Learning to Ski in New Zealand – What should I know?
- Beginner Ski Areas
Your new favourite colour is GREEN. That is the colour you are looking for on any mountain maps (aka trail maps). All New Zealand beginner ski areas will be shown as green lines. From green you progress to blue (intermediate) and then black (advanced). Each line represents a ‘run’ or trail. As a learner beware of the black run! There are also various terrain parks you might want to progress to. These are just ‘runs’ with half pipes or other obstacles to jump on or over and some are even setup for beginners and kids. Might not be ready for this on your first day in the snow though!
- Lift Passes
Don’t worry too much about working out which lift pass you need. As a beginner you should be starting with restricted access to the mountains. You should be keeping to those green runs which are usually nice and close to the base building (this is the main ski field building that houses rental equipment, change rooms/toilets, restaurants, bars and management). We recommend buying product options that package up mountain access, gear hire and some lessons. They are often referred to as starter or first timer packs and these usually provide the best value way for learners to get their first taste of the snow. Talk to one of our ski specialists if you want to discuss these sort of learner options for your holiday!
All the ski fields we sell offer individual lessons that you can purchase. These lessons will generally be about 1.5 to 2 hours long and they grade everyone on their ability. Usually first timers in one group, second or third timers in another and this goes on right up to advanced skiers or boarders looking to take the next step with their skills. Talk to one of our ski specialists if you want to lock in extra lessons on your trip!
- Gear / Equipment
Any time this is mentioned it is referring to your skis, boots and poles or a snowboard and boots. You can actually hire various types of gear depending on your skill level but for the beginner, ‘recreational’ or standard equipment will work just nicely. Paying extra for ‘performance’ type equipment just to look good is a serious over investment and may lead to injury!
- Skiing or Snowboarding?
Like most people when they start out, you are probably pondering whether you should ski or board. Whichever one you choose, we suggest you stick with it for the entire trip, rather than switching between them. Give yourself a chance to conquer it! You are going to fall over. You are going to fall over A LOT! The sooner you process that and come to terms with it, the more likely you are to push yourself and master the technicalities of either option! Bruises will be something to boast about to your mates! As for which one to choose, maybe this information can help you decide:
For a first timer (newbie, newbs, beginner), skiing is the easier discipline to pick up with the main difficulty being keeping your skies separate and moving your legs simultaneously. Once you get the hang of starting, stopping, slowing down with a snowplough (Pizza) and straight skies (French fries), you are pretty much ready to conquer the rest of the mountain!
Pros: The biggest pro to skiing is with the chair lifts! Just walk on up to the wait point, squat and sit on the seat and you’re on your way up, just be mindful to not drop your poles through. Another big pro is that if you get stuck on a flat you won’t need to worry about taking your skies off and walking to reach the downhill part again. You can simply use your poles and skate.
Cons: With a piece of equipment for each limb, skiing can get damn messy! When you fall over, be prepared to become a knotted, tangled ball of embarrassment. We’ve all done it. Its why it is so sweet when you master the awkwardness and can actually enjoy the views and the thrills in a vertical position.
Snowboarding will be a bit more awkward at first and will require a bit more time, patience and a few more bruises. Because both your feet are strapped onto a single board you will find standing up and keeping your balance will be quite difficult. The first few things you will learn are: Heel side edging, Toe side edging and shoulder turns. Once you get the hang of these motions you will feel much more natural and be able to start going down the runs.
Pros: Off the slope, walking in snowboard boots is way easier than ski boots. Plus carrying 1 board is heaps less awkward that two skis and two poles. You will also look super cool on Instagram!
Cons: Chair lifts are torture. Persistence pays off! Don’t let it defeat you! Use magic carpets (conveyor belts) where ever you can! If your binding clogs up with ice (which they always do), you will need to sit down (Hello Haemorrhoids) and clear it off. T bar lifts kill between the legs and when you get stuck on a flat there are two choices: take your board off and walk or scoot, which can be a bit tiresome and some would say isn’t worth the pain.
Please note: For the kids starting out, only children 8 years and older can have snowboard lessons. This restriction is in place because children’s muscles are more developed from 8 years allowing them to steer and control the board better. For more Family/children related details and options, please check out our family ski holidays section
Where can I ski in New Zealand?
Unlike Australian ski fields and other resorts around the world, NZ isn’t a ski in and ski out location, meaning you will need to get transport each day to the ski field from your accommodation/nearby town.
You may not realise this, but you can actually ski in the North Island at Mt Ruapehu. You can stay in Whakapapa village, National Park, Ohakune or even in Taupo to try out the Ruapehu skifields. Driving yourself to the ski fields is normal for this mountain as the roads are tar sealed and pretty good really. Car companies generally don’t hire out snow chains in the North Island, but Budget Rentals do if you are concerned. Otherwise if you require them on a particular day you will need to hire through a local supplier. Your accommodation will be able to advise you on the best options if this situation arises. We can recommend some transfer companies that can be booked direct if you are still hesitant.
In the South Island, there are heaps more skifield options. The driving conditions can take time to traverse and can be a bit ‘hairier’ so if you aren’t a confident driver then we would highly recommend mountain transfers!! In the South Island you will need snow chains in your vehicle, if you are driving in Queenstown or to Milford Sound, it is actually a legal requirement to have them on hand!
Roundhill is a bit further South (midway between Christchurch and Queenstown really) and located close to the idyllic lakeside town of Tekapo. It is only 35 mins drive from the township and the drive isn’t too scary! But they do offer transfers at set morning and afternoon times for those in need! Tekapo also has hot pools, snow tubing, ice skating and star gazing so its great for a cruisy family option too.
Near the bottom of the South Island lie the New Zealand ski ‘big guns’ – Wanaka & Queenstown. Wanaka is a little less ‘adrenalin charged’ than Queenstown but still has a fantastic apres ski vibe (that’s the flash way of saying after you have been on the mountain there are plenty of awesome spots to hang out, have a drink and share stories about your snow accomplishments for the day). This region is home to 4 of NZ’s premier ski fields: Treble Cone & Cardrona which are closer to Wanaka, and Coronet Peak & The Remarkables, which are closer to Queenstown.
As a learner you can’t go wrong with any of these fields although it should be noted that Treble Cone probably has slightly less learner facilities than the others. Treble Cone is the South Island’s largest ski area though. So if you take to the snow you can progress to some expansive runs! It is only 30 mins drive from Wanaka CBD, and about 1.5 hours from Queenstown on the quickest route but we can organize transfers from either location for those who want to enjoy the stunning scenery. Cardrona is kind of wedged between Wanaka and Queenstown so really you can stay at either location and ski it on multiple days. It’s 35 mins from Wanaka and approx. 50 mins from Queenstown. This access from Queenstown is on the Crown Range Road (the highest main road in NZ) but on snowy days it can get hairy! So we suggest keeping an eye on the weather. If it’s all clear then drive yourself because it is a stunning drive but if the weather is looking dodgy then transfers are definitely the order of the day! Get in quick though, transfers will sell out!
We probably don’t need to say too much about Queenstown. It is one of NZ’s best known location and quite possibly the adventure capital of the world, full of amazing ways to test your body and mind! So accordingly it is a great place to be able to say you learned to ski there. Coronet Peak is the closest ski field, at just 20 mins drive from Queenstown CBD it is hard to beat for accessibility. The Remarkables are a little further out, 35 mins drive, but still pretty close. Both fields have regular bus transfers available and these can be organized from Queenstown CBD. For a little extra per day, you can be picked up from your accommodation, or at the most a short walk from where you are staying.