Summer Skiing the Best New Zealand “Ski Fields”

The Pinnacles on Whakapapa, the sister ski area to Turoa, which lives on the other side of Mt. Ruapehu Ski Field, New Zealand. Photo credit: World Snowboarding Guide.

By Miles Clark, BCA Ambassador

South America gets all the glory when it comes to summer skiing. And I don’t deny that the terrain in the southern part of the Americas is epic. But read this — and consider planning a summer skiing trip to the best New Zealand “ski fields” right now.

Ski resorts in New Zealand are called ski fields and they can be divided into two main groups: the big resorts and the club fields. New Zealand offers one of the best destinations on earth for a ski road trip. Located in the South Pacific, New Zealand has two main islands, both of which offer skiing in the summer months. Both islands offer enough terrain, big mountains, glaciers and epic snow to last you ten lifetimes. Here are some of our favorite places to shred.

On the North Island, the two main ski fields are perched on Mt Ruapehu, the highest point on the North Island and the largest active volcano in New Zealand. Ruapehu is home to Whakapapa and Turoa. These comprise the two largest ski resorts in New Zealand. Both offer great terrain and big vertical.

Skier: Felix Lempriere at Treble Cone, New Zealand. Photo: Yimmers/Snowbrains

The Southern Alps and Southern Isle of New Zealand.

The South Island is home to a few of the better-known resorts. Places like Mt. Hutt, Treble Cone, Cardrona and The Remarkables. The best of the lot has to be Treble Cone, though. Perched in some spectacular mountains just up the road from one of the coolest mountain towns in the world, Lake Wanaka, Treble Cone offers amazing snow, fantastic terrain and views of the Southern Alps and Lake Wanaka that will take your breath away.

Craigieburn Ski Field piste map, New Zealand.

The other category of ski fields in New Zealand are the club fields. And here is where the real gems lie. Club fields are small, cooperatively run ski hills (owned by skiers) that at best have T-bars or Poma lifts but for the most part use rope tows. Yep, you heard that right. They use rope tows. I’m sure you have visions of bunny hills with little to no vertical or terrain. But there you are wrong, my friend. Some of the club fields, like Mt. Olympus, Craigieburn, Broken River and Temple Basin, offer some of the gnarliest big mountain terrain around. And the beauty of it is a busy summer ski day will see a couple of hundred people, untracked lines as far as the eye can see and a relaxed, local atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else.

Skiing the New Zealand club fields requires some “oomph.” So best to bring your touring and avalanche gear. Almost all of the club fields have their rope tows or T-bars as a starting point for access. And this is where these little ski collectives offer so much. If you’re keen to tour or hike for your turns, the options are absolutely endless.

Temple Basin ski field, New Zealand.

Using a “nutcracker” rope tow, on the other hand, is a different matter, and may take a little getting used to. The video below shows how it’s done…using a waist belt or climbing harness with something called a “nutcracker” attached to it.  To use the rope tows many of us grew up with, we’d simply grab the cable and hang on up, lifting our hand off momentarily as the cable rolled over a cable support wheel or grommet. The Nutcracker rope tows in New Zealand are trickier, as they require you to put a hinged metal bracket over the cable and let it ride through across a shive wheel at different support points — well you just have to watch the video to see what we mean.  Watch your fingers!!

Watch Video: Riding the “nutcracker” for the first time at Craigieburn (and what happens about two minutes in….)

Summer skiing in New Zealand runs from mid June to September on the North Island, and mid-June to mid-October on the South Island.