Queenstown Ski Season – Complete Guide to Winter in Queenstown
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This is a complete guide to the Queenstown ski season that includes everything you need to know about winter in Queenstown!
Queenstown Ski Season
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 to hit one of the many ski fields in the area.
The Queenstown ski season is a short ski season in comparison to others around the world. Because of this, all the visitors for the Queenstown ski season come in a very short period of time. This means it is busy and you need to plan ahead!
There are many questions you should be asking before you either head to Queenstown for a week vacation or even if you decide to spend the season. These include the busiest times to try avoid (such as school holidays), when the best events for you are on, getting work on or near a ski field, how to find long and short term accommodation (possibly Queenstown’s biggest issue) and much more.
This is a complete guide to the Queenstown ski season!
When is the Queenstown 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 on different dates.
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 dates given early on in the year are based on previous weather and can change, so it’s best to check the ski fields 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 seasons might means you can’t actually ski at all!
Queenstown ski season projected opening dates
The Remarkables – 9th of June to the 7th of October. Opened a week early for one day and stayed open until around the 20th of October.
Coronet Peak – 16th of June to the 7th of October. Opened on time and stayed open a week late.
Cardrona – 16th of June to the 14th of October. Opened on time but also extended by a week or two.
The weather during the Queenstown 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 during the winter, with the coldest temperatures of -10 and highest of 2 during the day.
The 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.
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 Remarkables Ski Feild:
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 however the last part is not.
There is a large carpark at the bottom of the mountain as well as several near the top. If you park at one of the carparks 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 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. 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.
At the top of the ski field, 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 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.
The 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 ski field.
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 conditions. In bad weather, expect close to 1.5 hours. The road to the top is all unsealed and extremely rocky. There is a carpark at the base you can catch a bus to and buses also leave from Queenstown.
It is required to carry snow chains when driving up to Cardrona.
The busiest times of the year – school holidays!
By far the busiest times of the ski season are during school holidays. During this time the mountain packs out with families from both New Zealand and Australia. Of course, if you don’t need to travel during this time then its best to avoid these weeks.
The school holiday weeks during the Queenstown ski season are:
13th April – 28th April
6th July – 22nd July
28th September to 13th October
13th/ 20th December to 28th January/7th February
13th April – 28th April
6th July – 22nd July
28th September to 13th October
19th December to 28th January
What ski pass should I get?
Most people would think that if they’re going on a holiday, 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 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 $1000 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 – Mount Hutt. So this season pass is by far the best value for money.
A season pass to Cardrona starts a little higher at $699 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.
The 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).
Getting work in Queenstown
If you’re staying for the season it’s likely you are going to need work. Many of you may even want to work on one of the ski fields as this comes with some perks – but so does not working on them. I’ll explain why…
Working on the ski fields in Queenstown
Working on the ski fields is a great way to get lots of time to ski or snowboard. This is because you not only get a free season pass once employed (or reimbursed if you bought your pas before you got employed) but you also can ski on your breaks etc.
However, most ski field jobs that require little to no experience pay minimum wage. At the time of writing this, this was $16:50 plus 8% for holiday pay. That is set to rise in early 2019 to $17:50. This may sound like a decent wage, but with the cost of living in Queenstown so high, it doesn’t go far.
Getting to and from the ski fields each day also takes a lot of time. Transport is often provided, but its huge time waster and you can easily spend an hour plus each way getting to and from work.
Working in Queenstown
Although working in town means you will have to pay for your season pass, you can make a little more money. Some shops and bars in town pay $20 and higher (depending on experience) and if you work in construction or maintenance you can make $25+. This increase in wage easily offsets the free season pass.
When should I look/apply?
Work is hardest to get at the start of the ski season. This is when many people have secured jobs already. Getting in early can help your chances significantly. The middle of May is the best time to look for work in Queenstown.
If you plan on working on the ski fields you need to apply much earlier. Applying online in February or March is a great idea as the employment process can take some time and they like to secure staff early.
Queenstown ski season accommodation
Short Term Accommodation in Queenstown
One of the biggest issues in Queenstown’s ski season is the lack of accommodation. For those visiting for a short time, you have the luxury of booking in advance, and if done with enough notice you won’t have any problems.
I would start looking no later than 6 months in advance, in fact at the time of writing this (January) Queenstown is 80% booked for the month of July! If you want to visit during the school holidays then start looking ASAP!
If you are visiting on a short holiday you can skip this next section and go to the where to stay section.
Long Term Accommodation in Queenstown
If you are one of the many people heading to Queenstown for the entire season to live and work then the problem is even worse. Queenstown’s rental market is small and highly expensive.
Typical rent for a couple sharing a room is around $400 per week with bills included and $350 without. For a single, you won’t find much below $250 per week including bills.
But it’s not just a good price that’s hard to find, once the season starts it gets even harder to find accommodation. This is because all the ski field workers are here and there is much less available. If you plan on enjoying the entire Queenstown ski season then its best to get here a tad early.
The best time to look for rentals by far is in May! May is considered shoulder season and many people after snow haven’t arrived and those looking for warmer temperatures have left.
That being said, it isn’t impossible to find somewhere to live in the middle of the Queenstown ski season. A great option is to look a little further out of town. Frankton is actually closer to all the ski fields and only 10 minutes from town so it’s a great option.
If you look even further out you have Lake Hayes. Lake Hayes is around 20 minutes from town and recent developments have opened up lots more accommodation options.
Where to stay in Queenstown?
If you’re heading to Queenstown for a 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.
Low Budget: $30- $50 per night per person
The Flaming Kiwi is your typical backpackers. Here you can get a bed in a shared dorm for around $30. The vibe is chilled but social and is located only a 5 minutes’ walk to the town center. The building is rather old but well maintained and they have free parking on site. Overall, it’s a great budget option for the Queenstown ski season.
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 Winter Festival
The Real Journey’s Queenstown Winter Festival is easily the biggest event on in 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 Real Journey’s Queenstown Winter Festival runs from June 20 to 23 in 2019.
Nz Mountain Film Festival
The Nz Mountain Film Festival is a popular event that visits Queenstown from the 4th to the 6th of July. This event showcases filmmakers from NZ and around the world. It also includes guest speakers, workshops, and more!
Coronet 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 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 live events and parties. It’s a great week and time to acknowledge and support the rights and accomplishments of the LGBT community! The festival runs from the 1st to the 9th of September.
Where to get 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 however 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.
Rental Equipment Shops in Queenstown
If you are in Queenstown for the short term then rental gear is your best option (if you don’t want to bring your own.) There are rental shops at all ski fields however 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.
If you are here 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 give 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. So this option means you can book later, have less stress of being stuck in one place, and have a car to do road trips to places like Glenorchy or Milford Sound.
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 can cost as little as $20 a day to rent 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).
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!
November 5, 2019