All you need to know about skiing in New Zealand
There is a terrible myth going around that as you get older it’s time to opt for the quieter holidays – the sitting-around-the-pool style of vacation. But for many of us, a holiday is also the opportunity to get away from the desk, enjoy the outdoors and get a little healthy exercise in too.
If you are still reasonably fit and love your snow sports, there is no reason why you can’t head across the Tasman for a little of the white stuff - occasionally punctuated with a well-deserved glass of wine after a big day on the slopes. Look around in the lift queues and you will be surprised to find a few of your peers as well.
The flexibility of the empty nest means you can also avoid the school holiday crowds – such a relief! With the ending of daylight savings, it seems only right that you may find yourself checking deals and the availability of trans-Tasman flights.
The ski season is when the beautiful South Island city of Queenstown comes into its own.
While your flight from Australia will deposit you in Queenstown, there are four ski areas in the region. Queenstown itself has Coronet Peak and The Remarkables while nearby Wanaka has Cardrona and Treble Cone.
In 2017 The Remarkables and Cardrona are scheduled to open on June 10, followed by Coronet Peak on June 17 and Treble Cone on June 22. The ski season for all will be all wound up by mid-October.
Australians skiing in New Zealand for the first time are often surprised to find that, as a general rule, on-snow accommodation doesn’t exist across the Tasman. So you’ll be staying in Queenstown or Wanaka. These are very different experiences: Queenstown has a thriving night scene in winter whereas Wanaka is much more tranquil.
The picturesque Wanaka is about an hour's drive from Queenstown
The ski areas have quite different personalities, too.
Treble Cone has the highest top elevation (1960m) and the longest vertical (700m) and the lowest percentage of beginner runs (10 per cent) and the highest percentage of expert runs (45 per cent).
Cardrona, the other Wanaka field, has the next longest vertical (600m), a top elevation of 1860m and a quarter of its runs are for beginners and another quarter for experts.
The Remarkables have the second highest top elevation (1943m) but only 357m of vertical so it has the greatest proportion of beginner slopes (30 per cent) as well as 30 per cent of expert runs.
Venerable Coronet Peak has a top elevation of 1649 metres and 462 metres of vertical. Its balance of slopes include 20 per cent beginner and 35 per cent expert.
There have been improvements made over the off-season.
Visitors to The Remarkables will find a slinky-style transparent tube now encloses the existing double conveyor lift on the learner’s slope to enhance the learner magic carpet experience. It’s a first for New Zealand.
The Remarkables has expanded its accessible terrain with return transport provided for Outward Bound skiers and boarders. Additional snowmaking guns have been installed at Curvey Basin Trail to cover the runs accessed by the chairlift that was installed last season.
Over at Coronet Peak, night skiing in July has been extended from Friday and Saturday nights to include Wednesday evenings, too. The night skiing area has been extended as well with two new floodlit trails. Off the side of the M1 trail Duncan’s Dance, a rolling terraced run will be lit as well as the Pro Am run alongside the lower Coronet Express.
Snow making has been extended near the base of the mountain. Snow cover at lift access will be improved by two guns: a mobile and boom fan gun.
There’s been extensive grooming and remodeling under the Coronet Express lift including Duncan’s Dance, which will now have a short terrain park with intermediate hard features. The steepest part of the M1 has been widened to make it more intermediate-friendly. The Pro Am run is being groomed into a more enjoyable intermediate run that holds snow coverage better. New terrain near Below the Meadows Express Chair will be a kids’ fun zone complete with a tunnel and banked turns.
On the social side, the on-mountain Ice Bar has moved from the Greengates trail to beside the pump house steeps on the M1. That makes the bar more accessible for all levels of skiers and provides great photo opportunities.
Coronet Peak is perfect for all levels of skiers
The big news for Treble Cone, or TC as it’s sometimes called, is a major investment in snowmaking for 2017. The new system will service Easy Rider from the top of Home Basin right down to the base lodge, including the snow cover of Main Street. It’s hoped that this will ensure that Treble Cone can open as scheduled and provide skiing right through the school holidays, irrespective of natural snow fall and coverage.
Cardrona has installed an innovative “Chondola” that is a mix of 8-person gondola cabins and 6-seater chairs. The McDougall’s Express Chond ola has 10 cabins and 40 chairs that increases the lifting capacity over the old Quad from 1000 to 2550 people per hour.
The new lift has seven towers while the old one had 11 so changes have been made to Footrot Flats trail to make it wider. And increased snowmaking capacity has led the resort to stay open a week longer – until mid October.
By moving the Kids’ Snow Sports School into the same building as the improved Ski Kindy you have a one-stop drop off for children from a few months old up to 14 years of age. It also opens up space for The Lounge, a new café/bar with a ski-in outdoor deck.
Of course, one of the delights of the South Island’s extensive snow-covered mountains is the chance to go off piste and into the back country by heli-skiing. Queenstown’s five-star Rees Hotel located right on Lake Wakatipu offers excellent cuisine and an exceptional wine list.
The Rees also offers a range of ski packages including a Heli-Ski and Stay for powder lovers. For $NZ3095 you get two night’s accommodation (with breakfast) for two people, four heli-ski runs with guaranteed fresh powder, car parking and the services of a ski concierge. Of course, there is the option to extend your stay with extra nights.
Have you skied in New Zealand? Where’s your favourite spot? Comment below.
Photography: Julian Apse, Lake Wanaka Tourism, Martyn Williams / Tourism New Zealand