Where is the best place to go skiing in New Zealand? That of course is a very subjective question, because we’re all different right?! It’s going to vary depending on your skill level, budget, and other factors such as if you’re a couple or a family. Read on and we’ll help uncover where you might find your best day ever on the snow!
OK, can of worms here, every area will tell you they have the best facilities to learn to ski. But, here are our thoughts, and why. Whakapapa in the north has a dedicated learners facilities called Happy Valley, It’s safe and ideal for learning. But, the transition to the next level is daunting for some. Porters and Mt Hutt in Canterbury are also good, and once you’re off the learners you're onto a chairlift which can make for an easier transition. Dobson is good, it’s small friendly area with a decent progression and the chairlift makes it easier once you’ve got going. Roundhill however is surely one of the best, for “never evers” and families, but again, once you progress to the T-bar it’s a bit harder. Cardrona is enormously popular for beginners and well geared up for it, and there’s a pretty good progression, one of the best. Made much easier now with their new Chondola. And finally, the Remarkables. Maybe the best? Two decent sized beginner areas and then a chair for the progression that provides a good transition.
So the answer in many respects, is that all the areas are great to learn at and all offer learner facilities. Generally the smaller areas such as Dobson, Roundhill and Porters will be cheaper, less busy and more low key. But then it’s hard to go past Cardrona and The Remarkables as two of the best areas for progressing once you’ve got a few turns going.
As a rule, most ski areas in NZ offer great intermediate terrain. But, some have more than others. In the north, Whakapapa and Turoa, when there is tons of snow, has tons of wide open terrain. But, do watch for weather and snow conditions. Mt Hutt in Canterbury has good wide open slopes, with Dobson and Roundhill also being cruisers paradise. Further South, Cardrona, Coronet Peak and The Remakables are geared up with wide trails and great grooming.
But we’ll reiterate, pretty much all of the commercial areas, large and small have great intermediate terrain. Most feature snow making, ensuring there is a good cover, and all have great grooming teams to give you the best conditions.
By terrain, we’re going to suggest either it’s varied, or steep? So we’re thinking more about more advanced to expert skiers and riders. In the north, there’s really no question, both Whakapapa and Turoa have an enormous variety of terrain and because of the unique landscape there are many natural features such as valleys, amphitheatres, cliffs if you want, you name it. On a good day, they are awesome.
Heading south, well, there’s so much choice and we can’t mention everyone, but here goes. In terms of legendary runs, Big Mama and Bluff Face at Porters are two of the longest steepest lift serviced faces in the country. If you can get to the bottom and your things aren’t screaming, well, you’re a legend. And often, there’s good fresh snow there. At Mt Hutt, the Towers and South Face are good, but just expect more people. Roundhill, known as a family friendly area, also has the longest steepest ropetow in the work, 640m of vertical, it’s epic. Ohau, views to die for, as is the terrain you can hike to. And Treble Once, well known all around for it’s legendary terrain. Finally, Coronet Peak, when it’s on, it's one big roller coaster ride, but, you do have to wait for the good snow. And yes, we know there is so much more!
It’s fair to say skiing isn’t the cheapest sport. But think about it, you’re on the slopes for up to 6 hours, you’re in a beautiful place, and the hard work of getting uphill is well, not hard work. But, there are definitely places you can ski at a cheaper price, but you might lose a few facilities or services, which may or may not matter to you.
As a general rule of thumb, the larger the ski area the more expensive it’s going to be. Think $120 or upwards to $150 at the likes of Mt Ruapehu, Mt Hutt, Cardrona, Treble Cone, Coronet Peak, or The Remarkables. If you step down to the smaller commercial areas such as Porters, Dobson, Roundhill or Ohau, Rainbow or My Lyford, a day ticket will set you back anywhere from $83 to $100. You’ll still get grooming, snow making, full services etc. But the lifts won’t be high speed chairs, and the cafes will be more down to earth. It will also be less crowded. If you step down one more level to one of the club fields, the price reduces further, to around $70+. But there won’t be snow making, there may or may not be grooming, the lifts will be all surface lifts, including rope tows, you may have to walk to access the area, and they may not have full services such as ski hire. But, there won’t be many people, and the snow is probably less tracked. So, you’re paying less, for (maybe) better snow. Deal!
And talking of deals, can you get them? Well, all ski areas sell early season or “early bird” passes, so if you know where you want to ski, this is the most economical way. Many often sell multi-day passes which offer 3 days or more, discounted off the full day price. Occasionally some ski areas also sell discounted passes on sites such as GrabOne. And lastly, look for packages. If you’re learning, lots ski areas offer a package or lifts, lessons and hire. And if you have kids, look out for areas that offer free skiing, many such as Porters and Mt Hutt as mentioned, offer free skiing for kids 10 and under, at others it’s 5 and under, such as Cardrona. Check our pricing tables before you go.
But what does good for families mean? We like to think about reasonable prices, easy access (no buses), not too busy, and terrain that can suit all the family. Roundhill has to be top of the list, without question. A small friendly area, with terrain from beginners to experts, so there’s something for everyone. And if you get there early enough, back your car up to the snow, break out the picnic table and BBQ, and ski back for lunch. Dobson is similar, small and friendly, reasonably priced, and varied terrain. Porters in Canterbury, or Cheeseman just down the road are also great (although you have to walk from the Cheeseman carpark). And if you live at the top of the South, Rainbow is a great family friendly choice. Cardrona is obviously also family friendly, but it is a bit trickier especially if you have young kids. Firstly you’ll probably have to negotiate a shuttle, it can be very busy, and the cost is higher that the smaller areas. But, it’s safe, has great terrain, and kids love it.
We’re not suggesting the larger areas aren’t family friendly, they often are, and many have great pricing for kids, with some areas offering free skiing to kids 10 and under (like Mt Hutt and Porters). But we know how challenging (and rewarding!) skiing with kids can be, which is why we prefer the smaller or low key areas.
This one is easy. Ohau Snow Fields, sitting high above Lake Ohau definitely has some of the best views, as does Treble Cone, sitting high above Wanaka. In reality all ski areas have great views, but we love these two especially because of the lakes.
The club fields of Canterbury, no question. Think Olympus, Craigieburn, Broken River, and Temple Basin. But any of the smaller commercial areas on a powder day will also be great, given they get tracked out less quickly than the big guns, such as Mt Hutt or Cardrona.
We’ve pretty much covered that, but let’s think about what crowded means? In our mind it’s either lift queues, or limited parking, and to be fair, on a blue bird power day every area is going to be busy. But here’s where does get busier? Parking can be a challenge at … Whakapapa and Turoa, Mt Hutt, Treble Cone and Cardrona, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. But we are generalising and like we say, on a weekend, bluebird, or powder day, you’ll find challenges everywhere. Lift queues? More likely to be Whakapapa and Turoa, Cardrona, and at times Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. So, pretty much of the reverse of all this will be the least crowded ski areas! Dobson for example is famous for never having queues (well, we’ve never seen one)! And the same applies for the likes of Ohau, on some days you might think it’s your own private ski area.
Loads of areas are ski touring friendly. Off the top of our head, Cardrona or Treble Cone, Ohau, Roundhill, or any of the ski areas in the “Craigieburns”. Porters, Cheeseman, Broken River, Craigieburn etc. Many of these areas will sell you a single uphill pass, starting at $10 for the smaller areas, to get you up to the top initially. Note that many have strict uphill policies, with designated uphill trails, check with the area before you go.
OK, no argument here. Queenstown is the best place to ski if nightlife is your thing. A true resort town, endless bars, it’s happening throughout the season. And from Queenstown you can ski the Remarkables, Coronet, Cardrona, and maybe even Treble Cone. For less conventional nightlife, try the Club fields of Canterbury, or Ohau. The bar at the Lake Ohau Lodge has a great vibe, with craft beer and local wine. But, it’s no Queenstown.
So, there you go, that’s our take of where the best places to ski in New Zealand though. We reiterate, it is subjective and every skier and rider will have a different opinion. There are many factors, cost, terrain, parking and access, snow making grooming etc. We’ve got all that information for every area, so check it out before you go and help plan your best day on the snow!