You might also like:
Want to make the most of the remainder of the South Island’s ski season? Why not try one of these smaller ski areas? Whichever you decide to head to you are assured of a warm welcome, some fabulous skiing and boarding and, weather permitting, eye-popping views.
This is just a selection of the club fields on offer – all are currently open (others, including Mt Olympus, Broken River, Fox Peak have had poor snowfall this year and remain closed at time of going to print).
Mt Lyford, North Canterbury
A standalone mountain up in the Kaikōura ranges where, 30 years ago, the owner decided to diversify from sheep to snow on his mountain land. Now a mix of a T-bar, platter and rope-tow give access to some real fun terrain. The Parent Pass allows a couple with a child under 4 to share one pass so they can take turns on the slopes.
Nearest accommodation: Mt Lyford Lodge, mtlyfordlodge.co.nz; Mt Lyford Holiday Homes lyfordholidayhomes.co.nz
Of all the smaller ski areas in NZ, Craigieburn is perhaps the best-known internationally. Noted for its challenging off-piste, Free-ride skiers and boarders gather here for the southern winter. This reputation, along with a certain amount of pride, ensures Craigieburn is defiantly both a grooming free and rope-tow-only area although there is still plenty of intermediate terrain. Apparently, a club member once suggested some slope grooming. They were duly ex-communicated.
Grooming: Go wash your mouth out
Nearest accommodation: Right there
Porters Alpine Resort, Canterbury
The largest “small” ski area and the closest to Christchurch, Porters has easy access, a modern quad chairlift and a line of three T-bars stepping up the mountain. These open up a huge area for all levels of skiers and boarders. You can cruise the cat track, stopping every 50m to take in the ridiculously stupendous views or plunge down the seemingly bottomless Big Mama.
Nearest accommodation: Porters Lodge (6km)
Mt Dobson, Mackenzie
Celebrating its 40th birthday last year, Dobson occupies a wide, sunny bowl below the summit of the same name. With a long chairlift, a T-bar and platter there is plenty of terrain to enjoy and enough off-piste to keep the powderhounds howling. The friendly town of Fairlie isn’t far away and is a great base for Dobson as well as Fox Peak and Roundhill.
Nearest accommodation: Fairlie (28km)
“For the more adventurous, head up the world’s longest and steepest rope tow and see what Australasia’s biggest vertical drop (783m) is all about” says the Roundhill website.
The Heritage rope tow is nearly 1500m long, averages 30 degrees and tops out at 2133m. The runs are steep, the thighs burn. For most visitors however, Roundhill is about the mellow with two T-bars and a platter accessing shallow, wide-open runs that make it a real family favourite. The most spectacular picture-book views over Lake Tekapo to Aoraki/Mt Cook demand a cold beer at the tiny Von Brown Cafe.
Nearest accommodation: Tekapo (32km)
A perfect package of a great place to stay nestled 10km below a ski area that packs a real punch. The ski area seems to be both manageable but expansive and offers possibly the tastiest carrot cake in NZ. Access is focused around one 2-seat chairlift heading up the guts of a steep bowl. A platter low down caters for beginners.
At Ohau there is plenty to keep you busy but a short, steep bootpack behind the top of the chair brings you on to a ridge from where options abound.
Nearest accommodation: Ohau Lodge (10km)
Many of the ski area access roads are not for the faint-hearted. Primarily dirt, narrow and tight, steep corners abound and crash barriers don’t. AWD/4WD vehicles will give you some confidence but snow chains will often be required too. Many of the fields have shuttle buses, which some may prefer to take.
Rope tows are cheap, fast and simple. They hang in at many of the smaller NZ fields where you’ll be hanging on. Some are easier than others, some can be frustrating, but they take you places other lifts may not dare to go.
Many of these ski areas also offer easy access to side-country or back-country terrain. If you want to head out there, then you need solid experience of winter mountain travel and avalanche awareness. If not, take a guide.