The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

New Zealand: frustrating as all hell

Posted by on Sep 8, 2016 in New Zealand | 9 comments

The Remarkables

Remarkable – just not open, that’s all. Pic: The Remarkables Facebook

If you ever needed a torchlight shone on the best and worst thing about skiing or snowboarding in New Zealand, mark September 8 down as Exhibit A.

Almost two feet of fresh snow. Superb mountains. A picture perfect place to base yourself in like Queenstown.

And the resort that is supposed to take you to heaven?

It’s closed.

That’s right. The place that was blessed with the most white stuff (55cm) on this amazing spring day – The Remarkables – was shut.

Here was the resort’s key Facebook post:



The usual banter followed about ski patrol and employees getting first tracks etc etc – but I totally accept that it would have been impossible to get that road open in the circumstances.

But the bigger picture is this: Why the hell don’t we have a major commercial resort in the south island of New Zealand with a gondola from the base and half a dozen or more lifts servicing skiers and snowboarders. And some extensive on-snow accommodation while we’re at it?

I love New Zealand and would need a few more hands and other appendages to count the number of times I have been there – and had a great time.

Ironically enough I really also enjoy the club field experience and the back to basics approach of the smaller resorts. But in a reasonably-sized, snow-loving, island-full-of-mountains first world country – don’t we deserve a little bit more?

The Remarkables, New Zealand

Remarkable looking place. Pic: The Remarkables Facebook

They have the towns. They have the scenery. They have the mountains. They have the off-snow experiences. They have the hospitality. But surely even a granola munching, nut-cracker loving, free-heelin’ hippie could see some kind of benefits in having a substantial commercial ski resort as part of the package in New Zealand? It’s something that would complete the puzzle.

While a funky drive up a slightly sketchy mountain pass doesn’t particularly bother me, I know plenty of other people who are concerned by it. And, even in good weather, the fact that they have to drive up the hill every day anyway irks them enough.

Sure – I wasn’t there today and perhaps in the conditions a gondola may not have been operational anyway. But having experienced the frustrations of having to wait out road clearing in Mt Hutt before as powder turned to breakable crust – I reckon there’d be many instances where it would help.

The frustrating thing is that this has certainly been discussed for a long, long time across the Tasman.

Treble Cone had the feelers out for a gondola more than a decade ago. In 2008 they even got consent for it. By 2010 it was shelved due to “a change in economic circumstances”.

As I have written about previously, Porters near Christchurch has some ball-tearing plans on the drawing board which include terrain expansion in the Crystal Valley, a gondola and a village with accommodation. Will that get up? Who knows.


Porters resort near Christchurch. So much potential. Pic: Glenn Cullen

What I do know is this: people love options. And how good would New Zealand be with a world-class resort? Sure, not Whistler-sized but something with the scope and facilities that would have it clearly marked down as the premier snow destination in the southern hemisphere.

It’s those in the middle ground – those with a bit of money who may be semi-regulars, that drive the ski and snowboard economy. These people demand a bit more than is currently on offer across the ditch. And can you blame them?

Over to you Kiwis.




  1. I get the point of the article but it is way off the mark. Fine invest millions of dollars in gondolas to replace the road but that would not have changed today. All ski areas in NZ are purely Alpine terrain. No way would any of the North American resorts I know have been able to open Alpine Terrain up with 55cms of wind affected snow (Think Peak Chair at Whistler). Coupled with that there was no visibility. There are no trees in NZ unfortunately therefore storm riding ain’t and never will be any fun here if you can’t see. Plus the winds are bloody brutal (NZ is a small land mass in massive ocean) so NZ doesn’t “need to lift” it’s game. It is what it is.

    • Appreciate your perspective Jon but will have to agree to disagree on this one.

      I point out that a gondola may not have salvaged September 8 in the article but I wonder out loud whether it may have been able to get people to the base and hence avoid the (closed) road up.

      Clearly some locals with vision think the same. I’d missed this article which was pointed out to me by Zack Phelan

      I just don’t understand why a country like NZ can’t support a proper commercial resort with facilities and infrastructure on the south island – including a gondola to avoid the roads, multiple high-speed lifts, on-snow accommodation and facilities.

      I love the rustic experience but this would be a game-changer for the masses.

  2. I agree that NZ needs a resort with access from the valley other than a road.
    There are numerous obstacles that make this a very tricky option though. Landslides, earthquakes, rockfall, floods and worst of all impossibly over weight bureaucracy.
    All the South Island ski area except Temple basin sit on the eastern side of the divide and receive only a small portion of the snow that hammers NZ from the west.
    Wouldn’t it be nice to see a modern resort in the main divide with a train link from Christchurch and a gondola to the top. I imagine a resort that generates its own electricity from solar, wind and hydro. Snow making and road clearing could be a thing of the past and masses of cars driving up ski hill roads would be history.
    It could be an example of efficiency and low impact development but it will cost a fortune and I am broke.

    • This.

      And articulated by someone in the middle of it.

      Might speak about this in greater depth before next season Alex. You have a lot of insight no doubt and I think it could be written about so much further.

      Readers do check out Alex’s Kingswood skis in NZ some time. Hand made sticks of genius.

  3. Totally agree! Skied Porters yesterday. I think we just don’t get the numbers excepting weekends. Saturday and Sunday’s are super busy with few people visiting during the week.

  4. Clearly this idea is not new, with the Remarkables Park plan showing that it is quite likely. The idea of retro-fitting a gondola of sorts into an existing ski area is the obvious way of doing this and basing from somewhere like Queenstown with its four-season tourist flow makes it probably the only economically viable option in reality…I wish them every success.

    The pie-in-the-sky, as Alex pointed out, would be a carte blanche sustainable resort development in some of our big, snow-rich mountains. Create a brand new destination financed initially by real estate sales and then by a fully integrated model covering transport, accommodation, food and beverage, skiing and summer activities. Build it and they will come! The sheer dollars involved and the prohibitive time and cost restraints of resource consent unfortunately render anything like this a pipedream.

    For this reason, I will continue to take heart in the fact that New Zealand’s club fields, slack and back country, guided ski touring and heliskiing are world-class precisely because of the lack of people and infrastructure to mess it up. This natural capital will continue to hold increasingly greater value as the sharp end of the ski industry develops.

  5. Ditching the access road has been on the cards for a while, as the Remarkables Park development proves. Retro-fitting a gondola of sorts into an existing ski field is one way of doing this. Basing from an existing resort town like Queenstown with its four-season tourist inflow is probably the only economically viable approach and I wish them every success.

    The pie-in-the-sky, as Alex ascribes above, would be a carte-blanche sustainable resort development somewhere in our big, snow-rich main divide. Financed initially by real estate sales and sustained by a fully integrated model covering transport, accommodation, food and beverage, skiing and summer activities. Build it and they will come! Unfortunately the sheer dollars involved along with the prohibitive time and cost restraints of resource consent render anything like this a pipedream at best.

    For this reason I will continue to take heart in the fact that our club fields’ side-and-slack country, along with our back-country ski touring and heliskiing, are world class precisely because of the lack of people and infrastructure to mess it up. This natural capital will only grow in value as the sharp end of the ski industry continues to develop.

  6. Agree with Glenn on this. I’m an Aussie who had a great time once at the clubbies in a poor snow year, but I think they’re for the locals as they’re really made for fresh snow and you can’t guarantee that when you’ve booked flights and everything else for a particular week.

    Would I book to ski any Kiwi commercial resort? Not in a million years. Their vertical is too limited. If I’m on a plane, I’m off to further afield.

    HOWEVER, if there was a decent large resort with 600m plus vertical, and I didn’t have to drive up the hill each day, then I would probably go over to NZ every year.

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