As a country with many mountains and a cold winter climate with plenty of snow at higher altitudes, New Zealand offers skiers and snowboarders a lot of fun. Although prices aren’t cheap, many travelers will find that skiing here is more affordable than, say, in the Swiss Alps. Plus, there are fantastic views from many of the ski slopes and neighboring resorts, and most of the skiing takes place above the tree line. Whether you’re an advanced skier or a beginner, if you’re traveling to New Zealand during the ski season (generally from June to October), hitting the slopes is a fun addition to any trip.
Most of New Zealand’s ski resorts are located in the South Island, as the conditions are better there for skiing and snowboarding. But, the largest commercial ski field in the country is actually in the central North Island, on the slopes of an active volcano, Mt. Ruapehu. Note that at many ski areas, there is no on-mountain accommodation, so you'll need to drive yourself there on what are often quite challenging roads.
Here are ten of the best ski resorts in New Zealand that travelers should know about.
The South Island's largest ski resort, Treble Cone near Wanaka, is often voted New Zealand's "best" overall place to ski and snowboard. It receives the most snowfall of any ski resort in the country and pretty reliable weather, with fewer closures than more northern resorts. It's especially suitable for seasoned skiers and snowboarders, as almost half of the terrain here is rated as advanced or expert. The views can't be beat, either—Treble Cone has views across to Mt. Aspiring and Lake Wanaka.
Whakapapa, on the northern slopes of Mount Tongariro in the Tongariro National Park, is the only North Island ski field to make this list. While serious New Zealand skiers tend to prefer the South Island, there are good logistical reasons for why you might want to stick to the North Island. If so, Whakapapa should be your go-to. Plus, it's the biggest ski field in New Zealand, in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and on the highest mountain in the North Island (9,176 feet), so there's a lot here to enjoy. The Happy Valley area is ideal for beginners, making Whakapapa a favorite with families. There are dozens of jumps, trails, and runs for intermediate and advanced skiers, too.
The Remarkables are the mountains you can see from Queenstown, and the ski field is just a half-hour drive from the city. It's a good place for skiers and snowboarders of all levels of experience, and there are excellent facilities at the day lodge, so with its proximity to Queenstown, this is an ideal option for a bit of casual skiing on a more sightseeing-heavy vacation.
Craigieburn Valley isn't a ski resort in the typical sense of the word, as there are few of the facilities that you can expert at many other ski areas in the country. But Craigieburn is a firm favorite with advanced skiers seeking extreme adventures. About 90 minutes northwest of Christchurch, the slopes at Craigieburn are some of the most challenging patrolled terrains in the country, and shouldn't be taken lightly. But if you have adequate experience under your belt, the steep and relatively untouched nature of the trails at Craigieburn could be a highlight of your New Zealand ski trip.
Conveniently located near Wanaka (30 minutes away) and Queenstown (60 minutes away), Cardrona is excellent for families and beginners, while still having enough to interest more experienced skiers. Extra convenient features are the fact that there are some limited accommodation on the mountain itself, plus shuttle bus services to get there from the nearest towns.
A frequent contender for (and winner of) best ski field in New Zealand titles is Mt. Hutt, around 90 minutes from Christchurch near the town of Methven. If you enjoy speed, this is the place to go: the slopes have a substantial vertical drop and a steep pitch, meaning you can get up to some considerable speeds. It's a suitable place for all levels of experience. However, it's often closed due to weather conditions (it can be very windy), so be prepared to settle in for a day or two in Methven.
Hanmer Springs is perhaps better known as a hot spring resort town, but the ski field here is also a real treat. It's privately owned, uncrowded, quite affordable, and a little bit retro (in a good way). It's ideal for intermediate skiers and snowboarders, in a wide alpine bowl area. And after a day on the slopes, a warming soak in a hot spring bath in town might be just what the doctor ordered.
This ski resort at Lake Tekapo might just be the most scenic in New Zealand, with views of the beautiful lake as well as Mt. Cook, the highest mountain in the country. While this used to be quite a small ski area atop a round hill (appropriately enough), an extremely long rope tow was constructed in 2010, ready to take experienced skiers to the longest vertical drop in New Zealand—more than 2,500 feet.
The main area at Mt. Olympus is quite small, and a lot of it is only accessible via a hike. Therefore, it's better suited to skiers than snowboarders. Although parts of the area are suitable for beginners or intermediate skiers, they are quite challenging and not ideal for kids. If you have an adventurous spirit, Mt. Olympus is great for expert skiers. It's about a two-hour drive from Christchurch in the Craigieburn Range.
Another ski resort accessible from both Queenstown and Wanaka, Coronet Peak is one of the most popular resorts in the South Island (which essentially makes it one of the most popular in New Zealand). Beginners are catered to, but intermediates can shine here, with lots of groomed trails of varying pitch. Snow guns provide much of the snow here as the natural snowfall levels are not very high.