provided if required, but please bring your own if you own a pair.

Equipment and Clothing

Please let us know what gear you need to rent - including any equipment supplied free of charge.

Choosing your clothing | Seasonal Variation

Our gear lists cater for all eventualities. Sometimes you may not require everything on the equipment list. Weather and conditions when your trip starts will help determine what is needed.

Temperatures, weather, and snow conditions will vary. The course is designed to work around these changes.

Read more about seasonality, weather, and snow conditions here.

Make a Booking

We require a deposit of NZ$1,000 and completed booking form for each person.