The South Island town is a magical area to explore at any time of the year. But a special buzz is reserved for winter, when skiers and snowboarders descend to experience world-class ski resorts, stunning scenery and vibrant nightlife.
Two of the city’s four world-class ski areas, 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 rentals. 2022 is a special year for Coronet Peak, as it celebrates the 75th anniversary of its creation of New Zealand’s first commercial ski area.
Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone are also easily accessible and offer two very different experiences. Cardrona is a favorite with families and backcountry enthusiasts, while the steep slopes and plunging falls of Treble Cone make it a mecca for expert skiers.
Facilities at all four resorts are excellent and recent investment has allowed new lifts to open up previously uncharted territory. Book a snowcat with heated seats to ferry you to private powder hideouts in the Soho Basin, or hop in a helicopter and get dropped off for a guided experience you’ll never forget. Return to a bustling village to share stories of battle over drinks and a meal.
Here’s our guide to the four main ski resorts around Queenstown – and where to drink, dine and relax afterwards.
Where to hit the slopes
New Zealand’s first commercial ski area turns 75 this year, with a special five-day celebration taking place from August 17-21. Considered Queenstown’s “local” mountain, Coronet Peak is just a 25-minute drive from town. As for the roads to the ski areas, this is a walk in the park, fully sealed and suitable for all cars (wear chains at all times though). The Ski bus is another great option, picking up and returning to many accommodation locations in the regions.
Things have come a long way since 1947 when the ski area was opened with just one tow rope. It now has three express lifts – including a six-seater gondola – and an old-fashioned cable car, providing access to 280 hectares of varied terrain. A favorite for intermediate skiers, the highest point is a relatively modest 1650 meters.
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, the First Timer package gives you a full day pass for the learning zone, a group lesson and equipment rental. If you have more time, consider the three-day Intro to Snow package (also available from The Remarkables).
The resort is unique in that it offers night skiing between 4-9pm on Wednesdays and Fridays from late June until August 27 (worth it for the view of the sunset from the mountain alone). Throughout the season there will be a series of night ski evenings (ski certificates not required) to Check here to see what DJ or live act is playing ahead of time. Early risers eager to make their first tracks on the freshly groomed corduroy can purchase an additional ticket.
The incredible views from this world-class ski area rival anything in the European Alps. The Remarkables impress from every angle, including from Queenstown itself. Expect plenty of sun on the slopes here, thanks to the northern outlook.
The recent opening of the new Sugar Bowl Express chairlift has been a game-changer for this resort, opening up 2.5 kilometers of new trails. In total, there are over 380 hectares of terrain, split evenly 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 area. Advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders can hike from the top of the Shadow Basin chairlift to access the famous double black diamond Alta Falls.
Snowboarders will love the amount of freeride (ungroomed) terrain away from the crowds. If you’re not quite ready for steep drops, perfect your freeride technique at the Burton Stash concept park, with all the organic features that follow the natural lines of the mountain.
For a great coffee after your adventures, head to the resort’s renovated Barista Bar. If you’re looking for something a little heavier, plan 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 downtown Queenstown.
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 covers 465 hectares and is renowned for its consistent snow conditions, aided by its height and southern outlook.
Climb aboard 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 acres of new terrain in the Soho ski area.
It’s also a favorite for families, thanks to babysitting services and a nice beginner’s area. Home to Australasia’s only Olympic-size halfpipe, the ski area is packed with features for freestylers, with four terrain parks and a gravity course.
Advanced skiers or snowboarders can take it to the next level by booking a private experience with Soho Basinin the hinterland behind Cardrona.
At Soho Basin, the heated snowcat will whisk you over thousands of acres of untrodden trails, which you can enjoy before sitting down to a three-course lunch (paired with Amisfield wines) on the patio of a private mountain.
Adventurous skiers and boarders could do worse than get up early and hit the road for the 90-minute ride to Treble Cone, New Zealand’s largest ski area, located near the lakeside town of Wānaka. Enjoy 550 hectares of terrain, most of which is challenging, including the plunging Black Diamond Falls in Motatapu Basin (they’re pretty crazy).
The ski area also boasts New Zealand’s biggest vertical drop (700 metres) and a gigantic – 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 of the south-facing Saddle Basin.
The views are sensational, overlooking Lake Wãnaka in the heart of the Southern Alps. Be sure to call Allpress at the Altitude Bar and grab a table outside for a coffee and a snack – the best spot on the mountain when the sun is shining.
Where to drink, dine and relax
When Queenstown does apres ski it’s a little left of centre. The town has no shortage of fantastic bars to relax in after a day on the slopes.
Cargo at Gantley
Just a minute from the bottom of Coronet Peak Road, Cargo is housed in Gantley’s, an elegant stone building dating back to 1865. Cargo’s craft beer is brewed entirely locally – porter is a winter favourite, while beer blonde is a refreshing first drop to start out in the late afternoon sun. The interior is cozy and warm, with an open fireplace and a newly renovated bar. A hearty menu is loaded with burgers, tacos and wood-fired veggies, so you’ll have no problem replacing lost carbs.
Located on Church Street, World Bar is a Queenstown institution and must-visit nightspot. It can get crowded, but that’s exactly what you want in an après bar. If the weather is nice, take a table on the terrace; you’ll naturally gravitate inside later when the DJ sets the dance floor ablaze. The wine list emphasizes the South Island and the famous Teapot Cocktail is exactly what you imagine: a cocktail in a teapot. For a place with such credibility, the prices are very reasonable.
The lodge bar
It is a good option for those looking for a more distinguished atmosphere. Located on the water’s edge of Lake Whakatipu, it’s the perfect place to sit 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-starred chef Matt Lambert crafted the mostly classic European menu that plays off the layout’s hunting lodge aesthetic; think game pâté, beef cheek or pappardelle with lamb stew. Or simply order a plate of succulent Bluff oysters (in season) and browse the impressive wine list.
If you like dark après ski bars hidden behind secret doors, this is the place for you. The Bunker may look laid back and grungy, but the needle wobbles towards the refined and decadent, so maybe don’t come in your ski boots. Spread over two levels, the upstairs cocktail bar is intimate and exudes ambiance, while the downstairs restaurant is warm and cozy. The dinner menu is rich in red meats and game (with an option of black garlic gnocchi and horopito for vegetarians) and cocktails range from quirky seasonal creations such as Citrus Mistress (with cognac to dehydrated blood orange) to sophisticated classics like Mai Tai, Singapore Sling and Hemingway Daiquiri. The Bunker is open late and DJs play music every weekend.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Destination Queenstown.