We look at the costs and whether it’s worth buying a season pass.
Planning on carving up the mountains this winter? Hitting the slopes can be expensive. We've surveyed day and season pass prices for 22 fields to see how you can slalom down the black runs without going into the red.
For a day’s skiing, adult lift passes at the 22 fields we looked at ranged from $45 (Manganui) to $135 (Treble Cone). Take the kids and you’ll pay another $27 to $75 per child.
This means a day on the slopes for a family of two adults and two children could cost from $150 to $400, and that’s before you’ve hired your planks and poles.
Deals are available. If you’re over 65, you can get discounts on lift passes at most fields. Almost all fields we looked at also offer deals for tertiary students. Children under five have free access to most mountains (Mt Hutt and Mt Olympus stretch this generosity to children under 10).
Club fields offered the cheapest prices. These fields are open to the public but are owned and operated by private ski clubs. At three club fields (Manganui, Rainbow and Tukino), you can only buy a season pass if you’re a member, but anyone can buy a day pass.
There are two club fields in the North Island – Tukino on Mt Ruapehu and Manganui on Mt Taranaki – and nine in the South Island. These fields offer different levels of service but all provide on-field accommodation. You’re also likely to find fewer people on the runs.
Joining a club means you’ll get cheaper rates. But you’ll have to pay a fee to join and some clubs expect you’ll help out around the field.
Access roads to some of these fields can be challenging. They also have fewer facilities and the lifts are more basic than those at larger resorts. Most club fields aren’t groomed and have rugged terrain, which can make them an intimidating starting point for novices.
Multi-day and season passes
If you’re planning an extended skiing trip, multi-day passes can slash your costs. At Treble Cone, an adult lift pass costs $135 for one day but $525 for five days, saving $30 a day. You can use this pass on any five days during the 2018 season.
Some ski fields offer multi-day passes that must be used on consecutive days. Before you buy, ask if the days on your pass are flexible so you know what you’re entitled to.
Season passes can also save you money, but you’ll have to be committed to hitting the slopes to make them pay off.
An adult season pass at Cardrona costs $1299. You’d need to use your pass 11 times before it worked out cheaper than buying day passes. At Porters, you’d need to hit the fields for seven days for a season pass to work out cheaper.
If your winter schedule is packed with enough ski breaks to make it worthwhile, you can get better value from a season pass by buying early. In April or May, buying a “3 Peak Pass”, which gets you on to Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and The Remarkables, costs $799. After that, you’ll pay $999.
Most resort fields charge less for their season passes if you buy before May. Club fields usually don’t offer season passes to non-members. Of the four that do, Mt Cheeseman is the only one where it’s cheaper to buy season passes early.
If you’re just kicking off your winter sports career, buying all the gear is an expensive undertaking. Standard adult skis cost between $700 and $2000 and a snowboard anywhere from $400 to $1400.
Renting gear is a cheaper option. It also means you can try a variety of skis and boards to find what suits you best.
You can save by hiring gear for consecutive days. At Temple Basin, a ski set will cost you $38 for a day and $165 for a week. A snowboard set is $42 by the day and $170 for a week. But if you’re renting for consecutive days, make sure you like the gear: not all fields will change the equipment once it’s been hired.
You may also be able to rent gear for cheaper from stores near ski fields.
Ski lessons can help you get up to speed if you’re a novice or have had a few years off the slopes. All the commercial fields we looked at offered lessons. But they’re not available at all club fields.
Lessons range from one-on-one sessions to small group classes. There are programmes designed for children and novices, through to experienced skiers and boarders looking to stretch their skills.
The New Zealand Snowsports Instructors Alliance offers three levels of qualifications. Most fields will only hire qualified instructors.
Larger resort fields have more classes and instructors. While group lessons are cheaper than private sessions, you might find one-on-one instruction worthwhile if you’re just starting out.
Pass prices compared
|Ski fields||Day pass - Adult||Day pass - Student||Day pass - Child||April season pass - Adult||April season pass - Student||April season pass - Child||June season pass - Adult||June season pass - Student||June season pass - Child|
|Mt Ruapehu (Turoa and Whakapapa)||$125||n/a||$75||$531||$358||$358||$999||$599||$599|
GUIDE TO THE TABLE OUR DATA are from ski field websites and field operators. Adult = 18 and over. Student = full-time tertiary student. Child ages vary from field to field, check field websites for details. Aprices are for NZ Ski’s “3 Peak Pass” (prices for Mt Hutt only vary). Bstudent includes high school students. n/a = not applicable. M = available only to club members.
A family weekend
We looked at the cost of taking two adults and two children, an 8 year-old and a 17-year-old, for a weekend in the snow at a North Island and a South Island field. We’ve included one group lesson for each person (so that’s four lessons in total).
|Mt Ruapehu (Turoa and Whakapapa)[width=large]||Cardrona|
|2-day full mountain lift passes||$800||$700|
|2-day ski or board rental packages||$352||$376|
|Group lessons||$226||$228 - $268|
|TOTAL COST||$1378||$1304 - $1344|
Climate change is threatening how ski fields operate.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) predicts that by 2050 ski fields will have reduced periods when they are usable with natural snow. Rising tree lines and warmer winters could also restrict the time we get to spend on snowy activities.
Environmental scientist Professor James Renwick says snow sports in New Zealand will look quite different in 30 to 40 years, particularly on North Island fields. Limited seasons and reduced quality of snow on lower mountain slopes are likely to be the first changes, he says.
Be careful hitting the slopes. In 2016, 8062 skiers filed ACC claims, while snowboarders submitted 5438. Out of $506 million paid out by ACC that year for sport-related injuries, snow sports claims made up $15.8 million (3.1%).
By Robert Kelly