Is this the best ski area you haven’t been to?
Been skiing or snowboarding in Porters, New Zealand? Even heard of Porters?
About 80km from downturn Christchurch, this place has plenty going for it already but its master plan is an absolute ball-tearer that would make it the best destination resort in New Zealand.
An expansion with chairlift into the Crystal Valley (to more than double the terrain) is earmarked as the next development.
Then there’s a gondola from the valley floor, accommodation in a year-round village for up to 3400 people, shops, restaurants and hot pools and new chairlifts for the expansion area and existing ski basin.
With the potential (with snowmaking) to have regular skiing right to the village, there is scope for up to 1000m of vertical – roughly 300m more than anywhere else in New Zealand.
Funding is the key issue.
The resort’s Australian owners have already invested $7 million into the area but they are relying on future village property sales and further investment from a Russian consortium to get the big developments off the ground.
Ok – plans and reality have often been two very different things in the Australian and New Zealand ski industries (think master plans in Perisher, changes in Thredbo and gondola consents in seemingly every second hill across the ditch) but they have made some moves already here.
It started with a big increase in snow making and last year the opening of the first chairlift at what had been a ski area only serviced by three t-bars.
I spoke to Anton Wilke from the resort to get an update and he said the ambitious plans were still very much on the agenda.
“It’s still very much on the cards and we’d like to think that in the next five years this will happen,” he said, adding that the resort already had government consent for the Crystal Valley expansion (something that can be tricky to get in NZ).
It has been a couple of years since I’ve been to Porters but despite the limitations of what was effectively a club field I left pretty impressed and in awe of the potential here. Arriving at the top car park before 9am on a Saturday, I was comfortably in the first 30 cars there and parked in a spot that enabled me to ski right back to our car boot at day’s end.
It was a picture-perfect day with cobalt blue skies and nary a breath of wind and only a couple of hundred people on the hill at best on dry packed powder. The riding itself is not for the timid.
There’s big mountain skiing not dissimilar to Lake Louise in Canada – consistently steep pitches on runs like Big Mama, and the central bowls of Big Bill’s traverse major thigh-burners.
Intermediates are offered a couple of runs off Adrian’s Highway but it’s largely a mountain for stronger riders. The chutes on the other side of the ridge on Bluff Face are genuine expert-only.
I found there was some limited beginner terrain and while not too busy at the time I could imagine some potential for bottlenecks at the base area (this was however before the chairlift went in, at the time it was serviced by a t-bar).
The expansion would clearly help this.
Off the mountain it’s all pretty quiet at present. Accommodation-wise the best option is Porters Alpine Lodge, only a couple of kms down the road. It is pretty rustic. Other than that your best bets are at Springfield, about 30 minutes dirve away.
So, what to make of it all. In its current form Porters is still very much worth a visit, certainly for a couple of days and perhaps with a combo trip to Mt Hutt. But if these plans go ahead it has the potential to be the best stand alone ski area in New Zealand – and maybe even the southern hemisphere.