Winter sports in New Zealand for people who don’t like skiing
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New Zealand’s best options for taking to the snow and ice without hurtling down hills with skis
The superb skiing is undoubtedly one of the main reasons to visit New Zealand in the winter, but not all of us fancy hurtling down mountains with strips of wood strapped to our feet. Luckily, there are plenty of ways of getting out there amongst the white stuff without having to be a traditional Alpine skier.
This is New Zealand – and if there’s some way of getting a thrill and adrenalin rush, the Kiwis have thought of it. And this applies to snow sports as well as throwing themselves off tall buildings and cliffs.
The obvious non-skiing activity is snowboarding, which is almost more popular than its older brother these days. Resorts in New Zealand are well equipped for snowboarders. Particularly good areas for snowboarders include Coronet Peak near Queenstown and Treble Cone near Wanaka. The latter has manmade half pipes designed specifically for snowboarders.
Meanwhile, Tukino on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu, North Island is excellent for those who fancy learning. Snowboarding lessons are attractively priced, while most of the slopes are perfect for beginners.
Yes, OK it’s skiing, but not as most of us know it. Nordic, or cross-country skiing derivates from how skiing originated.
Back in the olden days, skiing wasn’t a jolly good lark for decadent holidaymakers who enjoy a bit of a thrill – it was a practical means of getting around for the Scandinavians. For the Sami people of northern Finland, Norway and Sweden it was pretty much the only way to get from A to B. The skis were even put to military use later on.
Nordic skiing is a rather different adventure from the Alpine downhill version, and can best be described as bushwalking with skis on. And with New Zealand’s gorgeous mountain scenery, it’s a fantastic way to explore.
Undoubtedly the best place to try it is at the Waiorau Snow Farm, 35km from Wanaka and perched high above the lake. It has 50km of dedicated trails, and offer tuition to eager novices.
Of course, it is possible to do proper bushwalking in the snow without using skis and poles at all – just strap a couple of tennis rackets to your feet.
Ok – crude stereotype... Modern snowshoes bear little resemblance to the traditional ones, which may as well have been brandished in black and white footage of Wimbledon. The 21st century snowshoe is a triumph of design and often remarkably high tech, but the principle remains the same. By creating a larger surface area, the weight is more evenly distributed, and prevents walkers sinking into the snow. Subsequently, strapping the snowshoes on is a brilliant way of seeing areas that would be otherwise inaccessible during winter.
Another footwear option is the ice skate, and while you might not be at Torvill and Dean standard, managing the basic stutter walk across the ice isn’t quite as hard as it may initially seem. And besides, the odd fall is character-building, yes?
It’s possible to have a go at skating in various locations across the country, but arguably the best bet is at the Tekapo Park. It’s at Lake Tekapo in Canterbury, around 2.5 hours drive from Christchurch and has one of the world’s most spectacular ice rinks. At 26m by 56m, it’s international-sized and the outdoor setting adds to the excitement.
Skate rental prices are relatively cheap and group lessons are available for those wanting to spend slightly less time on their backside.
Of course, the coolest people on the piste aren’t those on skis or snowboards – they’re the ones at the helm of those big red beasts that bound across the snow at high speed.
Snowmobiles (or skidoos) were again originally designed as a form of transport, partly to get to remote areas quickly and partly to rescue bungling skiers. But now riding them is something of a sport too, and an exhilarating one at that.
The best place to experience it is on a high plateau in the Old Woman Range near Queenstown with Nevis Snowmobile Adventure. There are 360 degree views up there, and the package includes a 12 minute helicopter ride from Queenstown airport.
From the plateau, visitors are given special thermal gear, and then set off through mind-boggling scenery with some mighty sexy machinery beneath them.
To feel like a proper adventurer in the mould of Kiwi legend Sir Edmund Hillary, then it’s hard to beat cracking open the ice axe and crampons. Forget all that sissy walking lark, ice climbing is what proper mountaineers have to do in order to conquer the toughest peaks.
The two best places to learn – and go on an ice adventure – are the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers on the West Coast of the South Island. Yes, it’s cold (the clues are in the ‘ice’ and ‘glacier’ parts) but its rare for anyone to come back from either not raving about the experience.
Fox Guides leads day-long ice climbing expeditions on the Fox Glacier.
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