When the sun warms up in the Northern Hemisphere, skiers and snowboarders come down to the Southern Hemisphere. The ski season generally runs from late June to September. The country has 13 conventional ski areas; as an added bonus at Mount Cook, you can fly by ski plane or helicopter to the 2,400m (7,900-ft.) head of the Tasman Glacier and ski down the 14km (8 3/4-mile) run. For up-to-the-minute South Island ski details, check out www.nzski.com.
The two major ski fields on the North Island are Whakapapa and Turoa, on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park, now both owned by a single company, Ruapehu Alpine Lifts. Ruapehu, with a simmering crater lake, is an active volcano and extends up some 2,760m (9,050 ft.), making it the North Island's highest peak. It erupted in 1995 and again in 1996, effectively ending all skiing activity for about 2 years. Whakapapa (tel. 07/892-3738; fax 07/892-3732; www.mtruapehu.com) offers challenges for intermediate skiers and snowboarders and has good beginners' packages; for instruction contact Whakapapa Ski & Snowboard School (tel. 07/892-3410). Turoa (tel. 06/385-8456; fax 06/385-8992; firstname.lastname@example.org) has great terrain for all levels of skiing, with good half-pipes for snowboarders, plus good beginning instruction packages for both sports.
On the South Island, Mount Hutt Ski Field (tel. 03/302-8811; fax 03/302-8697; www.nzski.com) is 1 3/4 hours from Christchurch, with a good shuttle service operating from the city. Contact the Mount Hutt Ski School at tel. 03/308-5074 (www.mthutt.co.nz). There are numerous club fields close to Christchurch, especially in the Porters Pass region. You'll find information on some of these fields at www.snow.co.nz, www.dobson.co.nz, www.skiporters.co.nz, www.mtlyford.co.nz, www.mtcheeseman.com, www.brokenriver.co.nz, www.craigieburn.co.nz, www.templebasin.co.nz, www.mtolympus.co.nz, www.foxpeak.co.nz, and www.skihanmer.co.nz.
Coronet Peak (tel. 03/442-4620; www.nzski.com) is 18km (11 miles) from Queenstown with moderate to challenging fields. It's the oldest commercial field in the South Island and has several chairlifts including a six-seater high-speed lift, beginners' facilities, and good variety for experienced skiers. The Remarkables (tel. 03/442-4615), 23km (14 miles) from Queenstown, has more diversity for experienced skiers. It's a smaller field with three chairlifts, one magic carpet, and a beginner handle tow, and is good for middle-ability skiers. It gets the afternoon sun, so it's slightly warmer in winter. There's a lot of heli-skiing on virgin snow in this area and an incredibly steep access road. Cardrona Alpine Resort (tel. 03/443-7411; fax 03/443-8818; www.cardrona.com) is a middle-range field with good family facilities, including new social facilities, but it's a bit tame for experienced skiers. It lies 57km (35 miles) from Queenstown and 33km (20 miles) from Wanaka. Contact Cardrona Development Centre (tel. 03/443-7411; www.cardrona.com) for lessons. Treble Cone (tel. 03/443-7443; fax 03/443-8401; www.treblecone.co.nz) has the newest and biggest express chairlift in the country, which has improved the flow of skiers on the field. It's one of the more challenging fields and has a lot of variety, with very steep areas and narrow valleys. It also has a good base lodge and the best food facilities of all the southern ski areas. There's also heli-skiing in the Harris Mountains. For instruction, contact Treble Cone Ski School (tel. 03/443-7443; www.treblecone.com).
Lift ticket prices in New Zealand range from NZ$95 to NZ$120; ski, boot, and pole rentals run from NZ$40 to NZ$60; and lessons are from NZ$110 for a half-day group class. Costs are lower for children and all ski fields offer a range of day and multiday passes, plus online specials.
For cross-country skiing, head for Snow Farm, located in the Pisa Range, near Wanaka (tel. 03/443-0300; fax 03/443-9717; www.snowfarmnz.com), which is the only Nordic ski field of its kind in New Zealand. The area has ideal terrain for first-time cross-country skiers as well as good conditions for advanced skiers.
Ski Packages & Outfitters -- In winter, you'll always find good ski deals from the three major cities - Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch - that usually include cheap transport, accommodations, and a specified number of ski days. Check with the visitor centers in each city for the latest ski-package brochures.
Check out the highly recommended Snowco (www.snowco.co.nz), which features online ski and snowboarding packages, and Ski New Zealand Online (www.ski-newzealand.co.nz), which offers numerous ski package holidays at reasonable prices. The NZ Super Pass can be used at any time on any of the following South Island ski fields: Treble Cone, Mount Dobson, Mount Lyford, Ohau, Broken River, Mount Olympus, Craigieburn, and Temple Basin, or you can choose a day's skiing or snowboarding at Coronet Peak, the Remarkables, or Mount Hutt. You can also swap a day on the mountains with one of a huge range of other activities, including heli-skiing, ballooning, jet-boating, and many more. Coupons for the NZ Super Pass start from around NZ$275 for a 3-day pass. For information, contact Coronet Peak (tel. 03/450-1970; www.nzski.com or www.nzsuperpass.com).
For heli-skiing in the Queenstown area, contact HeliSki (tel. 03/442-7733; fax 03/442-3299; www.flynz.co.nz). Members of the Gardner family are all expert skiers, with one or two pilots among them, too. They have access to some of the most fantastic heli-ski terrain in New Zealand. Another contact is Harris Mountain Heli-Skiing (tel. 03/442-6722; fax 03/442-2983; www.heliski.co.nz).
For more information on New Zealand skiing, check out the New Zealand Snowsports Council (tel. 04/977-1144; www.gosnow.co.nz), Snow Sport New Zealand (tel. 03/443-4085; www.snowsports.co.nz), or the websites www.goski.com and www.onthesnow.com.
Treble Cone is "home to some of the best gully runs in New Zealand, which form into awesome quarter pipes, hips, and spines." So says one of the experts on www.boardtheworld.com, who rates Treble Cone eighth in the world for freeriding. Treble Cone is rated the top freeriding resort in Australasia and is best for experienced boarders. It has an active training program.
Cardona is better for beginner and intermediate boarders. It has undulating terrain, lots of gullies, and four half-pipes, and it offers a whole heap of support for snowboarders in general. It also has half-pipe camps throughout the season for all levels. Coronet Peak has lots of long groomed runs to tabletops, with quarter-pipes, kickers, and rollers. It's essentially a tourist field and is more expensive. The Remarkables offers pretty ho-hum snowboarding on the field itself, but the out-of-bounds territory offers extreme boarding for the daring. There's good stuff up in the backcountry if you're prepared to hike. Generally, though, the Remarkables is not a destination of choice for boarders.
Farther north, there's good snowboarding at Temple Basin Ski Area, in Arthur's Pass (tel. 03/377-7788), and at Turoa Ski Resort, in Tongariro National Park (tel. 06/385-8456).
Snowboarding Deals & Tours -- New Zealand Surf 'n' Snow Tours (tel. 09/828-0426; www.newzealandsnowtours.co.nz) has a wide range of North and South Island snowboard packages. Mount Aspiring Guides, in Wanaka (tel. 03/443-9422; fax 03/443-9540; www.aspiringguides.com), offers a 5-day snowboarding tour in alpine wilderness areas, but snowboarders must be set up for backcountry travel. This is boarding in untracked areas, and you'll need an adventurous spirit, lots of experience, and the proper gear. Accommodations are in high mountain huts. (You get flown in.) This little venture will cost you in the vicinity of NZ$2,250 per person.