Carpe ski ‘em – seize the day and knock off all 24 of these New Zealand ski fields. From cute club fields to the big resorts, Huw’s cut some turns and is ready to give you the full rundown.

 

It’s the first day of winter and I’m sitting at home watching big, fat snowflakes dance in the breeze toward the ground. Skiers everywhere are wondering and hoping, always optimistic for the months ahead. We all know that whatever mother nature drops us, it’s going to be a different ski season – so how will you find powder in a pandemic?

Ski areas on both sides of the Tasman have been announcing their intentions for the 2020 season. Heck, travel across the ditch may even be allowed before season’s end! So I’ve put together a guide to all 24 ski areas in New Zealand. Sure, there are the well-known resorts, but it’s the small skifield scene in NZ that’s really special. These fields offer a unique experience for a snowy road trip without parallel.

So many of the South Island’s ski fields are perched on shirtfronts or in steep bowls where, more than anywhere else, you really do feel like you’re sliding off the edge of the world. The brown hills and turquoise lakes running out onto the coastal plains give such perspective. And on the North Island it’s slipping down active volcanoes that gives an added edge to the experience.

Many of the Kiwi ski areas offer easy access to sidecountry or backcountry terrain. If you want to head out there, then you need solid experience of winter mountain travel and avalanche awareness. If not take a guide.

Wherever you head in NZ you’ll get, weather permitting, eye-popping views, a warm welcome and some fabulous skiing and boarding.

South Island Ski Fields

1. Mount Lyford

 

15 Taking the air at Mt Lyford, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw kingston, New Zealand, skiing, south island, jump

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest AccommodationMt Lyford Lodge and Mt Lyford Holiday Homes
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

A standalone mountain up in the Kaikoura ranges where, 30 years ago the landowner decided to diversify from sheep to snow on his mountain land. Now a mix of a T-bar, platter and rope tow give access to some real fun terrain. The Parent Pass allows a couple with a child under four to share one pass so they can take turns on the slopes.

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2. Rainbow

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – St Arnaud (35km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

The South Island’s most northerly ski area is a favourite with skiers in the Nelson/Marlborough region, with Nelson about 90 minutes’ drive from the area. A T-bar, platter and 3 rope tows open up the bowl.

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3. Hanmer Springs

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Right there, Hanmer Springs (25km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

Boasting the ‘longest Poma lift in the southern hemisphere’ Hanmer has much to offer with loads of intermediate ski terrain and an on-mountain self-catering lodge with some of the best value ski accommodation in the southern hemisphere! Beyond the base of the mountain are the hot springs and accommodation at Hanmer Springs itself.

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4. Temple Basin

 

25 Laurence cracks on down toward Downhill Basin with Mt Rollaston in the distance. Temple Basin, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand, skiing, south island

 

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – No
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

When you arrive at the car park near the top of Arthurs Pass you can be forgiven for asking ‘Where’s the ski area?’ Is Temple Basin the only ski resort in the world that requires a climb on foot for an hour and a half? There is, fortunately, a flying fox style goods lift to carry your luggage and ski gear to the heavens.

 

21 Laurence climbing up the access walking track to Temple Basin ski area, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand

The climb up to Temple Basin

 

Nothing is easy about Temple, neither access nor skiing. Rope tows are it here; they probe into and allow access to hidden bowls. Hiking between them is a must. You could try and ski Temple as a day trip but you really should stay……and laugh at the goodness of it all.

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5. Craigieburn

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – Go wash your mouth out
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

Of all the smaller ski areas in New Zealand, Craigieburn is perhaps the best known internationally. Freeride skiers and boarders gather here during the southern winter for its challenging off-piste. This reputation, along with a certain amount of pride, ensures Craigieburn is defiantly both a grooming-free and rope tow only area, although there’s still plenty of intermediate terrain.

Apparently, a club member once suggested grooming the slopes. They were duly excommunicated. 

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6. Broken River

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – Limited
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

Just over the hill from Craigieburn, access to the rope tows of Broken River is a three-stage process. First, a drive up the access road, then a rather funky tramway that takes skiers and gear up to the three accommodation lodges. Finally, the Stairway to Heaven, a hike up a long line of wooden steps to the access tow.

Steep runs off Nervous Knob, long drops into Allan’s Basin and fun off Main Tow make for a rad day out. Add a superb vibe, authentic Italian pizza and craft beer at the day lodge and Broken River is a ski area that might hold you longer than your booking planned for.

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7. Mount Cheeseman

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

With its two T-bars, groomed slopes and open bowl, Cheeseman is well-regarded for family skiers. The on-field accommodation lodge, like most in the small ski areas, is comfortable, not luxurious, and everyone pitches in to help.

Cheeseman sits in the middle of the Craigieburn Range, which, has been a favourite among ski tourers for a long time. In recent years the Craigieburn ‘Haute Routehas gained a reputation as it links Craigieburn to Mount Olympus via Broken River and Mt Cheeseman, staying at the ski areas en-route.

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8. Porters

 

16 Just another Southern Alps view. Off the back at Porters, 21 Laurence climbing up the access walking track to Temple Basin ski area, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Porters Lodge (6km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

The largest ‘small’ ski area and the closest to Christchurch, Porters has easy access, a modern quad chairlift and a line of three T-bars stepping up the mountain. These all open up a large area for all levels of skiers and boarders. You can cruise the cat track, stopping every 50 metres to take in the ridiculously stupendous views, or plunge down the seemingly bottomless Big Mama.

The fully catered Porters Lodge is highly recommended – it’s part-way down the access road.

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9. Mount Olympus

 

30 Snow-chains _ Courage should be carried at all times. Road sign en route to Mount Olympus, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand

 

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

‘Snow chains and courage should be carried at all times’ proclaims the sign on the road into Mount Olympus, a ski area with a reputation for a wild road, wild skiing and wild partying. Top Hut itself is perched halfway up the slopes, necessitating two rope tows to reach it. It’s a special place to stay; warm and very comfortable.

The playground of the gods gives up some beautiful skiing from the two upper rope tows and boot packing up Little Alaska or The Sphinx provides the steeps before lunch. ‘Back to Reality’ reads the sign on the drive out…

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10. Mount Hutt

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Methven (26km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

One of the seven large ski areas in NZ and the closest to Christchurch, Mount Hutt offers plenty of runs for your money from a mountain accessed by three chairlifts. As with most of the bigger ski areas, there’s no on-mountain accommodation, but the little town of Methven sits at base of Mount Hutt and has plenty of options for staying, eating and drinking.

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11. Fox Peak

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – No
Nearest Accommodation – Fox Lodge (5km) or Fairlie (35km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch 

Fox Peak is Kiwi club skiing in the raw and run by the oldest ski club in the country. A tiny wooden ‘Skifield’ arrow shows the way on the drive in from Fairlie and you’ll soon find yourself bumping up a farm track. Perched below the ski area is Fox Lodge, with basic, self-catering accommodation.

 

11 Sign to Fox River skifield, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand

 

Three fast-moving rope tows access the shirtfront ski area and excellent long runs drop into North and South Basin. A tiny hut serves as both ticket office and snack bar in a ski area staffed by volunteers and usually only open on weekends.

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12. Mount Dobson

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Fairlie (28km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch

Celebrating its 40th birthday last year, Dobson occupies a wide, sunny bowl below a summit of the same name. With a long chairlift, a T-bar and platter there’s plenty of terrain to enjoy and enough off-piste to keep the powderhounds howling. The friendly town of Fairlie isn’t too far away and is a great base for Dobson as well as Fox Peak and Roundhill.

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13. Roundhill

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Tekapo (32km)
Nearest International Airport – Christchurch, Queenstown

‘For the more adventurous, head up the world’s longest and steepest rope tow and see what Australasia’s biggest vertical drop (783m) is all about’ says the Roundhill website.

The Heritage rope tow is nearly 1500 metres long, averages 30 degrees and tops out at 2133 metres. The runs are steep, the thighs burn. For most visitors though, Roundhill is about the mellow, with two T-bars and a platter accessing shallow, wide-open runs that make it a real family favourite. The most spectacular picture-book views over Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt Cook demand a cold beer at the tiny Von Brown Café.

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14. Ohau

 

7 Skiing some of the backbowls beyond Ohau resort, 16 Just another Southern Alps view. Off the back at Porters, 21 Laurence climbing up the access walking track to Temple Basin ski area, colouir

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Ohau Lodge (10km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

Ohau is the perfect package; a great place to stay nestled 10km below a ski area that packs a real punch. The ski field seems to be both manageable but expansive and offers possibly the tastiest carrot cake in NZ. Access is focused around one 2-seat chairlift heading up the guts of a steep bowl. A platter low down caters for beginners.

At Ohau there’s plenty to keep you busy in-bounds, but a short, steep bootpack behind the top of the chair brings you onto a ridge from where options abound. Head left and drop into endless runs like Hemis, named after a local Maori ski tourer.

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15. Awakino

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – No
Nearest Accommodation – Awakino Lodge
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

Awakino rivals Fox Peak in both age and basic facilities. This tiny club field in the St Mary’s Range, east of Omarama, has a couple of rope tows and is usually only open on weekends with enough snow. A self-catering lodge is located on the access road with 4WD access to it and the ski area.

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16. Treble Cone

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Wanaka (23km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

The South Island’s largest ski area and longest vertical, Treble Cone has long been a favourite with intermediate skiers and boarders, whilst the off-piste in the likes of Motatapu Basin offers plenty of challenge to all advanced riders. Uplift is focused on a six-seat and quad chair. Whenever you stop for a breather or a chairlift ride, you’re confronted with the most stunning of views down across Lake Wanaka and out over the Otago plains toward the Pacific.

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17. Cardrona

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Cardrona (15km), Wanaka (34km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

With plenty of uplift, including three quad chairs and a Chondola (the love child of a gondola and a chairlift) and a wide variety of terrain, Cardrona has long been popular as a learner and intermediate skier area. It’s also the only large ski area to have accommodation actually on the mountain (albeit limited). Tiny Cardrona village at the base of the mountain has the legendary Cardrona Hotel and some neat accommodation options.

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18. Snow Farm

 

Fresh Tracks At Kirtle Burn Hut // Backcountry Skiing On The Pisa Range (NZ), photo by Tim Ashelford, snow farm, cardrona, wanaka, mt pisa, new zealand, south island, ski touring

Backcountry just out of bounds at Snow Farm | @tim_ashelford

 

Skiing – Cross Country only
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Cardrona (16km), Wanaka (36km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

In Australia, cross-country skiers can choose from a fair selection of places to ski on groomed trails: Perisher, Falls Creek, Lake Mountain, Dinner Plain. In New Zealand there’s a choice of one – Snow Farm. Directly opposite Cardrona ski area, the Pisa Range offers rolling terrain perfect for XC trails. Some 55km of them wind across the range.

There’s also a 24km snowshoe trail and dogs are allowed too. The main race on the NZ XC calendar, the Merino Muster, is held here in late August.

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19. Coronet Peak

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Queenstown Area (15km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

Only 15km from Queenstown, Coronet Peak has long been a favourite for Aussie skiers, with flights direct into the local airport. Express chairlifts get you up onto the runs quick smart and there’s a solid range of runs for all abilities. Lift passes are interchangeable with The Remarkables too!

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20. The Remarkables

 

24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand,tim ashelford, New Zealand, remarkables, skiing, backcountry

A steep coulior on the backside of The Remarkables | @tim_ashelford

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Queenstown Area (15km)
Nearest International Airport – Queenstown

Fly into Queenstown airport, grab your gear off the carousel, hop onto the ski bus and half an hour later start skiing or boarding. Is it any wonder so many Australians love heading to Queenstown? Looking up from the base, The Remarkables has heaps of mellow terrain straight up and over to the left, while looking right it’s all black with a bit of blue. Lift passes are interchangeable with Coronet Peak.

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North Island Ski Fields

21. Whakapapa

 

24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Whakapapa Village (6km), National Park Village (15km)
Nearest International Airport – Auckland

There’s a certain vibe that comes from sliding down an active volcano. It’s a vibe that comes with the side benefit that a natural bubbling hot spa is never too far away to soothe ski weary muscles. Whakapapa sits on the west side of Mount Ruapehu where the crater bubbles away while you ski on the old (and not so old) lava fields.

Massive investment in recent years has really modernised Whakapapa’s offerings with the Rangatira Express chair opening up a huge area of mainly blue and black runs dropping into bowls and valleys, or slipping over volcanic ridges. Happy Valley is a learner’s paradise and all lift passes are interchangeable with Turoa.

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22. Tukino

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – No
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Auckland

In contrast to the commercial ski areas on Ruapehu is Tukino. This little club field on the eastern side is a place to enjoy the morning sun; three rope tows service the slopes and, when conditions allow, a snowcat transports snow riders further up the mountain. Cosy club accommodation is available in three lodges where food is provided but everyone pitches in to prepare it. Access is by 4WD to the field or a shuttle from the lower carpark.

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23. Turoa

 

43 Whynot ski at Turoa, 24 Incredible Ski Fields & Resorts in New Zealand, Huw Kingston, New Zealand, skiing, north island, family

 

Skiing – Beginner-Advanced
Grooming – Yes
Nearest Accommodation – Ohakune (19km)
Nearest International Airport – Auckland, Wellington

Turoa, on the north side of Ruapehu, is accessed from the pretty town of Ohakune and boasts, at 2322 metres, New Zealand’s highest chairlift. Rising above this point is the true summit, 2797 metre Tahurangi, the high point of the North Island.

In comparison to Whakapapa, Turoa has wider runs that suit practicing turns with confidence. Many locals will tell you that on the same day on the same mountain, Turoa and Whakapapa can have very different weather so it’s worth seeking out this local knowledge when deciding which resort to head to on the day.

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24. Manganui

Skiing – Intermediate-Advanced
Grooming – No
Nearest Accommodation – Right there
Nearest International Airport – Auckland, Wellington

This classic volcano on the coast is home to probably New Zealand’s least known ski area, Manganui. This club field sits about halfway up 2518 metre Mount Taranaki and a half hour walk is required from the car park to the base area. A T-bar and a couple of rope tows access the runs and self-catering accommodation is available in Manganui Lodge at the ski field.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Access Roads Like in New Zealand?

Many of the ski field access roads in New Zealand are not for the faint-hearted. Primarily dirt, narrow and tight, steep corners abound and crash barriers don’t. AWD/4WD hire cars will give you some confidence but snow chains will often be required too. Many of the fields have shuttle buses if you’d rather let someone else take the wheel.

How Do Rope Tows Work?

Rope tows are a cheap, fast and simple way to get up the hill. They’re hanging in at many of the smaller NZ fields and you’ll be hanging on. The rope moves in a continual loop and the idea is to grab it with one hand until you’re moving along with it. Then you flick your metal ‘nutcracker’ over the rope, clamp it down by holding on and off you go up the mountain.

The nutcracker is attached to the belt or harness you’re wearing and takes the strain as you ascend. Some rope tows are easier than other, some can be frustrating, but they take you places other lifts might not dare to go.

Where Can I Find Weather and Avalanche Information?

Both weather and weather forecasting are highly unpredictable in the Southern Alps and on Mount Ruapehu and Taranaki. Metservice is the official government service and the New Zealand Avalanche Advisory is vital for anyone venturing off-piste or touring. It also has a section on avalanche courses.

What Are The Best Ski Pass Deals?

The very comprehensive Chill site has offers on snow passes that cover up to 11 of the smaller ski areas. The 3 Peaks Pass covers Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mount Hutt. The worldwide Mountain Collective Pass and Ikon Pass includes Coronet, The Remarkables, Mount Hutt (as well as Thredbo and Mount Buller in Australia).