Should You Spend the New Zealand Ski Season in the North Island or the South Island?
Do you choose rolling majestic mountain ranges or striking volcanoes? Do you choose party towns or intimate club field experiences? Do you go for quicker winter starts or late spring ski? There are a few things to consider when deciding whether to do a New Zealand ski season in the North Island or the South Island. We’ll go through some of the main points to help you out.
The South Island has a huge offering of ski fields from the most popular in Queenstown to the hidden gems of Canterbury. On the other hand, the North Island holds two of New Zealand’s largest ski fields surely giving you more bang for your buck. Over the year, ski fields across New Zealand have been upgrading their chairlifts and snowmaking facilities, while other ski fields are close to more job and social opportunities, so you may want to take these into consideration too.
So get clued up on the 24 Ski Fields in New Zealand and continue reading to see where you should spend a ski season in New Zealand: North Island or South Island?
The Ski Fields in New Zealand
New Zealand has 24 ski fields made up of club fields and commercial fields. You can read up more about them in:
5 Reasons to Love the Ski Season in the North Island
- Ski down volcanoes: Whakapapa, Turoa and Tukino are all situated on Mt Ruapehu, New Zealand’s largest volcano. You can find Manganui on the volcanic Mt Taranaki. Snow-covered volcanoes are certainly a stunning sight in winter.
- Mt Ruapehu has the two largest ski areas in New Zealand: Whakapapa and Turoa (and one lift pass gets you to both of them).
- Turoa has the highest lifted point in New Zealand.
- Get that classic Kiwi club field experience at Manganui and Tukino.
- Free bus shuttle services from National Park and Whakapapa Village.
5 Reasons to Love the Ski Season in the South Island
- Ski in the majestic Southern Alps. Most South Island ski fields lie on the mountain ranges of the central South Island providing sheltered skiing and more consistent weather conditions.
- The South Island has far more ski fields than the North Island. Choose from 20 ski and club fields in the South Island compared to the North Island’s four.
- There are more places to party in the South Island with Queenstown, Wanaka and Methven being the main service towns to these ski fields.
- Wide variety of adventurous club fields and ski fields.
- More of the trails are open for longer.
Ski Field Infrastructure
Yep, in New Zealand, you don’t even need real snow to go skiing. The beginning of the winter season in New Zealand usually needs a kickstart from the snowmaking facilities. If you’re keen to get onto the slopes early on in the season, then you may want to consider one of the New Zealand ski fields with snowmaking facilities, such as:
- Whakapapa (North Island) – Has an all-weather snow factory which can make snow in up to 25 degrees Celsius in their beginners’ area, as well as snowmaking across the lower mountain.
- Turoa (North Island) – Snowmaking in the lower mountain
- Mt Hutt (South Island) – Snowmaking on the lower and upper mountain
- Roundhill (South Island) – Snowmaking in beginners area, main trails and terrain park
- Porters (South Island) – Snowmaking on the lower mountain
- Coronet Peak (South Island) – Snowmaking on most main trails
- The Remarkables (South Island) – Snowmaking in beginners area, some main trails and terrain park
- Treble Cone (South Island) – Snowmaking on some main trails in the lower mountain
- Rainbow (South Island) – Snowmaking on some main trails
Ski Field Lift Systems
While the “bigger” ski fields have chairlifts, others will have lift systems you have never even heard of. If you’re looking for a fast and efficient way to get up the mountain, stick to the larger ski fields like Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt in the South Island with around three to five chairlifts each. Treble Cone is well-serviced with chairlifts also, and its neighbour, Cardrona, is the first ski field in New Zealand with a gondola. As for their North Island counterparts, Whakapapa and Turoa are half serviced by quad or six-seater chairlifts and half serviced by T-bars.
The rest of New Zealand’s ski fields’ lifts are more old school with T-bars, magic carpets and nutcracker tows, which might take a few goes to get used to, but they still get you up to where you need to go. As the South Island club field, Craigieburn, proudly states on their website: “you will not find any chairlifts, gondolas, grooming, snow-making, golf courses, day spas or fine dining here. What we do offer is a friendly club atmosphere and an environmentally responsible approach to skiing and snowboarding.”
Job Opportunities, Nightlife and Proximity to Services
A ski season in New Zealand is not cheap, so working holidaymakers might want to consider working during the ski season to fund their hobby. There are opportunities to work on the ski fields themselves which comes with a whole bunch of perks including free season passes, transport to the mountain, uniform, etc. For more information on that, check out What’s the Right New Zealand Ski Field Job for You.
Alternatively, job opportunities may exist in the towns close to the ski fields. Hospitality jobs boom during the winter season in the more popular towns of Queenstown (near The Remarkables and Coronet Peak in the South Island), Wanaka (near Treble Cone and Cardrona in the South Island), Methven (near Mt Hutt in the South Island) and Ohakune (near Turoa in the North Island). These are also the towns with the most thriving nightlife, Queenstown most famously being the apres-ski mecca of New Zealand.
As for other ski fields in New Zealand, the nearest towns or villages to them are often small with limited services. Expect the odd convenience store and a local pub in these areas.
Length of the Ski Season in the North Island and South Island
Time is everything. The New Zealand ski season tends to be from June to late September with a few variations between ski fields. Bear in mind that when a ski season starts, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all the runs are open. Likewise, at the end of the season, expect limited lower mountain trails in some areas.
The earliest ski fields to open are Coronet Peak, Cardrona and Mt Hutt in the South Island and Whakapapa and Turoa in the North Island usually opening in the first couple of weeks in June (and helped by their snowmaking facilities). The Remarkables (South Island) will usually come a week later than the rest of the club fields, relying on nature’s snow, start opening between the end of July and early August.
Ski fields start to close around late September. The latest ski field in the South Island to close is Cardrona, usually closing around mid-October, while the North Island’s Whakapapa tends to stay open between mid and late October thanks to generally receiving more annual snowfall.
Heli-skiing in New Zealand
For mountains all to yourself, fresh snow and a real adrenaline adventure, try heli-skiing in New Zealand. When it comes to which island to pick for heli-skiing in New Zealand, it’s a no-brainer.
The South Island has a wealth of heli-ski operators working out of Queenstown, Wanaka, Hanmer Springs, Methven and Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers. Finally, you can even take a ski plane out of Aoraki Mt Cook to ski down the Tasman Glacier.