Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand Editors’ choice awards

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Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand? Wow, that is a tough question! Unlike Australia, with just 5 main ones to choose from, NZ has lots of ski fields. They range from the modern with multi-million dollar facilities – like The Remarkables or Whakapa – to humble nutcracker rope tow equipped club fields, which may require a couple of hours hike in. So we summoned the Council of the Snow Wise, aka our Editors, to give us their picks.

Charging steep slope at Mount Olympus one of the Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand
For advanced to expert skiers Mount Olympus rules – Kenji Boekholt rates it his #1 © Mark Brownlie

Our Editor’s picks

Kiwi Editor Kenji Boekholt has the benefit of growing up around Methven, with dad Kevin being a key part of Methven Heliskiing / Mt Cook Heliskiing (the best Heli in NZ is a separate question to divide us, stay tuned for more on that one). He’s a next level lifetime core skier who can tackle anything, guiding in Hokkaido in the northern winter these days. He loves his local ‘hood west from Christchurch – which fill 4 of his top 5, and so will you.

  • 1 Mount Olympus
  • 2 Temple Basin
  • 3 Mount Hutt
  • 4 Cheeseman
  • 5 Cardrona

“Temple Basin is full noise, situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, and that’s not even getting into talking about the terrain on hand.”

“They call Mount Olympus the playground of the gods for a reason, follow the badger up the boot pack into some of the wildest lines of your life and finish up the day with a cold double brown in the hot tub!”

Big view of the awesome terrain at Mount Olympus
Seriously awesome terrain at Olympus stacks up with anywhere © Brett Evans Black Diamond Safaris

Travel Editor Dave Windsor is a typical Aussie NZ ski tragic – let’s face it, we do love it over there. He has done plenty of solo with mates and several family NZ ski missions. Without the luxury of living there, his choice is based on squeezing the most out of the available time.

  • 1 Mount Olympus
  • 2 Treble Cone
  • 3 Mount Hutt
  • 4 Coronet Peak
  • 5 Broken River

“Olympus is an uncrowded powder paradise. It’s tough to get to, sure, but Black Diamond Safaris can sort you that from their Methven base.”

“TC is blacks, blacks, blacks.”

“Hutt is a great place to take the kids – our little Jack loved it there and the kids programs are top notch.”

Mt Ruapehu is rated #1 by our Features Editor in the Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand
Terrain shape like no other is one of the reasons Bronwen Gora rates Whakapapa (shown)/Turoa her NZ #1 © MtRuapehu.com

Features Editor Bronwen Gora is likely Australia’s most read Snow Writer ever, reaching millions weekly in her Sunday Telegraph snow columns for over 20 years. NZ was always in big demand from Tele readers, so she was there all the time then, and gets back often. Her Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand includes a detour north for her #1.

  • 1 Ruapehu (Whakapapa & Turoa)
  • 2 Treble Cone
  • 3 Coronet Peak
  • 4 Cardrona
  • 5 Craigieburn & Broken River

“Whakapapa/Turoa – with natural halfpipes galore and a terrain shape like no other thanks to being on the side of a still active volcano these two fields on Mt Ruapehu offer extensive and exciting skiing. Obey all signs and especially that old chestnut of a rule: ‘If you can’t see over it, don’t ski over it’ ..”

“Treble Cone also has natural half pipes galore, serious steeps and vertical drop, plus stunning views across a unique and unusual landscape of mountains, Lake Wanaka, surrounding lowlands and valleys that at times can be quite surreal.”

“At Coronet Peak what’s not to love about the rolling fields over which you can simply fly?”

Coronet Peak makes most people's Top 5 New Zealand Ski Areas list
Coronet Peak offers plenty right on Queenstown’s doorstep © nzski.com

Editorial Director Carmen Price pretty much learnt to ski at Mt Hutt in the 80s, so it’s no surprise what tops her list.

  • 1 Mt Hutt
  • 2 Cardrona
  • 3 Amuri
  • 4 Rainbow
  • 5 Tekapo

“I was conned into that first New Zealand ski trip – my initial thought was ‘why would we go somewhere even colder than Canberra?’, but we had the best time. I had a Japanese instructor girl who was short like me and very kind. Costa Rica is not exactly the centre of the ski universe after all, I was scared just driving up there!”

“But she got me to the top of the mountain on the old t-bars after a couple of days and I was hooked. Methven used to pump then too, the afternoons were a lot of fun on the packed pavement outside the Blue Pub.”

Apres skiers outside the Blue Pub Methven in 1985
Back in the 80s drinking in the gutter was allowed & a lot of fun on a sunny September arvo at the Blue Pub Methven © Owain Price

“When we went round everywhere in a Maui motorhome a couple of years later I fell in love with the north of the South Island. We would park the van in forests by lakes at spots where we could plug into a power point at a shelter which had firewood, but no one there at all, and it was free. The skiing at little areas with just a handful of friendly locals like Rainbow and Amuri was beautiful. And Amuri has the benefit of the hot springs at Hanmer Springs – they should rename it Amuri Onsen and it would get popular.”

Skiing at AMuri, Hanmer Springs Ski Area New Zealand
Dropping down into Amuri © Hanmer Springs Ski Area

*Amuri has actually rebranded itself as Hanmer Springs Ski Area, check them out on the link – it’s a club field, but they have one poma lift and a rope tow, and even a groomer – luxury for the club fields – so you don’t have to master the nutcracker to ski there.

Smashing through The Tower at Mt Hutt our joint equal number one on our list of the Top 5 Ski areas in New Zealand
I used to look up at The Towers and wonder how could people possibly ski that? But that’s the beauty of Hutt, perfect progression for beginners upwards, plus the genuine big mountain feel if you can handle that © Owain Price

Editor Owain Price got the Kiwi bug early, the honeymoon at Hutt con job leading to multiple NZ ski visits, a mission to hit EVERY field in NZ for a Skiing New Zealand Guide Book, doing brochures & PR for NZ ski areas and tour companies, and of course Snow Action. 34 years later he rates first as best.

  • 1 Mount Hutt
  • 2 Cardrona
  • 3 Temple Basin
  • 4 Ohau
  • 5 Treble Cone

“I used to spend hours drooling over brochures featuring Mt Hutt back when Mt Selwyn was still a challenge for my keen beginner status. Hutt looked like, was, and still is, a real big mountain experience. Sure, the facilities are way better, the road is a bit better, but the view and that magic big mountain feeling of space remains. To go there on honeymoon in 1985 and get back with #1 grandson in 2017 was pretty special – I had to drag him off the slopes last day to head to the airport, just like we left so reluctantly after our first visit.”

Selfie time at top of Mt Hutt New Zealand
32 years after our honeymoon trip I was back with #1 grandson family that skis together stays together indeed! © Owain Price

“Cardrona gets the nod over Temple Basin for my #2 because it’s a lot easier to get too, that TB hike up is a bit much these days. Plus the Chondy gondola makes Cardrona the best learn-to-ski experience in NZ, which got #1 grandson off to a flying start, and for mine the Mezz Cafe has the best mountain eats in NZ. When the lifts go in over the back in Soho Basin there soon it will be hard to keep it out of #1 spot.”

Ohau is just something unique – don’t drive past without dropping in for a ski if you’re heading between Christchurch and the southern lakes.”

Top 5 ski areas in New Zealand the verdict

So overall that leaves Olympus and Mt Hutt vying for first in out office Editor’s poll test, with Ruapehu the outsider pick.

Olympus is not for the faint-hearted of course, and day tripping over from Methven with the crew at Black Diamond Safaris is the simplest way to experience it on a mainstream NZ ski trip.

Hutt is a complete all-round mainstream classic. Scoot up with Methven Travel’s shuttles if you don’t want to muck around with chains.

Bugger! Busted chain on the Hutt road, but Matt the rescue man had spare links and fixed it in 5 minutes! © Nic Lever

Cardrona, Coronet Peak and Treble Cone are no surprises as our solid mainstream contenders, with the back up of their great base towns of Queenstown and Wanaka.

Bronwen tosses the North Island option, often overlooked by Aussies, in there at #1. Get Ruapehu with good weather and snow and you may well agree – as these couple of pictures show, it is spectacular. Ski trivia fact Ruapehu has the highest ski lifts in NZ too.

Both Kenji and Owain like Temple Basin as their #2 & #3 picks respectively, and if you’re up for the hike up it’s truly like nowhere else – Tim Macartney-Snape did a great feature on it for us a few years ago (after a couple of Everest ascents it’s like walking the dog for him hiking in..)

Check out a sampler on the gallery here too:

Above all, don’t settle for visiting just one or two NZ areas – trust us, there’s a ski lifetime’s worth of them to check out.

For more on the club fields mentioned check their sites:

Mount Olympus

Temple Basin

Broken River

Craigieburn

Cheeseman

Commercial fields that made the lists

Rainbow Ski Area

Treble Cone

Cardrona

Mt Hutt Coronet Peak

Whakapap & Turoa / Mt Ruapehu

Hiking Turoa at Mt Ruapehu with a view to Mt Taranaki/Mt Egmont
Hike above the lifts at Turoa and you get over 1000m vertical back to the ski area base plus if you’re lucky a view of Mt Taranaki/Mt Egmont, itself home to a funky club field well worth a look © mtruapehu.com