or Connect
EpicSki › Mountain Article › A Guide to New Zealand's Best Ski Slopes

A Guide to New Zealand's Best Ski Slopes


New Zealanders love their mountains. The South Pacific Island nation has a rich and deep tradition of mountaineering and skiing, with the country being the first to give the world Mount Everest summiteer, Sir Edmund Hillary. With this deep tradition of playing in the mountains the country is home to many ski areas and resorts, all with a variety of slopes. No matter the skill level there is something in the hills for anyone who enjoys two planking or snowboarding. With the abundance of ski slopes and hills, it becomes hard to decide where to go. Should you find yourself in New Zealand and wishing to get some time on the snow, here are a few of the standout slopes of the country.
North Island
Mount Ruapehu

Approximately 370 kilometers out of Auckland is Mount Ruapehu. This is considered and rated as one of the best ski areas and resorts in the North Island, and possibly even New Zealand (depending on the weather!). Skiers and snowboarders are welcome and between the in-bounds terrain and off-piste sections there are over 2300-acres of skiable slopes on Mount Ruapehu. Ruapehu has a base altitude of approximately 1600 meters with the vertical rise going up to the summit at 2322 meters. A combination of t-bar and lifts get skiers to the summit where the option to remain inbounds or hike out-of-bounds gets made. Only experienced backcountry skiers and riders should go off-piste and even then only with proper avalanche gear and training. For those who wish the out-of-bounds experience, but lack the skills to navigate the backcountry, there are guides available at the Mount Ruapehu resort area.

South Island
Heli-Skiing at Mt Harris
To get the absolute best and purest slopes in the country the best way to access the hills is via helicopter. The South Island's Mount Harris is home to heli-ski operations. Expect to ski between 2000 to 4000 meters of vertical in a day. The helicopter lifts the group up after each run, going back up to the pristine and untouched slopes on Mount Cook and Tasman, the two largest mountains in New Zealand. This is the realm of hearty and bold backcountry adventurers and professional guides. It is also the place to go for the best slopes in the country, and one of the best parts of the best slopes is having them all to yourself. More info at http://www.heliski.co.nz/.
Lake Wanaka


The Lake Wanaka area actually boasts four different ski resorts as well as the base for a heli-ski operation. Because of the abundance of options, it is considered one of the premier ski and snowboard destinations in New Zealand. Choose between the Cardrona Alpine Resort, Treble Cone, Snow Farm and Snow Park, with Coronet Peak and The Remarkables resorts. Each mountain has its own charm. Cardrona is more family oriented and set up for those seeking beginner to intermediate groomed terrain. The Snow Farm offers everything from beginner to double diamond slopes as well as ample opportunity to hike out-of-bounds for AT or telemark turning. Treble Cone offers beginner, intermediate, advanced and double-diamond expert slopes and the Coronet Peak and the Remarkables offer everything plus helicopter access to some of the fluffiest powder and best slopes found on the South Island.

Because the Lake Wanaka is relatively close (around a 1.5 hours) from Queenstown, it is an easy day trip/drive out of the city. Renting a car out of any of the New Zealand cities gives freedom to explore and drive through the countryside on the way to the ski slopes. There are Queenstown car hire companies at Queenstown airport & city center. Guided ski tours, lessons and gear rentals are found in the Lake Wanaka village as well as the ski resorts. Heli-ski guides and tours are hired out of the village. For heli-ski operations, plan on taking the requisite morning avalanche awareness and gear training prior to flying up onto the pristine mountains.

The OnePassNZ is a ski ticket that gives unlimited access to all four resorts for a set period of days. This gives the freedom to explore each of the resorts and all the slopes available. Save some money with the OnePassNZ. Tickets may be purchased at any of the resorts or online through http://www.lakewanaka.co.nz. Its recommended that you compare the OnePass rates to the current daily pass prices to ensure you are in fact getting a good deal.
Heli-skiers get to take advantage of day packages or weeklong heli-ski vacation set-ups. These are available through the Lake Wanaka website and give tremendous savings for a ski experience of a lifetime. Heli-skiing the New Zealand Mountains is available for abilities between intermediate to advanced expert. If in doubt, just ask the guides at the operation to suss out your needs and abilities and if they will fit into the tour.
Like the North Island's Ruapehu Resort, the Lake Wanaka resorts offer all the apres-ski shenanigans you could hope for at a ski resort. Drinks, meals and live entertainment keep the action going after the days spent on the slopes. There are lodging facilities like hotels up to chalets and ski lodges available throughout the region.
Expect to have clear and crisp views of the Southern Alps from any of the four Lake Wanaka ski areas and resorts. Obviously, during any heli-ski tour up into the peaks, the scenery is second to none and the obvious scenic highlight of the tour.
Jump into the rich mountain history of an adventurous and charming nation and ski or snowboard to your heart's content. New Zealand is a popular destination that attracts outdoorsy folks and skiers for a reason. It rocks!

Comments (7)

There are 2 resorts at Mt. Ruapehu - Whakapapa and Turoa. Shame that the 2 resorts are linked by ski lifts, they are only about half an hour's drive apart.
True that Ruapehu has the biggest ski field in NZ, unfortunately the two resorts are often closed due to strong wind. I was there couple of times and I only managed 4 days of skiing out of 2 weeks stay.
Just to expand a little, there are 14 ski areas of various sizes not mentioned here, scattered throughout the south island
North to south, Marlborough-Rainbow, North Canterbury-Hanmer Springs and Lyford, Canterbury local to Christchurch-Mt Hutt, Porters, Mt Olympus, Cheeseman, Broken River, Craigeburn, Temple Basin. South Canterbury-Fox Peak, Dobson, Tekapo. North Otago-Ohau. These places are where you meet the locals.
Quote from above: "Approximately 60-kilometers out of the main (and capitol) city of Auckland is Mount Ruapehu. This is considered and rated the best ski area and resort in the country, let alone the North Island."
Eh? Who says Mt Ruapehu's the best ski area in the country? Not sure if even locals would make that claim. And if Mt Ruapheu is 60km from Auckland why does it take 5 or 6 hours to get there? It's in the middle of the North Island, very roughly equidistant from Auckland and Wellington (which is, in fact, the capital of NZ), and much closer to several other cities and towns, which explains why it gets so horrendously crowded at the weekends. As far as I am aware, there are no lifts to the summit of Ruapehu -- it's a very active volcano, with a rapidly warming crater lake signalling more action to come.

There are also two club fields in the North Island (including a 3rd ski area on Mt Ruapehu, and one on another volcano near the west coast, Mt Taranaki). As for the South Island, it is certainly true that Wanaka is a great ski town. However, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski areas are closer to Queenstown, which although it is a major NZ tourist hub, is most certainly not a city, yet. As Baldrick has said above, the South Island is littered with mountains you can ski on. Further north, nearer to Christchurch, which is (arguably) still a city, is Mt Hutt, another larger (by NZ standards) commercial field, and as Baldrick has pointed out, a multitude of lesser-known gems, where you are most likely to find the true NZ ski experience.

I can't speak for heliskiing -- as elsewhere, the cost is fairly prohibitive for many mortals, although one former club field in Canterbury which has transformed into an in-bounds heli-ski "resort", may be slightly cheaper. There are one or two cat-skiing operations here and there, although the profitability of these operations can't be great as they seem to come and go.

I struggle a little with the OnePassNZ concept. I don't see how it works out any better value (and if you're heading off the beaten track to lesser-known ski areas, it seems a really expensive way of doing it (unless I am mistaken), than simply buying day passes at the window.
OK, it's been a while since I did the trip and I should've checked. The mountain blurb says Whakapapa is 4 hours from Auckland, and a bit more from Wellington. Back in the day, when I lived in Auckland I'm sure it took longer -- perhaps getting to the outskirts of the city from home in Friday night rush-hour traffic may have been the reason.
Thanks for the feedback guys, I guess some of my statements were a bit subjective but glad we got the discussion going! I've updated a few things to include your comments. Cheers!
Glad you're able to update that info, ericanz. You might also want to move the heliski section on Harris Moumtains, Mt Cook and Tasman Glacier into the South Island section, as they aren't in the North Island! Also, Mt Ruapehu is a good deal further than 60kms from Auckland. It's nice to have info about NZ skiing on a northern hemisphere internet forum, but it would be great if it could be accurate too (without meaning to sound too pedantic!). I am curious though, where do you live?
OK I've fixed up all that now. I'm not from NZ and must of got a few of my details mixed up!
EpicSki › Mountain Article › A Guide to New Zealand's Best Ski Slopes