The South Island town is a magical region to explore at any time of year. But a special buzz is reserved for winter, when skiers and snowboarders descend to experience world-class ski resorts, stunning scenery and a vibrant nightlife.
Two of the town’s four world-class ski fields, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, have distinct personalities but operate almost as one, sharing lift tickets and offering the same high-quality lessons and equipment hire. 2022 is a special year for Coronet Peak, as it celebrates the 75th anniversary of it becoming New Zealand’s first commercial ski field.
Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone are also within easy striking distance and offer two very different experiences. Cardrona is a favourite for families and back-country enthusiasts, while Treble Cone’s steep slopes and plunging chutes make it an expert skier’s Mecca.
The facilities at all four resorts are excellent, and recent investment has seen new lifts opening up previously untracked terrain. Book a snowcat with heated seats to convey you to private powder stashes in Soho Basin, or jump in a helicopter and get dropped off for a guided experience you’ll never forget. Return to a vibrant village to share battle stories over a drink and a meal.
Here’s our guide to the four major ski resorts around Queenstown – and where to drink, dine and unwind afterwards.
Where to hit the slopes
New Zealand’s first commercial ski field is turning 75 this year, with a special five-day celebration set to run August 17–21. Considered Queenstown’s “local” mountain, Coronet Peak is only 25 minutes’ drive from town. As far as roads to ski fields go, this one’s a walk in the park, fully sealed and suitable for all cars (carry chains at all times though). The Ski Bus is another great option, picking up from and dropping back to many accommodation spots in the areas.
Things have come a long way since 1947, when the ski field opened with a single rope tow. It now boasts three express lifts – including a six-seater gondola – and an old school T-bar, giving access to 280 hectares of diverse terrain. A favourite for intermediate skiers, the highest point is a relatively modest 1650 metres.
If you’re new to skiing or boarding then the First Timer package scores you a full-day learner area lift pass, a group lesson and equipment rental. If you’ve got more time then consider the three-day Intro to Snow package (also available at The Remarkables).
The resort is unique in offering night skiing between 4pm–9pm on Wednesdays and Fridays from late June until August 27 (worth it for the sunset view from the mountain alone). Throughout the season there will be a series of Night Ski Parties (ski credentials not required) so check here to see which DJ or live act is playing beforehand. Early birds keen to make first tracks on the freshly groomed corduroy can buy an add-on ticket.
The incredible view from this world-class ski field rivals anything in the European Alps. The Remarkables impress from any angle, including from Queenstown itself. Expect a lot of sun on the slopes here, thanks to the north-facing outlook.
The recent opening of the new Sugar Bowl Express chairlift has been game-changing for this resort, opening up 2.5 kilometres of new trails. All up there’s over 380 hectares of terrain, evenly split between beginner, intermediate and advanced. A simple layout sees all four chairlifts converge near the base station, making it easy to explore every corner of the ski field. Advanced and expert skiers and boarders can walk from the top of the Shadow Basin chairlift to access the famous double black diamond Alta Chutes.
Snowboarders will love the amount of freeride (ungroomed) terrain away from the crowds. If you’re not quite ready for the steep chutes, hone your freeride technique at the Burton Stash concept park, featuring all organic features that follow the natural lines of the mountain.
For great coffee after your adventures, head to the resort’s revamped Barista Bar. If you’re after something a bit heavier, time your visit for September 7-10 when the Snow Machine festival brings the Avalanches, Ball Park Music and Bliss n Eso to perform at both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, as well as in Queenstown’s town centre.
Cardrona Alpine Resort
As New Zealand’s most popular ski resort, Cardrona offers something for everyone. Located (roughly) halfway between Queenstown and Wānaka, the resort spans 465 hectares and is famed for its consistent snow conditions, helped along by its height and southerly outlook.
Ride the eight-seater McDougall’s Express Chondola (a cross between a chairlift and a gondola) or take the new Willow’s Quad chairlift to access 65 hectares of new terrain in Soho Ski Area.
It’s also a favourite for families, thanks to childcare services and a great beginners’ area. Home to Australasia’s only Olympic-sized half-pipe, the ski field is flush with features for freestylers, with four terrain parks and a gravity cross course.
Advanced skiers or boarders can take things to the next level by booking a private experience with Soho Basin, in the back-country area behind Cardrona.
At Soho Basin, the heated snowcat will transport you to thousands of acres of untracked slopes, which you can enjoy before sitting down to a three-course lunch (matched with Amisfield Wines) on the deck of a private mountain hut.
Adventurous skiers and boarders could do worse than get up early and hit the road for a 90 minute drive to Treble Cone, New Zealand’s largest ski area, located by the lakeside town of Wānaka. Enjoy 550 hectares of terrain, much of it challenging, including the plunging black diamond chutes in the Motatapu Basin (these are pretty insane).
The ski field also has New Zealand’s largest vertical rise (700 metres) and a mammoth – and relatively easy – four-kilometre groomed run from the top of the Home Basin Express chairlift. If you’re looking for something unique, check out the natural half-pipes in the south-facing Saddle Basin.
The views are sensational, looking across Lake Wãnaka into the heart of the Southern Alps. Be sure to call in to Allpress at Altitude Bar and grab a table outside for a coffee and snack – the best spot on the mountain when the sun is shining.
Where to drink, dine and unwind
When Queenstown does après-ski, it’s a little left-of-centre. The town has no shortage of fantastic bars to decamp to after a day on the slopes.
Cargo at Gantley’s
Only a minute from the bottom of Coronet Peak Road, Cargo is housed in Gantley’s, an elegant stone building that dates back to 1865. Cargo’s craft beer is all locally brewed – the porter is a winter favourite, while the lager is a refreshing first drop to kick things off outside in the late afternoon sun. Inside it’s cosy and warm, with an open fire and newly renovated bar. A hearty menu is big on burgers, tacos and woodfired veggies, so you’ll have no issue replacing lost carbs.
Situated on Church Street, World Bar is a Queenstown institution and must-visit nightspot. It can get busy, but that’s exactly what you want in an après bar. If the weather is kind, grab a table on the terrace; you’ll naturally gravitate inside later on when the DJ fires up the dancefloor. The wine list has a South Island focus and the famous Teapot Cocktail is exactly what you’re imagining: a cocktail in a teapot. For a place with such great cred, prices are very reasonable.
The Lodge Bar
This is a good option for those seeking a more genteel vibe. Set on the water’s edge of Lake Whakatipu, it’s the place to sit back on a leather sofa in front of an open fire with a whisky, cocktail or fine wine and watch the boats return to dock. Michelin star chef Matt Lambert designed the mostly classic European menu that plays to the hunting lodge aesthetics of the fit-out; think game pie, beef cheek or pappardelle with lamb ragu. Or just order a plate of succulent Bluff oysters (when in season) and browse the impressive wine list.
If you like your après-ski bars dark and hidden behind secret doors, this is the spot. The Bunker might sound casual and grungy, but the needle swings towards refined and decadent, so maybe don’t come in your ski boots. Split over two levels, the cocktail lounge upstairs is intimate and oozes ambience, while the downstairs restaurant is warm and cosy. The dinner menu is big on red meat and game (with a black garlic and horopito gnocchi option for vegetarians) and cocktails range from quirky seasonal creations such as Citrus Mistress (with dehydrated blood orange cognac) to sophisticated classics like Mai Tai, Singapore Sling and Hemingway Daiquiri. The Bunker is open late and DJs spin tunes every weekend.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Destination Queenstown.