The Complete Guide to Skiing on New Zealand’s South Island
New Zealand is well known for its stunning mountain ranges, pristine lakes, and colorful sunsets. Although many people want to visit in the summertime, these breathtaking natural wonders don’t go anywhere in the winter. For snowsport enthusiasts, winter in New Zealand might be the most exciting and beautiful time to visit.
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Skiing and snowboarding season begins in early June and generally ends at the beginning of October, but anytime is a good time to plan ahead for your trip to New Zealand.
Together with our friends at New Zealand Ski Packages we’ve put together a comprehensive list of ski resorts on New Zealand’s South Island that anyone from complete beginners to expert adventurers can enjoy.
New Zealand Ski Resorts
These first five resorts are partnered with our friends at New Zealand Ski Packages.
Coronet Peak opened in 1947 and was New Zealand’s first commercial ski field. It’s regarded as the most popular ski resort on the South Island and has something for everyone. The resort offers 27 trails, which is 14 more than the average ski resort. It has the best intermediate terrain in New Zealand as well as an early age learning center for the wee ones. There’s 8 lifts including 4 learner conveyor lifts, chair lifts and 1 tbar. There’s 2 terrain parks (recreation area to perform tricks), and a tubing park which is lots of fun for the entire family. It’s a 20 minute drive from downtown Queenstown and they offer regular bus rides from the city. A truly inclusive resort that’s great for any age and ability.
Another ski resort within easy reach of Queenstown, The Remarkables refers to both the ski resort and the mountain range it sits on. It has a total of 20 trails and 7 lifts capable of carrying up to 6,300 per hour. This is a sister resort to Coronet Peak and is known for being family-friendly, with two large learner areas as well as an early lesson center and an all-inclusive daytime kids program for young skiers and snowboarders. There’s also plenty of intermediate and advanced ski runs for the more experienced skier. Like Coronet Peak, there’s a shuttle service that comes regularly to Queenstown as well as plenty of parking. And don’t forget to check out the amazing views of Lake Wakatipu.
Cardrona Alpine Resort
Located in Cardrona Valley, Cardrona Alpine Resort began as a gold rush township in the 1860s. There’s a total of 8 ski lifts, including 3 quad chairlifts, 3 conveyor lifts, and a platter tow lift. There’s an equal number of beginners, intermediate, advanced and expert runs – which means that this is a resort suitable for all levels and abilities. They have lessons for adults, kids, and even kids under 5. There’s 6 cafes as well as 15 on-site apartments if you’re looking to spend more than one day on the hills. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, there’s also mountain carting, mountain biking, and hiking. The resort is a 45 minute drive from Wanaka and about an hour to Queenstown.
Treble Cone is the largest ski area in the South Island (second largest in New Zealand) and provides 4 different chairlifts with a capacity of 6,200 skiers per hour. Although there’s runs for beginners, they’re a fairly recent addition and represent only about 10% of the total runs. Although Treble Cone is more famous for the intermediate and advanced level runs, don’t let that deter you – they offer a First Timer Package that will ease you down the hills. Treble Cone is the closest ski resort to Wanaka, located about 30 minutes from the city. There’s free mountain parking at the Base Lodge as well as daily shuttle service to and from Wanaka and 20 trails.
Voted New Zealand’s best ski resort in 2015 and 2016, Mount Hutt is one of the largest and highest ski areas on the South Island, with 25 trails and a vertical drop of 2,241 feet. There’s a total of 8 lifts capable of 9,200 passengers per hour as well as 4 terrain parks. The majority of the runs are for more experienced skiers – split 25% easy, 50% medium, and 25% difficult – but there’s an areas exclusively for beginners, an early learning center, and private and group lessons for all ages and levels. Mount Hutt is about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch and a 30 minute drive from the sportstown of Methven, where you can catch a daily shuttle to the mountain.
This ski area has a relaxed vibe that makes for a great time for beginners and intermediate skiers. There’s also great spots for advanced skiers, like the halfpipe under the chair lift or the upper slopes with their smooth powder snow. The area has 14 trails and 4 lifts capable of carrying 2,900 skiers per hour. It’s a bit remote, situated 2 hours southwest of Methven and 2.5 hours southwest of Christchurch. The good thing is that this means no crowds and more time to hit the slopes.
Mount Lyford is a family-run ski resort that offers great beginner and intermediate terrain. There’s 20 trails and 7 ski lifts capable of 2,500 people per hour. This resort is ideal for families and offers lessons for all levels as well as group tubing and tobogganing. There’s also the Wild Ride Terrain Park with a nature-made halfpipe and a few man-made additions like the truck hum and quarter pipe.
Ohau Snow Fields
Ohau is a small gem of a snow field that doesn’t have the long lift lines and large crowds that you might get at larger resorts. It has 3 ski lifts capable of lifting 700 skiers per hour. Only 15 minutes away is the comfy Ohau Ski Lodge, which is a great place to stay after a full day of skiing. There’s two areas for beginners which is about 20% of the total acreage, with about half of the ski area for intermediate skiers and the rest for advanced skiers.
Porters Ski Area
This commercial resort is about an hour’s drive west of Christchurch and has 4 ski lifts with a combined capacity of 2,000 people per hour. Although it is open for all ages and abilities, this one might be more suited to more experienced skiers. Out of the 29 trails, only one is for beginners, with 6 for intermediate and the rest for advanced skiers. Just minutes away is the ski club-operated Porters Alpine Lodge which contains many cosy family and bunk rooms.
Rainbow Ski Area
Rainbow is a family-owned ski area with 6 ski lifts with a capacity of 4,500 per hour. It has a reputation for being great beginner’s field and is also one of the largest ski resorts in New Zealand. There’s 14 named trails and a pretty expansive terrain park. The resort is relatively isolated – about 3 hours from both Christchurch and Queenstown, about 1.5 hours from Timaru.
Snow Farm New Zealand
Snow Farm NZ is the only commercial ski resort in New Zealand that’s dedicated to Nordic skiing, or cross country skiing. The ski area features 55 kilometers of trails and offers Lodge that can seat up to 150 people. There’s also snowshoeing, Husky dog sledding, snowmobile tours, and a Snow Fun Zone for kids to play in the snow, make snowmen, tube, and toboggan.
Rainbow Ski Area
This commercial ski resort sits next to Lake Nelson National Park and is nestled high in the St. Arnaud mountain range of the famous Marlborough region. They cater mostly to intermediate level skiers, with a distribution of 25% beginner, 55% intermediate and 20% advanced. It’s a small but active resort, with a cafe, 4 lifts, a terrain park, and an international ski and snowboard school. It’s a pretty remote area – about 1.5 hours from the Nelson airport – but the breaktaking mountain views are totally worth the distance.
Broken River Ski Area
The Broken River Ski Area is a no-frills club field that sits about 1.5 hours outside of Christchurch and caters to more adventurous skiers. Most of the terrain includes steep basins and drop-off slopes better suited to the advanced and expert levels. However, there a small area for beginners although it’s a bit tricky to reach if you’re a complete novice. There’s 5 ski lifts which can carry up to 2,400 skiers per hour and no on-site lodges. It’s in the same area as Craigieburn, so if you’re looking for even more of an adrenaline rush, you can take a short hike over.
Craigieburn Valley Ski Area
Craigieburn Valley is a club field adjacent to the Broken River Ski Area and is mainly for hardcore skiers. This is not recommended for families or beginners, and you definitely won’t find any chairlifts, gondolas, dining, or day spas on-site (however, there are 3 nutcracker rope tows). It has several triple black runs (the most difficult rating) which are considered as “suicidal”. This is a spot for the snow-obsessed adventure junkie looking for the thrill of a lifetime.
Mount Cheeseman (or just Cheeseman) is a club ski field that’s public, affordable, and known for being very family-friendly. The ski areas are 15% for beginners, 50% for intermediates, and 35% for advanced, although the beginner’s area is very active. It’s just 90 minutes outside of Christchurch and has 15 trails with 2 t-bar lifts and a learner’s tow. So if you’re looking for something more on the low-key side, this might be the right spot.
Mount Olympus Ski Area
Dubbed the “playground of the gods”, Mount Olympus Ski Area is relatively small at only 60 hectares and with 15 trails. It has 4 ski lifts capable of 1,030 skiers per hour. This is a ski area for more experienced skiers, where the terrain distribution is about 10% beginner, 55% intermediate and 35% advanced. The slopes are notorious for being deceptively rated, so even the beginner trails are close to requiring intermediate skills. If you’re looking for something a bit less difficult, you can check out Mount Cheeseman or Broken River, both of which are nearby ski clubs.
Fox Peak Ski Field
Fox Peak ski field is a club-run ski area. This is a pretty basic area, with limited amenities – no chair lifts but 4 rope tows and a platter lift. Although there’s only 7 trails, there’s tons of terrain to explore and no crowds. Sitting about 2.5 hours from Christchurch, this ski area is well suited to more hardcore skiers looking for a rugged wintertime adventure off the beaten path.
Hamner Springs Ski Area
Hanmer Springs Ski Area is a relatively small ski club area located on Mount St. Patrick and centered around a wide basin. The place is best for intermediate and advanced skiers, although there is a respectable beginner’s area. There are only 3 surface lifts that the club will run even if the roads are closed. The main tourist attraction of this town is the famous hot springs that skiers look forward to after a long day on the hills. The area is located about 90 minutes from Christchurch.
Temple Basin is a club ski field in Arthur’s Pass about 2 hours outside of Christchurch. The mountain is left as nature intended, with raw alpine terrain and no well-groomed runs, so it’s better left to intermediate and expert skiers. There are just 3 tow rope lifts but also a few ski lodges and fully catered accommodations. It’s actually operated by two ski clubs, and The New Zealand Snow Safety Institute is also sited here. So if you’re an experienced skier looking for a quiet and rustic snowsport experience, then this might be a good option.
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Have you been skiing in New Zealand? Which was your favourite resort?