Snow guide: Canterbury
By Rosalind Le Bas Walker
Each of Canterbury’s ski areas can easily be reached from Christchurch - Mt Hutt’s only an hour and a half’s drive from the city. But if you want to be really close to the mountains, Methven, an hour south-west from Christchurch, is an ideal base.
You can bet on a long season and consistent conditions at this vast high altitude field. There’s a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with super-wide groomed runs in the main bowl and steep chutes and faces nearby. Learner freestylers love the terraced Skullcandy Mini Terrain Park while more experienced riders and skiers can take on the rails and boxes of the UP & GO Terrain Park.
Famous for: consistently good conditions - some of the best in Australasia
- 4 lifts
- 365 hectares of skiing
- 683m vertical decent
- 2086m altitude
The closest field to Christchurch (89kms), you’ll find runs here for beginners and kids, long cruising runs for intermediates, and real challenges for the advanced - plus all sorts of bumps and lumps and jumps for the boarders.
Famous for: Big Mama, right, the longest, steepest run in the Southern Hemisphere
- 4 lifts
- 230 hectares of skiing
- 670m vertical decent
- 1980m altitude
Alpure Peaks offer guided backcountry ski and snowboard tours for intrepid skiers and snowboarders seeking adventure and big snow thrills. The skiable area is avalanche controlled, so snowcat skiing with Alpure Peaks is safer than on uncontrolled backcountry slopes.
Famous for: backcountry cat skiing and snowboarding.
- No lifts
- 2,600ha of skiing
- 650m vertical descent
- Altitude 2,220m
Wide, gentle slopes - ideal for beginners and intermediates, or for those wanting to make an easy transition from skiing to snowboarding.
Famous for: New Zealand’s longest T-bar
- 2 lifts
- 60 hectares of skiing
- 250m vertical decent
- 1600m highest altitude
Small, family-owned skifield, suited to families, beginners and intermediates. The 15km long access road is possible the easiest alpine road in New Zealand.
Famous for: the country’s longest poma lift, low priced lift passes.
- 4 lifts
- 400 hectares of skiing
- 430m vertical decent
- 2030m highest altitude
Half way between Kaikoura and Hamner Springs, Mt Lyford is a friendly family-oriented ski area. West facing, these slopes get sun from 9am to 5pm even on the shortest day. And with its high altitude, it is basking in the white stuff.
Famous for: warm hospitality, sunny slopes.
- 6 lifts
- 180 hectares of skiing
- 420m vertical decent
- 1750 highest altitude
Mt Ohau skifield has spectacular views to Aoraki Mt Cook, and the more adventurous you are, the more access you’ll have to them. There are two terrain parks, one for beginners, the other for intermediate/advanced.
Famous for: small, personal service
- 3 lifts
- 125 hectares of skiing
- 400m vertical decent
- 1425 highest altitude
Heliskiing in Canterbury
Heliskiing takes you to another level of alpine excitement, away from the piste and the crowds and onto deep powder snow, long downhill descents and natural terrain. You’ll be dropped off by helicopter on a mountain or glacier, and, accompanied by a guide, ski your way down a run, where you’ll be collected again, and returned to the top. A day’s heliskiing can include anywhere from three to 11 runs. It’s not suitable for beginners, and not all heliskiing is offered to snowboarders.
Nearby towns and districts
Heading north from Christchurch, this region includes the small towns of Amberley, Cheviot, Culverden, Waikari, Waipara and the privately-run ski fields of Hanmer Springs and Mt Lyford.
At 380m metres, Hamner village is often blanketed in snow in winter. It has a touch of sophistication with its restaurants and cafes, and plenty of pure mountain air.
Hike through one of the country’s oldest forests or try bungy jumping, jet boating or mountain biking. Since 1859, the gorgeous naturally heated waters of Hanmer Springs have been a sought-after spot for a soak.
60km east of Mt Lyford, the seaside eco-settlement of Kaikoura is famous for its whale watching trips. This town is also a great place to see dolphins and albatross.
Travelling north-west of Christchurch along State Highway 73, are Porter Heights ski area and further west, the fields of Craigieburn, Broken River and Mt Cheeseman.
High in the heart of the Southern Alps you’ll discover Arthur’s Pass Village and National Park. The pass negotiates a crossing over rugged mountain terrain between Canterbury and the West Coast. The village stretches a kilometre along the valley floor, and has a permanent population of about 50.
The towns of Tekapo and Twizel provide access to 3754-metre Aoraki Mt Cook, the country’s highest peak, and its national park. Fly into the 29km long Tasman Glacier for some spectacular skiing. You don’t even need to be an expert!
Twizel is a busy service and tourist town with a population of about 1200. On the south shore of Lake Tekapo, plenty of restaurants, a supermarket, petrol and a small shops make up the township of Tekapo. Fairlie is the eastern gateway to the Mackenzie Country with rich green rolling pastures and great skiing at Mt Dobson. Other ski areas in this region include Ohau, Roundhill, Alpure Peaks and Fox Peak.
An hour south of Christchurch on SH 77, rural Methven is a base for Mt Hutt skiing. This vibrant township has all the amenities of a city with restaurants serving local specialities, bars and nightclubs, with the added bonus of pollution-free, clear mountain air, breath-taking scenery, wide open spaces and friendly people.