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Written by Annabel Wilson
Well-known for attracting pro snowriders from all over the world, New Zealand’s Treble Cone ski resort is now quietly building a reputation for how it caters for families as well. ANNABEL WILSON finds out why it’s never been a better time to take the kids skiing at the South Island’s largest ski area.
Squashed in the back seat of a dusty Subaru, my brothers and I always noted the daily quip written at Treble Cone’s toll gate as we drove up the mountain during ski holidays. A particularly memorable joke was “FAMILY FIELDS ARE FOR CABBAGES.” This statement surmised what TC used to be like back in the 1980s, when learning how to ski took place on a narrow strip of snow bordered by a scary rope tow, then intermediate level skiers had to navigate a cat track which zig-zagged beneath the double chairlift. Everywhere else was pretty much expert terrain. While introducing my nephew and niece to skiing at Treble Cone recently, I noticed how much things have changed. With a free beginner area, new intermediate trails and kid-friendly features and events, it’s now easy to ensure the whole family enjoys snowriding there. Here are seven tips for making this happen.
1. GO ON A JOYRIDE
Head up the Home Basin express on a Scenic Chairlift Ride for a unique way to get your bearings and take in the magnificent alpine setting. $18NZD per person or $50NZD (hot drink included) for a family, it’s a great way for kids or non-skiers to get a feel for the mountain. At 1750m, the lift will slow down for you at the offload station. Stroll over to the Matukituki view point which provides an unforgettable panorama of jagged peaks towering above the glacier-carved river valley below. As you wander back, stop in at the new on-mountain cafe for a high-altitude picnic overlooking Lake Wanaka and the Southern Alps.
2. PLAY IN THE SNOW
Get used to the alpine environment and ski gear by playing in the snow first. Throw snowballs, build a snowman and check out the ice sculptures in the dedicated beginners’ area. You can also post a letter to TC Cat in the official mailbox!
3. USE THE CHILDCARE
Designed to give children some time off the snow while their parents explore some of Treble Cone’s worldclass terrain, the Childcare Centre is a warm and fully supervised space for kids aged 3-5 years. There’s a wide range of books, crafts and toys for children to explore, and they can also upgrade to a ‘Kitty Cat Club’ lesson for a fun and safe first experience on skis. Two hours of childcare with a 1 hour semi-private ski lesson and ski hire is $84NZD. This is a world away from the A-frame hut I used to sleep in while my parents snuck off for a ski as the ski instructors watched over me!
4. LEARN TO SKI
A major drawcard for bringing the family to Treble Cone are the free learner’s slopes. Novices won’t need a ticket for the magic carpet or the 400 metre long platter lift which provides ample wide open space within which to master linked turns and most importantly, have fun. At the top of the platter, adventurous snowriders will find the Jazz Kids’ Fun trail (a series of archways, a sea-saw rollbox and surface features) to challenge themselves on. Adults can even watch their older children who are proficient skiers zooming down the learner’s slope from the comfort of the Cheeky Kea cafe in the base area. You can hire mini skis and boards by the hour, which gives parents can set themselves up for success by giving kids a short and sweet experience on the slopes first, then book them into lessons once they’re amping on snow.
5. EXPLORE THE WHOLE MOUNTAIN
Extensive earthworks over the summer has meant that intermediate skiers and boarders can now access the whole mountain via a series of wide, interconnected trails. The legendary Saddle Basin - only reachable by a thin goat track or a helicopter back in the old days - is now open to anyone with a solid style. I’m sure I’m only a few more ski days away from showing this spectacular basin to my nephew and niece.
6. BECOME A FREERIDER
Children make progress remarkably quickly at Treble Cone, thanks to the proficient ski school and varied on and off-piste runs. Fairly soon they might be bugging you to test their prowess on their first freeride event. If so, enter them in the Pump Mini Mountain expression session on the weekend of 5 September. With age divisions starting at seven and under, kids can get creative and ski hand-shaped hits as they are judged for line, fluidity, control and air.
7. TOAST MARSHMALLOWS
Insider’s tip: Stash a packet of marshmallows and some toasting forks in your daypack and toast them over the open fire on the sundeck when you’re taking a break. You’ll be the envy of the lunch crowd and will instantly soothe away any post-skiing gripes or tiredness.
8. VISIT IN SPRING
September is an ideal time to visit Wanaka and Treble Cone in particular. Crowds have dispersed, days have warmed up and airfares get cheaper. Forgiving corn snow and warmer temperatures make spring skiing especially family-friendly. The last day of the season is well worth coming across for if you can. 27 September is Treble Cone’s official closing day. Locals and visitors alike soak up the carnival atmosphere by donning fancy dress costumes and enjoying live music on the sundeck. Start planning your outfits now and lock it in for this year.