As snow enthusiasts place their great white hopes on a bumper ski season, Craig Tansley nominates the five best resorts in Australia and New Zealand.
Thredbo has always attracted the beautiful people. It’s the most stylish of all the ski resorts in the Antipodes, with its Tyrolean-modelled ski village set among unmistakably Australian snow-gum trees. Just don’t go thinking that’s all there is to Thredbo. Sure, it has some of the finest hotels, bars and restaurants of any Australasian ski resort but it also boasts the longest ski run and the steepest terrain in the country.
Luxury on-snow lodgings are rare in this part of the world but you can stay slope-side here, right by Australia’s longest ski run. Ski In Ski Out (Crackenback Drive) is the Thredbo area’s only five-star ski-in, ski-out accommodation. Unwind in the open-plan lounge room on sprawling brown-leather couches beside an enormous fireplace framed by local rock. You’ll see the chalets’ resident wombats lumber by from your private Jacuzzi. And no-one can beat you to first tracks each morning.
This is the state’s most serious ski mountain, with the highest lifted point in Australia. Want to go even higher? Book a back-country ski tour beyond Thredbo’s borders to Australia’s highest mountain, Kosciuszko. While there’s enough backcountry and steep terrain to keep advanced riders happy, there’s also an entirely separate beginners’ section of the mountain (Friday Flat) that’s ideal for families.
Get amongst the cool cats and ski down to the Rekorderlig Après Poolside Bar at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel (Friday Drive) for a taste of Chamonix-style après-ski. DJs spin an eclectic mix from 2pm to 6pm as fit folk hit the heated pool. Thirsty? Try an alpine cocktail in The Denman Hotel’s elegant Apres Bar (21 Diggings Terrace). The hotel’s restaurant, Terrace, serves hearty comfort food. Families are catered for, too, with activities at the Thredbo Leisure Centre (Friday Drive). It has squash and basketball courts and an indoor heated pool. And don’t miss the fireworks display and flare run every Saturday night.
SEE ALSO: Your Guide to Skiing in Perisher
Yes, there is a mountain in Australia with terrain as challenging as that of the Rockies in North America. At Hotham, over-snow vehicles take you (free of charge) beyond the groomed runs to ride between snow gums and mountain ash, boot-deep in powder down seriously impressive side and back country. Better still, you won’t be waiting in line for a chairlift as it’s the Southern Hemisphere’s only ski resort located above its ski slopes.
Zirky’s (Great Alpine Road, Mount Hotham) has the prime location on the mountain. You’ll have views over the ski fields of Summit slopes and Swindlers Valley from your self-contained apartment. Relax after a day’s skiing on comfy couches in huge open-plan rooms with floor- to-ceiling windows that reveal Victoria’s prettiest high-country terrain, or take your wine outside to a balcony jutting out above the ski fields. There’s a well-stocked kitchen if you want to stay in and watch the snowcats groom the slopes at night or gaze at the stars from one of Australia’s highest locations. Be sure to ask for a room with a balcony; some rooms also have spas.
Hotham is without doubt the best mountain for advanced skiers and snowboarders in Australia. Its off- piste terrain is the stuff of legend and a free snowmobile service takes skiers beyond 320 hectares of groomed terrain and into Australia’s best tree-skiing area. At least 40 per cent of the mountain is designated “advanced” – there are fast, steep groomers to ride from 7.30am Wednesdays to Sundays when the Heavenly Valley chair opens early, plus three terrain parks to go wild in. Hotham has one of the most extensive learn-to-ski programs around (as well as tuition for intermediate and advanced skiers) and a designated beginners’ ski slope at the summit.
Hotham is the gourmet capital of the Australian ski fields – no surprise, considering it’s in north-east Victoria’s famous food and wine region. For every après-ski bar serving drink specials, such as Arlberg Bar & Bistro (1 Great Alpine Road, Hotham Heights), there’s a restaurant serving first-class food. Hotham has its own alpine village 15 minutes away – Dinner Plain. It’s here you’ll find Tsubo (191 Big Muster Drive), one of regional Victoria’s best Japanese restaurants. Staying with the Japanese theme, the latest offering from Victorian restaurateurs Michael Ryan and Jeanette Henderson is Yama Kitchen & Bar (Lot 1F, Great Alpine Road, Mount Hotham), which has incredible views. Or, if you’re staying at Zirky’s, you can’t go past a schnitzel at the hotel’s bistro.
The Remarkables, Otago
Imagine a sun-drenched ski resort nestled in one of the world’s most photographed mountain ranges, accessible only by a dirt road on the edge of a kilometre-high drop down to the famous ski town of Queenstown. The Remarkables ski field is certainly picturesque, offering both family-friendly slopes and terrain for experts hiking beyond where the chairlifts take them.
On cliffs overlooking Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, Matakauri Lodge (569 Glenorchy Road) is one of the most stylish accommodation options in the region. It has 12 guestrooms and suites with private porches. Book one of eight outlying cottages for extra privacy. Book now
“The Remarks” (as the locals call it) is known for family-friendly skiing but there’s plenty for advanced skiers, too. It’s the Southern Hemisphere’s only ski field offering The Stash, a terrain obstacle course of rock walls, cliff drops and log jibs designed by snowboarding company Burton. The resort also has some of the best jumps in Australasia. It’s the hike-to-terrain action, however, that makes this an expert skier’s mecca – it’s a short hike from the chairlift to epic inbound chutes.
Queenstown is a cultural hotspot. Visit one of New Zealand’s oldest privately owned art galleries, the Central Art Gallery (71 Beach Street), or see work by local artists at the Queenstown Arts Centre (47-49 Stanley Street) and, every Saturday, at the Creative Queenstown Arts & Crafts Markets in Earnslaw Park. History buffs should stroll the streets of nearby Arrowtown, where the preserved streetscape dates back to its 19th-century goldmining past, or pop into Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum to see it exactly as it was (49 Buckingham Street). Queenstown is located in Central Otago, a wine region famed for its pinot noir. Visit wineries perched above the Kawarau River in the Gibbston Valley.
Treble Cone, Otago
Just getting up Treble Cone is an exercise in Southern Alps adventuring but it’s worth the steep drive in, for this is New Zealand’s best and most underrated ski mountain. The South Island’s largest ski area flies under the radar of most Australians as it’s a two-hour drive from Queenstown but base yourself in family-friendly Wanaka, from where Treble Cone is just a 35-minute drive through picturesque alpine country. Once there, you’ll be skiing alongside the world’s only alpine parrots, the kea (be warned: they love chips and windscreen-wiper rubber).
Queenstowners might argue but Wanaka is NZ’s most scenic alpine town so make sure your accommodation lets you savour the beauty. Lakeside Apartments (9 Lakeside Road) is a short walk from the centre of town. The 14 Deluxe or Premier apartments offer private balconies with Lake Wanaka and mountain views – you’ll be knocked sideways when you first walk into your modern open-plan apartment with that spectacular vista. Better yet, book one of two penthouse apartments, both with six-seater spas.
Only 10 per cent of the mountain is designated for beginners but intermediates and experts will discover the best side-country skiing in the Southern Hemisphere. The groomed runs are steeper at Treble Cone than most resorts, though it’s the off-piste terrain that defines this mountain. Its natural half-pipes and challenging chutes helped to crown Treble Cone New Zealand’s Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards in 2013 and 2014. Rent a helmet.
Wanae than 50 bars and restaurants. Couples will love the ka has morromantic Bistro Gentil (76a Golf Course Road), which serves up modern French cuisine overlooking the lake. Or you could cosy up inside an old Morris Minor at classic movie house Cinema Paradiso (72 Brownston Street). The ski-hard, party-hard set can bar-crawl along lakefront Ardmore Street for drinks and meals. The best place to start is Lake Bar then move on to Trout Café, Restaurant & Bar, The Speight’s Ale House and, finally, Lalaland Lounge Bar for a late snifter or two.
Mount Hutt, Canterbury
In their beeline for Queenstown, most skiers overlook Mount Hutt, yet it’s just a 90-minute drive from Christchurch and there’s nowhere cheaper for families. With the introduction of the Kids 4 Free program, every child 10 and under receives free ski passes and meals. But there’s more to this ski field than a bargain. For those after a genuine small-town Kiwi experience, look no further – Mount Hutt is located beside the country’s quirkiest village, Methven.
Whitestone Cottages (3016 Methven Highway) offers two-bedroom, self-catering family accommodation that sleeps up to six. While the cottages are only a five-minute walk from town, they’re set within a hectare of landscaped gardens facing the mountain. So much of NZ’s South Island is reminiscent of Scotland but nowhere more than Whitestone Cottages with its pretty exteriors and trimmed hedges.
No ski mountain on the South Island catches more snow than Mount Hutt. With its treeless bowls and off-piste terrain, it’s one of the best places to be on a powder day. Every level of skier is provided for, from first-timers to experts refining their off-piste and park-riding skills at the Black Diamond clinics. There are four freestyle parks, too, and heli-skiing if you want to go above and beyond.
Not all that long ago, off-mountain options in Methven came down to The Blue Pub or The Brown Pub – and heaven help you if you walked into The Brown Pub without a relative buried in the town’s cemetery. There are now more than 20 restaurants and cafés, although Methven’s Blue Pub (2 Barkers Road) is still the best, with live music and the must-try Big Blue Tower Burger. Activities for families include jet-boating up the Rakaia Gorge, a 4WD drive tour in The Lord of the Rings high country and hot-air ballooning over the Canterbury Plains. ￼