Complete Guide to Winter in Queenstown – The Ski Season & More!
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After living in Queenstown for 8 months over the winter, I’ve created this guide to enjoying winter in Queenstown! I’ve included everything you need to know about the Queenstown ski season (passes, ski resorts, weather, etc) as well as fun things to do in the winter in Queenstown, where to stay, and more important tips to have the best winter holiday possible!
Winter in Queenstown, or the Queenstown ski season, is one of the busiest times of the year for this small town. Every year hundreds of thousands of people travel to Queenstown in the winter to hit one of the many ski fields in the area or simply enjoy the amazing things to do in Queenstown in the winter.
The Queenstown ski season is a short ski season in comparison to others around the world. Because of this, most winter visitors in Queenstown all come within a very short period of time – which means it’s busy and you need to plan ahead!
There are many questions you should be asking before you either head to Queenstown this winter. These include the busiest times to try avoid (such as school holidays), winter events, the different Queenstown ski resorts and passes, where to stay, things to do in Queenstown during the winter (other than skiing), and much more!
This is a complete guide to winter in Queenstown and how to best enjoy Queenstown’s ski season! It’s also been updated with relevant information for the 2020 ski/winter season in Queenstown!
When to visit Queenstown for the Ski Season
In general, the Queenstown ski season runs from early June to the middle of October. However, the Queenstown ski season dates vary each year and each ski field opens as soon as feasible.
The varying dates for the ski season are largely due to the weather and the levels of snowfall. In fact, last year Remarkables ski field opened early and all ski fields closed late. This was because of earlier than expected low temperatures and late snowfall.
The opening dates that are given early on in the year are based on previous weather and can change, so it’s best to check the ski field websites for the latest updates.
Although the dates can change, its best to book your holiday towards the middle of the season so it’s certain you will have lots of snow! Booking too early or too late during the Queenstown ski season might mean you can’t actually ski at all!
Queenstown ski season projected dates for 2020
The Remarkables – June 6 to October 11, 2020
Coronet Peak – June 13 to September 27, 2020
Cardrona – June 6 to October 18, 2020
The busiest days during the Queenstown Ski Season
During the New Zealand and Australia school holidays over the winter season, Queenstown gets crazy busy! For these couple of weeks each year during the Queenstown ski season, town is completely packed.
If you can, I recommend avoiding Queenstown during the below dates for the 2020 winter ski season as you will have a better visit.
IF you need to visit during school holidays don’t fret, just be sure to book accommodation, rental vehicles, and tours well in advance!
The school holiday weeks during the 2020 Queenstown ski season are:
4th July – 19nd July
26th September to 11th October
8th July – 22nd July
30th September to 11th October
During events such as the Winter or Pride Festival, Queenstown is also busier than normal (although these are really fun times to visit as well!) For more information on these Queenstown winter events keep reading as I have entire section on them below!
Weather during Queenstown’s Winter and Ski Season
This may sound silly as of course, it’s going to be cold! However, many people who are coming from places like Canada may overestimate just how cold it’s going to be.
In no way does New Zealand see winter temperatures like Banff in Canada. In fact, on average you can expect the ski fields to sit at around -4 degrees Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) during the winter, with the coldest temperatures of -10 (14 Fahrenheit) and highest of +2 C (36 F) during the day.
7 BEST Things to do in Winter in Queenstown
If you’re heading to Queenstown this winter, here are some great ways to stay busy!
1. Go skiing or snowboarding
I mean this one is obvious. Most people who come to Queenstown in the winter plan on hitting the slopes at some stage. For this reason, I’ve included a ton of information about the Queenstown ski season, ski passes, ski fields, and more below in this blog!
2. Go hiking
Sure, hiking is generally better in the warmer month. But with that said, there are plenty of day hikes in Queenstown that can easily be done in the winter and in my opinion, are even more beautiful then!
Some of the best hikes you can do in the winter around Queenstown include Queenstown hill, Tikki Trail and the start of Ben Lomond, Lake Hayes Loop Track, Moke Lake Loop Track, Bob’s Cove, and the Mount Crichton Loop Track.
3. Eat the BEST Food
Queenstown is heaven for foodies. The streets are lined with incredible restaurants all sure to get your mouth watering. You can get any kind of food you want in Queenstown from homemade pasta to world-famous Ferg burgers.
Some restaurants are very cozy in the winter too. The Cow, for example, has a traditional fireplace keeping the place warm on cold evenings. Many places also have heaters for outdoor seating which means you can still enjoy the fresh air in winter!
4. Adventure Activities
A common misconception is that all of the adventure activities that Queenstown is famous for are closed in the winter. The truth is there are tons of adrenaline-pumping things to do in Queenstown in the winter!
Winter is the most beautiful time of year in Queenstown. With the mountains all dipped in snow, they are just that much more majestic looking.
There are plenty of sightseeing activities and tours you can do around Queenstown in the winter. My personal favorite would be taking the gondola up to Skyline at Bob’s Peak. From there, you can enjoy lunch or dinner with some of the best views around. There are also hiking trails, paragliding, stargazing, the luge, and lots of other things to do up at Skyline Queenstown.
6. Mulled Wine and Wine Tours
One of my personal favorite things about winter in Queenstown is the mulled wine you can find everywhere. Mulled wine is a warm alcoholic drink made with red wine, citrus, sugar, and cinnamon. To me, it tastes like Christmas in a wine glass!
Around Queenstown there are lots of wineries. So, you can either just stay in Queenstown bars and drink local wine and mulled wine, or you can go out on a wine tasting tour. Both are great options for a way to enjoy a cold winter’s day in Queenstown when you’re not up the mountain skiing.
7. Visit Milford Sound
Visiting Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown is even better in the winter because it is much less busy. For whatever reason, people tend to visit Milford Sound during the summer, which is a shame because it is just as enjoyable (and more beautiful) in the winter.
You can join a day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound that also includes a cruise once you’re there. For a little something extra special, consider booking a flight one way to see the snowy peaks from up above.
The truth is though, no matter how you choose to visit Milford Sound you’re going to love it. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and one of the best things to do in New Zealand!
The 3 Different Queenstown Ski Resorts
Queenstown is home to three ski fields all within a 1-hour drive from Queenstown. They are:
1. Remarkables Ski Field (NZ Ski)
The Remarkables ski field is a great ski field with four chairlifts and is actually my personal favorite. They also have opened a new longer chairlift for 2020 which will make accessing my favorite run (the Sugarbowl) even easier!
General info about the Remarkables:
The Remarkables ski field is geared to all ability levels and has a learning area and lots of runs from green all the way to black (as well as lots of backcountry runs.) It is also home to a terrain park with many different jumps, rails, and boxes of all sizes.
The Remarkables ski field opens at 8 am (for early bird passes) or 9 am for standard passes and closes at 4 pm.
It is operated by NZ Ski (same company as Coronet) which allows you to buy passes to access both mountains. There is an NZ Ski booking office in Queenstown center as well as a website to buy passes in advance.
Getting to the Remarkables Ski Field:
The Remarkables ski field is a 45-minute drive from Queenstown and involves a large climb up a windy road. This road is sealed for 90% of the way but the last part is not.
There is a large car parking lot at the bottom of the mountain as well as several near the top. If you park at one of the car parking lots over halfway then there is a courtesy shuttle to take you the rest of the way. However, if you park at the bottom, the fee is $20 NZD return.
You can also catch the bus from town for $20 return. If you do get the bus from Queenstown you need to line up early as the lines get really long once the first bus leaves.
During the season, it is required you carry snow chains in your vehicle if you drive up. During light snow, only 4wd vehicles are allowed to park at the top 3 carparks, however carpark 4 is only a few hundred meters away and they run a shuttle for free from here. In heavy snow, the road is often closed until it can be plowed.
Facilities at the Remarkables:
At the base of the Remarkables there is a rental and repair shop, restaurant, bar, and café. The facilities include toilets, free water stations, paid lockers ($10 per day), and free basic board and ski maintenance stations.
There is also a large indoor and outdoor seating area and people can choose to bring their own food and drink or buy it from the shop. The average price of a meal is around $15.
2. Coronet Peak Ski Field (NZ Ski)
Coronet Ski field is another good ski field and is very popular because of how close it is to Queenstown.
Coronet ski field has 3 chair lifts and one T bar, however, it is getting a big upgrade this year. The fields have lots of green and blue runs and also blacks. It does have some small and large jumps on some runs – just not as many as the Remarkables.
Coronet Peak has the same opening hours as Remarkables, however 3 nights a week they are open for night ski until 9 pm. Last year these days were Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Coronet Peak is operated by NZ Ski (same company as the Remarkables) so you can buy passes that allow you to access both mountains. Passes can be bought on their website or booking office in Queenstown in advance.
Getting to Coronet Peak:
Coronet Peak is only a 30-minute drive from Queenstown and is the lowest ski field in the area. The road is sealed the entire way to the top and is not as steep or windy as the Remarkables. At the base of the mountain, there is a small carpark. The next closest carpark is at the top and is walking distance to the base building.
During the season it is required you carry snow chains in your vehicle. During light snow, chains must be used and during heavy snow, the road usually closes for plowing.
A shuttle from town or the bottom carpark is $20 return, but as mentioned above, the lines can be huge!
3. Cardrona Ski Field
Cardrona ski field is considered more of an “elite” ski field and is very popular among more experienced skiers and snowboarders. It is also best for those who are looking to book a ski package from Wanaka.
Cardrona has 7 chairlifts (3 of these are small) and countless runs from green to black. Aside from the typical runs, Cardrona also has two massive half pipes, huge jumps, and a few runs dedicated to those who want to freestyle.
Also in the coming years, Cardrona is set to become the biggest ski field in the country with the Soho expansion.
Getting to Cardrona from Queenstown:
From Queenstown, the Cardrona Ski Field is around an hour’s drive in good road conditions. In bad weather, expect close to 1.5 hours. The road to the top is all unsealed and extremely rocky. There is a car parking lot at the base where you can catch a bus, and buses also leave from Queenstown (for a fee.)
It is required to carry snow chains when driving up to Cardrona.
What ski pass should I get?
Most people would think that if they’re going on a short ski holiday in Queenstown, day passes or weakly passes are the way to go. This can be the case, however, I want you to consider a season pass and I’ll explain why.
Day passes to the ski fields are super expensive. Expect to pay around $120 per day for single-use passes. Compared to places in Europe, this is hugely expensive. If you stay for 10 days and ski 5 times then just entry is going to cost you $600!
If you’re in Queenstown for longer or plan on skiing a lot during your holiday then consider a season pass. If you get in early enough you can pick them up for $650 (NZ Ski). You will need to book before the end of January to get this offer.
The later you leave it the more expensive they get. So in comparison to 5 day passes, they are the same price. Season passes cost around $1000 NZD after June.
NZ Ski owns both Coronet Peak and the Remarkables so a season pass to one mountain gets you access to the other. They also include access to their 3rd mountain near Christchurch – Mt Hutt. So this season pass is by far the best value for money.
A season pass to Cardrona starts a little higher at $699 NZD for early birds and moves up to well over a $1000 once the season starts. You will only get access to Cardrona with their season pass.
Intro to Snow Ski Pass
This is a pass offered by NZ Ski and in my opinion, the best pass you can get. With the Intro to Snow pass, you can get 8 lessons over 4 days that include gear hire. Once you complete the lessons you can upgrade to a full season pass for $100 or $200 depending on when you got the pass.
Bailey and I got in early so we paid $700 for 8 lessons with gear rental and a full season pass. Even if you’re only here for a holiday, this pass is a great value! By the end of the lessons, I went from completely new to shredding (that’s what it felt like).
Where to Buy Cheap Ski and Snowboard Gear in Queenstown
If you’re heading to Queenstown for the season you’re going to need your own equipment. The best way to buy cheap equipment is through the Salvation Army second-hand charity store, Facebook groups like Queenstown Buy Swap Sell, or the yearly ski and snowboard sale at the Queenstown Community Event Centre.
The sale at the Queenstown Event Centre is on at the end of May on a Sunday (this date can change). Here you can pick up the cheap ex-rental gear and privately owned gear. Gear here was limited last year for snowboarders and with winter clothing. Ski’s were in abundance.
The Salvation Army also has a once a year sale but it is on earlier in the year at the end of April. Here is where you will get the best bargains but the line can be up to 500 people long before opening. People start lining up the day before.
Ski and Snowboard Rental Shops in Queenstown
If you are in Queenstown on a short holiday then rental gear is your best option (if you don’t want to bring your own.) There are rental shops at all of ski fields near Queenstown but you can get equipment much cheaper in town. Some of the best places to get rental gear are Brown’s Ski Rental, One-Stop Ski Shop, and The Green Toad.
If you can, it pays to bring your own goggles as the ski fields don’t rent them out. Also, you can pay to have your rental gear stored at the ski fields so you don’t have to carry it up the next day. This costs $10 per night.
Where to Stay for the Queenstown Ski Season?
If you’re heading to Queenstown for a winter holiday and need accommodation then we have a few recommendations of hotels in Queenstown for all budgets. Prices do vary depending on dates so be sure to check.
It is also VERY important to book a place to stay in Queenstown during the ski season well in advance. This is a busy time of year in Queenstown and most of the best places will be fully booked several weeks in advance!
If you’re moving to Queenstown for the ski season, check out our blog about living in Queenstown, it has all the info you need to know about finding a place to rent!
Low Budget: $30- $50 per night per person
Jucy Snooze is a rather new concept. Rather than just a bed you actually get a pod for a little more privacy. These are still in shared rooms and cost around $40 per night. Jucy Snooze is a new building with a rooftop restaurant and bar. Its location is also right in town just off Shotover street.
The Base Queenstown is your typical party hostel. If you’re looking for a budget option that comes with a great nightlife then Base is the best choice in Queenstown. A bed in a dorm will cost around $30 per night and they also have a very social downstairs bar. Their location really can’t be beaten as they are on the main street, Shotover street!
All over the world, I have stayed in YHA hostels. These are always a reliable option and the two in Queenstown are really nice. The YHA Lakefront starts at around $33 per night for a dorm and the YHA central around $40. The Lakefront is a 5-minute walk to town and Central is in town.
*Please note, the above places offer private rooms that can work out to be a similar price to a dorm for two people. Please check their website for availability. If the above options are booked other choices can be viewed here!
Medium Budget: $50 -$100 per night per person
The Queenstown Top Ten holiday park is actually located around a 10 minutes drive from Queenstown. However, if you’re here for the Queenstown ski season then it’s one of the closest hotels to Coronet Ski Field. They also offer a free shuttle to and from town. A budget cottage for two people will cost around $100 per night.
Another great option near Coronet Peak is the Swiss-Belresort.
Hurley’s is a really great choice in Queenstown and their specialty is studio apartments. Their budget studio costs around $170 per night for two people but every room comes with a spa bath and cooking facilities (which can help you save money on eating out for every meal.) If you’re a family you can also get a 2 bedroom perfect for 4 people for around $350 per night. Hurley’s is located only 5 minutes from town.
The Lodges is another studio apartment-style hotel. Here you can get a studio for around $200 per night for two people. The Lodges is in a great location only a 5 minutes’ walk from town. Its also another option for families or large groups and up to 7 people can stay in their largest 3 bedroom apartments for around $600 per night. All apartments come with a kitchen or kitchenette.
High Budget: $100+ per person per night
The Whistler is one of the top-rated hotels in Queenstown. Here every apartment has a Balcony with mountain views, full kitchen, and a washing machine. The Whistler is also only a 5-minute walk from town. Rooms here will cost around $250 for two people but you can get a triple for around $280 (pushing it back into the medium budget range).
I always love staying at Hilton hotels and the Hilton in Queenstown is no different. It’s luxurious and the best option for couples or those who love a little pampering.
It is also located out of town (around a 10-minute drive) but is really close to the Remarkables ski field. They do offer a free shuttle to and from town and a cheap water taxi too. Rooms here start at around $300 per night for two people.
Queenstown Winter Events
Queenstown has a few awesome events on annually during the winter and ski season. These events are loads of fun but they do come with crowds. Here are some of the most popular annual Queenstown winter events.
Queenstown Winter Festival
The Queenstown Winter Festival is easily the biggest event during the Queenstown ski season. During the 4 day event, you can expect lots of daily events including the Old Mout Dodgeball champs, Comedy night, the legends of the street rail showdown (street snowboarders and skiers), and also live music played regularly over the 4 days.
This event is huge and loads of fun. It’s the perfect time to visit and also early in the season when all ski fields are open.
The Queenstown Winter Festival runs from June 18 to 21 in 2020.
NZ Mountain Film Festival
The NZ Mountain Film Festival is a popular event that visits Queenstown from June 26 to July 4, 2020. This event showcases filmmakers from NZ and around the world. It also includes guest speakers, workshops, and more!
Coronet Peak night ski parties
Every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night during the Queenstown ski season Coronet Peak continues to shred well into the night. This includes regular Dj’s and other musical entertainment. The restaurant and bar are also open until close and with regular parties, it’s a must-do when visiting Queenstown!
Winter Pride Festival
Winter Pride is another lively event during the Queenstown ski season. Also known as “gay ski week”, winter pride is a super fun festival with lots of events and parties. Expect street parties with pop-up bars and restaurants, as well as live entertainment including drag, music, and DJs.
It’s a great week and time to acknowledge and support the rights and accomplishments of the LGBT community! The festival runs from Aug 28 to the 6th of September in 2020.
Rental Cars/Campervans in the Winter in Queenstown
If you’re headed to Queenstown on a holiday it could be wiser to hire a car or campervan for your trip. The bonuses to this are cheap accommodation with transport (campervan) and not having to pay and line up for the buses to the ski fields.
In winter, renting a campervan New Zealand is really cheap and gives you the freedom of moving around. Also in winter, the holiday parks with powered sites for campervans don’t book up and neither do campervan rentals.
As for car hire, it’s easy to work out if it’s worth it. If you’re a group or family, of two or more people, it’s going to cost $20 per person per day to get to the ski fields. Along with this, you are going to need to line up to get to and from the fields. A rental car can cost as little as $20 a day so the costs and freedom are much better!
Be sure to get a vehicle that comes with snow chains and allows you to drive up to the ski fields (some companies have clauses not allowing you to).
Before you go…
Queenstown’s ski season is one of the best times of year to visit. It is vibrant, busy, and downright stunningly beautiful. With the right planning and info, you will have a fantastic time in Queenstown in winter and enjoy everything she has to offer.
I hope this guide to the Queenstown ski season has helped you plan your trip. If you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments below and we will get back to you!
April 28, 2020