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The ski industry is surprisingly large with Australians flying over the Tasman Sea for the skiing each season 9even for short weekend ski breaks).
There are many ski fields of all types from small club fields to large commercial operations with accommodation in the nearby towns. Usually the visitor has to travel daily up to the mountain for access to the fields, but that also enables the visitor to feel free to trip around and visit other fields nearby.
The season starts in late June, early July and lasts around three months. The weather obviously is cold, the days short and the roads dangerous with chains having to be fitted to negotiate them safely. But when the weather clears there are many fine days that follow for the enthusiast to get among the wonderful powder snow and enjoy great skiing.
Olympic and World Championship ski squads from countries such as Japan, Austria and others come to New Zealand for their off season competitive training. These countries have found that by training here in the Northern Hemisphere summer, they will improve and have a better chance of a podium placing in competition.
The country can be divided up into the North Island with its Ruapehu ski area, and the South Island with its more numerous ski areas. Canterbury has many fields, as well there are the Mackenzie fields and the Southern Lakes ski fields.
NORTH ISLAND SKIING
The two commercial fields are Whakapapa and Turoa, both of them being high up on Mt Ruapehu, which is conveniently situated in the middle of the North Island, and is easily accessible by road and interestingly enough, by rail. However, early in the season both fields can suffer from exposure to some fairly bad weather and be easily shut down although, spring conditions are usually more settled.
This is a great place to ski and for good reason is a lifetime favourite of many Kiwis. It has many and varied runs, from learners through to expert double black diamond slopes. It’s a well-developed field with ski and board instruction, rental equipment, cafes and affordable on-field club accommodation that can be accessed by the public.
On the Southern slopes of the mountain, with 722 metres vertical lift it has a substantial presence. Ohakune is the ski village at the base of the mountain and has all the necessary accommodation, cafes and equipment hire that you would expect. The field has a five month season, with some excellent spring skiing, which is by far the longest ski season in the country.
SOUTH ISLAND SKIING
These ski fields have long periods of dry settled weather and while originally, ski clubs using voluntary labour built many of them, mostly they are now well-developed commercial enterprises.
The area has many smaller fields, and Mt Hutt, with 683 metres of vertical height, is the local giant, but all are popular with first time and seasoned skiers. The nearby village of Methven has been totally transformed by the industry.
The Selwyn District is home to six ski areas, 5 of them on the one stretch of road. Porters is the closest ski area to Christchurch at just 99km from the International Airport on highway 73 (The Great Alpine Highway). Mt Cheeseman, Broken River, Craigieburn Valley and Temple Basin are the other four mountains on the Great Alpine Highway each with their own unique terrain and atmosphere. Mt Cheeseman has a reputation as a family field where Broken River is a club field with a laid back atmosphere. Craigieburn and Temple Basin have reputations as big mountain Meccas with their steep and raw terrain attracting the more adventurous skiers. Likewise Mt Olympus is also known for it's big mountain terrain and can be found between Lake Lyndon and Methven. If you're a comfortable skier or snowboarder be sure to check out the infamous kiwi "rope tows", they're a great way of getting up the mountain once you're use to them but some people take a little while to master them.
These ski fields are similar to the Canterbury fields and lie on the Christchurch to Queenstown_ highway. Lake Tekapo township also has for a change of pace, hot pools and an ice-rink. Mount Cook National Park has some serious mountains for alpine ski touring, and is well worth a visit for the view of Aoraki/Mt Cook from the Hermitage. Ohau Field also has a view of the nearby lake that is really stunning. Check out the CHILL Pass which allows you to ski several fields such as Roundhill and Mt Dobson along with other South Island Ski areas.
Central Otago- Lake Wanaka
This compact town is a base for nearby skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and is the winter destination that really feels like a ski resort. Winter sports here include downhill skiing and boarding, cross country skiing, heli-skiing, snow shoeing, ski touring, and ice climbing.
Most of the ski areas are some 30 minutes drive from Wanaka township, the time taken to drive up to the snow-line. Cardrona is an excellent beginner, family, intermediate field, serviced by both Wanaka (30 mins drive) and Queenstown (1 hour). It has high dry and consistent snow cover, and, amazingly, a roster of 200 ski and snowboarding instructors. Treble Cone is considered once of the best intermediate-advanced fields in the country, with spectacular views of Lake Wanaka. The Snow Park off the Cardrona road is a dedicated terrain park area for snowboarders. Next door is the Snow Farm, which has 50 kms of groomed cross country touring trails, some overnight huts, and snow shoeing. For the passionate skier or boarder the heliskiing in the area is superb. There is heliskiing all the way through the Southern Alps from Methven to Wanaka and Queenstown. Expensive but worth it. Ski-touring is often described as heliskiing without the helicopter, still pristine untracked powder, but you have to find your own way back up the mountain. An experienced guide and safety equipment are essential, and Wanaka has 2-3 backcountry winter guiding operations. The town itself has numerous cafes and restaurants, and ski rental and sports clothing and equipment shops. Wanaka is 1 hour from Queenstown airport and just under 5 hours from Christchurch.
This is the best-known and most developed tourist town. With over a hundred licensed premises, it is a large winter resort and is great all year as it has a multitude of off-field activities such as Bungy Jumping and Jet Boat rides. Nearby, Naseby has a rink dedicated to the sport of ice-curling, which because of the early gold miners, is the longest running sports activity in the country. The nearby fields of Coronet Peak and The Remarkables have excellent large fields and over the years have developed and grown to provide first class facilities including night skiing.
A trip to the mountains to ski the powder snow can be seriously expensive, but also hugely rewarding as the mountains of the Southern Alps provide unlimited area for this activity.
There are daily direct International flights to Queenstown, as well as internal flights from Auckland and Christchurch. From the airport, rental cars and motor homes are available, they will come equipped with snow chains for winter driving, if you are doubtful about your ability to fit chains, consider hiring a 4WD vehicle for the extra traction that it provides. South Island fields are mostly within a short drive of each other, enabling a visitor if they wish to ski a different field every day.
In addition, as a non driving option, it is possible to take a commercial coach to the resort towns, from there, a shuttle bus can be arranged to ferry patrons to the ski fields.
When to Go
Some fields open in mid-late June but the main winter months in New Zealand are July, August and September. Keep in mind that the School Holidays are in the first two weeks of July and are busy. Mid-July through August offer reliable snow and progressively longer days. September still has very reliable snow but the slopes are enjoyably uncrowded and you will probably get better accommodation deals as well. The first half of September is often colder whereas there is spring skiing in the second half of the month. Most South Island fields close in October. Ruapehu stays open during most of October and the later spring snow is fabulous, with the mountain uncrowded as the locals find other things to do.
The school holidays are very busy and children are welcome and well looked after on all the fields; they have beginner packages that include a lift pass, ski hire and an instructor to explain how the system works. Children want to be with other kids and ski schools will do group lessons just for them, they will blossom under the care of an instructor. It is as well to keep in mind that some children do not always take to skiing and that they all cool down a lot more quickly than adults, so consider finishing the day early if they are feeling tired and cold.
New Zealand it is not as cold in the winter as it is in Europe or the USA, but you still have to wear appropriate ski clothes when on the mountain, especially with children.
There are discount shops that have thermal underclothing and suitable jackets, hats and gloves for the beginners to purchase. It is highly recommended that a pair of suitable hiking boots be worn for walking in the snow. When on Ruapehu ideally all clothing should be totally waterproof. The Southern fields are usually drier, the skier can concentrate on protection against the wind and cold by purchasing a good windproof jacket and pants. Clothing can be hired on the field, but it is usually more convenient to purchase these garments for everyday wear. Don’t forget a backpack to hold all the spare clothes, suntan lotion and drinks in one place.
Skis and snowboards are readily available and competitively priced and if you want some speciality skis, they can be had. Unlike clothing, hiring equipment is usually the best option when in the early stages of your ski experience. For snowboarders they will issue wrist guards for free, and consider hiring a helmet for children. Sunglasses or snow goggles are essential in combating the effects of the sun's UV rays and should be purchased prior to going on the mountain.
Holiday homes, motels and camping vans are all available through the winter and usually there is plenty of accommodation available. A motel has much more living space than a motor home, and the extra clothes and equipment can be more easily managed, it is easier to do things like drying clothes and storing ski gear. As well, experienced parents rent some out the larger apartments and family villas that have even more room for the larger families. Resort towns have information centres (the iSITE)and they will find suitable accommodation at no cost, so either a phone call or a visit if in doubt will usually solve any requirements.
Whakapapa ski area being a National Park has many ski clubs with buildings high on the mountain that have economical accommodation for those prepared to do the chores such as cooking and cleaning.
Wanaka and Queenstown both have a wide selection of hotels, apartments, luxury lodges, boutique inns and bed and breakfasts.