Upon learning there are at least seven skifields in Canterbury, the average snow-starved Aucklander might feel this is quite excessive.

However, for punters looking for a great day on the slopes, excess of choice is good.

The commercial fields, Porters Ski Area and Mt Hutt, are going gangbusters.

As of this season, Porters Ski Area boasts they have the closest chairlift to Christchurch, with their new Easy Rider.

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As well as these skifields, there are numerous smaller club fields, all within a stone's throw of Christchurch.

Broken River, Mt Cheeseman and Craigieburn are within close proximity of each other. They all cater for beginners to advanced skiers, but each has its own culture and uniqueness. Broken River has some of the best off-piste skiing, Mt Cheeseman is renowned for its family fun and Craigieburn is the holy grail for advanced skiers.

Then there is Temple Basin, with its unique atmosphere and terrain, and Mt Olympus, known as a powder paradise.

Many club members are die-hard loyals enjoying the camaraderie as much as the skiing, but the club fields are by no means exclusive, welcoming non-club members.

So keen are clubs to have people come and enjoy their facilities, a multi-mountain ski pass, the Chill Pass, is now available.

The Chill 13 pass allows holders to ski at 13 club fields, including all those in the Canterbury region, as well as eight others scattered around the South Island. And the Chill 14 pass includes Treble Cone, for a limited number of days.

However, there are differences between club and commercial fields.

Club fields are generally smaller with less sophisticated mountain lifts. High-speed rope tows with nutcrackers (a metal device that grips the rope) are the norm. Although they are not as relaxing to ride as chairlifts, they still get you up the mountain and are a more cost-effective solution for clubs.

Ski clubs aim to provide affordable skiing for their members but, in return, they are expected to pitch in with work parties to ensure the lifts and the club facilities are well maintained.

The payback for members is discounted lift passes and accommodation compared with non-members. Ian Hunt, president of Broken River Ski Club, says club fields are communities rather than businesses and, although they need to make ends meet and provide a service for their members and non-members, they are about friendship and people.

Many of the club fields were started by New Zealand ski pioneers.

Porters Ski Area started as a club field and has made the transition to a commercial field. Photo / Supplied
Porters Ski Area started as a club field and has made the transition to a commercial field. Photo / Supplied

On the smell of an oily rag, with great DIY skills, they built, maintained and repaired facilities and equipment, mostly over summer so they could enjoy the winter skiing.

This sentiment is still there for many of the clubs today.

Matthew Johnston, Club Captain of Mt Olympus tells me they have just rebuilt their lodge.

"It took four years, with over 4000 work days of volunteer labour and generous donations from club members in the form of concrete, wood and materials," he says.

Now complete, the luxury lodge boasts a chef, bar and hot tub.

Porters Ski Area started as a club field and has made the transition to a commercial field.

This season the Easy Rider opens, the four-seater chairlift with the capacity to carry 2000 people an hour.

From the top of the new chairlift, three T-bars provide access to the upper mountain offering a variety of intermediate and advanced terrain.

The Porters Ski Area has also introduced an RFID lift pass system (radio frequency identification device) where customers can purchase and recharge lift passes online.

Further plans are under way and the next phase involves the development of the adjacent Crystal Valley.

"The planning is under way but will take some time for completion," says Porters Ski Area general manager Uli Dinsenbacher.

James McKenzie, Ski Area manager for Mt Hutt says they too have had a busy summer with many improvements to the trails and access road. They have also improved base lodge, and added a dedicated dining space in the Sky High Cafe.

McKenzie says they are continuing "Kids4free" where children 10 years and under ski free.

"While it was initially in response to the earthquake, we will maintain it for the mean-time, making Mt Hutt a very affordable option for families," he says.

Restaurants and accommodation providers in Methven also mimic this initiative.

Soon the Canterbury region will be groaning with snow. With two commercial fields and five club fields to choose from, the only question will be, which one today?

Mt Hutt is scheduled to open June 13, Porters Ski Area, June 19 and the club fields later in June, all subject to snow fall.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Jetstar has several daily flights from Auckland to Christchurch.

Details: For more information on the Chill Pass and the ski areas, including transport, accommodation and ski hire, go to chillout.co.nz.