Although both winter and summer seasons attract waves of tourists all year round, the icier months are when New Zealand really comes into its own. And for all the winter wonderland magnificence you could dream of, Queenstown is the star of the show. Nothing compares to the breathtaking landscape, with snow-tipped mountains decorating the horizon and hugging the centre of town where land meets the iconic Lake Wakatipu. But not only are these a beauty to marvel at… they’re a thrill to ride!
That’s right, ski season is upon us and excitement levels are at an all-time high! As we all know, snow trips require a fair bit of preparation. And as the season is already underway, you’ll want to get in quick to book your gear, passes, accommodation and transportation if you haven’t already. But fear not, for in this article we will give you a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know for the 2023 ski season. Because the sooner you’re prepared, the sooner we get to greet you on the slopes!
The best (and worst) times to ski in Queenstown
First, you’ll want to make sure you’re timing your trip for the best experience possible. You may not have a lot of control over what time you come and that’s ok - you’re bound to have a marvellous time no matter what. But we do have some tips and tricks to help your stay exceed your expectations.
The ski season in Queenstown can run from early June to mid-October, however, this is largely dependent on the weather and the snowfall expected. The ski fields open as soon as feasible and will remain open as long as possible. A bit further down, we will provide the open dates for the main ski fields in Queenstown. Typically, the best months to ski are in July and August for the best snow coverage and the softest snow.
It seems every man and his dog flock to Queenstown for skiing during winter, and for good reason, but there are some particularly busy periods you may wish to avoid if you don’t want to face the crowds in full force, namely the school holidays. In 2023, Term 2 school holidays run from July 1st to 16th, and Term 3 school holidays run from September 23rd to October 8th.
If you are travelling during these times, the buzz in the atmosphere and high spirits on the slopes certainly make up for the queues and crowds. Just make sure you’ve booked well in advance to avoid disappointment!
For a short holiday, renting your snow gear will be the best option and saves you from lugging skis, snowboards, snowboots, and the rest of the kit for most of your journey.
All ski fields near Queenstown have rental shops, from which you’ll want to book your snow gear in advance. However, you will likely find that some of the rental shops in town will offer cheaper prices. You can quickly and easily compare costs online, and some will offer a special discount for early online booking.
Where to hit the slopes
Queenstown is home to a number of remarkable (see what we did there) ski fields. Here are just a few of the top locations to help you narrow down your decision.
Located just a 20-minute drive from the town centre, Coronet Peak certainly wins points for easy access. Plus, as the very first commercial ski field in New Zealand, Coronet Peak has been providing good times to travellers for over 75 years!
What makes this ski field extra special is the night skiing. On Wednesday and Friday nights (and Saturday nights during school holidays), the slopes are lit up so you can ski or snowboard your way through sunset and into the evening.
Season dates: 16 June - 24 September 2023
Terrain: Beginner 32%, Intermediate 41%, Advanced 27%
Distance from town: 20-minute drive
Transportation: You can either drive or book a ticket on the Ski Bus departing from central Queenstown with multiple stops.
Not too much further out resides the famous Remarkables. No matter who you’re travelling with, it’s likely that there will be varying skill levels amongst your group. At The Remarkables, the diversity of runs ensures everyone has a fantastic time. Whether it’s your first time on the slopes, you’re an advanced snow sporter seeking thrilling freerides, or you prefer to admire the scenery without skis or snowboards, this ski field offers a true alpine experience that everyone can enjoy at their own pace.
Season dates: 17 June - 8 October 2023
Terrain: Beginner 30%, Intermediate 40%, Advanced 30%
Distance from town: 45-minute drive
Transportation: You can either drive or book a seat on the Ski Bus shared with Coronet Peak.
Featuring wide-open trails and one of the biggest freestyle parks in New Zealand, Cardrona is a top choice for family-goers and expert skiers alike. Easily accessible from another of the south island’s most charming towns, Wanaka, Cardrona tends to receive the most snow in the region with its base sitting at a higher altitude than neighbouring snow fields. With a multitude of runs ranging in difficulty from green to black, there’s plenty of choice for everyone.
Season dates: 17 June - 15 October 2023
Terrain: Beginner 25%, Intermediate 25%, Advanced 30%, Expert 20%
Distance from town: 60-minute drive from Queenstown, 40-minute drive from Wanaka
Transportation: You can either drive up the mountain, catch a free shuttle from the Pine Trees car park, or book a seat on the bus (at least 48 hours in advance).
Another ski park easily accessible from Wanaka and the largest ski area in the South Island is Treble Cone. Although this park does cater to beginners, it offers something truly special for the advanced snow sporters. From the huge 700m vertical to the famous off-piste terrain, Treble Cone is like an adrenaline-filled playground for those who enjoy a thrill and a challenge (and have epic skills on the slopes, too!).
Nevertheless, the groomed, un-crowded runs with unmatched views of Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps offer something to appeal to everyone, no matter what level you’re at.
Season dates: 24 June - 1 October 2023
Terrain: Beginner 10%, Intermediate 30%, Advanced 40%, Expert Terrain 20%
Distance from town: 1-hour 40-minute drive from Queenstown, 40-minute drive from Wanaka
Ohau Snow Fields
To top off the list, we couldn’t leave out the family-run snow fields in Lake Ohau. Although this is a bit of a trek away from Queenstown, the beautiful region makes the drive worth every minute, not to mention seeing all of the breathtaking landscapes along the way!
Catering for all abilities, everyone is guaranteed to have an incredible time. The smooth, wide slopes ensure intermediates can cruise comfortably down the boulevard. At the top of the mountains, you’ll be greeted with spectacular views and hiking trails if you’re not travelling down the slopes by ski or snowboard. And with a ‘state of the art’ snow-making system, you can rest assured that the slopes will be covered in powdery snow - so no need to rely on the weather to make or break your trip!
Season dates: 24 June - 1 October
Terrain: Beginner 20%, Intermediate 50%, Advanced 30%
Distance from town: 3-hour drive from Queenstown, 2-hour 15-minute drive from Wanaka
Transportation: You can drive all the way up to the ski fields, or there is a bus that leaves from the Lake Ohau Lodge, about 20 minutes away.
Staying in Queenstown
Snow trips can quickly become pricey when you consider the cost of the passes and snow gear hire, which is one of the many reasons that make our Queenstown TOP 10 Holiday Park the perfect spot to set up camp (figuratively or literally!) for your stay. Offering high-quality, award-winning accommodation at the best price, we cater to travellers visiting solo, as a couple, as a small family or as a large group.
Located just a short 6-minute drive from the centre of town - accessible via our free courtesy shuttle bus - the Queenstown Park is perched on the very edge of Lake Wakatipu and embraces the region’s picturesque scenery in all its glory. Choose from a selection of accommodation options to suit your budget and requirements, including motels, units, cabins and campsites.
Our Queenstown Park is ranked as one of our Superior Parks, meaning that not only can you expect the inclusions that are standard to all of our destinations, but you will also receive an enhanced free WiFi package, Sky TV in the TV room, easy access to food and groceries, and access to a greater range of recreational activities to make your stay truly memorable.
Things to do (other than skiing!)
Outside of your time on the slopes, there’s still plenty of excitement and exploration to be had! Queenstown is renowned for its adventure activities, so if you’re game enough to brave the cold, buckle up for a rocky ride down the river rapids with white water rafting or see Lake Wakatipu in a thrilling new light in a Shotover Jet ride!
In town, experience the novelty of the iconic Minus 5 Ice Bar and indulge in foodie heaven at the plethora of local cafes and restaurants.
As well as the recreational activities and sites, the town is alive with events throughout all of winter, including live music, seasonal festivals, sporting events and more. Be sure to keep an eye out on the Queenstown website for all upcoming events to make the most of your time here!