Spring Skiing NZ: Better Late Than Ever?

Spring skiing and riding in NZ is arguably the perfect time to go – a case of better late than ever, as our roving correspondent Kirk Owers discovered on a crowd free September tour of the South Island.

Yes, the lift-accessed snow season always lasts longer in NZ than OZ, even in a weird La Niña affected season like 2022 which saw some huge dumps interspersed with crazy rain events even mid-winter. Mt Hutt and Whakapapa still have lifts turning till Sunday 23 October, and certainly at Hutt with 4 of 5 lifts open and a heap of excellent terrain still cranking we would love to be over there for it.

Hit the Hutt – Friday 23/10/20222 © Mt Hutt

So what makes a spring snow mission to New Zealand so good? Over to Kirk for the downlow..

Sunny skies, zero crowds and soft landings make spring skiing in New Zealand’s Southern Alps a stress-free pleasure.

Here’s a story that might make a few Aussie skiers jealous. On a trip to New Zealand this spring my family rode eight days straight and never once got out of bed before 8.00am. Light crowds meant there was no need to race up the mountain at dawn to get a park within sight of the resort. We cruised. Stayed up late. Slept in. Went out for breakfast. We didn’t expect it to dump and weren’t disappointed when it didn’t. Instead we carved soft spring snow under powder blue skies and drank up the pristine alpine scenery while our offspring took to the parks and hit bigger and bigger jumps. 

Anyone who has worked in a ski town knows late spring is an awesome time to be in the mountains.

Most punters – as we used to label the tourists who paid our wages – have put away their skis for the year and are planning beach holidays so there’s rarely crowds and related hassles.

The snow may not be great but it’s usually good. Spring snow is well suited for learning, backcountry touring or sending it off a mound you’ve been eyeing all season. Cardrona and The Remarkables keep the chairs swinging until mid-October. Coronet Peak and Treble Cone usually close earlier but often extend if the snow’s still good. Mt Hutt is closing this Sunday, 3 weeks after last lifts in Australia.

The last time my wife and I were in Queenstown we were young, kid-free and on a wafer-thin budget. We stayed at a hostel and rented a bomb to get us up the hill. Now that we’re older and in charge of teenagers there is at the least the concsolation of staying somewhere good.

We bunked down in a large family room at The Rees, a handsome five star property which overlooks Lake Wakatipu. It was an absolute delight to awake in a king-sized bed, stroll down to the lake for a dip, breakfast on the deck overlooking one of the best views in Queenstown. And then go skiing.

Spring riding at The Remarkables
Gus Owers slush busting at The Remarkables © Kirk Owers

Coronet Peak was due to close the day we arrived (September 25), but they extended for another week so we started there. We drove up at lunchtime and got a rock star park right near the village base. The resort is a Kiwi classic, once rated by Newsweek magazine as in the top 25 in the World, which was perhaps a stretch but they must be doing something right, celebrating 75 years in business this season. It was a good place to try out hire gear and warm up the legs with zero lift lines. The kids soon found cat track jumps to fly off and sprayed sheets of slush like they were summer surfing.

   

Spring has sprung, the tussock is riz, but we know where the best snow is © Kirk Owers

The Remarkables is bigger, higher (base same as top at Coronet across the valley), steeper, has more jumps and lives up to its name – even in late September. There were huge patches of grass and newly formed waterfalls raging on the sunnier slopes, but most of the resort was still coated in immaculate white. The jumps and features in the parks were all sized small to medium and lured me into them despite the age-inappropriateness. Over my middle years I’ve gradually backed away from hitting bigger jumps or rails and boxes, but this spring in New Zealand I ran towards danger again. And it felt good.

Winter or spring, the view from TC is always classic © Kirk Owers

We moved on to Wanaka after five days in Queenstown and discovered it was even less busy.

The weather became warmer and sunnier and we ended most days with a lake swim. We hit spectacular Treble Cone on the second last day of the season and found the mood was already festive. Locals were skiing in comic onesies and drinking heavily at noon. The real celebration wouldn’t start until the next day but Wanaka folks don’t like to miss a party.

Cardona park locals include some of the World’s best, so don’t get too carried away trying to imitate them © Kirk Owers

We saved Cardrona for last and it provided a great climax.

My snowboarding sons couldn’t get enough of the jumps, half-pipes and rails while my wife was delighted by the deliciously healthy resort food and zero plastic policy. I was happy because my family were happy but also because I was fizzing with adrenaline.

I got off the groomers and stayed in the park, pushing myself to places I’ve never been for a good 15 years. Of course there were a few humbling crashes and the local shredders made me look like a total Jerry, but I kept up with my competitive sons and that’s all that matters.

“We ended most days with a lake swim” © Kirk Owers

My only disappointment was that the heli-boarding day I had lined up didn’t get off the ground due to marginal backcountry conditions. You should arrive before mid-September if heli-skiing is your priority, although most years they will run later.

The roads are usually easier and chain free in spring too © Kirk Owers

The Rees Snowaction Heli-Package: 

Speaking of heli, The Rees have put together an exclusive heli offer for Snow Action readers (see below) so hopefully you’ll be more fortunate.

Heli ski/board Package and inclusions:

  • Heli ski/board – 4 runs on the best terrain of the day with The Helicopter Line out of Queenstown Airport
  • 3 nights in an Executive Lake View Hotel Room at The Rees Hotel Queenstown
  • Daily breakfast for two
  • Airport transfers from /to Queenstown airport

Only $NZD 1825 per person 2 share, limited availability – Book:  therees.co.nz