Subscribe to Win!

Pick of the pistes

Did you know that New Zealand's Southern Alps - a series of mountain chains extending the length of the South Island and rising to 2,000m - are more extensive than the Swiss, French and Austrian Alps combined?

Dozens of different ski areas and winter sports resorts are located in this immense and spectacular mountain region of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Each area has its own distinctive character - some specialising in family holidays, others better suited to the more adventurous skier.



Queenstown is New Zealand's best known winter holiday destination, filled with designer stores, restaurants, nightclubs and cafés. Aside from skiing and snowboarding, there is a myriad of activities to occupy visitors such as jet boats, motorbikes, Central Otago wines, horse riding, mountain climbing, hiking, white-water rafting and, of course, bungy-jumping.


Queenstown's closest ski fields are Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, the former just a 20-minute drive from town. It has a European feel with a bar, licensed restaurant and live outdoor music. The ski areas on a series of gullies are well equipped for beginners and are usually busy. Coronet Peak also offers night skiing when crowds of skiers glide down the slopes under lights and the hot gluhwein flows.


The Remarkables presents more adventurous terrain - the sports enthusiast's option, providing some of the best and most challenging skiing in New Zealand.



Sometimes described as ‘the New Zealander's Queenstown’, Wanaka is less commercial, smaller and quieter though there are still plenty of restaurants and bars. The town is an hour’s drive from Queenstown and has two ski fields nearby at Cardrona and Treble Cone.


Cardrona has a family environment with a giant toy clock tower, several restaurants and special facilities for children. The hills have wide open slopes for learners or intermediate skiers and facilities include 'magic carpet' moving walkways that are easier than T-bars for beginners. It's also the home of the NZ national snowboard championships, offering half pipes and a terrain park.


Treble Cone's ski fields are more difficult than Cardrona and because of this it’s usually less crowded.


Snow Park in the Pisa Range between Wanaka and Queenstown is internationally renowned for the challenging terrain that makes it popular with young free-riders. The resort has 55 kilometres of ski trails and 310 hectares of back country skiing terrain. 



The Mount Hutt ski area near Christchurch enjoys the longest snow season. First to open each winter, it's popular with locals who gather at the town of Methven when they're not skiing.


Mount Dobson, in the Mount Cook Mackenzie region, is a family-owned ski-field that caters for all levels of skiers. The 400 hectare skiable terrain ranges from the largest learning slope in southern New Zealand to challenging off-piste powder runs. Mt. Dobson is near the small rural town of Fairlie and 40 minutes from Lake Tekapo.


Around Mount Hutt, Christchurch and all the way down to Queenstown are smaller ‘club fields’. These private patches of mountain are managed by individual ski clubs but open to the public. Some, such as Ohau and Temple Basin, have good facilities but generally these ski areas are for more adventurous sports enthusiasts.


Snow conditions and terrain vary greatly but there are some great spots off the beaten track. Craigieburn, with a vertical drop of 500 metres, has cult status internationally and is a favourite of extreme ski legend Glen Plake. Rainbow offers amazing views of Lake Rotoiti, the 50-minute walk up to Temple Basin guarantees uncrowded slopes and challenges for good skiers, while Mount Potts has had snowboarding legend Terje Haakonsen singing its praises.



Going ‘back country’ - or off-piste - appeals to skiers or snowboarders prepared to hike, climb, camp and snowshoe their way into the wilderness to find their own ungroomed piece of paradise.


The best way to get a taste of the back country is with a guide. Some New Zealand tour operators cater to this market and options for going off-piste increase each season.


Getting there by helicopter is a popular choice. This can involve anything from one ride and one run down an untouched slope to a champagne lunch. Snow-cat (snow caterpillar) skiing is an innovation offered at Mount Potts, one of New Zealand's highest ski fields. Here, a specially adapted snow-cat is used like a chair lift, taking clients to the top of a slope and picking them up again at the bottom.



Tongariro National Park extends across much of the central North Island volcanic plateau and it was here that film director Peter Jackson chose to set the scene for the dramatic battle of Mordor in Lord of the Rings.


Three active volcanoes - Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe - rise high above this harsh environment. Snow dusted in winter, Mount Ruapehu is the location for the ski fields of Turoa and Whakapapa.


Both areas offer similar terrain and facilities. There's a good mix for all abilities, from the almost-flat field that is Happy Valley for beginners to the trickier gullies accessed by the highest T-bars. Two small villages and a town cater to the ski fields with pubs, clubs, restaurants and accommodation. National Park Village on the Whakapapa side has the park headquarters with information about the area. Further up the mountain, Tongariro Chateau is an historic hotel complete with ballroom and indoor swimming pool.


On the Turoa side of the mountain lies Ohakune, a lively village of shops, cafés and bars that's also the centre of New Zealand's carrot-growing region.


Become an expert in selling magical winter holidays by completing the 100% Pure New Zealand Specialist modules. For more information, visit


Click here to read the latest issue of traveltalk Click here to read the latest issue of traveltalk
Written by: Traveltalk
Published: 20 May 2014

comments powered by Disqus