The Ultimate Guide to NZ Ski Season
If you’re a fan of the white stuff, New Zealand is a dream destination. Seemingly lost in the middle of the South Pacific, we are nearly as far from skiing’s European heartland as it is possible to be. But you know what? They don’t have a monopoly on a good slide, the lightest powder, or the best couloirs. Plus, while they are all languishing under a hot and monotonous sun in the summer months, we are right in the thick of winter. So bully for them.
The South Island puts together a lineup of skiing and snowboarding options that would make your hardiest winter warrior drool. From pure, high altitude powder, to the glades, to nerve-wreaking pitches and mogul fields, there is never a dull moment here. The toughest part? Choosing where to head.
But lo and behold, the North Island is no slouch. While it may lack the sharp, Alp-like peaks of its southern sister, it more than makes up for this in sheer vertical, views, and snow quality. Ever skied or boarded your way down a volcano? Yeah, we didn’t think you had.
So, if you are paying Wellington a visit for your Bucks party shenanigans, and you are keen to slap the board(s) on, we have a few thoughts on that. Read on.
Let’s start with the biggest of the North Island’s big guns. Sitting smack centre in the North Island, New Zealand’s largest ski area sees you coasting down the side of Mt. Doom. That’s right – a number of the scenes in Lord of the Rings were filmed on the brittle slopes of this intimidating mountain. It hosts the only two glaciers on the North Island. And did we mention that it is also an active volcano? Best punch the gas pedal if you feel it rumbling, although we think you may be doing so anyways.
Ruapehu hosts a pair of North Islands biggest ski resorts, Whakapapa and Turoa.
On the north slope of the volcano lies Whakapapa, the largest and most diverse snowsport offering in the North Island. Its biggest asset is its variety – this ski resort features runs that will suit almost any skier or boarder, from your beginner slopes all the way to the expert stuff.
For you beginners, this resort features the famous Happy Valley, a beginner’s offering that provides a very fertile training ground for new bloods. But with a quarter of its slopes geared for the experts, and no shortage of leg-burning vertical, you hot shots will be well taken care of, too. Start off with a hot chocolate at the Top o’ the Bruce, and you have a great day on the snow ahead of you.
On the southern slopes of Ruapehu lies Turoa, the sister resort to Whakapapa. While it doesn’t have quite the same vertical as its sister has, Turoa makes up through its longer season. Because it faces south, away from the warming influence of the northern sun, it comes with a longer season, opening about a week earlier on average. Some of the softest and finest snow resides here, just begging for a slide.
Honourable Mentions: Manganui, Tanuka, Snow Planet. Ever tried skiing indoors? Definitely worth a laugh.
The stark difference in the topography of the two islands becomes increasingly clear as soon as you step off the ferry from Wellington. The mountains of the South Island are not a function of volcanic activity – they are a direct result of two continental plates going at each other for a few hundreds of thousands of years. They’ve done some solid work, too.
Many think that the South Island’s skiing is centred purely around Queenstown, but this isn’t true. Many of the best areas are location midway along the island. South Island also has the advantage of having a season that is slightly longer than that of the North Island, the result of lying slightly further south.
So what are the gems?
The skiing here in the south is varied in its location, but much of it centres around the region of Otago, in the south and west of the island. Here, you will find a huge and varied selection of terrain, serviced by areas that include Cardrona, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak, and Treble Cone.
Lying just outside of Otago, Cardrona is a jewel of the South Island skiing set. Forty kilometres of runs all situated about 1200 metres of elevations puts you in the sweet spot for snow quality, while the surrounding area provides some of the finest views to be found anywhere.
The bulk of Cardrona’s terrain lies in the intermediate space, but there is plenty to keep both beginners and experts occupied. If you have a large and varied group in need of different terrain, you are in the right place.
One of the highest vertical drops in New Zealand – and in all of Australasia – comes your way via Treble Cone. While it doesn’t possess the sheer size of Cardrona, it does have some of the best chutes for the experts – and one of the longest ‘easy’ slopes for the beginners. It also possesses some of the best views of anywhere in Otago. Not a bad combination.
The Remarkables brings with it a great skiing and boarding offering, but perhaps its biggest asset is its proximity to Queenstown, and an airport. Expect some excellent snow quality too – the result of its ‘remarkable’ elevation.
Nearly dead centre in the South Island lies the destination of choice for many warriors of the cold who brave the trip – Mt Hutt. With its striking elevation – ranging up and past two thousand metres – forty kilometres of runs spread down from its impressive peak.
Three lifts service it, but they aren’t the only game in town. Mt Hutt offers a solid slice of backcountry options for you true gung-ho types, including heli-skiing options, to access some of the purest untouched powder to be found anywhere. If you are up for it, it can give you all you can handle.
Honourable Mentions: Fox River, Broken Peak, Mount Olympus, Mount Dobson, Porters
If you are ready to get your gear on and slice a turn or two in some of the world’s best white stuff, New Zealand has you covered. And a Buck’s party in Wellington puts a huge range of options within striking distance. Contact your party planners at Wicked Stag, and let’s get you carving!