Coronet Peak opened in 1947 and is situated 18 km 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.
In spite of its long history, Coronet Peak has worked hard at remaining cutting edge, installing modern lifts and extensive snowmaking, as well as introducing night skiing - a popular feature on Friday and Saturday nights. The ski area hosts the FIS rated Southern Cup and the Queenstown Winter Festival. It is also the training ground of the New Zealand national ski team.
Coronet Peak's 280 hectare ski area has more skiable terrain than the figure might suggest. Marty Sharpe makes the point in his Guide to the Ski Areas of New Zealand that "unlike many areas, which lie in concave terrain (basins or bowls) Coronet Peak is spread across the side of the mountain and has a more convex shape". There are thus "seemingly limitless" ways down.
While only 25% of its 692 acres is rated as suitable for beginners, nearly half the runs (45%) are for intermediate skiers and a further 30% for stronger skiers and riders.
Although Coronet Peak is New Zealand's lowest lying recognised ski resort, both in terms of its base area and summit, the ski resort has a greater percentage of total terrain covered by snowmaking than any other ski resort in the southern hemisphere.
As part of a NZD30 million redevelopment, Coronet Peak's base area was demolished and rebuilt in 2008, and is now reopened and renamed as JSD's Lodge, after Board chairman, John Stratton Davies. Tastefully in keeping with its surroundings, the new base building is home to a large restaurant and café area. The spacious meeting place has floor to ceiling windows providing views of the slopes and the Wakatipu Basin.
A number of amenities are located beneath the Coronet Peak Café & Restaurant, including the Coronet Peak Snowsports School and a full ski and snowboard rental service.
The Big Easy, M1 and Shirtfront pistes are open until 9pm on Friday and Saturday nights as part of the popular night skiing on offer at Coronet Peak. The trails are fully floodlit from top to bottom, and the restaurant stays open for the duration of the evening.
The Coronet Express quad chair is the focal point of Coronet Peak's ski lift system. Located directly in front of the base building, the lift accesses the ski resort's 1,649 metre summit, providing access to challenging bowls and off-piste skiing, as well as a number of intermediate runs. From the top of the quad, skiers and boarders can access any of the ski area's other six lifts.
The six-seater Greengates Express chairlift serves a mixture of advanced and intermediate pistes. The construction of this high-speed chair has helped reduce the strain on the Coronet Express chair, and has opened up an area of terrain that was previously only accessible to advanced skiers.
The Rocky Gully T-bar is a useful feature of Coronet Peak's lift system, serving the enjoyable but challenging Race Training track and Powder Run, as well as providing a means of getting back up the mountain for visitors to Heidi's Hut.
There are also three magic carpets which serve the region's 'slow area', including the 24-metre Sun Kid magic carpet installed in time for the 2009/10 season, enabling children and beginners to find their feet.
The ski lift system officially opens at 9am each morning, though enthusiastic skiers may wish to buy a First Tracks lift pass, allowing them to head up the Coronet Express chair an hour before the lifts open to the public.
Coronet Peak's Meadows area consists of a beginners' tow rope, two magic carpets (one of which is claimed to be the second longest in the world at 146m) and the slow Meadows double chair serving runs like The Big Easy.
Just 15 per cent of Coronet Peak's terrain is classified as suitable for beginners, who will have to make the most of the Meadows area as progression up the mountain requires a readiness to tackle blue runs.
Happily, there are some gentle intermediate runs for beginners to progress onto. The M1 is populated with inexperienced skiers and ski school groups, while the Easy Rider run to the left of the Rocky Gully T-bar is as gentle as the name suggests. There are also numerous slow zones to help ease beginners onto the mountain.
The M1 piste is the busiest and longest run in the ski area, and is popular with intermediates. The Easy Rider and Aeroplane runs to the right of the ski area are similarly gentle but less busy. Inexperienced intermediates will be comforted by the numerous slow zones dotted around the ski area.
More experienced intermediates may prefer the network of blue runs surrounding the M1, thus avoiding the slow moving traffic. Similarly, there are a number of less busy blue runs to the left of the ski area, with intermediates likely to enjoy the long Sarah Sue cruiser.
With so many blue runs to choose from, intermediates can't really go wrong at Coronet Peak. The only areas to be avoided are the Back Bowls and the Race Arena.
The Coronet Express chair also serves The Hurdle and The Chimney black runs, whilst the Exchange Drop route - also served by the Coronet Express - is well worth exploring. Another option for experienced skiers is the Pro Am run, offering skiers the chance to ski down beneath the lower half of the Coronet Express quad.
Advanced skiers will also enjoy the Race Arena by the Rock Gully T-bar. The Race Training route is used by the New Zealand Ski Race Team, and Powder Run is one of New Zealand's most enjoyable black runs in good conditions.
A number of challenging routes can also be found below the Greengates Express six-seater chairlift. The Walk About run provides a challenging route back down the mountain, though is briefly interrupted with the traffic of less experienced skiers, whilst Ego Alley and the wonderfully named Donkey Serenade offer further options for advanced skiers.
Advanced skiers beware that the M1 run can become extremely busy in peak times with ski school groups so good skiers may prefer to avoid the slow moving traffic on Coronet Peak's longest run.
Coronet Peak has become an excellent destination for snowboarders and freestylers of all standards. Beginners and intermediates can take advantage of the hardpack pistes, with plenty of long cruising bowls to choose from. Advanced boarders, meanwhile, will enjoy the chutes off the back of the summit.
Located on the first floor of the base building, the Café is ideal for skiers wanting a quick turnaround. There is a good choice of food, with everything from sandwiches, salads and sushi to burgers, pies and pizzas.
Skiers with more time on their hands will enjoy the Coronet Restaurant. There is a full a la carte breakfast menu and a more extensive offering of lunchtime dishes, including hot pots, curries, lasagne, fish and chips and traditional South Island lamb-shanks. Floor to ceiling windows provide stunning views of the surrounding peaks and Wakatipu Basin. The Restaurant also offers a full a la carte menu on Friday and Saturday nights for night skiers.
The Mexican Cantina is situated on the deck of the base building, with a selection of quick and easy Mexican meals to choose from.
The cosy Heidi's Hut is the only mountain restaurant up on the slopes, and is found by the base of the Rocky Gully T-bar. Heidi's offers a selection of breakfasts, soups, pastas and pizzas, and also serves dinner during night skiing. Heidi's wood panelling and roaring fire gives it a decidedly European alpine atmosphere.