I vacation away from the Gold Coast every winter, but I’d never been skiing until this month. I’m more a warm climate kinda gal. Since my son was born five years ago we’ve had stints in Thailand, Vanuatu, Daintree, Atherton Tablelands and Central Queensland coast – balmy days, cool nights and plenty of warm water for lazing around in.
But ever since our friends visited Tasmania in winter and saw snow, my kid’s been obsessed with “real” winters. He wants hot chocolate and snowmen, skiing and hot pools, thermals and gloves.
There was only one thing for it. New Zealand. Destination: snow.
Once we had our sights set on skiing Queenstown the research began, and I have to say, for a complete novice things were a bit overwhelming. What do we wear? Do we need all our own gear? What do I buy before leaving? How do lessons work? What packages are best? Is it really that cold? What if we suck at skiing?
Here’s my tips for the absolute novice wanting to ski Queenstown:
Queenstown is the ultimate family destination
Skiing aside, Queenstown is absolute GOLD for families. From ice-skating to gondola rides, million-dollar views, accessible snow for those not skiing, movie theatres, cheap cafes, fancy restaurants, boats, gardens, bars with roaring fireplaces and beaches for playing, you WILL not be bored here.
When you stay in Queenstown, you’ll want to ski at Coronet or The Remarkables. Thankfully, both are operated by the same company so you can buy a three-mountain pass (that also includes Mt Hut near Christchurch) and flit between them as conditions dictate. Coronet is just 20 minutes away from Queenstown. The Remarkables around 40 minutes. If you haven’t driven in snow and ice before, get advice before doing so, or better yet, take the bus. Kids five and under are free and the return trip is just $20. Even on the busiest day at Coronet we only waited 15 minutes for the bus home at the end of the day. The landscape is mint and you will absolutely want to enjoy it. The bus is a stellar option.
What you need to ski
To be honest, you can totally get away with arriving on the mountain with nothing. Everything you need is available onsite – either for hire or purchase. But here’s what I wish I’d known before arriving:
- Patience – if, like me, you’re visiting Coronet right at that magical time where there’s been overnight snow plus it’s both Australian and New Zealand school holidays, you’ll have to queue up for pretty much everything. People who hang out in the snow are (nearly) as chilled as those of us who live at the beach. There’s no need to rush. Everyone’s there for the same reason (and many are also first-timers like we were). Just be patient.
- Take your own goggles and gloves. For hygiene reasons, they can’t be hired. You can buy these on the mountain or at dozens of stores around Queenstown.
- You’ll need ski pants and a jacket. If you’re learning to snowboard, you’ll spend most of the time on your arse in the snow. You’ll want waterproof and warm pants. These cost around $40 for a set (pants and jacket) to hire per day on the mountain and while they’re ill-fitting, as you’d expect with communal clothing, they’re warm and they totally do the job. If you’re skiing for more than a couple of days it makes economic sense to buy your own.
- You’ll want to wear thermals or an under-layer beneath the ski pants and jacket.
- Helmets rock. They’re available to hire onsite as well.
- If you’re skiing you’ll need ski boots and skis. If you’re skiing for the very first time, you’ll probably be hiring this gear instead of buying it. I can’t ever see myself travelling somewhere with something so heavy and bulky so I’ll be hiring these for the rest of my life. Hiring skis at Coronet is around $50 per day. You can also hire this gear in town, but that means lugging it up to the mountain every day on the bus.
- Buy the best quality wool socks you can. I’ll be honest, those ski boots suck. They’re big, heavy and uncomfortable. Awesome wool socks will make things so much more comfortable. They’ll also keep your toes toasty-warm, on and off the snow.
- Once you’ve got your clothing sorted, you’ll need a lift pass
Lift passes and lessons
What you might not realise is that you don’t need a lift pass to simply get onto the mountain, check things out and enjoy some snow. Anyone can do that at any time. A lift pass gets you up onto the slopes for skiing or snowboarding.
- A one-day lift pass costs around $120 a day, with discounts for multiple-day passes. Those days don’t have to be consecutive.
- If you buy before the season starts, it’s much cheaper. Early-bird discounts for multi-day and season passes are offered until early April. Season passes basically giving you unlimited access throughout the entire season.
- You can bundle up your lift pass with lessons and ski or snowboard hire. That equates to around $230 per day (not including clothing / helmet) or $610 for three days.
Kids lessons are the bomb
Some parents have this beautiful vision in their heads
of tearing up snow with their well-behaved child doing the same beside them. Not me. I wanted to learn to ski properly myself and so that meant I either had to arrange childcare for each of the days I was on the mountain or sort something else out. Enter Kea Club. On Coronet (The Remarkables have something similar on offer), kids aged 5 – 17 years can participate in the Kea Club which conveniently starts 20 minutes before adult lessons, includes five hours of ski instruction, a hot lunch and most importantly on-demand access to patient, qualified instructors to help them ge up and riding as quickly as possible.
I can’t speak highly enough of this service. For 5 year olds Kea Club will set you back $146 and for kids aged 6 – 17 it’ll cost $190. Worth every cent.
MyPass is the digital system used to manage all your purchases and lift passes for Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Hut. It’s a credit-card sized card. When you buy lift passes, ski hire, lessons or anything else – whether online, at the Snow Centre counter in Queenstown or at one of the ski fields themselves, your purchases are loaded onto the card. Although you will get a paper voucher for ski lessons that you’ll present to your instructor. For everything else, you’ll need to present your card, which is also loaded with personal information such as weight and height (which is needed to accurately fit you for skis and snowboards).
Your MyPass doubles as your physical lift pass. You’ll need to swipe it to access both the magic carpet (beginners’ conveyor) as well as ski lifts throughout the day, including during lessons.
When you arrive
During peak times, you can imagine the throng of people waiting to get sorted with hire gear and skis. If you’re coming for the first time and you’re joining group lessons, you should plan to get up to the mountain as soon as things open. If you’re taking the bus, that means jumping on one of the first departures while it’s still dark in Queenstown. But hey, you wanted a winter holiday, right?
Hopefully you will have pre-loaded your MyPass with your purchases: hire gear, lessons, lift passes and you can proceed straight to picking it all up and getting your skis fitted. Picture 50 families all trying to get big clunky boots laced up, with excited children and confused parents loaded up with all the discarded shoes and clothing.
Coronet is the home of night skiing
That’s right, you can ski at night at Coronet every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 4 – 9.00pm with the slopes lit up magically for both skiers and spectators. A night skiing lift pass is only $62 too, making it super-affordable, if you can drag yourself away from the heated outdoor deck with roaring fire and DJ, that is. Night skiing runs until early September.
You don’t have to ski to enjoy Coronet
There’s an area set aside for snow-play on Coronet and you can hire sleds for making the most of good weather. If you don’t have ski pants, you will get wet and cold, so pack a change of clothes. Visitors can also ride the chairlift. Scenic chairlift rides cost $30 and you must have enclosed shoes. You can book and pay onsite. There’s several cafes serving everything from awesome meat pies to home-made soups and night skiing offers magical ambience as well as music to fuel the night-time stoke.
_ _ _
The Coronet ski season runs until Sunday 30 September (subject to mother nature, of course) with The Remarkables and Mt Hutt closing around Sunday 7 October. Find out more about Skiing New Zealand’s South Island at nzski.com.