Queenstown ski boom: they build it, we come

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Queenstown ski resorts are in the middle of mega million dollar upgrades to massively improve their on snow and all round experience. No wonder Aussies and locals are responding in droves. Bronwen Gora checks out the latest from Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Cardrona.

Coronet Peak is the closest ski resort to Queenstown
Who else can’t wait to ride the new combi Gondola/six seat chair at Coronet Peak? © nzski.com

Queenstown twins Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are really coming of age as world class resorts thanks to improvements including the world’s best ski lift technology and enormous terrain expansions.

The recently announced $NZD 35 million in new chairlifts and terrain for Coronet Peak and The Remarkables is huge news. The investment adds to almost $10 million worth of ongoing projects, part of an aggressive plan to improve and modernise NZSki’s assets well into the future. 

Along with the new chairlifts comes large-scale rearrangement of runs across both resorts, realising the resorts’ full potential by opening up new slopes and easing access to blissful powdery fields that until now have been off-piste.

Meet the new Coronet Peak

For Coronet Peak it all fires up in this season. Say goodbye to the Coronet Express and hello high-speed ‘Telemix’ – a state-of-the-art combined gondola / six-seater chairlift from Leitner Ropeways in Italy.

New gondola cabins for Coronet Peak
We’ll be riding this nightski nights for sure!

This innovative lift means warmer, drier, happier skiers and boarders, not to mention far less queueing. It also opens up year-round operation, giving Queenstown a perfect summer alpine destination for hikers, sightseers and mountain bikers on the doorstep.

“There are staggering views from the base lodge to the summit,” says Coronet Peak Ski Area Manager Nigel Kerr. “Now we can offer these to everyone year-round. As of last year there’s also a dedicated wooden viewing platform at the summit for taking in the views without the worry of slipping or walking on the snow.”

“The new lift is faster, smoother and quiet. It’s one of world’s best, utilising Leitner’s new Direct Drive system.”

Of course this is a huge benefit anytime, but for aficionados of Coronet’s top-to-bottom night skiing (easily the best in Australia or NZ) it’s a game changer for getting more laps while riding back up in comfort.

Night skiing at Coronet Peak Queenstown
Snow Action loves night skiing at Coronet Peak – still get in a “full day” after a huge night before & with gondolas for warm ride up it’s going to be even better in 2019 © nzski.com

Remarkable plans for The Remarkables Queenstown

At The Remarkables when the overhaul is complete the ski field will almost feel like a new place, judging by plans sketched out late last season for me on an existing trail map by area manager Ross Lawrence.

A two-step process starts with replacing the Sugar Chair at the base with the world’s most advanced 6-seater express chairlift. This D-Line lift is the Mercedes Benz of chairlifts, and will open up brand new trails plus give easier access to the ski field’s phenomenal off-piste.

“We have identified a new pathway up the mountain creating a whole new trail network, adding to the existing terrain including the four terrain parks on offer,” says NZ Ski CEO Paul Anderson.

Spectacular terrain at The Remarkables outside Queenstown
Exciting new lift developments at The Remarkables from next season will make the best terrain easier to access © nzski.com

The second step involves installing a high-speed lift in place of Shadow Chair, a lift that has annoyed many for leading to terrific terrain but traveling at a snail’s pace and being prone to queues. The new high-speed chair will also lift to expanded terrain in The Doolans which holds some of the field’s best skiing.

Unfortunately delays in approvals meant it got too late to start work on the new Sugar Chair for this season, but soon The Remarkables will truly live up to its name and be totally transformed. 

The road up from Queenstown keeps getting better too – if you haven’t been for a while you will notice the changes there too.

The basics are spectacular

Coronet Peak knocked down its 70s-brown base lodge in 2008 to make way for a forward-thinking replacement – a vast, impressive steel and glass two level structure that put its predecessor to shame. A cavernous first floor catering for everything from ticket sales to ski hire is topped by a light-filled eatery facing the slopes with floor-to-ceiling glass, soaring roof and huge sundeck out front.

These days skiers toss up between succulent braised meats, gourmet vegetarian dishes, Asian favourites and more in the huge sunny dining room. The coffee, too, is superb.

The Remarkables base lodge resembles Europe’s best with views to match. There are even sculptures hanging from the glass and steel roof’s highest peak.

Several meal stations leave hungry skiers giddy for choice, with some of the freshest, most generous and inventive salads you’ll find anywhere, to international and local cuisine plus a separate café bar. It’s all a far cry from chips, pies and fried fare of yore.

Now the two resorts are being given the lift and trail boost they need to achieve truly world-class levels to match Queenstown’s worldwide reputation.

The 'Chondy' gondola at Cardrona
Cardrona’s ‘Chondy’ has given the popular Queenstown resort Australasia’s best beginner ski experience © Cardrona Alpine Resort

Cardrona’s new terrain

At Cardrona, Queenstown’s 3rd close ski area, things just keep getting better. They have also been on a massive investment spending spree, dropping in an average $NZD 10 million a year for the past several years.

The results are plain to see: they have racked up two all time record breaking skier seasons in a row since the mighty Chondola – a combo gondola/6 seat chair mix, and NZ’s first gondola – opened in 2017.

Inset of Cardrona 2019 Trail Map showing new Pringles area terrain
Cardona’s 2019 Trail Map inset showing new Pringles terrain which will almost double the vertical in the Captain’s zone for better riders

The ‘Chondy’ is, as we reported last year, simply the best beginner lift in Australia or NZ now, but it also does a great job of moving people out of the base to access other areas – which keep expanding.

For 2019 there’s a new advanced freeride terrain zone, Pringles, below Captain’s Basin. The former McDougalls Quad chairlift the Chondy replaced is being refurbished and rebuilt here for lift access next season, but in the meantime just drop on in when conditions are good and take the traverse line out with a short hike at the end.

Freeride powder boarding at Cardrona
Hands up who wants more of this? © Cardrona Alpine Resort

Stay tuned for the Soho Basin expansion

Next project after this is the most exciting of all, incorporating the Soho Basin backside area that looks down towards Queenstown, to make what will be easily NZ’s largest ski resort, taking Cardona’s existing 345ha to 900ha plus!

That includes an incredible variety of alpine bowls and steeps which will open up long runs and make the combined Cardrona-Soho Basin a massive ski area.

For now you can enjoy it with Soho Basin cat skiing.

Cardrona have revamped their base building too, with ticketing at the arrivals end for smooth flow through. Our tip for better skiers with passes already is to scoot up from the lower carpark and cut out a few bends.

Check the snow report live from the terrace at miPad Queenstown

We love Queenstown

The sweeping changes are in part due to the simple fact many more of us are heading in that direction, driven by increased flight frequency between Queenstown and Australia’s east coast, and from Auckland.

The more they build it, the more we respond. A three hour hop from OZ to here is hard to argue with!

The massive investments across the three Queenstown resorts are being matched by some superb accommodation developments too. One of our favourites is miPad Queenstown – the area’s first ‘smart hotel’.

What does that mean? Check out our feature here. Or just get on and book here www.mipadhotels.com

miPad Queenstown is the resort town's first smart hotel
Check and chill miPad Queenstown