It's winter, snow is on the ground, lockdown is lifted and it's time to get outside and go skiing and snowboarding. From first-timers to heli-skiers, rustic to luxe, there is a New Zealand snow experience suited to you, with some of the best skiing and snowboarding on offer in the Southern Hemisphere.
The good news for snow lovers in 2020 is there will be more to enjoy, as with borders closed you won't be vying with Australia's ski community on the slopes this year. That means 40 to 50 per cent fewer people on the runs and more fresh tracks and powder for Kiwis.
So, if you've always wanted to try your hand at skiing or snowboarding, this is definitely the season. Here's where to go.
You'll find Mt Hutt just over an hour's drive from Christchurch and serviced by the wee town of Methven, an eclectic mix of South Island charm with a quaintly named Blue Pub and Brown Pub. Hutt is known for big snowfalls - the mountain already received one 70cm dump in June. It's also known for high winds so check the resort is open before venturing up the road.
When you do get there, you'll find big wide-open spaces and perfect, groomed runs over 365ha of skiable terrain with a base lodge for refuelling. On a clear day, you can see across the Canterbury Plains to the ocean on both sides.
If you're advanced and capable, you'll enjoy the challenge of the steep runs on The South Face and the fun off-piste Rakaia Chutes terrain. The rest of the family can enjoy the open blues and greens serviced by three main chairlifts that all funnel back to base where you can meet for lunch. Take your togs, there's even an open-air hot tub on the mountain.
Coronet Peak and The Remarkables
The sister mountains to Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are easily accessed by car or shuttle bus from Queenstown. If you have an NZ Ski 3 Peak Pass you can ski all three resorts on the one lift ticket.
Locals consider Coronet Peak, 20 minutes up the road, their own, so avoid weekends if you don't like crowds. Even without Australians, it will get busy thanks to daily first tracks from 8am to 9am, night skiing on Wednesdays and Fridays with a cool mid-mountain bar and the best snowmaking in the country to ensure continual cover. You'll have 280ha of terrain in which to play, views across to The Remarkables and the resort even has its own gondola with 6-pack chairlift.
Both Coronet and Remarks have relatively new base buildings filled with glass and steel for vistas galore, retail, gear rental and food outlets.
The Remarkables new Sugar Bowl chairlift will be open by the end of July. For 2020 the resort will open only on weekends this season, except during school holidays when they're open seven days a week.
Be warned, the road to Remarks is a switchback and takes about 45 minutes from downtown Queenstown. But when you get there, you'll have 385ha of terrain in which to play. Advanced skiers can try their hand at the Finger Chutes and grommets will love the terrain parks including The Burton Stash, one of only six in the world.
If you're staying in Queenstown, make sure you grab a coffee from Vudu, pancakes from Franks Eatery and a sticky bun from Provisions in Arrowtown. You're welcome.
Queenstown and Wānaka both fight over Cardrona Alpine Resort, which sits close to midway between the two on the Crown Range. "Cardies" is known for wide-open family runs and big terrain parks. This is where New Zealand's Olympic-sized halfpipe sits and is home to the FIS World Cup events usually held during the Winter Games (pre-Covid).
The resort has 400ha of skiable terrain with an almost even split of beginner, intermediate, advanced and extreme so there is something for everyone. You'll find Soho Cat Skiing out the back for now. The future plan is to put a chairlift into this area and create New Zealand's largest ski resort with 900ha. Cardrona has an excellent ski school programme for first-timers and a mix of food outlets. The pizzas in Captains Basin are legendary.
At the end of the day, head to The Cardrona Hotel at the base of the access road and roast marshmallows on the fire in the beer garden with hot chocolates and mulled wine.
Wānaka considers Treble Cone its own, and rightly so, it's a 15-minute drive along Lake Wānaka to the resort's access road then a switch back to the top. TC boasts the best views of any resort in Australasia, and potentially the world, with vistas across the Southern Alps and the lake.
Treble Cone is a big mountain, the largest ski resort in the South Island with 700m of vertical rise. It's family-friendly on the front side with long groomed runs and then gets gnarlier on the back side in The Saddle, where snow falls by the bucketload and runs are steep. The foolhardy hike to the top to get even more "freshies" on a powder day. If you're game and experienced (and preferably go with a guide) then the Motatupu Chutes will test your mettle.
This year you can ski both TC and Cardrona on the one lift pass as the Wayfare Group now own both mountains.
If you're staying in Wanaka try Federal Diner for cheese scones, Little Black Caravan for coffee and Pembroke Patisserie in Albert Town for your sugar fix.
There's a charm to skiing and snowboarding the wilds of Mt Ruapehu in the belly button of the North Island. Yes, there's the Māori battle legend of Mt Ruapehu and Taranaki, and the fact the mountain is still an active volcano, but it's the locals who make a ski holiday here worthwhile.
The tiny service town of Ohakune is known as the carrot capital of New Zealand and even has a giant carrot on the road in. Come winter, the village comes alive with bars and restaurants to share your tales of big mountain skiing had by day.
On one side of Ruapehu you'll find Tūroa, 15 minutes up a sealed road and on the other side sits Whakapapa, 45 minutes from Ohakune — though you can stay at the much quieter National Park town should you so desire. Whakapapa's 550ha (the largest in New Zealand) has a separate beginner area with chairlift, known as Happy Valley. The rest of the resort is big and thrusts skyward with pinnacles galore.
Turoa is wider and more open with glacial skiing and a 722m vertical rise (the largest in the country) and a good mix between beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Both can be accessed on the same lift ticket. Be warned however, as the mountain is a stand-alone volcano, it is open to the elements and weather can come in and prevent the resorts from opening. But when they do open after a snowstorm, it will be worth it as the resorts get the most snowfall in the country.
Make sure you get a Johnny Nation chocolate eclair while in town. They're as famous as that carrot.
Join the club
Some say it's the snow adventure skiing that makes New Zealand world-renowned. Canterbury's club fields are member-run rustic ski fields with classic "nutcracker" rope tows where skiers and boarders wear leather belts and cling to a cable that drags them up the mountain. Guests are welcome for day or overnight trips (but first check with the club field as to what is available) at greatly reduced prices to the larger commercial fields.
Try Craigieburn (craigieburn.co.nz) for old-school charm and steep ungroomed terrain, Broken River (brokenriver.co.nz) for a funicular to the lodge and more steeps, Mt Olympus (mtolympus.co.nz) for a high-altitude hot tub and late-night curling on a mid-mountain ice pond and Temple Basin (templebasin.co.nz) for a 45-minute hike to the remote base lodge nestled among the peaks.
If you prefer a chairlift to a nutcracker, Porters (portersalpineresort.co.nz) in Canterbury and Ōhau (ohau.co.nz) and Mt Dobson (mtdobson.co.nz) in Mackenzie all offer uncrowded terrain, reduced lift-ticket pricing and an easy ride to access groomed and ungroomed slopes.
The more adventurous and advanced skiers have a plethora of heli-ski options at Methven, Mt Cook, Wānaka and Queenstown, including Southern Lakes Heliski and Harris Mountain Heli.
Try Ski the Tasman (skithetasman.co.nz) for a days of glacier skiing day near Mt Cook accessed by fixed-wing plane, ideal for intermediate skiers. If you've got the cash, Minaret Station (minaretstation.com) is a private heli-accessed lodge with private heli-skiing. This season may be the last one for Soho Basin (sohobasin.com) so get in while you can for cat-skiing with a three-course Amisfield lunch served in a cute mountain cabin.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew