NZ Winter – 2 Months, 1 Van, 10 Ski ‘Resorts’

With winter on the horizon it felt appropriate to finally finish this post off about our 2020 winter adventures!

We really had no idea what to expect from a New Zealand winter of skiing, but after bringing, buying and bartering ourselves all our gear (shoutout to TradeMe) we set off in late August ready to find out. Most of the season was spent at Covid Level 2, so we were a bit apprehensive

Our aim was to experience proper kiwi skiing – tussock and all – and we knew it would be quite different from our European skiing experiences. So it was with wider skis and open minds that we drove off the ferry at Picton and into the winter night. Below is a rundown of all the crazy places we made it to in our skiing shenanigans and what we thought of them…

Whakapapa & Turoa, Tongariro (North Island)
Lifts: Sky Waka. T Bar & a chair lift (not much open)
Hmmmmm. Yes, you heard. A definite hmm from us on these two despite the fantastic weather we stumbled upon. Not many lifts open and mega queues as a result, but we still managed to get some runs in. This was our first experience of the NZ ski scene and we were just a bit bamboozled by some of the things (booking a car park, putting chains on for a snow-free road?! Letting tourists wander out of the sky waka and onto the pistes to get run over by skiers?!). Icey, tussocky and a bit of a pain but we were honestly just stoked to be skiing and excited to head south a few weeks later to start the trip proper. If it’s all ya got then fine…

Mt. Lyford, North Canterbury
Lifts: 2 buttons, 1 T Bar and a Nut Cracker. (and a beginners rope tow)
Awesome little resort tucked waaaay up in the mountains about 45 mins from Kaikoura. The road up the mountain was SKETCHY AS and I’m still amazed our geriatric van made it up there. First ever nutcracker (mildly terrifying), great snacks, chill atmosphere and good prices. Also, very few people there! Only in NZ could you have ongoing conversations with lifties because the runs are short enough to just keep picking up the conversation on every lap ha. A great day to introduce us to grass-tuft-dodging and generally mixed conditions.

Mt. Hutt, Central Canterbury
Lifts: 6-man, Quad, Triple, 2 x Magic Carpets
Well, Mt. Hutt! You beauty. We had SO many awesome days here this season, especially as we had friends working as lifties so was always nice to see a familiar face and get a few runs in with them. When it’s icy, it’s goddam icy. But on a good day, it’s easy to see why this place keeps getting voted NZ’s favourite ski resort. A decent variety of terrain when the snow is good, and enough runs and levels to feel like you’re not just all funnelling into the home run constantly. Favourite run? Has to be the Virgin Mile! Quiet, epic views and a helter-skelter kinda vibe. But also, the left bit of the home run (very specific I know), so wide and untouched you could just absolutely open up and speed down. Good food, good prices for multi days and excellent carpark picnics.

Lifts: 2 T-Bars, 1 Rope Tow (closed). 1 beginner T-Bar.
A tiny field on the road out of Tekapo, that was waaay too expensive for 2 T-Bars, 4 runs and terrible snow… It was edging towards proper Spring and we managed a few runs but eventually gave up after battling ice and slush. Small fields can be awesome, Roundhill was unfortunately not.

Mt. Dobson
Lifts: 1 Quad chair, 2 Tow Bars
What a gem this was! Another slightly crazy road, though in better condition that Lyford thank god. We went on a Monday and they were practically giving passes away at the price we paid! Great to have a chairlift, and it really opened the resort out with some nice wide long-ish runs. The main T-Bar was SKETCHY AF. Please Dobson, just put in another chair OR cut out the path for the T Bar more to make it less of a nail-biter of a ride to the top ha. At one point I was on one ski, half a butt sliding off the bar on a rutted icy steep trail. Eek. Great little field and a great price. Well worth a visit!

Lifts: 1 Double Chair, 1 Button, 1 Magic Carpet
“Oh – hau – I – Love – to ski” (it’s not perfect I’ll give you, but a great slogan ha)
Adored this resort – we caught the early morning corduroy and it was sublime. An almost empty mountain, a fantastic view of Lake Ohau, a lodge with great food and coffee and picture perfect pistes. Yes, it’s a small resort and we did every run in half a day, but with a good dump the off piste would come into it’s own and a little hike could open up a huuge bowl of terrain. Well worth the trip, with great freedom camping around the lake and a pretty decent road up. We love you Ohau!

Lifts: 4 Chairs, 2 Magic carpets
What can you say about Queenstown’s local ski resort? It’s so close to town to make it a great day or half day out without much stress, and despite feeling a bit small still enough to give a great days entertainment. With a bit more effort Remarks could be awesome – the outskirts just need a bit more TLC to make them Type 1 fun ha. Awesome views on the drive up though!

Coronet Peak
Lifts: 2 x 6-person, 1 x quad, 1 T Bar
A sneaky local legend that is sometimes outshone by Remarks and Cardies, Coronet has it’s own charm with a great local crowd and a surprising amount of terrain. We caught a great snow day and experienced a whole lotta off-piste terrain which was ace. We also caught the annual Human-Doggo downhill race which honestly was worth every penny. A bit low down so slush central on a sunny day, but honestly there’s something to be said for Coronet Peak – a must-do on a good snow day.

Treble Cone
Lifts: 1 x Quad, 1 x 6-person, 1 x button
OHHH TC, you beauty. We still marvel at how much terrain opens up with just 2 lifts. Busy AF with lift queues on a good day but so worth it when you get to head down the chutes and gullies of Shadow Basin, and hiking up to the top of the mountain to reach some untouched pow. Easily the best skiing we experienced and some of the hardest with the steep and mixed snow conditions in the gullies. I would say one of the least atmospheric in terms of apres/lodge/facilities – it still feels a bit club field in that sense which makes no sense as it’s so popular and busy. With a few tweaks this could be the best resort in NZ.

Lifts: 1 x Chondola (a wierd mutant), 2 x Quads and a few magic carpets.
The big kahoona, Cardrona. Well they have the best marketing I can tell you that, and that money pays for the best upkeep in NZ. It’s big, well maintained, a fair few lifts and a good range of bars/food etc. BUT hell, can it get congested with lifts queues for days. Despite it’s reputation as a freeride haven, I actually didn’t warm to Cardrona skiing – with the lifty queues potentially being part of the reason for this. Admittedly it felt the most ‘European’ with a few bars scattered around the mountain, but it felt a bit samey despite being undeniably a great resort where you can get the miles in.

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