Skifields get ready for busy season

01:26, Jun 04 2010
SKIING
HERE COMES THE SNOW: Cardrona skifield near Wanaka is happy with the latest covering of "white gold".

Cold enough for you? Freezing winds and slippery pavements are not much fun in the city but up on the country's ski areas, they can't suppress their smiles.

After a bumper snow season last year and a boom in Australian visitors, some ski areas have fast-tracked investment in buildings, snowmaking and lifts, and 2010 is shaping up as a vintage season.

Northern Exposure

This time last season, Manganui club field on Taranaki/Mt Egmont was up and running. There's snow up there now and regular skiing could be under way this weekend.

Where else can you find a dormant volcano towering above grazing dairy herds less than 10 kilometres from the ocean? With just two long lifts but unlimited terrain, it's a special place to ski. The Manganui club has two huts on the field and keeps day pass prices at an affordable $40.

Up on the Central Plateau, Mt Ruapehu is in good nick after a snow bonanza last season. First tracks have been claimed at Whakapapa, just as the roof went on the rebuilt Knoll Ridge Cafe.

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Whakapapa is New Zealand's biggest and busiest ski area, with a skiable area of 550 hectares, and 43 runs from beginner to off-piste expert. There are two quad chairlifts among its 16 lifts with a total uphill capacity of 26,710 skiers an hour. And five cafes take care of the munchies.

Although Ruapehu's position at the top of the island means it gets some heavy-weather days, the days after can often bring the best skiing in the country.

So what does Ruapehu offer that no other ski area does?

The longest vertical descent in Australasia, the highest lift in New Zealand and the largest amount of lift- accessed terrain.

What are the hottest/coolest things on the mountain this season?

The variety of events, on the mountain and in the area. The full events calendar is available at mtruapehu.com, but watch out for the Kids Mini Games, July 13 at Whakapapa, snowboard Freestyle Jib Nationals at Turoa, July 17, and the K2 Rip Curl Bikini Downhill on September 25.

What's the best lift/run combo on the mountain for a seven-year-old novice?

Clarry's track at Turoa is great for beginners, as is the Wintergarden. At Whakapapa the lower mountain's Rock Garden and Hutt Flat are the best. Kids' holiday and weekend programmes allow kids to stay safe, become better skiers or riders and have fun while hanging out with an instructor and new friends.

What about a cocky teen shredder?

Freestyle fans love the terrain parks at Turoa and the huge range of natural features, cliff drops, waterfalls, kickers, bowls and pipes at Turoa and Whakapapa. The Mother Freestyle Series with the Nitro Elan Jib Nationals go down on July 24 at Turoa and the Smith Sessions Slopestyle on August 14.

What about an accomplished mother and two kids?

Any of the terrain inside either ski area is a great option for a family. The new cafe at Knoll Ridge at Whakapapa makes a great stop for a break any time in the day. Advanced intermediates can join the United Airlines Mountain Hosts' regular free tours at both areas. They'll discover some of the best "secret" places out there for safe fun and variety.

And a transceiver-packin' powder dog?

The Pinnacles, home of the Export Xtreme (a Freeride World Tour qualifying event) at Whakapapa is some of the best lift-accessed backcountry terrain anywhere. Ruapehu has tons of lift-accessed backcountry for getting away from the crowds, and qualified guides lead those who don't know the area but still want the experience.

Where's the best lunch?

The current favourite at Turoa is Alpine Bar's chicken ciabatta - a garlic chicken breast on a toasted ciabatta with roasted capsicum, red onions, cheese, lettuce and aoli with shoestring fries and a garden salad: $16.50.

At Whakapapa, Lorenz's Bar and Cafe serves the most amazing "mountain muffin" for $8.50 - it's a toasted English muffin, bacon, egg, hash brown and cheese served with hollandaise and barbecue sauce, served until 10.30am.

How much is an adult day pass? $86.

And the best pass/skihire/lesson package?

Depends on the level of the skier or rider, but the first timer will love the Discover Package with a beginner area lift pass, skis, boots and poles or snowboard and boots and a group lesson for $100 for adults and $70 for under 18s.

What should we look forward to most this season?

When your legs are sore from too much great skiing, call in to the rebuilt Knoll Ridge cafe at Whakapapa (the original was lost to arson last summer) slightly down the hill and now all on one level. There is easy access and amazing views from the cantilevered decks.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN

Skiers and visitors to the top of the South Island are well served by casual and cute club fields in Nelson Lakes National Park - Rainbow - the Kaikouras' Mt Lyford, and Hanmer Springs in north Canterbury.

They're great local and beginner fields, and a lot of fun in a good snow year.

The chain of skifields just to the south offer some of the country's most exciting skiing, from the ever- improving Porters, Canterbury's family favourite, to the wild and craggy Craigieburn, haven of wild backcountry crazies and (the world's steepest?) nutcracker rope tows.

In between, Broken River and Cheesman retain the heart of club skiing in New Zealand. Along with Temple Basin, near Arthur's Pass, and Olympus on the back road to the Rakaia Gorge, the Chill Pass multi-field ticket opens all these fields to the skier who wants to explore.

Mt Hutt is famous for early opening, late closing and reliable snow throughout winter. New developments include an expanded beginners area, pimped-up terrain parks and, along with its nzski.com stablemates, Coronet Peak and Remarkables, an electronic lift pass system. Manager Dave Wilson says this means an end to fishing around for lift passes inside ski gear - microchipped passes can be read while safely stored in a jacket or pants pocket.

Mt Hutt has the most complete terrain mix of any ski area in the South Island, an exceptional 10-year snow record of both total snowfall and snow quality, and one of the longest snow seasons in New Zealand. What's more, kids under six ski free.

Wilson's picks for unique Mt Hutt experiences go like this: Wollowing in powder after July snowstorms; top to bottom runs with friends; dinner in Huber's Hut every Friday night in July and August for $80 a head, including Methven pickup and drop-off. There are also night-time groomer and day-time snowmobile rides.

Kids this season get an undercover magic carpet - complete with sound and light and big screens.

What's worth watching out for this season? Guided ski tours to the Rakaia Chutes and free transport back again.

What's the best lift/run combo on the mountain for a novice? Highway 72 it's groomed and friendly.

A cocky teen shredder? Mid towers will keep them happy.

An accomplished family group? Fascination and Broadway runs.

A transceiver-packin' powder dog?

He'll have to head over to the South Face or The Bluffs for gnarly steeps and the freshest powder.

Mt Hutt's restaurant and bar has a new menu this year. The resident chef recommends game dishes - venison pie or real weiner schnitzel. Both under $16. Huber's platter ($24.50 for two people) is Austrian fare ideal for snow country - cured meat, parma ham and homemade breads, with wines to match, and homemade hot apple strudel is $4.50.

How much is an adult daypass? $89.

How much is the best pass/skihire/ lesson package? The Starter Pack ($112), Novice Pack ($132) or Progression Pack ($165) each cater to different abilities.

MACKENZIE MAGIC

The scale and grandeur of the Mt Cook region is world-renowned, and the skiing is some of the friendliest. Mt Dobson near Fairlie, Round Hill in Tekapo, and Ohau to the south are the commercial fields accessible from Tekapo that make for fabulous family holidays.

The region also hosts one of skiing's spectacular runs, the Tasman Glacier under Aoraki/Mt Cook, a ski plane- accessible 20-kilometre run that should be on every skier's bucket list.

SOUTHERN SENSATIONS

Skiing gets serious in the Southern Lakes district. Queenstown's Winter Festival has become an international drawcard. It's heart still resides at Coronet Peak, and the first field to open - next weekend - couldn't be in better shape, with more than 100 snow guns topping up a natural 30-centimetre base.

Coronet has a new detachable quad chairlift with a loading carpet, which gives skiers world-class service, and a programme of events and kids' entertainment. Daily guided free tours of the mountain are hosted by ambassadors.

A day pass is $95. The best lunch on the mountain is a pizza at Heidi's Hut; prices are in the mid $20s. Some of the most fun at Coronet Peak this year will be Night Skiing, with great music and a complimentary mulled wine on the hut's deck.

The Remarkables, a true alpine field among the most spectacular peaks of the district, is a sunny, family-friendly basin that also serves some of the country's best advanced backcountry skiing.

Unique attractions include a dedicated Tubing Park for the non-skiers/boarders; The Lookout - a short hike from the top of the Shadow lift for some unbelievable views and The Stash terrain park.

Homeward Bound, on the field's boundary, is perhaps the country's best inbounds backcountry run.

At $89 a day pass, The Remarkables is slightly cheaper than its stablemates, and a refurbished base building and extended bar make it well worth a visit. The area celebrates its 25th birthday with an '80s theme party on August 1.

Over the Crown Range, Cardrona has been built into a fully fledged resort with skiing to challenge the most advanced. Massive earthworks and tunnel building have reshaped the access across the field, and reformed terrain parks and jumps will thrill the free-riding community.

Across the valley, on the Pisa Range, cross-country Snow Farm and freeski Snow Park cater to specialist visitors with peaceful cross-country tracks and radical slope-style heaven, respectively.

And sitting supreme above Lake Wanaka is Treble Cone, a true skier's mountain, with the best steeps, often the best snow, and terrain that excites everyone from beginners to powder hounds.

Women are especially welcome at TC this season with a special ski week at the end of July and in early September. Designed by women, for women, the course features top female instructors, women- specific ski equipment, video analysis through the week, coffee and muffin before heading out on to the slopes and a glass of bubbles on the last afternoon.

The Dominion Post