Photo Gallery:

Ski Areas of New Zealand

I used to be a keen snow skier, and having travelled a lot in the South Island of New Zealand, it's only natural that I've visited a lot of the ski areas there. Here is a photographic summary of the main ski areas of the South Island, with one photo (more for my favourites) to represent each one that I have visited.

Rainbow Valley
This quiet treasure in the north of the South Island was one of my two favourite places to ski. Beautiful forested scenery, friendly staff, lack of crowds, views over Lake Rotoiti and the Nelson Lakes National Park made this a special experience. I stayed in a hostel in the nearby lakeside village of St Arnaud, and on days when the weather was bad I enjoyed hiking in the local beech forest. On good days I revelled in the wide open spaces of the Rainbow Valley ski slopes, able to progress well in my skiing techniques without the distraction of having to avoid crowds of other people.

Of the relatively few people who skied there, most came from the nearest towns of Nelson and Blenheim. Together with the small number of staff (who got to know their return skiers), this gave the ski area a friendly local feel that was absent in the large resorts dominated by crowds of foreign visitors. If I could only ski at two places in New Zealand, Rainbow Valley would be one of them.

Rainbow Valley bowl
 
Rainbow Valley base

From the upper slopes of Rainbow Valley looking towards the base, and the forested valley containing the access road

 

The base facilities at Rainbow Valley, looking up the main bowl. Note the absence of morning crowds.


 

Hanmer Springs ski area
   

Mt Lyford ski area

Hanmer Springs
This is a small club field near the resort town of Hanmer springs, famous for its natural thermal pools - great for a dip after skiing. When I visited, the main poma lift wasn't operating due to being buried under an excess of fresh snow. That meant I had to use the rope tow (tricky!), but with half a mountain of fresh powder to explore and only half a dozen people to share it with, I didn't mind.

 

Mt Lyford
It's a long drive to this area from either Kaikoura or Hanmer springs, but the reward is a small and relatively quiet ski area with good scenery. My only day here was marred by a lot of low cloud, a perfect excuse to go back.

 

Temple Basin ski area
   

Mt Hutt

Temple Basin
A small club field (four rope tows), accessed by walking up a 45 minute track which starts 8 km from Arthur's Pass. Having walked to the track, then climbed up the track to the ski field, I found the snow cover was insufficient for serious skiing. I admired the views, soaked up the atmosphere, then walked back down again. If I was still a skier I'd love to return to temple basin for a week, staying in the on site bunkhouse.

 

Mt Hutt
This major ski field is just a couple of hours from Christchurch, and is consequently one of the busiest ski areas in the South Island. Great terrain, plenty of snow, a long season and spectacular views over the plains also work in its favour. I found the crowds a little challenging, and the long bus rides from Christchurch a bit tedious, but once there the long runs and feeling of being up in the sky made Mt Hutt well worth visiting.

 

Mt Dobson
   

Cardrona

Mt Dobson
This is another small area frequented mostly by locals. I skied here while staying in the quiet rural town of Fairlie, which is a relaxing opposite of resort towns such as Queenstown. Mt Dobson has the benefits of the club fields - no crowds, room to move, friendly atmosphere - but being a commercial field it has the easier to use T-bars and poma lifts rather than rope tows.

 

Cardrona
One of the two main ski areas for Wanaka, though it can be accessed from Queenstown too. This huge area has something for everyone, and plenty of room for the crowds to spread out. I spent many happy days here discovering all its nooks and crannies, and found its excellent range of gentler slopes perfect for practising new skills.

 

Snow Farm
   

Snow Farm
The Snow Farm is a cross-country ski area just across the valley from Cardrona. I went there to enjoy some of its 50km of groomed cross-country ski trails, and also to go cruising around on a snowmobile. It's also a great place to go wandering with snow shoes ... maybe next time.


Treble Cone
My favourite ski area is Treble Cone, near Wanaka in the south of the south island. While my other favourite - Rainbow Valley - is remote, quiet and uncrowded, Treble Cone is huge and very well attended. The slopes are longer, more challenging and exhilarating than elsewhere, with a great range of terrains and different aspects to suit the weather. What I most enjoyed was the views - many regard it as the most scenic place to ski in New Zealand, and I rank it right up there with Lake Louise in Canada, which claims to be the most scenic in North America. On a sunny day the view across Lake Wanaka would remind me that the beauty of the mountain environment is what I most enjoyed about skiing.

Treble Cone view over saddle to Lake Wanaka

 

View from upper slopes of Treble Cone over the saddle to Lake Wanaka

 

Matukituki Valley view from Treble Cone
   

Treble Cone summit slopes

View from Treble Cone up Matukituki Valley

 

Summit slopes of Treble Cone


 

Coronet Peak
   

The Remarkables

Coronet Peak
Easy access to Queenstown means Coronet peak can be very crowded. When the snow is good, the skiing there can be excellent enough to outweigh any crowds, but unfortunately it's at a lower altitude than other ski fields in the area, and the snow can suffer.

 

The Remarkables
This was my pick of the Queenstown ski areas, having better snow than Coronet peak although it could still get crowded. It would be worth visiting The Remarkables just for the fantastic view over Lake Wakatipu that's achieved with a short hike from the shadow basin chairlift.


 

A crevasse on the Tasman Glacier

Tasman Glacier
The Tasman Glacier is not a regular ski area - it is New Zealand's longest Glacier (29 km), flowing from the lofty heights of the Southern Alps near Mount Cook. Access is by aircraft only, and for most of those who ski there it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me it was the pinnacle of my skiing life.
A ski plane flight drops skiers onto the top of the glacier, in the eerie silence of the icy wilderness. Guides then lead their party down the glacier past beautiful ice formations and crevasses, surrounded by a gallery of spectacular mountains. The slopes aren't very steep, but the snow is a heavenly deep powder. Transceivers and avalanche probes are carried ... just in case.
Lunch is eaten about 12 km down, where the glacier becomes too flat to ski. Normally a ski plane returns skiers to the top of the glacier for another run down, but when I did this trip a helicopter was used for the second leg, and we were flown to the Hochstedder Dome instead. The views from the top were awesome, and the bonus ski journey down one of the country's highest peaks was unforgettable. After skiing down the glacier by a different route, a ski plane then flew us back to normality.

A Tasman Glacier crevasse

 

 

 

Top slopes of Tasman Glacier
   

Lunch on Tasman Glacier

Gentle upper slopes of Tasman Glacier

 

Lunch on the glacier, overlooked by Mount Cook