Skiing in New Zealand

The ski season in New Zealand lasts from late June into September, and mostly takes place not in ski resorts but in 'ski fields'. Just reaching the more remote ones can be a challenge, but they tend to be more scenic and less crowded than ski areas in in Europe or North America. And New Zealand's heliskiing and ski touring are well worth trying.

Queenstown and Wanaka

Queenstown and Wanaka are two lakeside towns, about an hour’s drive apart in the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island. Neither of them has ski lifts themselves but there are four ski fields within day-trip range of both of them. Wanaka is prettier but much quieter. Queenstown is definitely more commercialised, but it has great night life, ranging from sophisticated dining to cheap and cheerful bars aimed at gap-year students. It’s also an all year round holiday destination with plenty of other activities going on even in the dead of winter, so if you have ever wondered what white water rafting, bungee jumping, sky-diving or jet-boating are like in near freezing conditions, this is the place to find out.

The nearest ski field to Queenstown is Coronet Peak which is about 15 to 20 minutes’ drive (it’s about 75 minutes from Wanaka). There is skiing for all standards, from nursery slopes and green runs for beginners to the experts-only Back Bowls, although whether these will be enjoyable depends on snow conditions, which are highly variable. The pisted runs are reinforced with artificial snowmaking. In total there are 4 ski lifts, about 40km of slopes and a rather limited vertical of 420m (1229 m - 1649 m).

Queenstown‘s next closest ski field is The Remarkables (about 30 mins from Queenstown or 90 mins from Wanaka). The name is not a misnomer – the mountain scenery is spectacular, and the slopes are higher and get more snow than Coronet Peak. There are runs for beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers – the latter have to be prepared to hike up from the Shadow Basin lift to reach the most testing terrain.  For those who want to explore further it, there are great ski touring possibilities. The official stats - 4 ski lifts, 10km of slopes and 357m vertical  (1586 m - 1943 m) understates what experts can access.

Cardrona is about 45 mins drive from Queenstown, but only 20 mins from Wanaka. The ski area also has some limited accommodation near the ski field and this has helped Cardrona position itself itself as family-friendly. It has 5 lifts, about 40km of slopes and 600m vertical (1260 m - 1860 m). It also has four terrain parks making it the best New Zealand resort for boarders and freestylers.

Treble Cone is 90 minutes drive from Queenstown (90 mins), but only 25 minutes’ from Wanaka, and is often regarded as New Zealand’s best ski field for advanced skiers and boarders (Mt Hutt – see below - is its chief rival.) Its lift served vertical (700m or 2300 feet) is larger than many North American resorts, and its annual snowfall (about 5.5m) is better than many Alpine resorts. Keen skiers can also hike up to the summit ridge at 2088m to get more vertical. There are sunny North facing slopes and snowy South-facing ones but no trees. There is also an experts-only zone called Motatapu which is  full of ungroomed black diamond runs. Again the official stats – 3 lifts, 22km of slopes, 720m vertical (1260m to 1980m) – understates the skiing that is available to good skiers.

Queenstown and Wanaka are also major heliskiing centres. You have to be flexible on where you go because New Zealand weather is highly unpredictable, but it’s a good bet that somewhere there will be glorious untouched powder, and the best guides will find it.

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Mount Ruapehu, Turoa and Whakapapa

Mt Ruapehu is in New Zealand’s  North Island. It’s actually a volcano not an mountain, so occasionally skiers turn up to find the snow covered in ash. And as far as weather goes, expect the unexpected: all conditions are possible, often in the same day. There is piste skiing on both its North-facing flanks at Whakapapa and on its South-face at Turoa. Whakapapa is the larger area (it’s the largest single ski field in New Zealand) but Turoa has the larger vertical (an impressive 700m), and because of its orientation, usually has the best snow. Off-piste skiers can ski between the two areas if they are prepared to hike up in places (guide recommended). Whakapapa skiers can stay near the lifts in Whakapapa village or on the outskirts of the national park. Turoa skiers tend to stay in Ohakune where there is a good choice of accommodation.

Whakapapa’s official stats are 8 ski lifts, 44km of slopes and 670m vertical (1630m – 2300m). Turoa’s are 7 lifts , 20km of runs and 699m vertical (1623m – 2322m)

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Mount Hutt, Methven and Canterbury.

Mt Hutt is about half way down the South Island, and about 90 minutes’ drive from Canterbury, although you also stay much closer to the skiing at Methven which has daily shuttles to the Mt Hutt ski field. Although there are blue and green runs for weaker skiers, the emphasis is on black and black diamond runs, especially on the steep South face, for good skiers. There are also considerable Heliski operations at the ski field and in Methven. The official stats are 4 lifts, 40kms of runs and 683m vertical (1403m to 2086m) but these understate the skiing possibilities for advanced skiers.

There are also several smaller ski fields within driving range of the Canterbury such as Roundhill-Tekapo, Fox Peak, Broken River, Porters, Temple Basin and Craigieburn.

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Ski Resorts & Regions

  • Cardrona


    Purpose built in the 1980’s Cardrona’s ski resort is located along the Crown Range Road 35km from Wanaka and 57km from Queenstown.

  • Mount Hutt

    Mount Hutt

    Mount Hutt is probably New Zealand’s best known ski resort with breathtaking views from the top of Mount Hutt (2,086m) overlooking the patchwork Canterbury plains that stretch out to the Pacific Ocean in one direction and the jagged peaks of the Southern Alps to the other – it’s an impressive and memorable vantage point. 

  • Coronet Peak

    Coronet Peak

    Coronet Peak opened in 1947 and is situated 18 kilometres from the lakeside town of Queenstown. It’s the oldest and most popular of the South island’s commercial ski areas and regarded by many as the birthplace of South Island skiing.

  • Mount Ruapehu

  • The Remarkables

  • Treble Cone

  • Queenstown