When you’re learning to ski or snowboard, choosing the right destination is crucial. Those first few days on the slopes can either inspire a lifelong passion for the sport or relegate it to one of those activities you tried once but never really clicked with.
New Zealand has been a perennial favourite for novice Aussie skiers and it’s easy to see why – not only is there a wide variety of learner-friendly terrain, but every year the country’s ski fields deliver fantastic snow, remarkable scenery and a genuinely warm Kiwi welcome. Of all New Zealand’s ski areas, Canterbury is arguably the best equipped to deliver a stellar experience for beginners. Here’s why:
No one wants to start their first day on the slopes staring down a double black diamond run. Gentle gradients and lots of space are essential and Canterbury’s ski fields deliver these in spades. Mt Hutt is the obvious choice thanks to its fully enclosed novice area, complete with a 140-metre-long magic carpet lift for easy access to the slopes. Twenty-five per cent of the resort’s runs are for beginners and there’s plenty of enticing intermediate terrain for when you start to progress. Porters is another great option with a learner’s slope accessible from the car park plus a convenient carpet lift and gorgeous vistas of Lake Coleridge. Head south towards Lake Tekapo and you’ll find two more beginner-friendly resorts – Roundhill and Mt Dobson, both of which have large learner areas, inviting groomed trails and mesmerising views of the majestic Southern Alps. See www.christchurchnz.com www.methvenmthutt.co.nz www.terracedowns.co.nz
When you’re trying a sport for the first time, cost is a big factor. A survey conducted last year by Trivago.com.au revealed that New Zealand snow accommodation is on average 80 per cent cheaper than in Australia. Day passes are more affordable and kids aged 10 years and under ski for free at Mt Hutt and Porters. Package deals offer particularly good value – Flight Centre currently has one for Mt Hutt including seven nights’ accommodation (pay for five nights), seven days’ car hire and a five-day lift pass, all for $909 per person. See www.flightcentre.com.au/accommodation/mount-hutt/4124617
Both Mount Hutt and Porters are less than two hours’ drive from Christchurch Airport so you can either stay in Christchurch and make day-trips to the slopes or base yourself nearby and drive up each day. The quirky town of Methven is a great option – a laidback Kiwi country town with atmospheric pubs and restaurants and only a 35-minute drive to Mt Hutt. See www.methvenmthutt.co.nz
When you’re making your first tentative runs, the last thing you want are hundreds of other skiers around. Mt Hutt is the largest ski field in Canterbury with 365 hectares of terrain including sweeping groomed trails and wide open bowls so there’s plenty of space for everyone. It’s also the first resort in the region to open each winter (normally around early June) and snow guns keep it running until mid-October. Spring skiing is especially appealing as the mountain is quiet and the weather is sunny, crisp and clear. If you’re bringing the family, there’s normally a week when the New Zealand and Australian school holidays don’t overlap, which means quieter slopes and happier little ones.
While it’s tempting just to get out there and give it a go, investing in lessons will make a huge difference to your overall experience and the rate at which you improve. Mt Hutt has one of the best ski schools in the country with affordable packages that include lift passes, group lessons and equipment hire. Porters, Roundhill and Mt Dobson also employ internationally qualified instructors who run group sessions and offer customised private lessons for more personalised tuition. See www.nzski.com www.skiporters.co.nz www.roundhill.co.nz www.mtdobson.co.nz
As a learner, you’re unlikely to have the newest goggles, the flashest board and this season’s must-have ski attire. The good news is that in New Zealand it doesn’t matter. Unlike some European and American resorts, people come here to ski and have fun, not to pose for the paparazzi in designer labels. Expect a laidback atmosphere and warm welcome whatever you’re wearing.
Whatever your budget, you’ll find accommodation ranging from motels to hotels to luxury lodges. If you stay in Christchurch there are dozens of options, from luxury boutique properties like The George to big-name chains such as Novotel and Ibis. Methven is the best choice given its proximity to Mt Hutt and it boasts a wide variety of properties and a lively apres-ski scene. Looking for somewhere quieter? Check out Terrace Downs, an upscale resort with a stunning 18-hole championship golf course and lavish onsite spa. If you’re heading to Roundhill or Mt Dobson, Lake Tekapo makes an ideal base, with heaps of accommodation and stunning vistas of the sapphire blue lake and surrounding snow-capped mountains. See www.christchurchnz.com www.methvenmthutt.co.nz www.terracedowns.co.nz
Learning to ski or snowboard can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Give your legs a day-off and check out some of the region’s other must-do winter activities. Need an adrenalin fix? Take a thrilling jet boat ride through the spectacular Rakaia Gorge with Discovery Jet or go hiking on a pristine glacier with Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters. For something more relaxing, slip into a soothing hot pool at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa or Tekapo Springs. From mouth-watering wine and food to whale watching to golf, there’s plenty to keep you occupied while you’re having a break from the slopes. See www.discoveryjet.co.nz www.mtcookskiplanes.com www.hanmersprings.co.nz www.tekaposprings.co.nz