Over the past 20 years Cardrona has carved out a unique niche as THE #1 place for park & pipe downunder, where you can mix it with the best in the world — either internationals or born and bred locals like NZ’s first family of freeskiing, the amazing Wells brothers.

Nic Stevens did the season with Cardrona Park Squad (part of their High Performance Centre), and bought back the lowdown on the Kiwis’ “Park Central”.

nic stevens off the eighty foot booter © nick johnson www.photonic.net.nz
nic stevens off the eighty foot booter © nick johnson www.photonic.net.nz

Ever since the introduction of Terrain Parks into the world, they have had a cult following, often perceived to be the skate boarding of the snow world. In that time there have always been leaders at the forefront of terrain park creation such as Bear Valley, Vail, Breckenridge, Whistler and the big one, the birthplace of some of free skiing’s biggest names, Mammoth.

Cardrona is the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent, holding its own in terms of terrain park production. Cardrona has always been at the forefront of terrain park & pipe creation, starting back in the early 1990s. Cardrona is the mecca or CBD of terrain parks for New Zealand, and quite possibly the Southern Hemisphere. (Ed – Quite definitely! Sure, there are some good parks in South America, Oz and the rest of NZ, but only Cardrona has the full package.)

As local Byron Wells says, “The skiing here is probably one of the best places in the world.”

Cardrona’s Super Pipes are indisputably their most separating factor – 22 foot Super Pipes are difficult to build, as you need a very skilled cat driver and an immensely large and expensive pipe dragon to shape it (thanks to Sean White’s October mission to Perisher Australia finally has one too).

Cardrona currently has one of the only Super Pipes in the Southern Hemisphere, which has helped produced some of the best pipe skiers in the world, such as the Wells boys. Super Pipe’s debut at the Sochi Olympics proved just that as all four of NZ’s Pipe skiers made it to the finals. Jossi Wells just missed out on a medal coming fourth, younger brother Beau James performed superbly to come sixth, Aussie born Lyndon Sheehan came in tenth, and Janina Kuzma snared fifth in the woman’s event.

The Wells family name is one of the best known in terms of freestyle skiing worldwide these days, and especially in New Zealand. The Wells boys call Cardrona home and this is just the beginning of the calibre of skiers you can see there. Season 2013 was astounding with the level of skiers using the parks. As it was the pre-Olympic year everybody was grasping at precious ranking points ahead of the winter games. So the turn out of the big names was astonishing: Henrik Harlaut, Tom Wallisch, Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy, Jesper Tjäder, Mcrae Williams, Andreas Håtveit and many, many more. It was almost confronting with that level of talent. These athletes all chose Cardrona as the place to train downunder.

Snow Park, just near Cardona, was one of the first dedicated terrain park mountains in the world, opening in 2002 and purely catering for the needs of Slope Style and Half Pipe skiers, a prime example of the ingenuity of New Zealand at the forefront of terrain park production. Sadly however, Snow Park has now closed (except for private bookings).

But the sheer power of the Cardrona resort has allowed continuing development. The terrain park itself is an amazing set up, the Heavy Metal jump line and Playzone jib line are both unique. The park is nestled down a snake like run, with a blue run cutting through it. The lift which services the park is a fast detachable, a big show time lift as it runs over the majority of the park – which can be very entertaining.

show the punters on the chair what you got © tommy pyatt / www.cardrona.com
show the punters on the chair what you got © tommy pyatt / www.cardrona.com

The Heavy Metal jump line consists of three big bertha jumps, sizing between 35 and 80 footers depending on the year, as conditions vary hugely in New Zealand. Then there’s the ‘fourth jump’, which is a crowd favorite and is super progressive to top off the Heavy Metal park.

The Playzone jib line is a plentiful zone. Let’s just say it’s better than the classroom or workplace. Playzone is riddled with creative hits with ample choice. It is one of the more fluid lines I’ve skied, being directly below the lift for a large majority of the run. You really want to make sure you land your tricks or else the spectators on the lift get a good show. The snake run park is amazingly fun and will not disappoint: if the super pros find it enjoyable I’m sure you will!

Cardrona has masterfully catered for every level of skiing. There is the big Super Pipe, which is serviced by its own drag lift, named after the Wells brothers (the Wells Platter ) after Jossi became 2010 Half Pipe World Champion, winning the overall prestigous Dew Tour Cup. The platter allows many hot laps day in day out. On top of having the Super Pipe, which is undoubtedly a massive attraction for some of the world’s best athletes and a true spectacle for the average consumer of Cardona to watch, there is a smaller, more progressive half pipe right beside it which everyone can have a go in and not feel intimidated by. Also, beside the smaller pipe, there is a mini park perfect for beginner level skiers.

The terrain park staff are the foundation of why you will have the best time of your life riding the Cardrona Park. You can’t just put a monkey in a snow cat and expect a great park, park building is the most difficult job when it comes to grooming, and not just anyone can do it. Builders such as Tom Campbell do just that, this master craftsman produces some of the greatest features you’ll see. He works year round park building and produces safe, creative, fluid features out there. This foundation of park builders that Cardrona is lucky enough to have allows them to maintain their high level of parks for us skiers and boarders.

The quality of Cardrona’s features makes it a safe, fun and progressive environment as you know you can trust the jumps, rails and pipes to be groomed and angled perfectly, taking one less stress off your mind and allowing you to focus solely on progressing and having fun. The creativity in their features also keeps your attention and you on your toes waiting to see what new features they have cooked up.

Cardrona is producing some of the greatest junior skiers – the level of junior skiers there is amazing! Some of them I believe are right at the forefront of junior skiing at the world level, with Nico Portious competing in the X Games, which is an immensely high honor, especially being only 12 – great things are to come from him. Names such as Finn Bilious, Miguel Porteous and Manu Barnard also ring in as super groms far beyond what’s normally seen. I had the pleasure of training with these athletes, Finn being a stand out with his raw talent and calculated approach to his ski progression. With some of the best style in the game he will be one to look out for in the upcoming seasons.

This level of skiing is possible due to the massive amount of support available in New Zealand through their snow sports sector. The Wells boys carved a path for all other aspiring professionals setting up and putting Cardrona on the map big time. Training facilities such as the Site Trampoline in Queenstown are also incredible, as it possesses the Holy Grail in the trampoline world, a super tramp, which is hugely bigger than conventional Olympic trampolines. With its huge rebound time it allows fast dry land progression, which can then be taken to the snow less than 40 minutes away.

Snow Sports New Zealand calls Cardrona home, and the training programs that Cardrona offers is one of the main factors for such a high level of skiing. HPC and Cardrona park squad is one of the most efficient and well run programs you will find. Andrew Bowie is Cardrona’s Head Coach for the free ski department, also working with Snow Sports New Zealand and their development team. They also boast big names as coaches such as retired pro skier Brad Prosser, now a certified super coach, and Rose Battersby, one of the world’s best female freeskiers and an X-Games athlete. Likewise Tommy Pyatt, who is a professional photographer and World Cup athlete, and Britt Hawes.

Spring in Cardy is also a fantastic time, with the Spring Performance Camp, which attracts the best of the best as it takes place after the mountain closes. It’s a training mecca set up with air bags and a super progressive layout. The Monster Big Air is also set up and fully operational, which takes the crown for jumps as it can be around the 100ft mark to the knoll, with a wedge that could measure up to 3 stories high. This can attract another set of big names and is a fantastic show for everyone.

The township of Wanaka is the name that generally goes alongside Cardrona, however you may also stay in Queenstown or Cardrona Valley. You cannot go to far wrong with any of the above, however Wanaka, like Cardrona, is on another level. As Jossi Wells perfectly put it, “Of every single place I’ve been in the world, I’m maybe a little biased, but Wanaka is the most beautiful”.

You can clearly see why the stunning locations and landscapes were chosen to be part of Middle Earth in ‘Lord Of The Rings’. It’s almost as if an artist with the brush of life has created the most perfect backdrop possible.

“Its pretty much the hub for New Zealand skiing” according to Byron Wells, and it’s hard to argue with that. Wanaka sits above a picturesque lake with a half moon shaped pebble beach, garnished by perfect trees. The backdrops to this are the white topped mountain ranges and undulating hills. Even the drive to the Cardrona gate is amazing. The local mountains compatible architecture allows the landscape to be unaffected and remain pristine.

I highly recommend a trip to the Cardrona Pub, found just near the gate. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Cardrona Valley, the Cardrona Hotel (est. 1863) is one of New Zealand’s oldest hotels. This tranquil rural setting boasts a hotel steeped in history from the gold rush era. It is a legendary après-ski destination, with a modern kitchen and bar. I would also recommend getting take away from Boa Boa and sitting on the foreshore to watch the sunset. Italian from Francesco’s is another great eating experience, or the locals favorite, Doben’s mince and cheese pies. As Jossi states, “I’m going to live here until I’m 80 and in a wheelchair.”

You can’t get bored, it’s action sports central, from slack lining on the foreshore in-between the trees all the way to the activity that originated in Queenstown, bungy jumping.

Cardrona, like most ski hills, is very multinational, with people from almost every nation you could think of, though the New Zealand culture can still be seen with many traditional experiences available.

Apart from the world class terrain park it has access to some of the best backcountry ski touring terrain in the Queenstown lakes area. Simply access it from the main McDougal’s Run by dropping off the edge into one of the most scenic backdrops you’ll ski, mountain ranges that appeal like one of Picasso’s creations. Riddled with drops, shoots and big open bowls, this is the cheap version of New Zealand’s amazing heli-skiing – you just have to earn your turns..

In terms of in-bounds skiing you have options such as the Arcadia Chutes, which is the quickest place to get to on a stormy Cardrona powder day, and range from medium off piste terrain to double black lines. They will keep you on your toes. After a good storm there is also good terrain under the Valley View lift, which you can link in from Arcadia to give you a lovely leg burner. But this requires a good bit of snow to fully open up the terrain.

Cardona is a must for any ski traveler, or park rider. They have a park that will not disappoint: if it’s good enough for the super pros I am sure it will entertain you!

Cardona The Ticket

getting there: Fly to Queenstown, stay there 40 mins to Cardrona, or Wanaka even better, 30 mins to resort flights www.airnewzealand.com

you can get lift passes on the link below or better grab OnePass www.OnePass.com and ski either TC or Cardrona or use for local activities.

packages uniquely in NZ, Cardrona has on snow apartments, book them early, packages www.mysnow.com

mountain www.cardrona.com

snow travel insurance – use code SNOSAFE for extra 10% off their great rates www.noworries.com.au

james ‘woodsy’ woods © tommy pyatt / www.cardrona.com
james ‘woodsy’ woods © tommy pyatt / www.cardrona.com