Where to ski in New Zealand this winter

Glenn Cullen

After significant snowfalls enabled the early opening of The Remarkables, Mt Hutt and Mt Ruapehu, the land of the long white mountain range is calling skiers and snowboarders.

But with the local hills in NSW and Victoria about to get pounded by up to a metre of snow through until Monday, the question is do you head across the ditch or stay at home?

With good early conditions now expected on both sides of the Tasman, the answer really lies in what you want to get out of your snow holiday.

It's easy to be blown away by the sheer beauty of places like Wanaka on NZ's South Island and its mountains that rise savagely off the valley floor like layers of sharks teeth.

About an hour away, Queenstown needs little introduction and unquestionably has the best apres scene in the southern hemisphere.

Generally speaking the terrain in NZ is more expansive and interesting than in Australia; there are better prospects of low-lying snow and there is chance to earn, even if it is just a little right now, on the Kiwi dollar.

There is, however, a flipside.

A dearth of on-mountain accommodation, some access roads scarier than Peter Jackson in a thong, snow conditions that aren't always better than Australia and facilities not at the same level as the better international resorts.

They're things to think about but with the great variety of resorts across both islands and a 1001 things to do off the slopes, few people are likely to leave a New Zealand winter holiday disappointed.

The major players:

Mt Hutt, Canterbury region

The lowdown: About an hour and half drive from Christchurch, the feeder town is the quaint but quiet Methven, 30 minutes down the road from the resort base. There's generally more snow here than further south and also more riding than initially meets the eye. With a perfect beginner/intermediate/advanced terrain split, there really are choices for everyone. The latter two get the best deal though, with long, cruisy options from the top of the six-seater to the bottom of the triple and the often cold-packed snow in the steep south faces. Can be prone to closures because of high winds.

Web: www.mthutt.co.nz

Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, Queenstown

The lowdown: The launching pad for many an Aussie's first trans-Tasman trip, Coronet is a neat, if small, place to find your feet. It's a comfy 20-minute drive from Queenstown on a sealed road - so you've already had a victory of sorts right there. Snowmaking helps the sometimes limited offerings from the heavens. Offers night skiing, good pisted runs for intermediates and, under the right conditions, some short but spicy terrain in the back bowls. The Remarkables is higher up and is the place to go when conditions are more marginal. A great terrain park and good hiking opportunities make it underrated but it can feel like there are few decent options here when it's icy.

Web:www.coronetpeak.co.nz; www.theremarkables.co.nz

Treble Cone, Wanaka region

The lowdown: Big and burly, TC is no place for beginners and shouldn't make any apologies for that. The Saddle Basin and Mototapu Chutes offer some of the best skiing and boarding in the country on a powder day and the 700-metre vertical drop is impressive. Like all NZ resorts, it has no tree skiing/boarding, which limits your options when it is snowing heavily.

Web: www.treblecone.com

Cardrona, Wanaka region

The lowdown: Like Falls Creek to Mt Hotham, Cardrona plays the more approachable little brother to the gnarlier Treble Cone. One of the better access roads in NZ takes you to a neat resort that is small on vertical (390m), but big on facilities, customer service and ensuring beginners and intermediates receive a great experience. Extensive terrain parks and halfpipes are the best in the country. Some limited on-mountain accommodation is on offer, but it's no great strain to base yourself in Wanaka, perhaps the most beautiful town in NZ. A visit to the historic Cardrona Pub at the bottom of the hill is a must.

What's new:

Web: www.cardrona.com

Mt Ruapehu, Central North Island

The lowdown: The mighty volcano that is Mt Ruapehu is centred about four hours from both Auckland and Wellington. Supporting two ski areas of Turoa and Whakapapa (under the one pass but not linked), it is arguably the best single mountain for riding in NZ, with a big vertical (722m), interesting natural terrain features, and plenty to keep intermediates and beginners occupied. Accommodation is divided between the quieter national park and Ohakune (both off mountain). It's very unpredictable weather-wise though and is usually a better option from September onwards with more stable conditions.

Web: www.mtruapehu.com

Best of the rest

New Zealand's club fields are basic, but a blast for the adventurous. Craigieburn (www.craigieburn.co.nz) is probably the pick. Check out www.chillout.co.nz for a list of all resorts and pass options.

Another mention must go to Porters (www.skiporters.co.nz) just out of Christchurch, which is fun when the snowpack is good.

And if a little offpiste action and fine dining is your thing, check out Soho Basin (www.sohobasin.com) near Cardrona. There you can do a full day's riding on untrammelled snow with as few as 24 guests, all accessed by an oversnow vehicle and with an amazing lunch.