Snow-Go Zone - NZ Skiing Highlights
by guest blogger, Fergus Blakiston
Some like to fly, Some like to sail... I like the downhill stuff.
- John Denver, Downhill Stuff
Inland from Christchurch, the Southern Alps rise from the western edge of the Canterbury Plains like a long, hazy row of blue pavilions.
Riven by the valleys of steep, braided rivers, whose headwaters are fed by hidden glaciers, the Southern Alps stretch the entire length of the South Island.
During the hot summer months, nor’west winds howl out of the mountains to scorch the plains. Merino sheep graze the high basins and climbers prowl the rocky tops.
But in winter, after the brief, colourful peace of autumn, the mountains take on a new face.
Storms bring snow to the Southern Alps. It fills the big basins, smooths out the steep gullies, and softens and rounds the hills. And as the snow covers the hills, ski-fields down the length of the island prepare for winter fun.
Canterbury has more ski-fields than any other province in New Zealand. From Christchurch, skiers and snowboarders have easy access to six fields, ranging from big commercial fields to small, friendly club fields.
The local club fields offer a unique opportunity to ski or snowboard in some spectacular places where crowds are unknown.
So, if you are looking for some downhill stuff this winter, here is a selection of some of the ski-fields you can easily reach from Christchurch.
With four chairlifts accessing 365 hectares of skiable terrain, this is Canterbury’s premier ski-field.
Overlooking the patchwork Canterbury Plains, a ninety-minute drive west of Christchurch, Mount Hutt is popular with both package tourists and with local families looking for a fun day out in the snow.
There are three free-style terrain parks where skiers and boarders can get some big air or hone their repertoire of tricks.
With 850 carpark spaces, two restaurants, a cafe, spa pool, ski and snowboard schools, and gear rentals, Mount Hutt has everything you need for a day out on the slopes. Lift passes start at $NZ119 per day for adults. Kids under ten can ski or snowboard for free.
The field can be crowded on weekends and during school holidays so try to ski during the week to avoid the crowds. For a really gnarly day out, you can easily go for a surf at one of Christchurch’s beaches in the morning, then ski or snowboard at Mt Hutt in the afternoon.
For more information and to buy lift passes, go to www.mthutt.co.nz
Located just eighty-nine kilometres from Christchurch, Porters is a small, friendly field popular with families.
Snow-making equipment, installed on the lower sections of the field, augments the natural snow which falls on the field and surrounding ranges, which lie on the outer edge of the Southern Alps.
The field’s six lifts (4-seat chairlift, three T-bar lifts, an intermediate platter lift and a beginner’s carpet lift) service plenty of easy runs for beginners, and some long, cruisey intermediate runs.
Porters also has a couple of gnarly advanced runs - such as the massive Big Mamma face and the intense (and well-named) Don’t Miss - to test your courage and abilities.
With on-field ski and snowboard rentals, a fully-licensed café serving food, barista coffee, cold beers and warm-up hot chocolate, Porters has all you need for a complete day out, yet is usually uncrowded, especially during the week.
The Community Terrain Park is perfect for honing your freestyle repertoire and perfecting that killer new trick you’ve been working on over the summer.
Lift passes start at $NZ79 (weekday).
A 40-bed lodge with bunk-style accommodation is located ten minutes from the field. Check out www.skiporters.co.nz for more information.
With its steep chutes, wide valleys and endless backcountry terrain, Cragieburn Valley Ski Area offers Intermediate and Advanced skiers and snowboarders a unique big mountain experience. Straddling two long ridges, Cragieburn is often rated New Zealand’s best off-piste field.
Three high capacity rope tows provide access to the main runs. From here, skiers and boarders can discover their own routes and chutes.
Ski- and snowboard-touring options in the back country around the ski area are many and varied. Your group can set off in the morning and not see another soul all day.
The field’s two lodges, nestled amongst native beech forest, offer backpacker-style accommodation with bunk-rooms and a few private rooms. The accommodation is located just a few minutes from the lifts and you can ski up to the door of your hostel and be in the bar yarning about your day of downhill action before the day trippers are even off the mountain. Visit the club’s website, www.craigieburn.co.nz , for more details.
Located one and a half hours drive from Christchurch, the Broken River ski-field was established in 1952 by the not-for-profit Broken River Ski Club.
The club’s 400-odd members work tirelessly to maintain and run the ski field which offers 175 hectares of terrain.
Although around half of the field’s runs are classed as Intermediate, Broken River nevertheless is a great place for parents to introduce their kids to skiing or
snowboarding in a relaxed, uncrowded environment. The snow is one hundred percent natural and the runs are all accessed by electric rope tows. The field offers regular night skiing and has three lodges on-site.
A unique feature of Broken River is the Tyndall Tramway, a tiny alpine cable railway (similar to Wellington’s Cable Car although on a far smaller scale) which takes skiers and boarders on a four-minute ride up through native forest from the carpark to the ticket office.
Children under eleven and people over seventy can ski or snowboard for free. The club’s website has more details about the ski area and features an informative video chronicling the early days of the club.
Established in 1929, this is the closest club field to Christchurch. Located just down the road from Castle Hill Village (where you will find lots of accommodation and food options), Cheeseman’s two T-bar lifts and Learner’s rope tow provide access to the field’s groomed runs and off-piste trails which cater for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities.
From the Snowline Lodge, at 1540 metres, the lifts take you up the sunny slopes to the ridge running down from the 1874 metre summit of Mt Cockayne.
From here, you can choose one of the Intermediate runs down into the heart of the basin or take one of the tougher Advanced runs – such as Elephant Holes or Far Out – which follow the topography of the mountain’s ridges.
Beyond Mt Cockayne lies the summit of Mt Cheeseman itself. The high basins and sweeping ridges of the mountain provide a myriad of opportunities to ski or snowboard untracked, virgin powder snow. Some of the runs curve back to the lower regions of the ski-field; others entail a hike back uphill to the patrolled area.
After a day of full-on shredding, the field’s two lodges offer catered or un-catered accommodation and an opportunity to relive the day’s adventures with like-minded people. Visit Mt Cheeseman’s website www.mtcheeseman.co.nz for more information.
Hidden away deep in the Southern Alps on the road to Arthur’s Pass, Mt. Olympus lives up to it’s epic name.
Established in 1952 by the Windwhistle Winter Sports Club (great name!) this club field offers great skiing and boarding for people looking for a uniquely Kiwi “number 8 wire” experience.
The field’s four, high-capacity rope tows access 60 hectares of patrolled terrain, terminating at an altitude of 1880m, high up under the spiky summits of Mt Olympus and The Sphinx.
With runs like Molly’s Bump, Demolition and Frozen Waves, you can really test out your skills and courage. Beyond the patrolled terrain, endless basins of virgin powder will tempt you to venture deeper and deeper into the hills.
A specialty of Mt Olympus is the Ski Week. You stay on the mountain in one of the lodges, venturing out every day to test your skills in the “playground of the Gods.”
Ski Weeks run throughout the season and have names like Dogtucker’s Week (for older people), School Bunker’s Week (for families), Uni Break Week, and Deep Powder Week. Check out the field’s cool website www.mtolympus.co.nz for more details.
Hone your skills this season on Canterbury snow
In the blue pavilions of the Southern Alps, skiers and snowboarders can have endless adventures on pristine snow.
Whether you prefer the full facilities of a big commercial ski-field or the laid-back, do-it-yourself fun of a small club field, you will be able to find what you are looking for in the Canterbury hills.
So, if you are in Christchurch this winter, go and experience some of Canterbury’s downhill stuff. Bring your surfboard as well. You never know...