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Holiday Blues and Queues
A guide to avoiding queues at your favourite ski area!

We’re now half way through the second week of the school holidays, and after a bit of initial bad weather (that brought snow) the weather has been reasonably kind with plenty of blue skies and sun. Nice!

So, it’s the school holidays, there’s fresh snow, it’s calm, clear, and sunny, surely no one else will be thinking of going skiing or riding today?! Surely? The reality of course is that it seems half the country is, leading to some pretty serious traffic and parking queues at some of the major areas. Darn it!

While this is not a new problem, it possibly is a little worse this season, given there are no Aussies here (who might often be on a package tour that includes the bus) and we all know Kiwis love to drive. So, what can you do?

Ski Off-Peak

This is pretty obvious, if you can, try to avoid skiing on the weekends or school holidays, especially if there is fresh snow and sun. Mid-week at every ski area, especially this season will be much quieter. You’ll get a park, there will be no lift queues, and you’ll just get more runs (and thus value for money). But, many can’t, so what then?

Take a Bus or Shuttle

Take a what? You must be kidding! But yes, some areas run free or cheap shuttles to solve parking congestion, meaning you can park at the bottom of the road and catch a ride up. Cardrona is doing a $10 return Pine Tree Shuttle (near the bottom), Treble Cone is doing the same.  Porters does a free shuttle when chains are required or parking is busy. Mt Hutt does a free shuttle from the lower parking areas, as do many areas. But the point is, if possible, park at the bottom and shuttle up for free or cheaply, it saves hassle, you’ll get dropped off at the door, and you won’t have to fit chains. Or, take one of the mountain shuttles from a town near you, often door to door. Perfect!

Car Pool or Ride Share

Heading up with your mates, and taking a full car means possibly one less car on the road. Or park at the bottom and hitch a ride, many people will obligingly stop. Better still, book a ride with, and share the cost. Some areas, such as Mt Hutt, on very busy weeks do give priority to “full cars”. We’d like to see more of that encouraged.

Get up Early!

This doesn’t really solve the problem, it just transfers it to someone else. We’re hearing people leaving Christchurch or Wanaka at 6am or earlier to get a good park. Leaving at 7am is probably too late.

Or, get up Late!

OK, we know this sounds a little weird, but you know a lot of people go early, ski for a few hours then head home right? One strategy then is to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, pack the car, and head to the mountain late morning in time for a half day. Boom! #beatthecrowds

Ski a Smaller Ski Area

The larger ski areas have improved on-mountain facilities and generally have good lift capacity. Combined with great value season passes this means they are busy (which you’d expect) at these peak periods. But if you look slightly further afield at the likes of Mt Lyford, Rainbow, Mt Dobson, Ohau, Roundhill or one of the many club fields, you’ll find on even the “busiest” day there will barely be a queue, for the road, parking, or skiing (maybe sometimes in the ticket office). Right now for example if you check the webcams at these areas, no queues!  This then is the EASIEST way to avoid queues, ski at one of the smaller ski areas. Often they are great value, super friendly, and it’s great to spread our ski dollar around!

But we hear you say, “Why is parking a problem, it never used to be?”

Actually, parking has always been a problem, but certainly it has got a little worse. Some people blame cheap season passes, and maybe there’s an element of truth there. But cheap season passes are good, it makes skiing more affordable and accessible, generally. Are there more people? Yes and no, there has been some growth, attributed to better facilities and services, and thus more visitors. But parking is a big headache, because the very nature of “a mountain” means there’s less flat space. And then of course, kiwis love to drive …

We Think …

That “parking” will always be an issue, on some (peak) days. We need to reframe this as “access to the mountain”. Ultimately ski areas are going to have to radically change how people get up the hill. That might mean only full cars up the mountain, or we might see initiatives such as priority bus transport. Or maybe the transport is free, subsidised by those people who choose to take their cars? Who knows!

Of course the other option is that mountains simply limit the number of people on any given day. Powder Mountain in Utah famously limits their season passes to 3000 sold annually and a maximum of 1500 tickets per day. And then there’s the fact the resort is 2,227 hectares, Cardrona in comparison is just over 400ha currently.  How they make that work financially still doesn’t make sense to me, although nearly 13 metres (yes 13!) of snow each season might help explain it …

Finally …

Keeping this all in perspective … this “problem” is only for a few days a year typically when there are blue skies, fresh snow, and school holiday or weekend days. We’ve noted a some angst, maybe even anger, directed at ski areas. Let’s save that for the city and spend our time chilling in the mountains. And if you can’t, try some of the strategies above to avoid those peak periods!  

Pic. Thanks to Deb Inder who posted this photo to The Cardrona Snow Reports group today (July 14)!