New Zealand: The home of the summer ski adventure.
We’ve all been there, the long Northern Hemisphere winter comes to a close and that excitement peaks when thinking about those summer evenings riding bikes and drinking beer.
But then something strange happens to the children of winter, the hot, sticky nights become uncomfortable and as the hunt for the shade begins our mind starts dreaming about powder turns and frosty mountain summits.
The internet search for summer ski trips begins and up steps New Zealand, the home of the adventurous spirit. If you're gonna go for a summer ski trip then you may as well go all out and fly to the other side of the world right?……..right?!
The snow isn’t the deepest, the mountains aren’t the highest and the ski lift system might as well be an uplifting tractor, but there’s something about this country that puts it near the top of any true skiers hit list.
It’s a place that has skiing and adventure coursing through the veins of the people and they take great pride in reminding us that its being part of a community that raises the stoke level, not just a waist deep pow day.
So what makes NZ a summer ski trip must? Here’s a run down on maximising time in this stunning country.
The country is set out to be enjoyed by car and with friends so its key to grab a rental car to make the most of the mountains here. The South Island has the Otago and Canterbury regions that form the basis of most ski areas and its a 6 hour drive to connect to two, so packing ski gear into a tiny Toyota Yaris will become a skill.
Queenstown and Wanaka are two meccas of outdoor sports will be the first port of call. Wanaka has a relaxed, small town vibe whilst Queenstown has a more vibrant European party town scene but both are spectacular in their own rights.
Wanaka has two leading ski areas. Cardrona has developed over the years into becoming the top freestyle destination in the Southern Hemisphere with a world cup pipe and park that play host to many top level events.
Treble Cone is the other and often needs no introduction, its reputation as a breeding ground for the worlds top freeriders has put this ski area into the realms of the ski gods. For years it was a locally funded area that managed to retain the charm of ski resorts from yesteryear. Broken down chairlifts were frequent, a choice of pie or pie for lunch and an access road that would test the hardiest of rally driver all add to its appeal. When mother nature dumps that white gold though, it is ON. Most of the terrain is open faces with a ski anywhere attitude, big ass cliffs are scattered everywhere as if daring you to huck your meat and a ski culture that is so friendly and welcoming it leads to chairlift strangers becoming the best of ski buddies.
Queenstown has the Remarkables area, which lives up to its name. It’s a perfect blend of Cardrona’s Alpine fun and Treble Cones ruggedness along with some of the regions easiest accessed backcountry terrain….it’s the closets thing to a European resort.
The real uniqueness of NZ lies near Christchurch at the Canterbury club fields. Take those luxury, prestigious ski resorts that look like something out of a Disney movie and throw them out of the window, these ‘clubbies’ are lean, mean extreme skiing machines.
Imagine the wildest, steepest mountains, a ‘ski lift system’ that is a just cable flying round at breakneck speed that you attach yourself to via a belt and it’s accessed by a dirt road that looks like Elma Fudd has haphazardly blasted it out of rock . They say it’s not about the destination it’s the journey but with these unique areas the destination and journey blur into one to create an experience unlike any other.
They are about as pure as skiing can get, and the atmosphere reflects this. There’s no points for fashion, it’s about experiencing the mountains in their natural form. There are many club fields and each has its own cult like followings, but Mt Olympus, known as a freeride mecca, is one of the truly special ones thanks to its endless backcountry terrain and a loose reputation. There’s steep faces, Alaskan style spines and a wild ski culture that harks back to skiings craziest era. It’s a place where living in the moment is easily achieved by enjoying a ‘Double Brown’ beer with strangers in the lodge at the end of the day or chat to patrol about where tomorrows white gold is to be found.
New Zealand has a short winter with variable snow and conditions so expect to experience every type of weather in a short amount of time. August tends to offer the most reliable conditions with spring touring being at its absolute peak towards the middle of September. There’s a spring snow type here known as ‘NZ corn’ and its creamy, smooth texture is often up there with some of the best pow turns.
There are not many places left like NZ. The attitude of locals bring around a whole new love of snow sports. When most won’t get out of bed unless its snowed 20cm the night before, you’ll find NZ skiers and snowboarders up at the crack of dawn whooping and hollering after a sprinkling of a few cm’s. It honestly reminds us why we play in the mountains and it needs to be celebrated.