NZ Snow Secrets #2: Mt Dobson Mackenzie Country King

snow action team 01.07.2021

Mt Dobson is the king of Mackenzie Country, the spectacular wild region in the heart of the South Island.

Mackenzie country embraces everything from mighty Mt Aoraki / Mt Cook to sprawling high country sheep runs, and is an ideal alternative to get away from the hype and bustle at the major resort towns further south.

Powder skiing at Mt Dobson, Makenzie Region New Zealand
Free skiing out wide © Jeremy Lyttle / Mt Dobson

It’s the home of classic Kiwi old school ingenuity: if you didn’t have something here, you improvised and made it yourself. Which is pretty much the story of Mt Dobson, virtually handmade by owner Peter Foote and his family.

He built the access road with his own bulldozer back in the 70s, then set up the original tractor powered rope tow for opening in 1979. He’s still in charge, and can be justifiably proud of the achievement.

Surviving bad seasons and re-investing after good seasons allowed him to keep improving Dobson with the addition of snow groomers, a t-bar and a triple chair.

It’s as far from corporate mega-resorts as you can get, and the more fun for that we reckon. Well done Pete!

Owner Peter Foote cutting the road nearly 40 years ago © Mt Dobson

Coming down from Christchurch or Mt Hutt, Dobson is the first of the 3 commercial ski areas to discover. Drive through the closest town Fairlie for 11km along Highway 8 south to the well maintained 15km Dobson access road that runs up steadily, rather than precipitously, to the highest ski area car park in NZ at 17025m. That’s higher than the top of Coronet Peak.

View of triple chair and main basin at Mt Dobson, Mackenzie Country, South Island, New Zealand
Sprawling terrain at Dobson © Mt Dobson

Not surprisingly they get plenty of good quality snow up here, with the top lift a handy 2030m. You can take a short hike from the t-bar to the actual Mt Dobson summit at 2110m. Similar short hiking from the triple chair side is also well worth it for the views and the extra terrain.

Long t-bar © Mt Dobson

We have made it up there in a campavan no problems, impressed by the snow walls along the way. The season kicks on into early October usually, and it’s a great spring option following the sun around as it corns up.

Mt Dobson offers arguably the most relaxed and friendly skiing of any commercial ski area in the country.

The slopes sprawl around a 3km wide main basin, a triple chair running to one side, a t-bar the other, plus there’s a platter lift for the beginner slopes. Between the 3 lifts they cover all levels with enough variety to keep anyone interested.

Cheap lessons and great value lift passes are a bonus at all our ‘NZ Snow Secret’ selections.

Mt Dobson trail map
Plenty of cruisy options © Mt Dobson

Mt Dobson Day passes are $NZD 90 adults, $45 under 18s.

A private lesson from the small ski school is only $90 for an hour, or group lessons $45, so it’s a good place to get started or improve – the progressive terrain is ideal for intermediates and the rolling off piste makes for easy powder skiing, with some steeper shots if you look.

Get the kids going here © Mt Dobson

Dobson is a great place for slack country too.

Short hikes, or just traverses, open up lots of lines. Get a fresh day here and you can really cash in. Set on the eastern side of the Mackenzie Country Dobson is not as affected by the rain shadown effect of the main divide – they can get snow from the east too, so it boasts the highest average snowfall of the 3 Mackenzie areas.

Weekends it draws a locals crowd from Timaru and other nearby towns, but midweeks are usually good, unless Mt Hutt closes and there’s an influx from there – it’s only 90 minutes/147km from Methven.

Plenty of cruisy pow lines on a fresh day © Mt Dobson

Where to stay at Mt Dobson

Set 11km south west of Fairlie, or 18km north east of Lake Tekapo, Dobson can be easily accessed from either. From Tekapo you come over Burke’s Pass heading from the wilder and drier central Mackenzie area to the more rural, greener east.

Fairlie is a typical South Island small country town, very laid back. Musterer’s Accommodation is the local’s tip on where to stay there from Dobson Sales Manager James Lazor.

Tekapo has boomed thanks to the star gazing market in the past few years so has more to offer accommodation and restaurant wise than Fairlie.

Check the latest deals for both below just put in your dates:


For Mt Dobson snow conditions, road updates and more check their website on the link here

For the next Mackenzie Country snow secret check our Roundhill Feature