Police are trying to recover the body of a 60-year-old skier whose car plunged off an access road at Canterbury's Mt Hutt ski area into a steep gully yesterday.

Police were notified the man was missing when he did not return from a day on the slopes. They called for help from ski area management at midnight when there was still no sign of him.

While police had to cover the area between Mt Hutt and Christchurch, 140km away, ski area manager Dave Wilson accompanied by a ski patroller and two search and rescue personnel focused on searching the access road.

At 3.30am they found the car "some distance" down a steep gully off the road.

The man's body was beside the car.

It appeared the car had left the road just above an area known as "Shady Corner", Mr Wilson said.

He said road conditions were normal for the season with a surface of compacted snow and grit. Visibility was clear during the afternoon.

Conditions were clear and "very cold" during the last night's search, he said.

NZSki chief executive James Coddington said it was shocked by the man's death.

"This is a very sad day for this man's family and for Mt Hutt. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his family," he said.

The police serious crash unit is investigating and Mt Hutt has also launched its own inquiry.

The access road and skifield remain open while police recover the body and car.

- NZPA