Mount Difficulty Skyrace – Life Begins at the Edge of Your Comfort Zone

If you’re thinking about signing up for the Mount Difficulty SkyRace over in New Zealand, then this article will give you some great pointers as to what it’s all about. The even better news is that you can also get 20% off your race entry by signing up to be a member of the Ultra168 Supporters Club. Not only that, but you get a whole heap of other discounts off other races and gear by joining the club. For more details, click here, or the big green up below.


The uncomfortably hard zone is a concept we’ve talked about before. It’s a special kind of place that’s right on the edge of your limits and if we’re honest should scare you too. Having run this race last year, there were a few moments where I felt exactly that. This is not about pushing your limits as far as speed is concerned, but if you want to scale some serious heights and find out what you’re made of, then this is the race you should do.

But although the name is all about inspiring images of a seriously hard-core mountain race, race director of one of the toughest mountain races going in the Southern Hemisphere, Terry Davis doesn’t want the beauty and pleasure of this race over looked. 

This is Mount Difficulty. It's seriously difficult as the name suggests. I did the inaugural event this year and I'll be honest, I almost shit my pants going up it... (Picture - EyetoEye Photos)
This is Mount Difficulty. It’s seriously difficult as the name suggests. I did the inaugural event this year and I’ll be honest, I almost shit my pants going up it… (Picture – EyetoEye Photos)

“This race is genuinely my utopia of an off road mission for two very distinct reasons. Firstly, the ascents (and a couple of short descents) are the steepest and most awesome that I know of in New Zealand or Australia. It is just a stunningly steep, rugged, rocky, need-to-experience-to-appreciate kind of environment to travel through. Secondly, the gentle traversing and ridge running after the climbs that you can really enjoy.

“Fantastic vistas, and gently downward (mostly) trending trails that you can actually run comfortable on. Most of the other events I organise have relentless up’s or downs that you pretty much just suffer through and can’t actually enjoy. In this event, once you’re at the top then next sections are just bliss!”

A new sponsor (The name of the Mountain is Mt Difficulty and the new Sponsor is Mt Difficulty Wines – too perfect) means a new Start/Finish area and a change in course –(See a link to the maps here The course this year does have more climb, more ridge running and less pesky road.


The time of year has a big impact on this race. Mid June in Central Otago NZ is very ‘fresh’ (as the locals would refer to it) 0’ to – 5’C is expected. A hard frost is a good thing – the harder the frost the better the day that follows and clear, calm, crisp days in Central Otago are well worth all the layers of merino you’ll need to wear to get through it. There is expected to be some snow about the higher altitudes (1000+ meters) but more than 20cm is unlikely.

The guys at Highland events are loath to cancel events for bad weather. One of Terry’s favourite quotes is “The worse the weather the greater the adventure!” For Aussies going over for the race make sure you take all the required gear plus extra. This year there will be a drop bag carried to the top of the mountain for you and you should definitely chuck some extra thick warm gear in there. If there does happen to be a serious storm or particularly thick snow up high the course may be altered but the event will not be cancelled. The alternative still promises to be spectacular as the best parts of the ascents are the first vertical 500m.

Mt Difficulty Ascent has a boost in numbers this year. Aligning itself with the Oceania Skyrunning Series has seen a good number of Aussies signing up already and generally raised the profile – which provides quite a dilemma for Terry.

“This is not a race for idiots. The more we get entering the higher the odds are that an idiot or two slip in… that’s very scary for me on this course.” There are definitely areas of the course where, if you wander off course, you could easily die. The course will be really well marked with bright orange wide marking tape. In the most ‘important’ area’s we will have set ropes along the ground, you could use them as a ‘handrail’ but really they are there to keep you on course. You do not need to have rock climbing skills but ideally you should be quite confident in rock scrambling situations.

I honestly cannot speak highly enough of this race. It has everything you want in a run, but the added advantage of some vineyards knocking about and the adventure playground capital of the Southern Hemisphere at Queenstown.

This article forms part of our Ultra168 partner content series that we’re doing in conjunction with the Mount Difficulty Skyrace and Highland Events, who is a partner in the Ultra168 Supporters initiative. If you want to find out more about the Ultra168 Supporters Club and the great deals and discounts you can get on races and gear in Australia, click the button below.


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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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