The best ski spots near Christchurch

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 13:22 26/05/2014
Porters skifield
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EXTRA DUSTING: Porters skifield, just over an hour away from Christchurch, is celebrating the arrival of seven new snow-making guns.

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Anna Pearson checks out skifields within two to four hours of the South Island's largest city.

Canterbury people are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding cold white stuff to slide on. There are 13 ski areas within two to four hours' drive of Christchurch - from the city to car park - although at some fields there is still a bit of a hike to the snow.

A mix of commercial and club skifields means there's no shortage of variety. Mt Hutt and Ohau snow fields have chairlifts; the rest have a mix of T-bars, Poma lifts and that beginners' nemesis, the rope tow.

Temple Basin, Craigieburn Valley Ski Area, Broken River Ski Field, Mount Olympus Ski Area and Fox Peak Ski Field solely use rope tows and they're also a feature at Hanmer Springs Ski Area, Mt Lyford Alpine Resort and Roundhill Ski Area.

Ski passes for adults this year vary from $95 to $50 and young children ski for free at many of the fields. Club fields also offer cheaper rates for members.

Christchurch-based company Chill offers a range of packages catering for most of the 13 skifields, including five, seven and 10-day passes for 11 mountains.

MT HUTT

Christchurch to car park: 1hr 15min

Mid-season adult pass: $95

Opening: June 7

A new terrain park and free wi-fi at the base are features of Canterbury's largest commercial skifield. Under-10s ski for free, as is the case at many of the region's fields.

"One of the markets that we push hard on is families. We're doing kids for free for our third year running," says manager James McKenzie.

Methven, a nearby town, is also on board with accommodation providers and bus companies offering similar deals. McKenzie says Mt Hutt has a "pretty comprehensive" infrastructure.

"The other thing that Mt Hutt can offer . . . is our early learning children's centre."

The fully-licensed creche caters for children from 3 months to 5 years.

The skifield also has two brand new snow groomers.

MT CHEESEMAN SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 1hr 30min

Mid-season adult pass: $79

Opening: June 28

Cheeseman is a laidback skifield in the Craigieburn Range. "Family-friendly fun is probably the best way to describe us. [We] have sunny slopes and a nice big day lodge," says marketing manager Ana Haase.

Haase says Cheeseman is mainly targeted at learners and people of intermediate ability.

Its lifts are T-bars, with a rope tow for learners.

"We have got overnight accommodation on the mountain, which you can drive to," says Haase.

FOX PEAK SKI FIELD

Christchurch to car park: 2hr 30min

Mid-season adult pass: $50

Opening: July 12

Fox Peak club president Grant Keeley says the skifield is for "everybody", particularly people into ski touring.

"There's a lot more of that happening now. It's these macho, super-fit, super-good-looking girls and boys [aged] 25 to 30 years," says Keeley.

Fox Peak is "one of the biggest club fields, but you have got to do a bit of work to get around most of it".

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"Touring through to the tarn in the South Basin would be the classic one that people do," he says. Keeley says Fox Peak has "the label of being a drinking club with a skiing problem".

The club field aims to crank up its lifts mid-July, if there's enough snow.

CRAIGIEBURN VALLEY SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 1hr 30min

Mid-season adult pass: $72

Opening: July 5

Craigieburn features long runs and access to backcountry skiing. The skifield is on State Highway 73 between Springfield and Arthurs Pass.

Manager Nick Jarman says uncrowded slopes mean there's "heaps of room for everyone".

And the cafe on the field, with "amazing views", is a bonus too.

Craigieburn's website says it boasts steep, narrow chutes and wide open powder bowls.

"If you are an advanced or expert rider, then Craigieburn is your holy grail," it says.

There's also a lodge at the base of the field.

MT DOBSON SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 2hr 45min

Mid-season adult pass: $78

Opening: July 4

Mt Dobson is the only field on the main road between Christchurch and Queenstown.

"Because we're higher, we have got dry snow. A lot of our customers tell us that we have the best powder," says manager Peter Foote. The field has terrain suitable for all levels and management is installing wi-fi in the base this season.

"We bought a new groomer last year [and] the finished product is superb," says Foote.

The commercial skifield also has a club base.

Mt Dobson Ski and Snowboard Club president Steve Morse says the "separate entity" works "hand in hand" with Foote.

BROKEN RIVER SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 1hr 30min

Mid-season adult pass: $75

Opening: June 21

Broken River consists of a large open basin with rolling terrain and steeper chutes at the top of the ski field.

Allan's Basin, the field's adjacent "tranquil backcountry basin", has a variety of steep and more mellow chutes.

Broken River marketing officer Claire Newell says it is laidback and friendly. There are three lodges at the tree line - a 10 to 15 minute walk below the field.

Newell says Broken River attracts outdoorsy and adventurous people wanting an intimate place with "not so many frills" to ski and socialise.

Highlights this season include a "ski rogaine" event, a telemark week and a beer tasting event. The club has its own craft beer brewed by a member.

MT OLYMPUS SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 2hr

Mid-season adult pass: $70

Opening: July 6

Mt Olympus' exciting news is the completion of its four-year top hut renovation. Club spokeswoman Cindy Driscoll says the project, mostly done by volunteers, is a "huge" achievement.

The ski area, which has rope tows, is suitable for "beginner to extreme" skiers and snowboarders.

"Accommodation is situated right on the field. After a great day's skiing you can relax in the al fresco hot tub."

Driscoll says the club's curling day on a rink on a tarn is one of its annual highlights. "We have the highest curling rink in New Zealand."

MT LYFORD ALPINE RESORT

Christchurch to car park: 2hr to 2hr 15min

Mid-season adult pass: $70

Opening: June 20

Family-operated Mt Lyford is "one of New Zealand's sunniest ski areas", says manager Hamish Simpson.

The west-facing field receives sun from 9am to 4.30pm "and can be one of the first to open".

Simpson says Mt Lyford is set up perfectly to cater for entry-level and intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

But he says there is also plenty of steep, challenging terrain off the Terako Rope Tow.

Mt Lyford has a centrally located day lodge, with rental equipment available and a cafe.

All main runs are groomed daily.

TEMPLE BASIN

Christchurch to car park: 2hr + 45min walk to ski area

Mid-season adult pass: $68

Opening: June 28

Temple Basin is situated in the heart of Arthur's Pass National Park with "awe-inspiring" views of Mt Rolleston, says Angela Matheson Sullivan. It's not for the faint-of-heart, with access to the car park via State Highway 73 and a 45-minute walk to the ski area.

The club field offers "endless" hiking options and night skiing and snowboarding with accommodation on site. Temple Basin is also home to the Canterbury University Snowsports Club. An annual highlight is its Fire and Ice event, with bands, night riding and a bonfire.

ROUNDHILL SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 2hr 30min to 3hr

Mid-season adult pass: $78

Opening: June 28

Roundhill has the highest vertical of any ski area in Australasia - and the world's longest rope tow. "It has a really relaxed, family- friendly vibe," says manager Simon Murrell.

"We have a really good little bar up the top of the hill - The Von Brown Hut.

"It has majestic views over Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook," he says.

Most customers are from Canterbury and South Canterbury, but skiers and snowboarders also come from the Southern Lakes District.

Highlights this year include a Father's Day ski race in September and a 1980s day.

The skifield will also host a Ski- Doo hill climb competition, which is "good for all the petrol heads out there".

PORTERS SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 1hr 15min

Mid-season adult pass: $85.

Opening date: June 20

Porters is celebrating the arrival of seven new snow-making guns.

"The new guns will produce 20 to 30 per cent more snow than previous models," says marketing manager Guy Nurse.

Nurse says the "friendly" and "welcoming" ski area, just west of Springfield, boasts "spectacular views" of Castle Hill and Mt Torlesse. It has beginner and intermediate facilities as well as advanced runs, including the aptly-named trails Big Mama and Bluff Face.

Porters has a fully-licensed cafe and bar, a full rental department and international snow school. The ski area is also offering complimentary skiing for under- 12s, when accompanied by paying parents or grandparents, for the first time.

HANMER SPRINGS SKI AREA

Christchurch to car park: 2hr

Mid-season adult pass: $60

Opening: June 28

Amuri Ski Club vice-president James Girdlestone says Hanmer Springs ski area has a "casual, no- stress" vibe.

The field is 17km from Hanmer Springs township and the club has put "quite a bit of money" into improving the access road in the past five years.

"There is heaps of accommodation and it's pretty cheap. There's nothing quite like waking up . . . on the mountain," says Girdlestone.

The field has an 800-metre Poma, a rope tow and a beginners' fixed-grip rope tow.

"The beginner's tow is ideal for little kids and the lodge is [beside it]. Parents can sit inside and see their precious [ones] right there," he says.

OHAU SNOW FIELDS

Christchurch to car park: 4hr

Mid-season adult pass: $81

Opening: June 28

Ohau is a small commercial ski field in the Mackenzie High Country, privately owned by the Neilson family. Mike Neilson says the field boasts "powder snow, sunshine... and un-crowded slopes".

"We have the real snow. Whenever we get a fall... we'll find the powder hounds coming out of the woodwork," he says.

Neilson says snow in the Mackenzie Country is relatively dry, compared to that on skifields in more coastal areas. The Neilson family also owns Lake Ohau Lodge and people who stay there get special rates for the mountain.

A highlight this year includes the completion of stage two of the field's new snow-making system. "We have got two main trails - top to bottom - with snow-making on them," says Neilson.

- The Press

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