Extreme skiers have conquered the dangerous, avalanche-swept Caroline Face of Aoraki/Mt Cook.

The "outrageous" descent comes nearly 47 years after climbers first ascended the face. It was the last face to be climbed on the 3724m-high Aoraki, New Zealand's tallest mountain.

The European trio of extreme skiers - Italian Enrico Mosetti, and Britons Ben Briggs and Tom Grant - are understood to have made their descent yesterday.

Mosetti's previous extreme skiing feats include a descent from the summit of Mt Triglav, Slovenia's highest peak, in 2015.


Grant posted on Instagram today: "Just back down from an unforgettable adventure ... First descent of Aoraki/Cook's 2,000m Caroline face. One of the bigger unskied faces around, and the biggest I've ever skied, truly colossal in scale.

"The icing on the cake was skiing it in powder most of the way. 3 raps [abseils] and despite all the seracs [ice towers] in the photo, it was good, clean skiing. Thanks to Ben and Enrico for being such solid partners and for everyone else who supported us."

Mosetti said on Facebook: "Such a big day. The biggest thing I've ever skied, the biggest line I could imagine to ski, and in great powder conditions!"

Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain, with the Caroline Face in shade. Photo / 123rf
Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain, with the Caroline Face in shade. Photo / 123rf

The Caroline is extremely dangerous because of the risk of an out-of-control fall on steep ice, being swept away by an avalanche, and being hit by falling rock or ice that has broken away from ice cliffs. The 1800m face tops out between Middle Peak and Low Peak on Aoraki's summit ridge.

Extreme skiers have been eyeing the Caroline for more than a decade.

Swedes Magnus Kastengren and Andreas Fransson lined up at the top of the face in preparation for the first ski descent November 2013, but Kastengren slipped and fell 600m to his death down the other, western side of the mountain.

Fransson died in September 2014 in an avalanche on Monte San Lorenzo in Chile.

Yesterday's feat was first reported in Italian media, in which the conditions on the descent were said to be good.

Simon Middlemass, the manager of the New Zealand Alpine Club's lodge at Mt Cook village said the descent was "outrageous".

"... it sounds like they followed the climbers' line which is the line that goes directly right down - that's just hearsay - and that would be really impressive because the bottom part of the route is really threatened by ice cliffs.

"That's the thing about climbing the Caroline; it's not a hard climb, it's a dangerous climb."

Mosetti, 28, made a notable solo expedition in Peru in 2015 and in 2016 was on an expedition on 6069m Laila Peak in Pakistan's Karakoram mountains in which one of his colleagues died in a fall.

John Glasgow made the first ascent of the Caroline with Peter Gough in November 1970. Glasgow told the Herald today he is not surprised the face has been skied.

He said conditions on the face varied greatly and sometimes the ice cliffs would make it virtually impossible to ski.

"You make one mistake and that's the last mistake you make; you don't get to make two mistakes."

After Kastengren's death on Aoraki, Graeme Dingle, who made the second ascent of the Caroline, told the Herald the face would be skied eventually, although it would be extremely dangerous.

"It's right up there. You make one blue, catch an edge or hit a lump of ice and you're gone and you're not going to recover."

The first ski descent of Aoraki/Mt Cook was in 1982. Middlemass said descents of the East Face were no longer unusual.