Your Guide to Queenstown Part One: Where to Ski
Queenstown really is a movie star in its own right.
For a small Central Otago town of less than 20,000 residents, Queenstown has some mighty credentials. Besides being surrounded by some of the most remarkable-looking mountains in the world (one range literally called "The Remarkables"), Queenstown has hosted royals, celebrities, billionaires and backpackers alike; and the surrounding area has become the backdrop for many a blockbuster film - X-Men, Lord of the Rings, as well as Jane Campion's award-winning TV series Top of the Lake to name a few. But Queenstown really is a movie star in its own right.
The alpine resort town has its own unreplicable charm. Walking down any of the seven main streets in town: Shotover, The Mall, Cow, Searle, Church, Beach or Camp feels like walking through an (albeit very relaxed) international airport - with a series of adhoc accents and dress senses which range from skiers in gear, still fresh from the snow, to dolled up A-listers. Both types are very welcome here.
So we've taken it upon ourselves to head south to paradise, and take you on a three-part journey of Concrete Playground's favourite South Island city, starting with Queenstown's nearby ski fields.
See part two: 'Your Guide to Queenstown: Where to Eat', and part three: 'Your Guide to Queenstown: Where to Eat and Where to Sleep'.
Where to Ski
Unknown to most, almost every ski field in the Queenstown region stays open until October 5 (Remarkables being the only exception, with a September 28 closing date). It's surprising that more people don't head over to the mountains during spring. Not only are the mountains less crowded, but you can also (mostly) avoid the hassles of frozen scratchy turf, polyprops and thermals and strip down to a teeshirt while carving down some pretty lush, soft snow. Concrete Playground even witnessed a snowboarder hurtling down the mountain in just his jocks, although we're not sure we would promote stripping down that far.
The highest ski field out of the lot, Cardrona keeps a consistently deep snow level throughout the season thanks to its 1670m - 1860m altitude. Cardrona is a blue skier's paradise, with around 50% of its runs dedicated to blue-level punters. It's also a bit of a haven for freestylers with an Olympic-sized superpipe, as well as many other freestyle park paraphernalia.
Cost: $99 for a day pass.
The mountain range lives up to its namesake, being one of the only mountain ranges in the world which aligns with true North and South. Remarkable, huh?
Situated in Queenstown's backyard, The laid-back Remarkables ski field is the closest ski field to Queenstown with an easy less-than-an-hour's drive up to the mountain from town. It's ideal turf for those who've had a bit of rough night, or those feeling like taking it easy and only having a half day of snow. And - best of all - when your calves need a break from carving, you can head over to the ice bar, conveniently located just off the top of the Alta chairlift.
Oh, and since the field is located inside a National Park, and the people running The Remarkables ski field are pretty enthusiastic about conservation, they use some of proceeds from your lift passes to help conserve the Keas and Kiwis in the area. Neat.
Cost: $95 for a day pass.
Luxury Option: Heli Ski
Heli skiing is no scenic picnic. This is Adventure (yes, with a capital A), and you have to earn it. It may mean following your guide down a 100-metre near-vertical chute, and getting caught in a whiteout - but when and if you're lucky and conditions are right, you'll have a wide bowl and miles of endless powder to play in.
The ski fields are preschools in comparison to this raw, powerful and up close experience of nature.
There are numerous heli ski companies in the area including the Glacier Southern Lakes Heliski (the company we tried), which has a starting rate of $870 for three runs (about three hours of skiing).
Special Mention: Coronet Peak
Although Concrete Playground didn't visit Coronet Peak during our weekend we couldn't stop hearing great things about it: night skiing on Friday and Saturday nights, a six-seater chairlift and a fully sealed road up to the mountain. Mind the crowds though - a natural side effect of being such a likeable ski field.
Published on September 09, 2014 by Laetitia Laubscher