Ohau is an amazingly beautiful spot, both the lakefront Ohau Lodge and the spectacular Ohau Ski field above. Ohau ski area is the the best boutique small commercial ski field in New Zealand. Ohau Lodge is the best ski hotel in the country, with amazing views in a stunning wild setting. Sure, there are plenty of ritzier properties in places like Queenstown and Wanaka, but none with such a unique wild flavour – it’s just you, the Ohau Lodge, and the ski field. Yet it is also very affordable – the (excellent!) dinner, bed and breakfast package $NZD 145 a night twin share. On Ohau ski field the day pass is $NZD 90.
SNOWACTION dropped in on opening weekend last week when other bigger and better known areas were still not open after a fairly slow start to the Kiwi ski season in 2017.
We left a rainy Wanaka (it was snowing at Cardrona & Treble Cone, but TC wasn’t open and after 2 great days at Cardrona we had to move on) and headed north two hours through Lindis Pass to the spectacular central region where high ranges on all sides create a drier microclimate, and by the time we reached the Ohau turn off the sun was shining brightly. They had received over 50cm from the same weather system that had delivered 20-30cm to the Wanaka areas, so things were looking good.
Ohau owner Mike Neilsen installed top-to-bottom snowmaking of a few years back, helped by a contribution from the US Ski Team who like to train there, and he had pulled the pin on opening for the weekend based on that regardless of how much they got from the storm. For a small family run business like Ohau opening day is critical – they have to gear up over 50 lodge and mountain staff, so getting it wrong could be financially disastrous.
Other central South Island areas like Roundhill and Mt Dobson had decided not to open, so between Mt Hutt and Cardrona Ohau was the only ski area open, which paid off with a busy opening weekend. Busy at Ohau is relative, it’s an old school friendly area, small enough facility wise that it’s all very personal.
We arrived mid-afternoon, as some were coming down the typically challenging access road – it’s not as steep as the Mt Hutt or Remarkables roads, but narrower. Our by now well-honed chain-fitting skills on the JUCY campa saw us chained up at the gate and chugging upwards, which took 25 minutes in the gruntless van.
I hadn’t been back to Ohau since they replaced what was always billed as the Southern Hemisphere’s longest t-bar with an equally long double chairlift, and it has made a difference. Certainly for my grandson Nic, who was only on Day 3 of his skiing career – after two easy beginner terrain days at Cardrona – it was good they have a chair. Ohau’s green runs would be blue anywhere else, it was a step up in steepness for Nic but he handled it and what’s not to love about that view?
After a short afternoon session we headed down to the lodge, originally built in the 1950s by the original Mt Cook company. It was conceived in the traditions of the great alpine getaway retreats, and Mike and his wife Louise, the owners since the mid-80s, have kept faith with that original concept while steadily modernising and improving the facilities.
Our gorgeous lakeview room was a penthouse after 3 nights in the van, and chilling by the fireplace in the restaurant/lounge area as the sunset glow pinked the peaks on the northern shore of Lake Ohau ourside the panoramic windows was special. Over dinner we met a couple of Aussie families who had got onto Ohau’s secrets and were on return visits. There is no TV in the rooms, and wi-fi only at reception, so it’s off the devices and enjoy some old school fun playing cards – we kicked on till late with them playing Presidents & Assholes, way more fun than checking insta accounts for the teenagers.
Dinner is a magnificent 3 course feast, only matched by the big breakfasts.
Next morning we headed up earlier, to enjoy Ohau with more sun for Nic on the main runs, and go the hike to the ridge above and check out the 50cm plus of fresh dry snow up there for me.
Nic got his act together and I caught up with a crew from Northland – the top tip of NZ’s North Island – who were more than happy to bomb stuff off the back ridge for the camera. The snow there and back on the frontside was still in primo condition.
We had a huge morning, and would have loved to stay all day and another night with all our new friends, but after lunch at the little mountain cafe we had to hit the road for the 4 hour drive north to Methven.
Ohau is a must to ski if you are driving between Queenstown and Christchurch, just 35km off the main highway, and should be a must to stay at too – the Ohau Lodge experience is special, great value and a true get-away-from-it-all opportunity you simply don’t get staying in bustling ski towns.
The mountain has rental and snow sports school. For beginners there’s a short carpet lift and small beginners area beside the base lodge facilities, then you can progress to a platter lift area. After that it’s ride the long chair and enjoy the whole mountain.
For the competent the back and side country options are spectacular, mostly easily accessed with short hikes.
They get an average 2m of snow a season, that mostly comes in a few storms like the one we lucked onto. Between times the south-easterly aspect and generally drier climate keeps conditions good for snowmaking and maintains the cover.
Check out their deals and packages at www.ohau.co.nz
Lake Ohau Lodge is a great base for New Zealand’s most spectacular heliskiing and boarding with the Mt Cook Heliski base just an hour or so away – if it’s a no fly day stay and ski at Ohau instead.