NZ ski guide: Club and small commercial ski fields off the beaten track

Few queues, friendly faces and fun are the hallmarks of these little ski areas, many of them hidden on remote mountainsides around the country.

These resorts might be lower profile and less sophisticated than the big fields, but for those who appreciate queue-free lifts and cheaper prices, this is just the way they like it. Take the time to seek out these hidden gems and you might just find, like me, you’re hooked!

While members of the club fields usually get big discounts on lift passes, have voting rights and do working parties, they also give a warm welcome to the public.

North Island


Tucked away on the eastern side of Mt Ruapehu, this club operated field is protected from the prevailing winds so it’s often open when the other larger fields have to close. Tukino has some of the mountain’s most challenging off-piste terrain.

Those with Ruapehu Alpine Lifts season passes can ski mid at Tukino for half price. Tukino’s four wheel drive access road is 22km north of Waiouru on the Desert Road. Other nearest towns are National Park, Turangi and Ohakune.

Vital stats:

  • Base altitude 1780m     
  • Highest altitude 2020m  
  • Vertical drop 220m       
  • Average snow depth 81cm      

Famous for: its ski patrollers: where else will they help you dig a jump, shred The Wall, or take you on a back country tour to drop some chutes?

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Manganui Ski Area

Mt Taranaki (or for those of us over 40, Mt Egmont) can be seen around much of the central North Island, its dramatic cone rising out of the Taranaki plains. There are three lifts for all levels; 65% is advanced terrain. The nearest city is New Plymouth, 45 minutes away.

Vital stats:

  • Base altitude 1260m
  • Highest altitude 1680m

  • Vertical drop 420m

  • Average snow depth 85cm

Famous for: smooth, wide sealed access road that doesn’t give you heart failure before you get onto the slopes.

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South Island


The South Island’s northernmost ski area, Rainbow is a great value ski club field open to all beginners, families and experienced skiers and boarders. But its relaxed non-commercial feel does not mean quality and safety are compromised.

Rainbow is about an hour and a half from Nelson airport and an hour and a half more or less from Blenheim, Picton and Murchison. Nearest village is St Arnaud, on the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park. It’s 40 minutes away, along State Highway 63.

Vital stats:   

  • Base altitude 15400m 
  • Highest altitude 1758m 
  • Vertical drop 218m   
  • Average snow depth 69cm  

Famous for: half-price Mondays

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Mt Lyford Alpine Resort

Doug Simpson’s high country sheep farm 60km west of Kaikoura had so much powder, he turned the sunny north-west facing slopes into a boutique snow resort 20 years ago. This is a heavenly place, but the access road is not for the faint hearted. I take the shuttle and keep my eyes firmly shut! But once you’ve made it onto the wide open slopes, you’ll overlook over the dramatic peaks and valleys of the Southern Alps.

There’s a great learners’ area as well as challenging runs for intermediate and advanced skiers. After your day on the slopes, have a drink and a meal in front of the roaring fire at Mt Lyford Lodge at the bottom of the access road.

Vital stats:    

  • Base altitude 1249m    
  • Highest altitude 1750m
  • Vertical drop 450m   
  • Average snow depth 103cm    

Famous for: Sunshine.

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Hanmer Springs Ski area

This friendly club ski field is made up of thee basins, with a variety of terrain with plenty of virgin snow for adventurous intermediate to advanced skiers and boarders who enjoy wide open spaces.

If you’re not used to steep mountain access roads, you might prefer to take a shuttle from Hamner Springs 20kms below. This thriving alpine village is known for its gorgeous steaming hot springs. There are a variety of restaurants, bars and boutique shops too.

Vital stats:   

  • Base altitude 1459m     
  • Highest altitude 1769m     
  • Vertical drop 310m    
  • Average snow depth 68cm

Famous for: 52 years of skiing; kids under 10 ski free with an adult

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Temple Basin

Despite its rugged alpine skiing in the heart of the Southern Alps, this club field has a huge variety of terrain spread over four basins for all levels. Temple Basin’s car park beside State Highway 73 is 4kms west of the Arthur’s Pass Village.

While this village has supplies and petrol, they can be expensive and limited, so you may like to stock up in Greymouth, Hokitika or Christchurch before you set off for the Alps. This area is a Mecca of walking tracks with truly spectacular mountain views.

Vital stats:    

  • Base altitude 1328m     
  • Highest altitude 1923m     
  • Vertical drop 420m     
  • Average snow depth 115cm

Famous for: its ski patrollers: being in the heart of the Alps – this is as close as this country gets to the Swiss Alps!

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Craigieburn Valley Ski Area

Steep, deep and cheap, this club ski area is a favourite for hard-core expert skiers. Mere mortals who can’t hack the steep chutes can enjoy hiking and ski touring in the area. Travelling west on Highway 73 toward Arthurs Pass, the Craigieburn turnoff is about 15km from the top of the Porters Pass.

The nearest town is Castle Hill Mountain Village, between the Torlesse and Craigieburn Ranges on State Highway 73. It’s 100kms from Christchurch.

Vital stats:   

  • Base altitude 1308m     
  • Highest altitude 1811m     
  • Vertical drop 503m     
  • Average snow base 120cm   

Famous for: no grooming – it’s all offpiste

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Written by Rosalind Le Bas Walker

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