With a cold blast hitting much of New Zealand earlier than expected, ski fields the length of the country have been able to open with bonus time to spare. Seasoned snow bunnies know their spots on both islands, but for those looking to venture out and experience new terrain and thrills, where do you go and what does each mountain offer? M2 has put together a guide to New Zealand’s winter playgrounds both north and south discovering what’s new and what’s happening in 2017.
New Zealand’s largest ski area has taken advantage of the early cold snap and was the first to open in the country this year with its Happy Valley beginner area. And, for the Whakapapa faithful, the new Rangitira Express quad lift is now open for its 2nd season of business. Joining it will be the Doppelmayr “Delta Quad” chairlift which has replaced the Waterfall T-Bar, all as a part of the multi-million dollar capital investment to shorten queues and make the ride up that much more comfortable. Money has been spent wisely over the summer months to enhance the customer experience with plenty more to come. It’s not all about the high altitude hard-core and Happy Valley has got its own new toys. The expansion at the kid-friendly hub includes an area away from the tangle of skis, poles and boards where snowmen can be built uninterrupted – even in the above-zero temperatures. How does this work? Happy Valley is the only ski area in the country with a ‘Snow Factory’ snowmaking system and the technology will heavily increase the snow production regardless of the weather (it can make snow in up to 25degC!). Getting to Happy Valley is that much easier now too with the installation of two 26 person Schindler elevators that has made the transition from car park to the slopes that much easier for families.
TRAILS Beginners 25%, intermediate 50%, advanced 25%
WHEN TO GO The season started early in 2017 with Happy Valley opening on June 3. The rest of the mountain was scheduled to open in early July & run into late October. August & September are usually ideal times to hit Whakapapa & they now have Night Skiing from early July to September.
The little brother hasn’t missed out on the upgrades and the capacity to make more snow with an increase in snowmaking guns on the lower mountain. Even though natural snowfall has been later to form here than on Whakapapa, the less-trodden field on the south-western slopes of Ruapehu has its own unique features and the High Noon Express is still New Zealand’s (and Australasia’s) highest chairlift. By the time winter truly sets in, Turoa will once again reveal how much it has to offer. More than 20 advanced runs sit at the top of the field and there are natural pipes for the boarders and plenty of secluded backcountry and advanced runs away from the hordes. The Organ Pipes provide skilled operators with plenty of variety and, depending on the snowfall, the Mangawhero Flank is a serious test of ability and kahunas. A local favourite, Turoa isn’t far behind Whakapapa, NZ’s largest ski area, quantity of trails and other facilities and can be a great change up.
TRAILS Beginners 20%, intermediate 55%, advanced 25%
WHEN TO GO Unlike the other side of the mountain, Turoa’s season looks to be following its usual course and will run from July through to the end of October.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing about Mount Taranaki’s ski area, but for the avid skier/boarder there’s enough reason to give it a shot. Less commercialised than the fields on the central plateau, Manganui is more suited to the experienced, with 65 percent of its trails classed as advanced. The attraction? There are uncluttered and secluded kilometre-long runs and natural halfpipes, and for those travelling from afar, there’s accommodation on the mountain itself. Understandably, prices are less than half that of the Ruapehu fields as facilities are limited, but for those who wish to try something different and view spectacular new scenery, the petrol cost and walk from the car park is worth it.
TRAILS Beginners 5%, intermediate 35%, advanced 65%
WHEN TO GO Snowfall can be inconsistent and unfortunately there is no snowmaking technology, but the mountain is the place to be when the flakes fall between June and October.
RAINBOW SKI AREA
While Queenstown and Wanaka hog the South Island snow sport limelight, it would be remiss to not mention the rest of the mainland. Starting from the top, Nelson Lake’s Rainbow ski area is a small but well-rounded field that caters for all ages and abilities. For beginners, there are instructors and a reasonably long run that skirts the Torpedo7 Terrain Park with its rails, jumps and obstacles. On the flanks of the field are the intermediate runs and a series of steep, advanced trails that form an amphitheatre feel to the field that is wide and often uncrowded. Importantly, snow is never in short supply and the nine snow-guns provide locals and passers-by a solid and reasonably consistent season regardless.
TRAILS Beginners 25%, intermediate 55%, advanced 20%
WHEN TO GO Because of its location at the top of the Alps, the season begins in mid-July and runs until mid-to-late October and has a sprinkling of competitive events.
Like Rainbow, Hanmer covers all the bases and its impeccably groomed tracks are best suited to the intermediate skier or boarder. Variety abounds on the mountain and once you hop off the longest Poma lift in the southern hemisphere (807 metres) there are off-piste trails to complement the natural and man-made terrain for the boarders. And, if you are polite to the staff they’ll push out some tables for some rail slides. The beauty of the quiet and unpopulated slopes is matched by the surrounding area and the world-famous hot pools. The Hanmer slopes aren’t for the biggest daredevils, but are the perfect way to kill a day or two in the region.
TRAILS Beginners 10%, intermediate 60%, advanced 30%
WHEN TO GO Depending on the snowfall, the Hanmer season begins on the July 8, but there’s never a bad time to visit the town.
There’s no shortage of ski fields for Canterbury folk, but Mount Hutt is the undoubted centrepiece and has it all. To call it a snow playground wouldn’t be entirely accurate as there’s some serious snow business going on, with heli-skiing, backcountry adventures and many competitive national and regional events throughout the season. At the other end of the spectrum, there are lessons on and off the snow, and a designated childcare centre so parents can dabble in the web of advanced and intermediate runs circumnavigating and leading to the lower basin. Five lifts, four freestyle terrain parks, multiple car parks and the proximity to Methven are all factors in Mount Hutt being named New Zealand’s top ski resort at the World Ski Awards again in 2016. In one word, Mount Hutt is ‘comprehensive’ and has everything a powder-head would wish for, with its improvements to the snow-making capabilities for 2017.
TRAILS Beginners 11%, intermediate 37%, advanced intermediate 27%, advanced 20%, terrain parks 5%
WHEN TO GO Mount Hutt is open for business with the first tracks groomed and ready to go from July 1. With natural snow in abundance, the season is often the longest in the country and they’ve increased snow production with additional machinery. It’s the epicentre for snow sports in the wider Canterbury region, so expect for there to be something on throughout the entire winter.
The beautifully groomed runs of Wanaka’s Treble Cone are part of the South Island’s largest ski field that also boasts the largest vertical run. While choices may be limited for beginners, more adept skiers and boarders will discover stretched, taxing runs, the longest of which is High Street, at 4 kilometres long. Snow purists love Treble Cone for its off-piste brilliance and lengthy runs, which are often uncrowded and labelled as some of the best in the country. And, if the gods aren’t dropping enough snow, new technology and infrastructure on the mountain has allowed more skiing days, which means you may miss out on all the other stuff to do at lake level.
TRAILS Beginners 10%, intermediate 45%, advanced 45%
WHEN TO GO With a June 22 opening, the Treble Cone season runs until October 1 with numerous competitive slalom events in early September.
The name gives it away, but it rings true even when you’re not looking at them. Already higher, bigger and with longer runs than nearby Coronet Peak, The Remarkables have stepped it up further and have expanded from 265 hectares of terrain to 385, with more still to come in its learning area. Also new is the undercover conveyor gallery so parents can keep an eye on their budding skiers as they loop for another run. The difficulty spread of trails are the most even in the country, with all skill levels getting a multitude of differing runs. Copious amounts of powder has dropped in June to kick off a big year, which sees these mountain host the Audi Quattro Winter Games in late August.
TRAILS Beginners 30%, intermediate 40%, advanced 30%
WHEN TO GO No one needs much of an excuse to visit the Queenstown and Wanaka areas but the event synonymous with the area is indisputably the Queenstown Winter Festival from June 22-25. While you now have to wait until the 2018 event, the ski season is just getting started.
One hour out of Queenstown and yet another world-class ski field. More than $15 million has been poured into improvements for the resort and the terrain in the last year, and helping fund that was the chance discovery of the biggest hunk of gold ever found in New Zealand. Excavators working on the cabin-style lift, the Chondola, dug up the nugget worth about $190,000 but, to the point, the new lift encloses its passengers away from the elements and starts 100 metres closer to the base than the previous quad lift. The new capital outlay is elevating the field to contain the southern hemisphere’s most substantial terrain park facilities, with big air, pipelines, gravity cross and a variety of apparatus to jump on or over. A myriad of varying tracks present like a Disneyland map of attractions, and it is for all these reasons overseas professionals visit to train in their (northern hemisphere) off-seasons.
TRAILS Beginners 25%, intermediate 25%, advanced 30%, expert 20%
WHEN TO GO With similar opening and closing dates to its Queenstown and Wanaka brethren, any time in the winter months is perfect, but because of its specialist facilities, Cardrona will host disciplines from the Audi Quattro Winter Games as well as the Jossi Wells Invitational Big Air from September 12-15.
With night skiing on the menu for 2017, the ridiculously good powder at Coronet Peak will now be enjoyed for even longer. Overall, 211 snow-guns make sure the immaculate trails are well dusted, offsetting the lighter snowfall its neighbouring ski field, The Remarkables, got so far this year. It’s not all about the skis any more, and the variety of activities on offer is what makes this mountain truly special. For a pretty penny there’s heli-skiing and-off piste backcountry adventure for skiers and boarders alike. Lower down the slopes, a tubing lane complements the upright pastimes and there are plenty of beginner’s trails for youngsters to graduate upwards.
TRAILS Beginners 32%, intermediate 41%, advanced 27%
WHEN TO GO As with The Remarkables, any time between mid-June and the start of October is sure to be amazing. Book yourself in for late June and get warmed up with the Winter Festival and the trails will most likely ready for you.