Skiing New Zealand? Go to Wanaka

By Tim Brewster

So here you are planning a New Zealand ski holiday.

You want the best bang for your dollar and the widest range of terrain for the group. Some want to rip it up and others cruise on the most reliable snow in the Southern Hemisphere. Your travelling party also demands a great selection of après ski venues and foodie experiences from gourmet fine dining to pizza to takeaway burgers.

What else? A destination with a host of off-hill activities. Accommodation options with easy access to town. Short travelling distances to the slopes. A town on the shore of a pristine lake ringed by the snow capped Southern Alps. It sounds like you’ve just chosen Wanaka.

Skiing in Wanaka

Let's start with the non-negotiable part of any ski holiday.

A multitude of learners and Olympians alike have tried, tested and approved the Wanaka winter product on your behalf for decades and it’s generally agreed to have the best choice of slopes in the country.

From the massive vertical and off piste acreage of Treble Cone, to cruisy Cardrona Alpine Resort with its Olympic standard half-pipe and terrain park. Then there are the cross country trails of the Snow Farm and the endless hectares of pristine helicopter accessed terrain guided by the country's top operators. 

Treble Cone

 As Wanaka’s first resort opened in the 1970’s Treble Cone or ‘TC’ claims the largest skiable terrain in the Southern Lakes with 550 hectares and is 35 minutes drive from town. It’s big and it's beautiful!

For the welcome respite needed from 700 metres of thigh burning vertical, you will be grateful for the views over Lake Wanaka, the braided Matukituki river valley and up toward Mt Aspiring. 

Classic trails in the Saddle like Raffills Run, the challenging Motatapu chutes, natural halfpipes such as Gun Barrel along with the groomed 4km long Main Street will give you a memorably exhausting day.

Treble Cone's is serviced by a crowd gobbling high speed six seater from the base and a four seater chair in the Saddle Basin The beginner poma lift and magic carpet conveyors at the bottom at the bottom are also free to use.

Area breakdown:

Beginner 10%, Intermediate 45%, Advanced 45%. 700 metres vertical, 550 hectares of skiable terrain.

Best for:

Big mountain off piste enthusiasts and groomed cruisers.

Cardrona Alpine Resort

Cardrona has gone from strength to strength since it opened it in 1981 as a learner friendly mountain by Cardrona Valley farmer John Lee. The easy green runs from the top of the mountain with spectacular views of the Wakatipu Basin are complemented by a world class terrain park and Olympic size superpipe as well as the Lil’ Buck junior terrain features.

Captain’s Basin and the Valley View  provide some wide open blue runs and steep pitches in the Arcadia Basin give the black diamond brigade plenty of tricky vertical to play around with.

A game changer this year is the $10 million gondola and chairlift combo lift to replace the 30 year old Macdougalls chair, dramatically increasing uphill capacity and access.

Area breakdown:

25% Beginner, 25% Intermediate, 30% Advanced, 20% Expert. 600metres vertical, 345 hectares of skiable terrain.

Best for:

Learners, cruisers and experts.

Snow Farm

You can’t help but feel the rest of the world has disappeared below you up at New Zealand’s only commercial cross country area. Alpine solitude awaits on its wide open slopes and rolling terrain. Across the valley from Cardrona the on the Pisa Range the Snow Farm has 55km of groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing and 24km of snowshoe trails.

You’ll find a serene, uncrowded environment whether cruising the trails looking for a picnic spot or hammering out a high tempo aerobic workout.

The Snow Fun Zone for tobogganing and tubing is ideal for a first time snow experience.

A beautiful family friendly lodge and facilities slopeside makes the Snow Farm a great day option to the busier downhill resorts.

Look out for:

Fit people skiing with guns, possibly speaking Russian. A number of Olympic biathlon (skiing and target shooting in one event) teams train up here as do some dogsled teams.


Listen for howling.

Heli Skiing

The thrill of a heli-ski outing in the mountains towering above Lake Wanaka is on many a skier or boarders bucket list!

Local operators are the pioneers of the New Zealand industry with companies like Alpine Helicopters, Harris Mountains Heli-Ski and Southern Lakes Heliski renowned for their experience and professionalism. You have literally thousands of hectares of terrain with hundreds of runs to choose from.

Be warned though, the first day of heli-skiing is often the gateway drug to a habit that’s hard to break.

The Town

Alongside swank resorts like Aspen, Zermatt and Chamonix, Wanaka was chosen as one of the world top 25 ski towns by National Geographic and the news is slowly getting out there. It's got the picture perfect scenery to easily rival anywhere in the world without the hustle or the traffic - think boutique - think authentic ski town. 

The Wanaka après ski scene has certainly gathered pace in the past decade with a lively mix of lakefront bars, cafes, stylish lounges and a cosmopolitan food scene. You’ll find yourself sharing happy hour with Olympic Racers, X Games medallists and seasonal winter nomads from across the globe.

Off the Snow

A day off the hill could see you abseiling down a canyon, becoming “Lord of the Rungs’ on the  Southern Hemisphere’s newest via ferrata or jet boating into Mt Aspiring National Park.

It’s not all action and adrenaline though! Boat trips on the lake and winery tours run through winter and there is a huge network of bike tracks and walking paths for all abilities.

Top tip for an afternoon off:

 Head to the i-Site which has excellent information on the range of activities possible in the area.