For many European, Asian or North American skiers the thought of as long hot summer is just too hard to handle. But come June, many head down to the Southern Hemisphere to continue their quest for an endless winter of powder snow.
New Zealand is split into two Islands, the North and the South. It is possible to ski in both Islands between June and October, but the two islands have very different characteristics. New Zealand’s ski areas are also split generally into two categories, commercial and club fields. They vary in size although the commercial fields tend to be larger, with the club fields often consisting of just one or two rope tow lifts.
Large or small, many of the ski areas in New Zealand offer great skiing for all abilities and some of the club fields are legendary for their backcountry and challenging skiing.
The North Island has two major commercial fields both situated on Mt Ruapehu. These are Turoa and Whakapapa. Mt Ruapehu is a volcanic mountain which towers over the surrounding landscape. They can get huge snowfalls here and the season runs well into late October.
There are also a few club fields on the North Island, Tukino which is also situated on Mt Ruapehu and Manganui, located on the stunning volcano of Mt Taranaki. These club fields offer a different experience from the commercial fields. Don’t expect high tech chair lifts and huge mountain restaurants here. But do expect friendly faces, peace and quiet (maybe not on a weekend or holiday!) and an experience you won’t forget.
The South Island has the majority of New Zealand’s commercial and club skiing areas. If you are from Europe, the first thing you will encounter when skiing in New Zealand is the fact that the accommodation is not situated on the ski slopes! There are some areas that have club accommodation at the bottom of the slopes, but this is not where you are likely to be staying. I do not use the words ‘ski resort’ when talking about New Zealand skiing as this implies a European model of a town and ski area operating as one entity. This is just not the case in New Zealand.
Saying that, there are some great places to stay when skiing in New Zealand and transport up and down the mountain on the commercial ski areas is usually pretty good. Queenstown in the South Island, which serves both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields, has a great choice of accommodation, restaurants and bars. If you like to party… this is the place. Wanaka also has a great atmosphere and serves Treble Cone and Cardrona ski fields and in the North Island, Ohakune is the place to stay if you want to ski Turoa. The best bet is to rent a car and drive up to the ski area every day. If this is not an option, then either your accommodation will provide this service or there will be a bus.
The other notable difference is the size of the ski areas, in New Zealand, compared to Europe. If you have skied in the French, Swiss or Austrian Alps, in resorts such as Val d’Isère, Meribel, Verbier or St Anton, you will be used to the possibility of not skiing the same run in a day or even a week. This does not happen in New Zealand, they are not comparable in size to these European resorts. Even the largest ski fields in New Zealand (Whakapapa in the North Island and Treble Cone in the South Island) are much smaller than all the well known European Alpine ski resorts.
But, size isn’t everything! The quality of snow and terrain in New Zealand ski areas is often excellent. Heli skiing is popular and relatively cheap compared to Europe and North America. The atmosphere on the slopes is great and skiing in New Zealand can be a real social event. The other advantage to a ski trip in New Zealand is that you can get to try out different ski areas. They might not be as large as European resorts but you can easily get to ski three or four different areas in one or two weeks.
You may also want to check out the blog post, I wrote for NONSTOP Ski & snowboard, titled: Why go skiing in New Zealand?
In my next blog post, I will go into more detail about the different ski areas in New Zealand and how to plan a skiing trip in the Southern Hemisphere.