Since early this year, Mother Nature has been dropping hints that 2018 is likely to be a rewarding season for New Zealand winter sports. After generous dumps of snow in February and April, climate models are suggesting favourable conditions after the nation's alpine resorts begin to open from early June. Numerous enhancements made to skifield facilities over the southern summer will also please snow enthusiasts.
Mount Ruapehu invests in the best
Early snowfall has created an air of anticipation at the North Island's winter playground of Mount Ruapehu, whose two world-class commercial fields at Whakapapa and Tūroa include New Zealand's largest ski area and Happy Valley Snow Park, the nation's premier beginner ski and snowboard facility.
As part of a $100-million investment, Happy Valley has been revamped to provide a fully self-contained learner's area completely separated from other skiers and boarders. With its own café, carpark elevators, carpet lifts and chairlift, it's set to impress the first pint-sized patrons who step on to its long, gentle slope on June 2.
Ruapehu's commitment to superlative snow experiences continues with investments in state-of-the-art snowmaking technology, and the big buzz on the mountain surrounds a new $25m gondola system due to be installed for the 2019 ski season.
Canterbury skifields come to the fore
For the third consecutive year since 2015, the mid-Canterbury skifield of Mt Hutt, 90 minutes' drive west of the South Island gateway city of Christchurch, has been voted New Zealand’s best ski resort at the World Ski Awards. Enhancements over the summer have included a renovation of the popular Sky High Café, improvements to on-mountain transport and carparking and further investments in snowmaking.
There have been numerous enhancements too at the string of small private and club-owned skifields extending from the Nelson Lakes district in the northern South Island to South Canterbury. Ski areas like Rainbow, Mount Cheeseman, Temple Basin and Broken River have fewer bells and whistles than large commercial fields but they are gaining a growing reputation among intermediate and advanced skiers for excellent terrain and high quality snow. Chill Travel Passes provide access to 13 ski areas as well as the Craigieburn Haute Route, a four-day guided small-group ski tour across mountain peaks.
Queenstown and Wanaka look ahead
While they attract intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders from around the world, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak fields near Queenstown cater equally well for the skiers of the future. The Remarkables recently extended its learner terrain by 70 percent and added a new 160m carpet conveyor. At Coronet Peak, the children’s slope for its Skiwiland ski school has been completely reconfigured to enhance the first steps experience. Other investments at both fields include ongoing development of snowmaking infrastructure and roading and transport.
Fifty years ago a group of skiers, entrepreneurs and mountain experts set out to create a real New Zealand snow experience and today "Coneheads", as the loyal fans of Treble Cone ski area near Wanaka are known, have much to celebrate. New this season is a free mountain shuttle service from the base of the access road, a substantial investment in top-quality rental skis and snowboards, and additional grooming machinery.
At Cardrona, where elite international and New Zealand teams train and compete to World Cup level when the public season closes each year, the field's iconic "toy town" base area has undergone a full summer refit and gained a new colour scheme. Cardona continues to make a significant investment in snowmaking technologies and is using the coming winter to trial a range of new systems to continue to provide a consistent ski season.
Skiing on your stomach
In keeping with their reputation for delivering the southern hemisphere's best winter sports experiences, New Zealand skifields are right in step with international customer expectations. More personalised and tailored experiences including small-group lessons, one-on-one instruction and fully guided non-ski activities are being added to resorts' offerings along with expanded seasonal hours and more twilight and night skiing complete with events featuring DJs and bands.
Food and beverage offerings play an integral role and for 2018 they've being fine-tuned with streamlined barista and grab-and-go snack stations, on-mountain evening dining and even purpose-built barbecues on trails. Picture this: the skifield lit up, the base building serving hot pizzas and mulled wine, deck braziers burning and DJs spinning tunes: it can easily be part of your 2018 New Zealand snow experience.