Ticket to Ride
22 April 2022
Excuse me – but the Southern Alps are calling. Time to pack up my ski bag and go south to Queenstown for a winter adventure among the snow-capped mountains and southern lakes.
I peer out the plane’s oval window, across snow-covered mountains to the shimmering Tasman Sea in the west and down into remote valleys looking for good lines to ski. We fly over Lake Wakatipu and circle around the craggy cliffs of The Remarkables – far below houses line the lakeshore. As we lose altitude ready to land at Queenstown airport, the hills rise up beside us until the aircraft jerks lightly onto the runway, engaging the brakes as we slow to an idle as we cross to the terminal. I inhale that first blast of chilly mountain air and look around to admire the mountain scenery anticipating some great days skiing.
With my bag and skis balanced on a trolley, I wander out of the airport to find Jane Mitchell, a ski buddy who has kindly offered to pick me up. The mountains are dusted in fresh snow and the two Jane’s are amping. As we wind our way up the steep road to The Remarkables for an afternoon skiing I immerse myself in the view down over Queenstown and Lake Hayes. I wasn’t expecting to be whisked up the mountain so quickly, but what can you say when powder runs are on offer.
“Let’s go,” of course.
After a quick change into ski clothes in the carpark we walk up to the award-winning base station at The Remarkables. The large café area on the second floor has stunning mountain views from all sides and a heated wraparound deck with open fires, along with a tasty array of food and drinks. I browse the selection of bakery items, gourmet rolls, salads, sushi – what a choice – or if you’re really hungry, a gourmet steak sandwich, burger from the char-grill or soups and curries.
Excitement is peaking as we pull on our ski boots and go for a warm-up run on Curvey
Basin chair before riding up Shadow Basin lift to check out Homeward run. There has been fresh snow overnight and the sketchy traverse around to Homeward provides a little more excitement than I’d planned for my second run as I focus on the bumpy ski tracks – not looking down the steep slope below. Once we reach the ridge the trail opens out to a large basin with very few tracks. Flying down through the soft snow, what a perfect way to start three weeks in Queenstown.
Visits to Queenstown started six years ago when my youngest son Tai was racing at Coronet Peak and now I return each year for my South Island winter fix. Not only is the scenery in the Southern Alps amazing but the consistent weather in Otago with lots of sunshine results in very few closed mountain days. I have a NZ Ski Season pass which works at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt. The other resorts near Queenstown are Cardrona and Treble Cone at Wanaka; now owned jointly their passes are interchangeable. So with four great ski areas, each offering great on-piste runs, parks and free-ride terrain, what’s not to love?
I stay at the Otago Ski Club’s Joel Lodge, just below the base building at Coronet Peak. From the lodge, I can see across to The Remarkables glowing in the evening light and down to Queenstown on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. The open fire is blazing in the living room and the welcoming lodge is busy with people hungry after a day on the mountain.
Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are the closest ski areas to Queenstown, each offering a different on-snow experience and both excellent for families. Coronet has rolling hills with lots of accessible terrains, with great back bowls along with night skiing on Friday and Saturday nights. International ski race teams come to Coronet Peak to train, enjoying the consistent snow and easy access (20 minutes) to Queenstown. Sightseers can ride the Coronet Express in the new eight-seater gondola cabins to the top of the mountain to see the stunning view down over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and Lake Hayes. The terrain parks at The Remarkables and big mountain riding have an adventure for all ages, along with beginner and intermediate runs. For a breathtaking view over Queenstown take the Shadow Basin lift and hike to the top of the ridge. It is not for the fainthearted, and if you are sightseeing take a hat, gloves, and jacket and wear boots with good grip.
Cardrona is accessed off the Crown Road that snakes up out of the valley just north of Arrow Junction. It is 40 years since Cardrona first opened in 1980 and the ski area has grown into a world-class resort known as a ‘stomping ground for Olympic and X-Games athletes’ who train on the extensive terrain parks and pipes. The wide-open terrain in the big basin offers lots of space and progressive terrain for all levels. There are beginner ‘green’ runs from the top of the mountain and an extensive trail network of intermediate ‘blue’ runs. It is a great ski area for beginners and families – with a special ski learning area for children under five and a fully licensed early-child-care centre. Cardrona offers the only on-mountain resort accommodation with 15 fully serviced apartments, which I am told sell out fast.
In contrast, Treble Cone, accessed around Lake Wanaka and up a steep mountain road, is known as a free-ride mountain with steeps, chutes, cliffs and “the best views in the world over the Matukituki Valley and Lake Wanaka,” said Jen Houltham, Communications Executive for Cardrona Alpine Resort Treble Cone. “It is an incredible place to ski and snowboard.”
Along with the steeps, Treble Cone has 700m of vertical intermediate trail and boasts the longest lift-serviced vertical drop in the Southern Lakes District. I have spent a few fun days exploring the Treble Cone and found some excellent steep runs. The mountain has a loyal fan base of supporters who will not ski/ride anywhere else in New Zealand.
Queenstown is easily accessed by air from around New Zealand with some great prices from the main centres. The different ski areas all offer a range of pass deals – the best is usually a multiday pass for three days or more which reduces the daily lift price. To find out the best deals visit the websites of the various ski areas or phone for information. Seniors’ discounts apply to all the ski areas for the 65-plus, and if you are 75-plus skiing is free.
This is an excellent season to support the Southern Lakes District ski areas as the slopes will be uncrowded with limited international visitors, and there are plenty of accommodation deals on offer in Queenstown, Arrowtown or Wanaka. It is a perfect time to experience southern hospitality, from world-class hotels and luxury lodges to apartments, mid-range guesthouses, motels, backpackers and holiday parks. Pack up your skis or snowboard and head south for an adventure in the Southern Alps.
Story and images supplied by NZToday-RVLifestyle magazine.
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