New Zealand: Seriously Fine Skiing, Riding In The Southern Alps -
The Southern Alps of New Zealand provide some seriously fine skiing and boarding with five hundred kilometres of mountain ranges splitting the South Island from north to south like a spine. The majority of the commercial ski fields are found around the alpine tourist resort town of Queenstown, which sits on the shores of Lake Wakatipu and is more suited to the Swiss Alps than antipodean lands.
Four commercial fields sit within driving distance of Queenstown. The Remarkables and Coronet Peak are both part of the NZ Ski stable of resorts with Mt Hutt in the Canterbury Region near Christchurch in the north of the South Island.
Coronet Peak’s 280 acres of skiable terrain is 25 minutes from town. It is known as the locals mountain, so expect crowds early morning before everyone goes to work. It’s the lowest elevation at 1645metres so snow is not as dry as elsewhere, but a multi-million dollar snowmaking system with 205 guns ensures snow throughout the season. They recently invested 20 million in the base lodge to create a more fluid service experience with larger dining areas, conference facilities, and a heated deck.
If you can survive the winding precarious access road to The Remarkables 220 hectares, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular alpine views and a quirky ski field that is home to Burton’s The Stash, a natural terrain run with eco obstacles. The transition here is steep between beginner, intermediate, and advanced, and runs are shorter, but the homeward bound allows you to stretch out at 1.5 kilometres.
Cardrona sits between Queenstown and Wanaka in the Crown Ranges. It hosts the FIS World Cup for snowboarding and has world class catering facilities with sushi bar, juice bar, pizza bar, and cafeteria. Day care and ski school is the best in the country and the resort is favoured by snowboarders for it’s three terrain parks. Cardrona is 320 hectares and is one of the very few resorts in New Zealand where you can stay on mountain.
Snow Park is opposite Cardrona and is an internationally recognised terrain park resort with a permanent quarter pipe, a super pipe, a triple jump line, and forty rails and jumps. There are new novice facilities, an on-mountain bar, restaurant and accommodation village.
Down the road past Wanaka, Treble Cone mountain resort markets itself as the skier’s mountain. and is certainly the preferred choice of advanced skiers for the back bowls and the mighty Mototapu chutes that host the Volkl big mountain freeski competition. The mountain has over 500 hectares of terrain and 700 metres of vertical.
The Canterbury Region of the South Island sits around the city of Christchurch. Kiwi clubfields are private members run ski fields open to the public. They’re basic with nutcracker rope tows often run by tractors but are exceptional lift accessed backcountry experiences. Don’t expect five star service. Do expect bunk beds, a chores board, and super cheap lift passes with access to some superb big mountain terrain. Seth Morrison, Glen Plake, and their pals regularly ski Craigieburn’s steep and deeps. Broken River, Temple Basin, Porters, and Cheeseman are all worth a look.
Mt. Hutt is served by the small town of Methven. This is the best ski and snowboard mountain in the country on a good day. However, the resort earns the nickname Mt. Shut on a bad day. It gets more snow than the resorts down near Queenstown, has 360 hectares of skiable terrain and another 150 of inbound backcountry and a fantastic transition between the levels. The Austrian National Ski Team trains here every August, for good reason.
Mt. Potts is an hour from Mt. Hutt and was originally a cat ski operation. It re-launched this year as HeliPark, a unique heli ski experience designed for those wishing to try heli skiing for the first time or for ski and snowboard pros wanting photo shoots. Guests pay per run rather than half or whole day and, if they’re prepared, to hike and get in some extra ‘free’ runs.
The North Island boasts the country’s largest ski areas, the combined fields of Whakapapa and Turoa that make up Mt. Ruapehu, an active volcano four hours drive from Auckland. Together, they boast 1050 hectares of skiable terrain. The mountain is an active volcano and the areas feature natural rolling lava half pipes and super steep rocky chutes in Whakapapa and glacial skiing at Turoa.
New Zealand offers some exciting heli ski terrain when you’re done with resort skiing. The country’s snow line is above the tree line so don’t expect tree ski runs, but you will find glacial skiing, open bowls, steep chutes, and some fine powder in the Arrowsmiths Ranges.