New Zealand – There is a different air in the mountains of New Zealand.
It might be because there are absolutely no trees of any kind in any of the ski resorts. But it’s not just the skiing. The population of New Zealand numbers only 4 million, and with more than one third living in Auckland and three-quarters on the North Island, the rest of the country is pretty sparsely unoccupied.
There are four ski resorts on the country’s North Island and 22 on the South. Eighteen of them are commercially operated and the rest are run by non-profit ski clubs. You can find anything, from top world-class resorts to a two-rope tow ski area. New Zealand also has a cross-country ski field (Snow Farm) and an exclusive terrain park ski area (Snow Park NZ). This year even marked the opening of the country’s first indoor snow resort in Auckland (Snowplanet) for a year-’round winter experience on a slope 202 meters long and 41 meters wide, where you can go to learn with certificated instructors or practice your jumps in the terrain park.
The South Island resorts are generally less crowded than those in the North simply due to a lack of local population. The South Island season, however, runs from mid-June to late October, while skiing generally continues in the North until late November. New Zealand also offers ample heli-skiing, thanks to the highest per capita ownership of helicopters and aircraft in the world. It doesn’t matter what your ski skill level, there is a place for everybody.
Situated in Tongariro National Park, on the northwestern slopes of one of the three active volcanoes of the Central Plateau area, is tied as New Zealand’s largest ski resort with 550 ha (1,359 acres) of terrain. The summit elevation reaches 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) with a vertical drop of 675 meters (2,214 feet). A total of 14 lifts offer a generous 45% of intermediate terrain; 30% is dedicated to beginners and 25% to advanced skiers. Hikers may reach the top of Mount Ruapehu at Crater Lake. Always be aware that is still an active volcano and you have to make sure that you know where the “safe lahars areas” are to avoid the rapidly flowing mixture of rock, debris and water from the volcano.
Even though some lodging is located right at the base of the mountain, Whakapapa Village is only 6 kilometers away and the access through Bruce Road is entirely surfaced in asphalt. The accommodation on site is of good quality and varied, but limited. There are two hotels, The Grand Chateau and Skotel, and a Holiday Park with five cabins and campsites. The next closest town is National Park, 21 kilometers from the base. Here you will find a wider diversity of facilities as well as retail and rental shops.
Lift passes: Adult: $72 NZ, Youth: (Under 16) $40 NZ.
Situated on the opposite side of Mt. Ruapehu from Whakapapa, on the volcano’s southwestern slopes, Turoa is the highest ski resort in New Zealand at 2,322 meters (7,618 feet). It is slightly smaller than its sister resort Whakapapa at 500 ha (1,235 acres) but also offers a wide range of terrain with three main off-piste areas, bowls, chutes and a 4 kilometer-long run. Experts will find more diversity over its vertical drop of 720 meters (2,362 feet).
Nearby Ohakune (16 kilometers) is the perfect ski town if you are planning a trip to Turoa. You’ll find plenty of accommodation, nightlife and entertainment activities: paintball, golf, and mountain biking among them. In August this famous “carrot town” hosts the Mardi Grass with live bands, parades and excellent local gastronomy.
Lift passes: Adult: $72 Youth: (U16) $40
The smallest of the three resorts on Mt. Ruapehu, Tukino is located on the east side of the volcano off the Desert Road. It is a club ski field open to the public and it’s a wonderful spot for beginners with a full 65% of the resort’s terrain dedicated to newbies. Its diminutive size (19 ha/47 acres) and 4X4 access road keep the crowds down. It has only two rope tows for uphill transport and the vertical drop barely exceeds 250 meters (820 feet). Most of Tukino’s terrain is wide and not aggressive. Learners or families with kids will find a real bargain.
There are two lodges on site, The Aorangi and Desert Alpine. Each room contains four to six bunk beds. As this is a ski club, you will be rostered to help with the day-to-day duties if you stay in any of the lodges. The closest town is Waiouru, 35 kilometers away, where you can find accommodation as well as New Zealand’s Army Museum (www.armymuseum.co.nz).
Lift Passes: Adult: $30 Child: $10
SOUTH ISLAND – Southern Lakes District
Treble Cone (www.treblecone.com)
Situated on the Southern Lakes District, Treble Cone is the largest ski field on the South Island. An entirely new basin opened this season, and the resulting increase in total terrain equals the size of Whakapapa at 550 ha (1,359 acres). The lifts rise to a height of 1,960 meters (6,428 feet) over 700 meters (2,296 feet) of vertical drop. Advanced skiers enjoy a full 50% of Treble Cone’s terrain, and only 10% is reserved for beginners. The diversity of the runs spanning natural half pipes and off-piste areas, however, offers
skiers and snowboarders ample entertainment. Lift and terrain expansion has driven this season’s ticket price from to $89 NZ, an increase of $14 NZ over last year.
Treble Cone’s lifts and slopes are 26 kilometers away from the closest town, Wanaka, and seven of those kilometers are unpaved. The accommodation in this quiet and unspoiled village is good and diverse. You’ll find no worldwide fast food chains in Wanaka! Queenstown, a larger and more energetic place is an hour and a half from Treble Cone’s base. Its International Airport receives flights straight from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, increasing the population by the thousands during the peak winter season. You’ll also find a wider range of nightlife and alternative activities in Queenstown. Queenstown is a lively international resort and adventure capital, offering jet boats, river rafts, parapente and bungy jumps. Don’t miss a day trip to Milford or Doubtful Sound, fjords which feature Yosemite’s geology in a temperate rainforest setting.
Lift Passes: Adult: $89 NZ, Children: $37 NZ
Cardrona is a family oriented resort located 34 kilometers from Wanaka (13 km unsealed) and 60 kilometers from Queenstown. Everything at Cardrona is centered on families; it has a licensed child care facility for children aged three months to 12 years old. Childcare prices vary from $48 NZ to $83 NZ.
Cardrona’s vertical drop of 390 meters (1,279 feet) reaches an elevation of 1,894 meters (6,213 feet). Lift access is provided by three quad chairs, one of them a high-speed detachable, three magic carpets and one
platter lift, all well positioned for efficient access to the mountain. An 875 yard-long Gravity Cross Course and two terrain parks provides a large choice of amusements for all ages, skiers or snowboarders.
Cardrona has three restaurants plus a cafeteria, a rental/retail shop and a ski repair shop. On site accommodation consists of only eight apartments, as most lodging facilities are in Wanaka. Cardrona is about half an hour closer to Queenstown than Treble Cone.
Lift passes: Adult: $71 NZ; Children: $35 NZ
Coronet Peak (www.coronetpeak.co.nz)
Coronet Peak is the most popular ski resort on the South Island due to its proximity to the “cosmopolitan” Queenstown (18Km), the South Island’s only paved access road, and the spectaculars views of the Ranges. It’s also the oldest ski field in the region and offers special deals that make this resort unique. You can get
a First Tracks pass and enjoy the mountain from 8 in the morning for an extra $150 NZ, and it’s New Zealand’s only night skiing experience on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Night tickets are priced at $39 NZ for adults, and $24 NZ for youth under 18. Children aged six and under ski for free.
This year a new high-speed six-seat chairlift, the Greengates Express, has opened to provide better access to the left side of the mountain and provide much-needed relief for the lift queues. Coronet has New Zealand’s largest snowmaking system covering close to half of its 285 ha (692 acres). The summit reaches 1,649 meters (5,410 feet) and the ski resort has a vertical drop of 420 (1,378 feet). The longest groomed run, the M1, descends for only 1.8 kilometers and can be unbearably crowded. But the mountain is covered in tussocks, a soft grass which allows most off-piste terrain to be skiable by intermediates on a 100cm. base of snow. The back bowls, for experts only, offer an enjoyable experience, far from the crowds and often filled with fresh snow.
A Coronet Peak season pass is interchangeable with The Remarkables and Mount Hutt.
Lift passes: Adults: $79 NZ, Youth: $41 NZ.
The Remarkables (www.nzski.com)
Right in the Remarkables Mountain Range, 28 kilometers from Queenstown, this resort stretches up to 1,943 meters (6,374 feet). Five lifts access a total of 220 ha (544 acres) and a vertical drop of 357 meters (1,171 feet) Remarks, how the locals call it, offers three wide open bowls and the possibility of a full day hiking experience with awesome views of Lake Wakatipu. The main runs are short (Homeward Bound is the longest at 1.5 km), so most advanced skiers opt to climb to find fresh and untouched snow.
Lift passes: Adults: $74 NZ, Youth under 18: $39 NZ
You will find beside the Cardrona Valley Road 35 km from Wanaka two specialized areas: Snow Farm for cross-country skiing, and Snow Park for extreme terrain park adrenaline seekers.
Snow Farm is a paradise both for those who enjoy cross-country skiing and for the international teams that come here to train. With a 14 km-long run, a total of 50 km of groomed trails are available daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The season lasts from late June until mid-October. Snow Farm has accommodation available on site in the Alpine Lodge (60 guests) plus a wide range of facilities, including a gym, library, shops, a restaurant, bars and a café. Other activities available include sledding, snowshoeing and tubing.
Trail passes: Adults: $30 NZ, Children under 12: $15 NZ
Snow Park NZ, which opened in 2003, is the spot for freestyle riders who are into jumping, sliding and ripping on either of the resort’s two half pipes and more than 40 rails and boxes. There is also a beginner’s
section with smaller hits and boxes. A fixed grip quad chairlift provides access to Snow Park’s 24 ha (59 acres) of terrain; the vertical drop of 120 meters (393 feet) doesn’t matter when the aim is spend all day in the park. There is no accommodation available on site.
Lift passes: Adults: $60 NZ, Youth under 18: $35, Children under 6: Free
Harris Mt. Heliskiing (www.heliski.co.nz)
Harris Mt. Heliskiing is the largest heliski operator outside of Canada. They operate in 11 areas from well north of Wanaka to just south of Queenstown. This wide range increases the chances of finding a calm and clear area to fly. Even so, weather normally grounds them two days a week, and in a stormy year they may only fly half of the time. Harris has offices in both Queenstown and Wanaka, but more skiing is available near Wanaka. Harris gets a lot of first-timers for its 3 and 4 run options, so experienced powder skiers should request the Max Vert: 7 runs with options for more if the group and conditions permit. Fat skis are recommended for the coastal and sometimes variable snow.
There are other heliski operators in Queenstown, but Harris is the preferred Southern Lakes operator due to its more extensive terrain near Wanaka. Harris Mt. Heliskiing also offers private charters, film shoots, custom multiday packages and heliskiing near Mt. Cook with a scenic flight from Queenstown or Wanaka.
Passes for heliskiing: 3-run $725 NZ; 4-run $775 NZ; 7-run $975 NZ; extra runs $90 NZ each; scenic flight to Mt. Cook $300 NZ
Ski Express Tours ( http://www.skiexpress.co.nz)
Ski Express is the leading ski tourism operator on the South Island. For those booking their packages, representatives are onsite in eight Queenstown hotels each morning and evening of your stay to provide assistance in arranging activities, in many cases at a discount to published prices. They also provide daily 2-hour complimentary ski tours at Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, and on selected days at Cardrona, Treble Cone and Mt. Hutt, with a minimum of two guests required. Ski Express also has reps in Wanaka and Methven. The U.S. contact for Ski Express is Holidaze Ski Tours ( http://www.holidaze.com).
SOUTH ISLAND – CANTERBURY
Mt. Hutt (www.nzski.com/mthutt)
Situated 1.5 hours from Christchurch, Mt. Hutt is primarily a huge glaciated bowl, which has a reputation for New Zealand’s most reliable snow conditions. The resort rises to a height of 2,086 meters (6,842 feet) over 683 meters (2,240 feet) of vertical drop. Mt. Hutt’s 365 ha (902 acres) have an excellent balance of terrain for all levels of skiers and are served by a high speed six and 2 other chairs.
Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and has excellent international air connections. Most Canterbury skiers stay in Methven, the closest town to the mountains, about a half hour from Mt. Hutt. Methven more closely resembles Wanaka than the bustling resort ambience of Queenstown.
Lift Passes: Adult: $79 NZ, Children: $42 NZ
Mount Potts Backcountry (www.mtpotts.co.nz)
This extravagant resort has no conventional ski lifts, only a helicopter and a snow cat. It is located about 75 kilometers from Methven and is the highest ski field on the South Island at 2,254 meters (7,395 feet). They also offer a heli-access service to the Mount Potts airstrip from Queenstown or even from Christchurch. With an average of 14 runs a day you will have an all-day heliskiing or snow cat experience, depending on the package that you choose. You can stay at the Mt. Potts Lodge, which includes dinner, bed and breakfast from $89 NZ per person per night. There is plenty of accommodation in Methven as well, but with seven other ski resorts close by Methven gets crowded during the high season.
Passes for heli-accessed cat skiing: Low $320 NZ; High $350 NZ; heliskiing $650 for 6 runs at Mt. Potts or $765 for 5 runs in the nearby Two Thumb Range
Club Ski Areas
The Canterbury area of the Southern Alps has the largest concentration of ski club fields sporting a handful of rope tows, simple lifts and a varied collection of private ski lodges. They’re open to all-comers, but some are only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles, others have a long walk in, and ski schools are almost unheard of. Conversely, lift tickets are only NZ$20-40, queues are short and there’s usually a gear-rental shop not too far away. Despite the primitive facilities terrain can be extensive and challenging with a series of rope tows climbing as much as 500 vertical meters (1,640 feet). With minimal grooming and very low skier density untracked snow can last a long time. These areas inspired the creation of Silverton Mountain ski area in Colorado and will often provide a similar experience.
For international visitors who want some local guidance to optimize club field skiing, Black Diamond Safaris ( http://www.blackdiamondsafaris.co.nz/) runs customized tours featuring Mt. Olympus, Craigieburn and Broken River. Temple Basin is another club area that has received favorable international press for terrain and snow.
The Southern Alps also have some low key public areas like Porter Heights and Ohau that split the difference between full-service Mt. Hutt and the rustic club fields. These typically have t-bars for lifts and some grooming, but still far less skier traffic than the major resorts.
SOUTH ISLAND – MT. COOK AREA
The Southern Lakes resorts of Queenstown and Wanaka are about an hour apart and skiers can easily stay in both towns or use public transport from Queenstown to all 4 ski areas. Methven and Canterbury are a five-hour drive from the Southern Lakes so skiers wishing to visit both regions must relocate their lodging base. Mt. Cook National Park is between Methven and Wanaka, about three hours drive from either. Mt. Cook at 3,764 meters (12,346 feet) is New Zealand’s highest peak, and adjacent to the scenic Tasman Glacier.
Alpine Guides (www.heliskiing.co.nz) offers three scenic skiplane flights to the glacier and two long and gradual ski runs of about 3,000 vertical feet. Although some of the skiing is through ice formations, it is easily accessible to intermediates with fat skis. Alpine Guides offers more challenging heliskiing in Mt. Cook National Park and also in the Arrowsmith range from a base in Methven.
Alpine Guides passes for Tasman Glacier skiplane: $695 NZ; heliskiing $795 for 5 runs, extra run options available.
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