Domestic Travel

Tue, 6 Jun, 2017Danielle McCarthy

This is the best place to ski in New Zealand

Justine Tyerman, travel writer from New Zealand, was present at the birth of Cardona and eagerly awaits the latest addition…  

Riding to the top of a ski resort in a bubble is about to become a reality in New Zealand.

My favourite ski area, Cardrona Alpine Resort near Wanaka, is due to open its new $10 million Doppelmayr ‘chondola’, a lift combining eight-person gondola cabins or ‘bubbles’ and six-seater chairs on June 10. The new McDougall’s Express Chondola is the first cabin-style lift on a ski area in New Zealand, replacing the existing McDougall’s Quad chairlift.

The high-speed Chondola will increase the lift capacity by 150 percent, with an hourly uplift of 2,550 skiers, snowboarders and sightseers.

The new lift is 100m closer to the base facilities, making it faster and easier to get up the mountain. No walking uphill to the lift queue in skiboots with skis on your shoulder.

It will be ideal for beginners, allowing first-time skiers and snowboarders the ability to walk on and off a gondola cabin and ride to the top of the mountain on their first day.

From the top of McDougall’s they can access the mellow Skyline trail or New Zealand’s longest beginner trail, A Real Journey, over to Captain's Basin.

Sightseers can also travel to the top of the mountain in the warmth and comfort of a gondola cabin to view the panorama that still takes my breath away, even after 36 years – row-upon-row of the Southern Alps, the entire Wakatipu Basin and little Arrowtown nestled in the valley below.

We’ve skied at Cardrona since its very first season in 1980 and have witnessed the mountain develop into a world-class resort.

Waiting out a blizzard last year, I read the entire fascinating history of the resort displayed on the wall of the Captain’s café.

Tall, rangy Cardrona pioneer and founder John Lee is pictured there building his non-consented ‘high-quality farm road’ back in the 1970s. The Mt Pisa farmer had a bold vision to one day ‘farm snow’ so he designed the road with a gradual gradient so that busses and cars could manage it with ease. The road today is a testament to John’s methodical planning many decades ago – gentle, wide and well-barriered, I always feel safe on that road.  

1980 was the first official ski season at Cardrona but there was so much snow, the new field was open for only 16 days. The following year, they operated for six weeks and purchased a snow groomer.

The double lift was installed in 1983 followed by McDougall’s lift and a 200-seat café in 1985.

In hindsight, it seems bizarre but Cardrona actually banned snowboarding in the late 1980s, a ban that was only lifted in 1989 when one of the managers got hooked on what was then considered a renegade sport after he was persuaded to take a lesson.

The famous blue clock tower was added in 1993-5 along with the Mezz Café, expanded kids’ facilities, apartments and a medical centre.

In the summer of 1999-2000, mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing at Arcadia began, heralding a new era of operations at Cardrona outside the winter months.

An express quad chair replaced the Captain’s Quad in 2008 and the old Captain’s lift was installed as the Valley View lift in 2010.

Real Journeys bought Cardrona Alpine Resort in 2013, and the intermediate jumpline opened in 2014, bringing the resort’s freestyle collection to four terrain parks, two half pipes and a big air jump.

The summer of 2015-2016 was Cardrona’s first full summer of operations including mountain biking, hiking, stargazing and the Southern Hemisphere’s first mountain carts.

And on June 10, 2017, the Chondola opens, heralding a whole new chapter in the mountain’s development.

While gorging on history, I also learned a number of other fascinating facts including that Captain’s is named after an old rodeo horse who was put out to pasture on Cardrona during the 1970s. He was a nightmare to wrangle, so much so that some of the men wanted to shoot him. But John Lee identified with Captain’s tenacious spirit that matched his own, naming one of the ski field’s basins and lifts after the spirited horse.

Ironically, John was not a skier, but his wife Mary was a passionate advocate of the sport and can claim many of Cardrona’s first descents.

After a massive snow dump late in the season last year, we had one of our best ever day’s skiing on a pristine, cloudless, windless day. Being mid-week and outside the school or university holidays, there were few other skiers so we had the mountain to ourselves. My brand new Dynastars, on loan from my old friend Kazu at Outside Sports in Wanaka, were humming, and my boots were supremely comfortable after Paul, the Scottish boot doctor at the shop, gave them a stretch to accommodate my burgeoning bunions.

We skied every possible on-piste and off-piste run and then treated ourselves to a leisurely lunchbreak and a chilled cider in the sun on the balcony at Captains Café. Even after he lifts officially closed, we persuaded the liftie to let us back on for one last run as the sun began to slide towards the snowy horizon, painting the mountains pink.

On the way back to Wanaka, we stopped off at the historic Cardrona Hotel and had a glass of hot mulled wine and chips beside the roaring outside fire, as we have done after every day’s skiing for 36 years. The day was pure magic, the stuff of legends. I can’t wait to do it all again this year . . . and ride the bubble.

Have you ever been skiing in New Zealand?

* Justine skied courtesy of Cardrona Alpine Resort and Outside Sports Outside Sports has shops in Queenstown, Wanaka and Te Anau. You can pick up your sporting gear at one shop and drop it off at another.

Justine travelled to Wanaka in a JUCY Casa Plus motorhome, warm and cosy even in the snow!