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Known for its remarkable mountains, stunning lakes and jaw-dropping landscapes there’s endless wilderness to get out and explore. Combine this with the adventure & nightlife capital of New Zealand in Queenstown and you have everything you could need from a ski season.
AND if you are from the UK you can do a season on your summer break and have yourself a summer of snow!
...Oh and if that's not enough to convince you in New Zealand, there are 9 sheep for every person, just let that sink in.
In this ultimate guide to a ski season in New Zealand you will find:
- When is the ski season
- What's it like doing a ski season in New Zealand
- Working a Kiwi Ski Season
- General Travel Tips
- South Island Ski Fields
- North Island Ski Fields
- Popular Activities
- The Kiwi Dictionary
When is the ski season in New Zealand
The New Zealand ski season typically kicks off in the South Island from mid to late June and finishes in October. The North Island season starts and finishes a little later and it’s not unheard of for resorts like Tūroa to stay open till November!
Your Summer of Snow
For the brits out there a ski season in the Southern Hemisphere offers the opportunity to do a ski season before heading to university or even during your summer break!
Where to go
New Zealand's unique island landscape is marked by diversity and beautiful scenery. Whether you want that small-town vibe, big city life or cabin in the woods, NZ’s got you covered.
Some of the highlights:
- Queenstown - Big Ski Resort vibes, similar to Banff/Whistler/Chamonix. Some of the biggest and baddest terrain parks in the Southern Hemisphere and known as the adventure capital of the word.
- Mt Ruapehu - Ski resort on a volcano home to New Zealand's largest ski resort. Used as a location for Lord of the Rings.
Getting up to the New Zealand ski fields isn’t quite as straightforward as the ski in ski out convenience of Japan, the Alps, or even North America!
Driving to the base of most of New Zealand’s ski resorts means heading up ‘the mountain road’. These are mostly unpaved roads maintained by the ski fields themselves.
The resorts operate buses up the mountain but unless you are a staff member (one of the many perks to working on the mountain) it's not free! Hitchhiking to the top of the mountain is always a good bet but hitchhiking down the hill can be more of a challenge, especially if it’s snowing.
Ski Season Life
Accommodation | Ski Gear | Trademe, FB groups
Upon arriving at your destination the best thing to do is check yourself into a hostel. It’s one of the easiest ways to meet new people, and get to grips with your new home!
Like any ski town, finding accommodation can be a bit of a nightmare due to the competition. However compared to spots like Banff and Whistler, it’s a walk in the park. There is always the chance you could score a job with staff accommodation but this isn’t as common as is North America and Europe. So as long as you don’t mind holding up in a hostel for a couple of weeks while you wait for the right place to pop up you’ll be sweet!
New Zealand’s version of Gumtree/eBay is called TradeMe where you can find everything from ski gear to cars and houses! There’s also a bunch of local community Facebook groups, and the marketplace is really popular too!
New Zealand is known for its laidback friendly culture. People are generally very welcoming and will be happy to chat about absolutely anything, so don't be scared to strike up a conversation at the pub, café or even in the streets!
Working the Ski Season
Working on the mountain is always a good shout because you score yourself a free season pass! These can cost up to $1,400 if you miss the early bird promotions, so getting a job on the mountain will save yourself a tonne of cash! You also get a discount on lift passes at other ski fields and free transport to and from the mountain!
There are loads of departments to work in from hospitality, car park crew, and retail. But if you are going on a ski season you probably want to choose one that’s going to get you the most time on your planks or board! Like, becoming a ski or snowboard instructor.
Getting one of these highly sought after ski season jobs in any department is really competitive. This is why our Ski Instructor Courses and Snowboard Instructor Courses in New Zealand are so popular.
They include a guaranteed offer of employment for your winter season, so you'll dramatically improve your riding ability, gain international qualifications AND get to work as a ski or snowboard instructor!
Tourism is New Zealand’s #1 industry so getting a job in places like Queenstown and Wanaka isn’t too difficult. There are loads of shops, cafes or travel companies you can work for during the day. If you’re a night owl and don’t mind foregoing a bit of sleep, then you’ve got tonnes of bars and clubs to choose from - Starting work later in the evening just means you can end up with more daytime riding!!
Don’t want to work, at all?
If you’re looking for the ultimate gap year experience you could jump on a ski or snowboard instructor training course!
These courses generally include 11 weeks of expert training, accommodation AND social events. Spend your whole season training to become the best rider and instructor possible... With next to no responsibilities, you won’t even need a work visa! Check out our Ski and Snowboard Instructor training courses for more.
Where to find them
It's always a good idea to have a look at jobs in the area before heading out on your season, some useful jobs sites are Trademe, Backpacker Board Jobs, and the NZSki employment page!
General Travel Tips
Find a mate with a car (or buy one)
Cars are very reasonably priced (although fuel can be pricey!) and they open up a tonne of opportunities to get out and explore. Much of New Zealand isn't accessible by public transport so if you don’t have a license, just make friends with someone who has a car, easy!
Money Money Money
If you are looking for somewhere to save up a lot of money quickly, New Zealand might not be your #1 choice. Compared to Australia wages are lower and costs can quickly rack up if you find yourself living in Queenstown.
Doing a Ski Season on a Budget
Ski seasons can get expensive real quick.
Here are our top tips on how to do a ski season on a budget
- Buy your season pass early! If you wait till the start of the season you could end up paying double what you would have paid booking early.
- Pack your lunches before heading up the mountain and bring snacks for the trip home.
- Avoid eating out - Regularly eating at bars, restaurants and cafes adds up quickly, it’s healthier and way cheaper to make your own!
- Happy Hour Life Hack - If you want to buy all your new friends a round of shots to show them how much you love them DO IT IN HAPPY HOUR! This way you'll look like a legend and save yourself from destroying your bank balance.
- Don't forget to ask for locals discount and find out when all the happy hours or food deals are - think taco Tuesdays, wine Wednesdays - Most Ski towns will have a couple of cheap options every night. At the World Bar in Queenstown you can get pints for $6 with a locals card, and points towards free beers and food!
Queenstown | Wanaka
Queenstown skiing is synonymous with winter in New Zealand. It’s the first destination that comes to mind when you think about heading south for a ski season, with good reason.
The Queenstown ski season is a crowd favourite because it's a short drive from 4 epic ski resorts AND it’s home to adrenaline pumping adventure activities! If the weather isn’t playing ball on the mountain, you can head out for a road trip or go bungee jumping instead!
Queenstown & Wanaka have been famous for pumping out some of NZ's best winter sports athletes in recent years; the Wells brothers, the Bilous Boys and not to mention Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, and Alice Robinson! With 4 world-class mountains providing some of the best freestyle, freeride and race terrain in the Southern Hemisphere it’s no wonder there are so many talented athletes.
If you are looking to get into the backcountry you've come to the right place. The Remarkables and Treble Cone have some of the best and most accessible big mountain terrain within a short tour from the lifts.
Mt Hutt & The Canterbury Region
Mt Hutt is the less well-known resort of the 3 peak pass that includes Coronet Peak, The Remarkables & Mt Hutt.
Located near Christchurch and at the very tip of the Southern Alps, it often gets loaded with snow. The wide-open bowls and steep chutes mean there are plenty of options to get your powder fix. In comparison to the busier Queenstown area, a season in Mt Hutt is the very definition of the laidback Kiwi lifestyle. If you are less interested in hitting the bars and clubs on your season but still want epic mountains this is your spot.
In the Canterbury region, there's also the chance to explore some of the countries best club fields. Our favourites are Craigieburn, Temple Basin and Mt Olympus. These club fields offer a unique alpine experience but are often described as the ultimate backcountry experience (for those on a budget). At Temple Basin, for example, you'll need to hike for 50 minutes from the car park just to get to the ski area!
We’ve covered the best places to go skiing in New Zealand's South island but what about the North?
The North Islands unmissable giant Volcano in the Tongariro National Park is called Mt Ruapehu and is home to two unique ski fields (there’s also a small club field), Whakapapa and Tūroa. If you are wondering where to go skiing in the North Island this is it.
As an active volcano, the terrain features tonnes of natural jumps, expansive bowls and some of the most challenging riding in the country! On a clear day you can see all the way to Mt Taranaki, another famous volcano at the bottom of the North Island.
For any Lord Of The Rings fans out there it’s directly opposite Mt Ngauruhoe AKA Mt Doom so you can reenact Frodo saving middle earth to your heart's content.
Although not commonly known for powder skiing, New Zealand gets its fair share of snow! Wanaka receives around 500cms of snow each season. Unlike Australia, when the snow comes you’ve got plenty of steep vertical to play with! Treble Cone in Wanaka or The Remarkables in Queenstown are our top pick for big mountain riders hoping to score some white gold!
Cardrona is home to the southern hemispheres only Olympic halfpipe and is the training ground for some of the sports top freestyle skiers and boarders! Remarks parks in Queenstown has the flowiest lines and an awesome progression from small features to the XL line. It’s also home to the only Burton stash park in the southern hemisphere, built entirely from natural features!
20 minutes outside of Queenstown lies Coronet Peak, with stunning views across Lake Wakatipu. For 3 nights a week Cornet turns its lights on and keeps the chairs spinning till 10pm. Watching the sunset while shredding the slopes is another must-do in New Zealand. On Friday and Saturday nights these sessions become parties. Last season Hilltop Hoods and Chase and Status were some of the highlights!
As the birthplace of the bungy jump, adrenaline activities are ingrained in the kiwi way of life! Queenstown is rightly known as the adventure capital of the world. You could do a bungy jump or sky dive in the morning, go jet boating at lunch, then squeeze in a quick zip line adventure before heading to Coronet Peak for a night ski - All in a day's work!
Known for its stunning scenery featuring unique plants, birds & marine life, the department of conservation manages hundreds of protected areas. Backcountry huts and walking tracks that enable you to get out into the wilderness and enjoy the true kiwi experience. Get onto the beaten (literally) track, chase waterfalls and explore the hidden secrets.
One for the bucket list rather than your next home, the stunning Mt Cook, should be on every Kiwi trip list. The road up to Mt Cook is one of the most mind-blowing drives in the world and there are world-class tracks overlooking glaciers and more! 100000% would recommend it.
#vanlife is becoming more and more popular everywhere. Thanks to New Zealand's forgiving climate, ease of transport and abundance of cheap imported Japanese vans, it’s one of the best places to live on the road! If you don’t fancy buying one, there are loads of rental companies where you can often snag a relocation deal. This involves driving a rental vehicle from one place to another for the company, meaning you only pay for your own expenses!
If you're stoked on doing a season in NZ check out our...
Useful Kiwi Phrases
Ski fields: Commercial Ski Resorts
Club Fields: Smaller family-owned ski resorts
Sweet as: Really good
Kiwi: Person from New Zealand, a fruit, or a small flightless bird.
Feijoa: Best fruit in the word (if you know, you know and if you don’t you’ve got a bloody treat to look forward to), taste great in Cider too!
Yeah… Nah: No
For more on what it's like doing a ski season in New Zealand check out our interview with EA graduate Mara or have a look at our Instructor Courses in New Zealand page.
Why do a ski season in New Zealand you ask... Well, the list of reasons why is so epically long we’ve created this ultimate guide to a ski season in New Zealand to answer all your questions!