Top tips for a fabulous New Zealand ski weekend

Having fun outdoors with the kids tends to be a bit restricted in winter unless you can get away for a weekend skiing. This can be fabulous if things turn out well, but an expensive disaster if things go haywire. Warkworth real estate agent and passionate skier Geoff Ledbrook offers his top tips for a perfect ski holiday.  

1. Keep warm

In our experience, it’s particularly important that the kids are kept warm, especially their hands and feet. If not, they won’t be happy. Be sure they have good quality gloves and thermal underwear. A one-piece suit is good for children since it means snow can’t work its way through gaps in the clothing when they fall. The Snowcentre in Newmarket has a good second-hand department where clothing can be bought quite cheaply. Failing that, try Trade Me for good used ski gear.     

2. Get the car serviced

Twice I’ve seen cars on fire while driving up to the Turoa ski field.  The steep climb and high altitude create brutal conditions for cars. Once our radiator cap was not up to scratch, a small thing that we probably would not have noticed, but in the difficult conditions, it failed to maintain proper water pressure and led to our engine overheating. We had to head down the mountain and lost a day skiing while we found someone to repair the car. Have your car thoroughly serviced before you set out.   

3. Join a ski club

If you want to do a lot of skiing, joining a ski club is a fun way to do it.  You get a lot of contact with other like-minded people and the children can make friends with other kids. In our club, accommodation is Kiwi-style with bunk rooms. I would say clubs are quite cost effective. We pay an annual subscription of $700 a year (which admittedly is pricey if you don’t go skiing that year) but we then only pay a member’s rate of $32 a night, which includes dinner, bed, breakfast and lunch. We’ve got a chef at our club and it’s nice to come back to a three-course dinner after a hard day’s skiing.      

4. Take some lessons

If you are a beginner, I always recommend paying for a lesson. I would not recommend a friend teach you to ski. Professional instructors use specific methodologies that are proven to work, and they generally figure out your level of ability and teach accordingly. It can ruin your whole skiing experience if you are forever struggling because of bad advice.

5. Hire from below

If you are hiring skis, boots and poles, always hire at the bottom of the mountain in, say, Ohakune. If it’s a nice day there will be queues to hire equipment at the top of the mountain and you don’t want to spend your day waiting in line. If you hire gear for a few days and the weather turns nasty on one of those days, most hire places wont charge you for the hire on that day.  

6. Take a tour with a mountain host

This is something they do really well at Ruapehu. Mountain hosts are volunteers who are good skiers and are usually retired.  They will take you on a guided tour of the mountain and it costs you nothing. The upside for them is the ski companies give them free skiing all year. If you are an experienced skier, they will take you to some adventurous places – off-piste stuff that nobody knows about.    

7. Don’t mind the weather

Sometimes it’s so easy to think, ‘Oh the weather’s not looking very good we will not go’. But we’ve consistently had good skiing on marginal days. You just need to make sure you are dressed for it. Some of my worst days skiing have been on beautiful days, when 20,000 other people all decide to turn up and the whole mountain turns into one great big queue.

8. Stay late

Speaking of queues, if you are only going for the weekend, try not to head home early on a Sunday. Some of the best skiing can be had on Sunday afternoon when everybody else
has taken off.  

9. Pick the right field.

Queenstown is a good place to be early in the season with access to The Remarkables, Cardrona and Coronet Peak. The snow forms on top of tussock and does not require a huge base of snow before the fields can be skied. But these fields tend to fade early as spring seems to hit the South Island with a bang.  Conversely, Turoa is better later in the season. The snow has to cover big volcanic boulders at Turoa and the field needs a month of good snowfalls before skiing really hits its sweet spot. On the upside, Turoa is one of the last fields to close.    

10. Take your own lunch

Food on the mountain is often not great and is expensive, but hot water is usually free. Consider taking Cup-a-Soups and instant noodle meals. My wife takes her own tea bag.  If they take their own sandwiches, a family of four could easily save $50-$80 a day.