Australia v New Zealand skiing: the best of both worlds

Does Australia or New Zealand have the best fields? Rachael Oakes-Ash dares to compare.

Australia and New Zealand enjoy a healthy rivalry, though they haven't forgiven us for claiming Phar Lap and Crowded House as our own. When it comes to the snow, however, it's another story, as competition for Australia's 800,000 skiers and boarders is tight.

The average holiday ski or snowboard terrain is an intermediate blue-groomed run and most blue runs around the world are the same standard. So what makes skiing or boarding in Australia and New Zealand different?

Adrenalin rush ... helicopters take skiers and boarders to another world, deep within New Zealand's impressive Southern Alps, for fresh turns far from the crowds.
Adrenalin rush ... helicopters take skiers and boarders to another world, deep within New Zealand's impressive Southern Alps, for fresh turns far from the crowds. 

Australia has the largest ski resort in Australasia. So there. Perisher, in NSW, boasts 1245 hectares of terrain, not so closely followed by Mount Ruapehu's Whakapapa resort in New Zealand's North Island, which has 550 hectares. We have the longest run, Thredbo's 5.9-kilometre Supertrail; they have the most vertical descent, 722 metres on the Turoa side of Mount Ruapehu.

The Canterbury region of New Zealand's Mount Hutt and the club fields of Craigieburn, Cheeseman and Broken River get average snow of more than four metres a season. Australian ski fields average about three metres. They win that round. However, skiing in NZ is above the tree line, so tree skiing is out, while in Australia the snow gums provide definition when the weather settles in. Not that we're competitive.

Australian fields are based around a village. Falls Creek in Victoria and Charlotte Pass in NSW are both pedestrian-only and most accommodation is ski-in, ski-out, while Perisher is planning a $112 million, 800-bed village redevelopment.

Guests in NZ generally stay in satellite towns and villages and drive up the mountains each morning. The drive to Coronet Peak from Queenstown is a safe 25-minute run on bitumen roads. However, the drive across the valley to the Remarkables is a hair-raising 45-minute series of switchbacks on untarred trails, with a vertigo-inducing drop off. Ensure your affairs are in order before you drive it.

Smart-thinking resorts such as Treble Cone and Snow Park in NZ's South Island have gondola developments in the works. When these are completed, skiers and boarders will park on the valley floor and catch the gondola to the base lodge, ending the dodgy drives.

Hungry? Falls Creek has 32 dining options on the mountain and village, Mount Buller has 30, Thredbo has 11 on the mountain, with more in the village, and Perisher has 19 cafes and kiosks. On-mountain dining is more restricted in NZ. Cardrona Resort has the best on-mountain catering but only five dining establishments. Coronet Peak has four and Treble Cone has one – but it's a good one, with an award-winning chef and fine, fresh produce.

Australia, however, doesn't have Queenstown, a truly stunning lakeside resort town with more than 130 bars and restaurants clustered in one square kilometre of space. On a down day in Australia there's nothing to do but play Monopoly in front of the lodge fire. In NZ, you can take your pick: go bungy jumping, jet boating, winery hopping, play golf, go to a spa or take in a movie.

Travel time to the snow for Sydneysiders is much the same. Drive six hours to Thredbo or fly for an hour to Mount Hotham airport. Alternatively, fly three hours' direct to Christchurch and drive an hour to Mount Hutt or take a direct flight to Queenstown. Door-to-door, it still works out much the same as the time taken to drive to Kosciuszko National Park.

If you like your powder untouched, prefer your pitch steep and are not afraid of earning your turns, NZ lords it over Australia – once you get out of the commercial resorts.

Helicopters take skiers and boarders to another world deep within the impressive Southern Alps for fresh turns far from maddening crowds. Cat skiing is offered in the Mackenzie region and snow planes take skiers on to the Tasman Glacier for 10-kilometre runs.

However, most holiday skiers are guided by a budget and the NZ fields offer seriously good value for money at the current exchange rate. Even Perisher's five-day pass (it works out at $89 a day) can't beat Cardrona's five-day pass (a mere $A307).

But then, size matters and Perisher wins that race every time.

JOIN YOUR CROWD

If you want to ski with like-minded people, then join one of these specialised courses.

- WHIP — Women's High Intensity Program at Thredbo, August 10 and 17, thredbo.com.au. Five days with daily tuition, video analysis, lift pass and a party dinner for $1046.

- Boomers on Groomers, Falls Creek, August 28 to 30, fallscreek.com.au. For those 50 and over who want to improve their ski skills. The three-day program includes daily lessons, video analysis and lunch, $669, including lift pass.

- Spring Youth Snowboard Camp, Mt Hotham, September 22 to 24, hotham.com.au. Three-day camp for seven to 14-year-olds wanting to hit the parks and freeride terrain. $260 for daily tuition, lunch and video analysis.

- ASAP Program, Treble Cone, New Zealand, tomorrow, and on August 10, 17 and 24, treblecone.com. An intensive five-day program for intermediate to advanced skiers. Daily tuition, video analysis, dry-land training and more, $NZ595.

- Gay Ski Week, Queenstown, August 29 to September 6, gayskiweeknz.com. The name says it all, with on-mountain events, apres-ski, karaoke casino night, white-out party and more.

TRIP NOTES

- For a thorough overview of the major commercial fields on the South Island, see newzealandski.co.nz.

- For the North Island's Mount Ruapehu fields, see mtruapehu.com.

- For the club fields of the Canterbury and Mackenzie regions and the 12-club field Chill Out pass, see chillout.co.nz.

- For heli-skiing: Canterbury and Mount Cook region, Methven Heli Skiing, see heliskiing.co.nz.

For Wanaka and Queenstown, Southern Lakes Heli Ski, see southernlakesheliski.co.nz.

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