17 August 2021
17 August 2021
The boards and skis are waxed, gear retrieved from the back of cupboards and the scent of fresh-fallen snow is in the air. It’s the Southern Hemisphere ski season once again. And while the chalets of Chamonix and Niseko’s ethereal powder might have been off the cards this year, here in The Land of the Long White Cloud we have long, white ski runs aplenty.
New Zealand resorts range from busy commercial resorts to tiny private clubs with retro charm (and equally retro facilities). No matter if you’re strapping on the skis and clipping on a snowboard for the first time; or dreaming of moguls and terrain parks, there is a New Zealand ski resort for you. With the snow season in full swing, discover the top ski resorts in New Zealand for all skill levels.
The best New Zealand ski resorts for beginners
If you’re setting out to learn to ski or snowboard, earn extra cred by doing it on the side of an active volcano. Within the world Heritage-listed Tongariro National Park, the statuesque stratovolcano Mount Ruapehu is home to the North Island’s only two commercial ski fields.
If you’ve never been to the snow on the North Island, now is the time – over the past five years, a $100 million upgrade has transformed this duo into something to rival South Island slopes.
On the northern face of the mountain, Whakapapa is the country’s largest ski resort with the largest beginner’s ski area – Happy Valley. This refurbished nursery slope is long, gentle and out of the path of more advanced runs, meaning beginners needn’t contend with experienced snowboarders and skiers zooming through (nor the experienced with them).
As a bonus, Mount Ruapehu’s ski fields offer the longest season of any New Zealand ski resort, running from early June to the end of October. When you’re ready to step things up on Whakapapa, the Sky Waka waits to whisk you up Ruapehu. The crown jewel of recent upgrades, this is the longest gondola ride in New Zealand. Or you can venture to the mountain’s south-west side to Whakapapa’s sister resort Tūroa, where thrilling terrain parks and Australasia’s largest vertical drop awaits.
New Zealand’s best ski resort for families
Pint-sized powder hounds in tow? Generations of budding snow sports lovers have learned the ropes at Cardrona Alpine Resort. Within reach of booming Queenstown as well as the more sedate Wanaka, Cardrona is one of the most perennially popular ski resorts of the New Zealand snow season. Yes, it gets busy, but for good reason. A renowned ski school, bunny slopes and the on-mountain childcare centre Ski Kindy mean Cardrona is tilted firmly towards families. There’s even plum parking reserved for single parents.
As well as an abundance of beginner-friendly terrain, McDougall’s Express ‘Chondola’ is a gondola and chair lift hybrid that leads to the summit, where two major green runs start – helping all ages aspire to ascend the mountain on even their first day.
Cardrona is set to combine with the private Soho Basin in the next few years to become New Zealand’s biggest ski area. Get a taste in the new Willow’s Basin, unveiled for its first season in 2021, and start the family training for your return to the Cardrona-Soho Ski Area.
New Zealand ski resorts for intermediate riders
Variety is the spice of life on the slopes when you’ve moved beyond basics and graduated to blue runs (and even the odd black). Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mount Hutt are three of the South Island’s best-known ski resorts and owned and operated by the same company. Make one epic ski season by combining all three with the 3 Peak Season Pass. The trio are part of the international Ikon Pass, too.
Outside Queenstown, The Remarkables are that by both name and by nature – its blue and black runs come with some of the best alpine scenery in the Southern Hemisphere. Don’t miss the 2.5km of trails opened up by the new Sugar Bowl chairlift. Since becoming our first commercial ski resort in the 1940s, Coronet Peak near Arrowtown has developed an array of blue runs beloved by intermediate skiers and snowboarders (as are the night ski sessions). North near Christchurch, Mount Hutt has been named New Zealand’s best ski resort six times running in the World Ski Awards, with affordable accommodation nearby in Methven.
Advanced New Zealand ski resorts
Although currently the South Island’s largest ski resort, with 550 hectares of rideable terrain, Treble Cone dedicates just 10% of trails to beginners. The rest is a network of blue and black runs snaking across a steep mountainside with epic views of Lake Wanaka’s calm expanse and the surrounding snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps.
With the highest average annual snowfall of any resort in the country, Treble Cone is more likely to deliver those pillowy dumps of fresh powder. Although only 30 minutes from Wanaka, the more advanced offering at Treble Cone means it’s often less crowded than other commercial fields. For off-piste adventures, Treble Cone’s lifts also open up spectacular backcountry.
New Zealand ski resorts for experts
Only confident skiers need apply at Craigieburn Valley. Not one of the 25 runs is graded below intermediate, and it has the highest percentage of black runs of any ski resort in the country (including some triple blacks for the truly skilled, or truly foolhardy).
A 90-minute drive from Christchurch, Craigieburn is one of New Zealand’s club fields, privately owned and operated but still open to the public. Don’t expect bells and whistles here – you’ll encounter rope tows rather than chair lifts; and grooming, snow machines and gondolas are all non-existent.
But without all the trappings of a large, commercial ski resort, Craigieburn Valley offers a convivial (and more economical) ski holiday on a network of notoriously challenging narrow chutes and wide bowls. ‘Steep, deep and cheap’ is the club’s unofficial motto.
If you have the nerves but not the economic reserves for heli-skiing on Mt Cook, the 600-metre vertical descent of Middle Basin is said to approximate the experience. With no grooming facilities, the entire ski resort offers an off-piste experience that will satisfy even the most hardcore snow chasers.
By Krysia Bonkowski