Now Wanaka is Wanaka and everyone loves beautiful Wanaka, with it’s bustling village filled with restaurants, bars and shops, nestled on the shores of Lake Wanaka. But in the winter, Wanaka is also a great base for a snow roadie with four snow fields/parks just a hop, skip and a jump from its shores.
If you head towards the Crown Range - the slightly treacherous shortcut to Queenstown - you’ll reach the little settlement of Cardrona and the entrance to Cardrona ski field. Cardrona is a superb field for all level of skier and boarder, with three conveyors for those starting out, a poma lift to ferry all boarders and tricksters to the two half pipes and the Big Air Jump, and then the Macdougalls Express Chondola (8 seater gondolas interspersed with 6 seater chairs) and three four seater chair lifts to shuttle you all over the rest of the mountain. And wherever you go, there are great views across the Cardrona Valley and good food options, from the noodle bar out behind the main base, to the bustling Base Cafe and the slightly more refined and gourmet Mezz Cafe situated upstairs from Base Cafe. Or if you’re skiing Captains Express Quad, stop for a beer and a pizza at Captain’s Pizzeria.
And when you’ve finished for the day, (if you’ve not booked the on mountain accommodation - or even if you have), an absolute must do is to pop into the Cardrona Hotel, just along from the mountain access road. Possibly one of New Zealand’s oldest and most photographed hotels, The Cardrona Hotel, is in fact an institution and is the perfect end to a great day on the slopes. Grab a brew or a mulled wine, some wedges and take yourself to the outdoor garden to enjoy the last remaining rays of sunshine, whilst chewing the fat with like minded snow fans in front of a brassier. (They have a rather delicious restaurant too, so if the feeling takes you, book in there after your apres ski session in their garden.)
A bit further along the Cardrona Road is the entrance to Snow Farm. And if cross country or nordic skiing is more your bag then this is definitely the field for you. Founded in 1986 to accommodate those who wanted an alternative to downhill snow sports, there are 55km’s of trails that are groomed for both skating and classic, 24 km’s of snow shoe trails and the Snow Fun Zone that includes a 150m tubing and sledding hill. The trails are aimed at a range of abilities with 40% for beginners, 40% for advanced and 20% for those in between. And for those who aren’t skiers, there’s snow shoeing, dog sledding and fat bikes! If you please.
As The Snow Farm entrance is off the Cardona Village you can stay there, or if you’re up for more exciting accommodation, you can stay at one of Snow Farm’s Backcountry Huts. Whilst they supply gas cookers, firewood, plates, cutlery and cooking pans, there is no mains electricity, no running water and a wee outdoor long drop loo - just to keep it real. So you will need to bring your own food, water and drinks, but as long as you are prepared for this, they are pretty confident you’ll have an experience that you will always remember, as the stars in that part of the world are pretty mind blowing, as is the silence!
But if an outdoor long drop in the middle of the winter isn’t quite your bag, there are super cute little cottages to rent in Cardrona and if you book in advance there’s the possibility of a room at the Cardrona Hotel.
To really blow your mind - and push the boat out a little wallet wise - another extraordinary ski option in the Cardrona Valley is to book a day up at Soho Basin. Soho Basin is a private 264 hectare field with 500m vertical, where you get shuttled up and around by snowcat. The runs range from intermediate to more challenging, with a range of open slopes, chutes and for later in the day, those with an adrenalin drive can explore off piste with their team of guides (who’ll know exactly where the deepest powder and best lines lie). You’ll need fat skis to ski on this beauty, but you’ll have to pick them up in Queenstown or Wanaka if you don’t have them in your ski wardrobe already, as they don’t hire gear up at Soho Basin.
.Only 20 people can ski on the mountain per day (or you can hire the whole mountain for you and your pals) so there are no crowds whatsoever and to top it all off there is a fab gourmet three course meal with beer and Amisfield wines at lunchtime and the snow cat is loaded with water and snacks so your every culinary need is met.
The base is beside Cardona Alpine Resort, so drive up to the top of the access road and there will be signs and car parks taking you to the base. Or, you could simply book a chopper to taxi you there and back when you are booking you day.
Back in Wanaka and continuing with our snow sports trip guide, throw your gear in the car and head out on the Wanaka - Mt Aspiring Road, around the lake past Glendhu Bay and you’ll come to the Treble Cone access road (which is still the Wanaka - Mt Aspiring Road). A rather gnarly 7km gravel road is your introduction to Treble Cone or TC as it’s fondly known as, but don’t let this put you off. Treble is a hard a** mountain that really shows a skiers skills. NZ’s largest South Island ski area covering 550 hectares, TC offers the longest vertical - 700m - in the Southern Lakes and is legendary for it’s off-piste skiing and superb views across Lake Wanaka. Whilst the terrain is more suited to intermediate and advanced abilities (45% of the terrain is marked for advanced or expert), they do offer a dedicated beginners lift and discounted prices for those new to snow sports.
The mountain tends to be less crowded than some of it’s Queenstown peers and the ski area covers two basins - the Saddle and Home basin - and has some of the best snowboard terrain in the country. There is a 6 seater express chair and a quad lift to whip you up the mountain in no time and the runs are long so you’ll feel those thighs the next day. Luckily you can grab a pizza and a coffee at the top of the Home Basin Express, or if you’ve made it down and just need a breather before heading back up, duck into their burger bar for a beer .