A beginner's guide to skiing in New Zealand's South Island


There's a misconception that New Zealand's snow resorts are only suitable for accomplished skiers and snowboarders.  Perhaps it's because there have always been plenty of double black diamond runs to challenge the pros, or because freestyle parks (with jumps and boxes) have become increasingly prevalent in recent years.

The fact is, however, that the vast majority of New Zealand slopes include wide, open bowls that are ideal terrain for beginners. As a place to learn to ski or snowboard, or to improve your basic skills, it is second to none.

Here are 10 reasons why New Zealand is a great place to begin your skiing or snowboarding journey.

1. Snowsports schools

Good instruction is the key to learning to ski or snowboard well. Both are technical sports which are difficult for even the most athletic person just to "pick up". Some of the best instructors in the world head to the southern hemisphere in winter to teach at resorts such as Mt Hutt, Treble Cone, Cardrona, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. Group lessons provide a great starting point, although if you want to progress quickly, nothing beats a private lesson. See www.nzski.com  www.cardrona.com

2. Dedicated beginners slopes

Beginners are safest where the terrain is not too steep, where runs can be well groomed and where other skiers have enough space to give them a wide berth. The Remarkables has some of the widest, smoothest beginner runs. Cardrona and Coronet Peak also have spacious dedicated beginners' areas. Even Treble Cone, which is not renowned as a learner's mountain, has a fenced off beginner area completely enclosed from the rest of the resort.

3. Smaller, more affordable resorts

While even non-skiers might have heard of Coronet Peak, New Zealand's first commercial ski field, fewer people know about the smaller snow resorts such as Porters, near Christchurch, and the boutique ski areas of the Mackenzie region, including Roundhill (which has a large beginners' area plus breathtaking views of Aoraki/Mt Cook), Ohau and Mr Dobson. See www.roundhill.co.nz www.ohau.co.nz www.mtdobson.co.nz

4. Novice packages

Of these lesser-known resorts mentioned above, Porters offers particularly good-value lift, lesson and equipment packages, especially for families new to skiing. One feature is an interchangeable parents' lift pass, to help families with young kids split the child-care duties. See www.skiporters.co.nz

5. Learner's lifts

An accessible surface conveyor lift (often called a magic carpet) is key to helping beginners become confident on the snow, and these are features of resorts such as The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona. 


6. Green to blue

Beginners won't stay that way forever, so it's important that there are intermediate runs which provide progression for novices without being too terrifying. Kiwi resorts tend to be built around a minimal number of lifts, so the chances are you'll already have mastered the chairlift and can simply ski or board a more challenging run once you are ready.

7. Group therapy

The open bowls of resorts such as Mt Hutt, The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Cardrona lend themselves to beginners (green) and intermediate (blue) runs. The beauty of these places is that if you're holidaying with a group of friends of varying skiing or boarding abilities, everyone will be happy.

8. Same, same but different

Basing yourself in Queenstown (or Wanaka) you can ski different mountains on different days. Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are owned and managed by the same company (which also owns Mt Hutt in the Canterbury region). Their ski schools function identically, so your lesson level at one resort will directly equate to the other. It means you can move between resorts for a change of scene but easily continue your lesson progression.

9. Family way

You know how to ski but your kids are just learning. You want to enjoy your own time on-piste but be sure your kids are happy too. New Zealand resorts are family friendly and designed to make the ski holiday easy, with dedicated kids' ski and snowboard schools and even ski kindy (with qualified carers) for the really young ones.   

10. Take a day off

Learning to ski or snowboard can be exhausting, both for adults and kids. If the weather's bad it can be unpleasant, and sometimes you just need a day off. The beauty of skiing in New Zealand, particularly if you're based in Queenstown or Wanaka, is the plethora of other activities and experiences at your fingertips, from jetboating to wine tasting to heading downhill fast on a luge.

This article brought to you in association with Tourism New Zealand.