The Land of the Long White Cloud has plenty of snow to go around. And its role as Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films speaks to the majesty of its mountains. Families of powder-hounds will know that this is the perfect equation. Snow plus Mountains equals awesome ski opportunities in New Zealand, so where to begin?
Ben Rogers from NZ Tourism takes us on the ultimate tour of New Zealand family ski fields in Canterbury, on New Zealand’s South Island. Here is a detailed summary to help you decide where to take your young ones for a dose of snowy excitement this winter.
Mt Hutt claims to be “the most family friendly mountain in New Zealand.” A lofty statement, but there’s a lot to back it up. The ski area was voted New Zealand’s best ski resort for the third year running in the World Ski Awards last year.
Public relations manager Frederique Gulcher says children from three months old to 17 years are catered to with awesome programs and facilities. There’s an on-mountain, fully-licensed early childhood centre for babies and toddlers. Children 10 and under ski for free.
“For younger ones, activities stay indoors, but as they get older activities move outdoors; at three years they are learning to ski in the dedicated Skiwiland instruction area,” says Gulcher.
From ages five and upwards, children progress to the ‘Kea Club’, which is a full instruction day program.
“For mums and dads, that means convenient, inexpensive, full-catered good times. [We’re] recognised for [our] friendly vibe, Kiwi hospitality, family-friendliness and great terrain.”
Mt Hutt has four freestyle terrain parks, which are hugely popular with older kids and young adults.
“We run a series of competitions during the season to support young athletes and those that just have fun hitting the park,” Gulcher says.
This New Zealand family ski field participates in the Kids 4 Free initiative in Methven, where participating businesses offer accommodation, activity and dining products free of charge for children 10 and under.
Porters offers the nearest skiing to Christchurch. It is about an hour’s drive from the city, which means less time on the road and more on the snow.
The ski area boasts remarkable vistas encompassing Lake Coleridge and the Southern Alps and its varied terrain is suitable for skiers and snowboarders from beginner to expert.
“The beginner and intermediate slopes sit alongside each other, allowing seamless progression for children,” says spokesperson Alan Lelieveld.
“As an added benefit these slopes are in close proximity to the carpark and café meaning parents [can easily] enjoy a coffee and watch their children ski.”
Children aged 10 and under ski for free and there is a 15 per cent discount for families on lift passes, rentals and lessons.
This year as Porters celebrates its 50th year of operation, it is offering ‘The Works’ – a package combining lift passes, food and hot beverages, a private lesson and equipment rental.
“We offer a training programme for youth (aged five to 16), which is great for children wanting to progress their skiing.
“An added bonus of these training programmes is that mum and dad can catch a few hours skiing on their own while their children are under the supervision of our caring and qualified instructors.”
Lelieveld says Porters is hosting a ‘Grom Progression Session’ on Saturday, July 14, which is designed to introduce children aged 5 to 12 to freestyle skiing/snowboarding.
Mt Cheeseman Ski Area
Mt Cheeseman Ski Area is a laidback destination in the Craigieburn Range with sunny slopes and a big day lodge.
It is mainly targeted at learners and people of intermediate ability, with T-bar lifts and a rope tow for beginners.
There is overnight accommodation on the mountain – the catered Snowline Lodge, which you can drive to, and a self-catered lodge along the access road.
Lift passes are $79 for adults, $59 for youth and free for children under 11. Families get a 15 per cent discount on all lift tickets purchased. Mt. Cheeseman also offers a beginner’s package, which includes gear hire and beginner’s tow access, which is $55 for children aged under 11 and $59 for those 12 to 18.
Mt Lyford Ski Area
The Mt Lyford Ski Area is as family-friendly as it is family owned and operated, which is 100 per cent.
Resort manager Hamish Simpson, whose father built the ski area years ago, says it is set up perfectly to cater for entry-level and intermediate skiers and snowboarders.
It has gentle rolling terrain, a centrally-located day lodge with rental equipment available and all main runs are groomed daily.
The Terako Day Lodge is right next to the learners’ slope and the main intermediate lift – Paradise Valley Platter, “so parents and grandparents can enjoy watching the children progress”, says Simpson.
Children under seven ski and ride for free and a youth day pass for ages seven to 17 is $35.
“For those not wanting to ski there is a snow tubing luge – great for a thrill or to tow the little ones around in.”
Mt Dobson Ski Area
Mt Dobson Ski Area is an owner-operated ski area with a relaxed atmosphere and dramatic scenery punctuated with piercingly blue ice-fed lakes.
With regular snowfalls and wide-open slopes, it has good skiing and snowboarding conditions for families, beginners and intermediates.
“We have a relaxed family-friendly atmosphere, a large sunny beginners’ area and great trails for beginners to progress and improve their skills,” says business and marketing manager Mike Smith.
The ski area has upgraded its rental department for 2018 and has new skis, boots, poles and clothing available.
Children aged four years and under ski for free (excludes equipment hire and lessons) and the ski area even has a purpose-built toboggan area, with sleds available for hire – perfect for those that don’t ski or ride.
The on-mountain Foote Rest Café is a great place to refuel and relax, with a barista-made coffee or famous Fairlie Bakehouse pie.
Fox Peak Ski Area
Fox Peak Ski Area is 35 kilometres from Fairlie and has a “legendary” family-friendly atmosphere, says spokesperson Blair Wilkinson.
“Our fully-groomed learners area and lower slopes provide safe, even ski runs for beginner to intermediate skiers.”
The ski area offers free lift passes for children aged 10 years and under and has a comfortable day shelter and sun deck.
Lift passes for youth aged 11 to 16 years are $20 and student passes are $35 – student identification is required.
There is accommodation on the mountain at Fox Lodge, which sleeps 40 with bunk rooms for families, cooking facilities, drying room and hot showers.
Fox Peak has five lifts – mostly rope tows and a 200m platter lift.
Events on the mountain this winter include a night skiing weekend, a water pool jump, fun races for children, club champs and the famous ‘Mountain Smoker’ race.
“We have a couple of [new] terrain park features being added to the lower slopes for the teens to have some fun with.”
Ski hire is available off the mountain at the Ski Shack in Fairlie.
Roundhill Ski Area
Roundhill Ski Area is located on the Tekapo side of the Two Thumb Range and offers groomed trails with plenty of natural dips and curves.
It offers a great first timer’s ski package, which includes a beginner’s lift pass, gear rental and a 1.5-hour lesson, which is $68 for children 12 years and under.
Children who are five years and under ski for free.
Ski and Snowboard Hire
Most New Zealand family ski fields and regions offer on-mountain gear hire but it’s worth checking to make sure before you go.