Get more of the mountain

BIG CHILL: Happy Valley beginners ski area, Whakapapa
BIG CHILL: Happy Valley beginners ski area, Whakapapa

If you're relaxing into a week off, you're one of the 10 per cent of New Zealanders lucky enough to sort a 10-day holiday by taking only three days of annual leave, according to an Expedia survey.

Make the most of this Easter sojourn before your jandal tan becomes woolly sock territory and your next getaway is a whole lot chillier. Many eager ski-bunnies and locals have already snapped up earlybird season passes for the skifields.

But if you're deciding between a week-long family holiday to Ruapehu, Canterbury or the Southern Lakes, it pays to know how many days of aching thighs and bruised egos it takes to pay a season pass off. Or should you stick to the flexibility of day passes? There are some deals to be had in them thar hills!

Porters Skifield, 89 kilometres from Christchurch, is often shunned in favour of nearby Mt Hutt, which offers more lifts and runs. However, for families who want a budget-friendly winter getaway (normally an oxymoron), this skifield is worth a second look - $995 gets you two adults and two youths skiing and snowboarding throughout 2014. That's less than the cost of some single season passes.

The deal extends to teens (up to 18) and extra youth passes can be added for $100. With daily passes for adults and children at $85 and $45 respectively, families would only have to spend four days on the slopes to reap the benefits.

Single adult season passes are $500 and require six days in the bindings to break even.

Porter's has good snowfall and views but uses T-bars, not chairlifts, so decide between pain in your wallet or your glutes, if choosing this no-frills option.

Up north, Mt Ruapehu prides itself on offering the country's best-value skiing. TripAdvisor backed that up when it crowned Ohakune as the best value ski destination in Australasia for 2013.

It's not without its snags though. Being only four hours from Auckland and Wellington, Ruapehu is the North Island's main alpine destination and sadly that's evident in the chairlift queues. There are no student rates offered and adults will need 5 days to break even on their $479 season pass, compared to a $99 day pass rate.

Kids under 10 can get season passes for $50 when purchased with an adult one. A two-adult, two-child family could replicate the great value deal from Porters, at Ruapehu, with the added benefit of having two skifields, Whakapapa and Turoa, to choose from.

If you're as risk-loving as you are budget conscious, look into Ruapehu's spring passes, which can mean discounted riding in October - scarf-free, crowd-free, and hopefully not snow-free.

Cardrona, between Queenstown and Wanaka, offers adult season passes at $767 (stealth snow lovers snapped up the super-earlybird ones in March, for $599), which would take eight days to pay off. You'll need a fat wallet for the other southern options, with Mt Hutt adult season rates at $1049 and a combined Coronet Peak and the Remarkables one close to $1300.

That would require you to ski more than 11 days between June and September to break even. Granted these are large, tourist-friendly facilities with great snow, but the passes are clearly targeted at the locals and diehards.

Josh Martin is a reporter with the Fairfax business bureau.

Fairfax Media