Where to Ski in NZ

Where to Ski in New Zealand?

Can’t decide where to go skiing in New Zealand and which of the New Zealand ski resorts to visit? The Powderhounds provide an overview of tips regarding where to ski or snowboard, and information on typical characteristics of the New Zealand ski resorts so as to set your expectations that skiing in NZ is not like going to Aspen or Whistler or even Thredbo!

There are dramatic differences between the New Zealand ski fields. There are broadly three types of NZ ski areas:
Beyond the type of ski field, everyone has different factors that are important when deciding on the best New Zealand ski resorts to visit. To aid in your decision making:
  • Check out our New Zealand ski resorts ratings which are broken down into many aspects such as: terrain quality for different abilities; the powder; lift infrastructure; family-friendliness; cost; nightlife; and the likelihood of finding “freshies”.
  • See our “best skiing in New Zealand” awards
  • See our New Zealand ski resort statistics that include the proportion of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs, resort size and snowfall.
  • See the NZ ski resort accommodation page because if you’re looking for luxury accommodation or ski-in ski-out accommodation, not all ski resorts or ski towns will be ideal (and if you’re looking for both luxury and ski-in ski-out accommodation, you’re looking in the wrong country!).
  • See the information below regarding first timers, family ski holidays, New Zealand ski resorts statistics, snow quantity, climate, facilities and infrastructure, and lift tickets.

New Zealand Skiing and Snowboarding - First Timers

If you’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before, the best place to stay is Queenstown so you can ski at The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Both of these ski resorts cater really well to beginners, and there are shuttle bus options to get between Queenstown and the ski resorts so you don’t have to drive up mountain roads. Queenstown has the advantage of providing a massive range of non-skiing activities for rest days (and unless you’re super fit you’ll probably need rest days!). 

Families – Where to Ski in New Zealand?

Aside from the lack of ski-in ski-out accommodation, many of the big commercial NZ ski resorts cater very well to families and kids. Once again Queenstown is best if you have beginners in the group, but for intermediate skiers and boarders you could stay in Wanaka (and ski at Cardrona), Methven (ski at Mt Hutt), or Whakapapa (on the north island).

The decision may therefore come down to which ski town you want to stay in. 
  • Queenstown if you want nightlife, lots of activities, and a huge choice of accommodation styles and budgets.
  • Wanaka if you want moderate nightlife and a moderate number of activities, and apartment style accommodation for a range of budgets.
  • Methven if you don’t need lots of activities or nightlife, and want inexpensive lodge or apartment style accommodation.
  • Whakapapa if you're on the north island and want hotel, holiday park cabins, or economical motel accommodation.
Or if you’re happy to drive yourself and get a little bit off the beaten track and have an inexpensive holiday, check out Mt Dobson, Ohau and Roundhill.

New Zealand Ski Resorts Statistics

The table below provides a summary of the statistics for some of the ski resorts in New Zealand. For a detailed comparison of mountain statistics  see our NZ resort statistics comparison page. This comparison includes the proportion of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs, and lift ticket prices.

 Resort  Annual
Average
Snowfall (m)

 Vertical
Rise
(m)

Skiable
Terrain
(Hectares)

Elevation
(m)

 Treble Cone
5.5  700  550  1,960
 Coronet Peak
2.0
 462  280  1,649
 Cardrona
2.9  600  400  1,860
 Mt Hutt
4.0
 683  365  2,086
 Remarkables
 3.7  468  385  1,943
 Craigieburn  *  500  400  1,811
 Broken River
 *  420  175  1,820
 Porters
 *  678  285  1,980
 Mt Olympus
 *  450  60  1,880
 Temple Basin
 *  450  320  1,923
 Mt Cheeseman
 *  320  *  1,847
 Hanmer Springs
 1.5  310  52  1,769
 Mt Lyford
 *  450  180  1,750
 Ohau
 *  400  125  1,825
 Round Hill
 2.3  783  550  2,133
 Mt Dobson
 *  430  400  2,030

* Not available or information unreliable

As a general rule, the size of the NZ ski resorts are much smaller than many of the North American ski resorts and are more akin to many of the Japan ski resorts. And as a general rule, the amount of New Zealand ski resort snowfall is less than the ski resorts in Japan and most of the western ski resorts in North America.

Facilities and Infrastructure

The New Zealand ski resorts do not have a wide variety of facilities such as ski hire, ski school, shops or on-mountain dining. Most of the resorts as a maximum only have the choice of one equipment rental shop, one retail shop selling the basics, and one to two cafes or restaurants.

The lift infrastructure varies between resorts. At the most primitive end the club fields have nutcracker ropetows. Many of the ski fields have surface tows, whilst the high profile resorts have some chair lifts, including detachable chairs, and Cardrona has a chondola and Whakapapa a gondola.

New Zealand Snow Quality & Climate

Generally New Zealand powder has a high moisture content considering the proximity of the resorts to the coast. The snow quality can vary substantially. The ski areas don't have any trees for protection and are exposed to windy conditions. Consequently there can be a lot of wind affected and packed snow. Add a little bit of southern hemisphere sun and you can get some horrifically icy (and dangerous) conditions at times. At other times the snow in the South Island can remain in good condition due to the low angle of the sun and short days, and the melt-freeze cycles might not occur until after mid-August. 

To give you a rough idea regarding climate and how it compares to Australia, Mount Ruapehu is the same latitude as Bass Strait. Christchurch is further south than Hobart, whilst the rest of the South Island is a similar latitude to Patagonia. These southern latitudes equate to strong westerly winds and frequent cold fronts. Occasionally the freezing level drops to sea level on the east coast of the South Island, but generally the winter snowline is around 1,200-1,400 metres. There is a lot of rainfall particularly on the west coast of the south island, which falls as snow on the central mountains. Ski areas tend to be on the eastern side of the mountains, sheltered from some of the precipitation but still exposed to the westerly winds.

In the south of the South Island (e.g. around Queenstown), it is somewhat drier than other parts, so there is generally less snowfall but because it’s colder it tends to stay in good condition.

The resorts are incredibly varied in their climate and the wind direction from which most of the snow comes, so one ski field may have a bad season whilst another may get reasonable snowfall.

Lift Tickets

Lift ticket prices in New Zealand range from dirt cheap at the no frills ski fields to very expensive at the well known commercial resorts such as Treble Cone.

It’s possible to get some deals on lift passes or have flexibility to use a pass at multiple ski fields where they’re owned by one company. For example, Whakapapa and Turoa are owned by Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, so joint lift passes are available. NZSki own Mt Hutt, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, and latter two are accessible off a Queenstown Superpass, whilst a 3 Peak Pass gives access to all three ski fields. These ski fields also have restricted access off the Ikon Pass.

A Wanaka pass provides access to both Cardrona and Treble Cone.

Chill offers a Season Pass and a Travel Pass that cover many of the club fields and small commercial fields in the South Island, although the latter doesn’t really provide particularly good value and they have pretty antiquated systems whereby a pass needs to be posted to you.