Scattered around New Zealand’s Canterbury-Southern Alps region are boutique ski fields, with few queues and uncontested slopes, just waiting to be explored.
There are fresh tracks to be made in terrain suitable for all abilities in these lesser known alpine playgrounds.
Another plus is that, with their geographical location and higher altitudes, come more consistent conditions adding a certain level of dependability to travel and touring plans.
The nearest skiing to Christchurch – the main international gateway to the South Island – is at Porters, offering terrain suitable for skiers and snowboarders from beginner to expert. Remarkable vistas encompass Lake Coleridge and the Southern Alps, and extend across the Canterbury Plains to the city. Here, children aged 10 and under can ski free, and there is a 15% discount to families on lift passes, rentals and lessons. Learners can access a new beginners’ slope directly from the carpark.
Three hours south of Christchurch lies charming Lake Tekapo which is within easy reach of Ohau and the other ski fields of the Mackenzie Basin. Ohau has skiing for all levels, some of the region's best panoramas and, with a double-chair lift and slope grooming, intermediate skiers will enjoy the run from top to bottom of the mountain. For visitors keen to stay close to the mountain, Lake Ohau Lodge has cosy alpine accommodation with a typically Kiwi flavour.
Mt Dobson, which encompasses expansive skiing and snowboarding terrain in dramatic landscapes punctuated with piercingly blue ice-fed lakes, is another Mackenzie Basin ski destination. This owner-operator field has committed to being the friendliest ski area in New Zealand. With regular snowfalls on peaks and wide open slopes, Mount Dobson has good skiing and snowboarding conditions for families, beginners and intermediates. Higher up there is smooth powder to challenge the best skiers and snowboarders. Facilities include a triple chair, platter lift, fix grip, ski and snowboard rental. The ski field is easily accessed by road, and there is a weekend shuttle service from the car park.
Nearby Roundhill is located on the Tekapo side of the Two Thumb mountain range. Groomed trails with plenty of natural dips and curves, back-country virgin snow, the world’s longest and steepest rope tow and Australasia’s biggest vertical drop, make Roundhill a fine alpine playground.
On the remote slopes of Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, heli skiers can carve their lines down untracked slopes that go on forever. Elsewhere on the mountain, ski planes land on New Zealand’s longest glacier, the Tasman Glacier, for guided (up to) 10-kilometre runs, exploring ice caves and canyons along the way. From September, custom-built boats carry passengers across the lake for a close-up on the icebergs created with regular calvings from the glacier face.
Other notable boutique ski areas with gorgeous views and uncrowded slopes within two hours west of Christchurch airport are Broken River, Mt Cheeseman, Craigieburn and Mt Olympus.
Staying in Christchurch makes it possible to intersperse day trips to world-class ski resorts with big-city thrills – shopping, performing arts at the lovingly restored heritage Isaac Theatre Royal, chic suites at the boutique Hotel Montreal or inner-city Ramada, lively nightlife and eateries in Victoria and St Asaph Streets.
Just beyond the city fringe, there are wineries, gardens and mountain bike trails in the Port Hills, plus wind-propelled action aboard Blokarts and battery-driven Driftkarts at Velocity Karts’ purpose-built tracks.
The Mt John research observatory’s night-time tours of the star-studded skies are a highlight of a visit to Lake Tekapo, but it also has an international-sized outdoor ice rink, hot pools and day spa.
At Mount Cook Village, the Hermitage hotel, motel and chalet complex is adjacent to the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, which features a custom-designed 2D and 3D theatre and full-dome digital planetarium. Other unmissable attractions are evening stargazing tours in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and daytime scenic flights by helicopter or ski plane.
Terrace Downs Resort is a one hour drive from Christchurch International Airport and offers luxury accommodation close to a number of Canterbury ski fields. Only a 25 minute drive from the ski village of Methven and the Mt Hutt ski field makes it an ideal place to stay to be close to the action but at the end of the day be able to relax and unwind. Terrace Downs features a championship golf course, on-site spa and a top restaurant.
Holidaymakers with tightly budgeted time can plan ahead and book online to ensure no moments are wasted, while others with more time on their hands can make it up as they go, either basing themselves at a central spot they can easily move around or free-ranging between towns and ski fields. No great distances are involved, the roads are easily navigable and offer spectacular touring.
Wherever you choose to go, you’ll be following in epic Hobbit footsteps as you explore mythical landscapes frosted with winter finery. Just like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, it will be an exhilarating and enchanted journey “there and back again”, with the added benefits of modern-day comfort and up-to-the-minute technology.