Skiing in Queenstown: A First Timer’s Guide

This first-timers guide to skiing in Queenstown gives you everything you need to know to book the perfect family ski holiday in New Zealand.

Ski slopes at the Remarkables Queenstown

So you’re heading to Queenstown for skiing? You’ve booked your flights and accommodation – so what’s next? 

I’m going to help guide you through step by step what you need to organise for a fun family ski holiday in Queenstown. Everything you need to book ahead of time to ensure a smooth sailing trip and how to navigate the mountain once you get there. 

Remarkables vs Coronet Peak

The Remarkables and Coronet Peak are the two ski resorts closest to Queenstown. You also have Cardrona, which is an hour drive away and runs on a separate lift pass. In this article I will only be looking at The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.

Ski slopes and mountains at the Remarkables.
coronet peak slopes and mountains.

Whether you choose to ski at The Remarkables or Coronet Peak, you are going to have a great time. They are both quite similar resorts and share a lift pass so you can choose on the day which ski resort you prefer to head to based on the snow reports.

There are a few differences between the two:

  • The Remarkables has more green runs and more double diamond black runs. So it is good if you are a beginner-intermediate or very advanced. We enjoyed skiing The Remarkables with the kids due to the good choice of long green and blue runs.
  • Coronet Peak has a better selection of long blue runs and reds. We felt it had slightly steeper runs and offered a bit more varied and challenging terrain for intermediates.
  • The Remarkables has a bigger beginner slope area but the beginner slopes at Coronet Peak are tucked away more, so you don’t have to worry about other skiers flying past you as you learn to master your snow plough.
  • Coronet Peak offers night skiing from 4pm-9pm on Wednesday and Friday evenings, plus on Saturdays during the July school holidays. Here they switch on the lights, fire up the pizza ovens and the DJs spin the decks for a fun evening on the slopes.

Before you go

Here are all the things you need to organise for skiing before you go. Note if you are going in school holidays you are advised to book in group ski lessons as soon as possible before they get booked up. 

I found the booking platform at NZSki for Queenstown a bit confusing so I thought it would be helpful to break it down for you.

  • Step One: Register for MyPass
  • Step Two: Book lift passes, lessons and ski hire
  • Step Three: Book transport (either hire car, ski bus or private transfer)

Register for MyPass

The first thing you need to do is register for a MyPass card. This is your passport to the mountain. Everything you book – lift pass, lessons, ski hire, bus transfers etc is all recorded on your My Pass card so don’t lose it! 

When you first register – you need to fill in names of everyone in your party. Thereafter everything you book in the website needs to be assigned to someone in your registered group so that it can be uploaded on to their individual MyPass. 

Kids in ski gear at the snow.

You will also need a photo for your MyPass card. You can upload this before you collect it or they can take one for you when you pick it up.

If it’s your first time skiing in Queenstown or you have lost your MyPass card, you will need to collect a new MyPass card before you access the lifts, bus, lessons or ski rental. 

You can collect your MyPass card from one of the Snow Centres in central Queenstown/Methven or from Guest Services on the mountainYou will need to take your confirmation email with you, along with some photo ID, like a driver’s licence or passport.

Tip: For kids, we find the easiest thing is to put their MyPass card into a zip pocket on their sleeve or chest pocket on their ski jacket so that they don’t need to take it out when going through the lifts and therefore less likely to drop or lose it.

Ski slopes and blue sky.

MyPass Money explained

You can also use the MyPass card as a debit card on the mountain (only cashless payments are allowed on the mountain). So, if you’re not going to be with your kids at all times, you can top up their cards with some money so they can buy lunch, hot chocolates etc when they are on the mountain. 

To do this, you do need to activate it first, which you can do at any Guest Services counter. You need to choose a PIN number and you can either top up using your credit card or you can do this online from your account later. 

Superpass explained

All MyPass lift passes become a ‘superpass’ which basically means that if you decide not to ski for one of your allocated days you have paid for, you use the credit at participating businesses in the area. 

This includes some restaurants, and activities such as AJ Hackett Bungy and the Shotover jet boat.

Lift passes, lessons, equipment etc

Now you have your MyPass account, you can go ahead and book everything else you need for a successful ski trip: lessons, ski hire, bus transfers etc. Here’s what you need to know.

Queenstown Lift Passes

The lift pass covers you for 3 areas… the Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt. If you are traveling to Queenstown, you only need to worry about the first two as Mt Hutt is a five-hour drive away.

Chair lift at the Remarkables.

At the time of writing, prices range from $99 – $139 per day for a lift pass, depending on how many days you book at once. It is cheaper to buy 4+ days at a time.

Note that days don’t need to be used consecutively so you can take a day off when you want and can even spread your skiing days over the whole season if you want to. 

Ski Lessons in Queenstown

Lessons can be half day (morning or afternoon) or full day (10am-3.30pm).  The full day lessons have an hour break for lunch. You need to collect the kids for lunch at 12.30 and return them at 1.30pm. There is also an option to add lunch supervision for an extra $40 if you wish.

From what I can tell from the website, as of 2023 you can no longer book a lesson, lift pass, ski hire package. Lessons, lift passes and ski hire all need to be booked separately.

Ski lesson on the slopes.

Note: if you are booking for a first time skier, there is a different package option (see below).

To book ski lessons:  

When booking ski lessons in Queenstown, you need to book each lesson individually and add it to the cart. Despite this, they have thankfully updated the booking process in 2023 to make it a bit more intuitive. You need to:

  1. Go to the relevant page – either a) Group Lessons or b) Lesson, pass and hire package.
  2. Choose if it is for an adult or child.
  3. Choose your location (Remarkables or Coronet Peak).
  4. Select skiing or snowboarding.
  5. Select an ability level (First Timer, Learner Zone, Green Zone, Blue & Red Zones, Red & Black Zones).
  6. Then click Show Availability and find the dates you want to book. 
  7. Add the lesson to your cart.

Note that you can mix and match lessons, so if you want to do 3 days on Coronet Peak and 3 days on Remarkables, that is ok. Likewise if you want to mix between boarding and skiing, you can do that too.

If you want to book several days of lessons for several different people, it can take a while so set aside some time to do this.

First Time ski lessons

If you are booking for a first time beginner skier at either Remarkables or Coronet Peak, there is a separate option. This is because the ski lift pass is cheaper for beginners who stay on the nursery slopes. 

Nursery slopes at the Remarkables.

You can either:

  • Book a 1-day first timer package.
  • Or Book a 3-day Intro to Snow package which includes a one-day first timer and two days of beginner lessons.

Both packages include lift pass and ski hire. 

If you want to ski for more than these three days, you will need to add on more lessons as in the process above. 

Ski Hire

If you don’t have your own skis and boots, it’s easy to hire them in Queenstown. It’s easiest to pre-book ski hire online before you go and then it is all loaded onto your MyPass card so you are good to grab your equipment as soon as you arrive.

Skis at Coronet Peak.

You can either pick up your ski equipment at the Ski Centre in central Queenstown (you will need to transport it back to your hotel and then up and down the mountain every day) or at the ski hire places on the mountain in both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.

Note that helmets are included in kids ski hire but not adults. You will need to add it onto your package. 

If you are skiing during peak times, check ahead to see what availability is like up the mountain for ski hire equipment and plan to get there early.

If you are planning to ski consecutive days in either resort, you can pay for overnight storage of your skis and boots to save you from having to go through the process of picking equipment again the next morning.

However, if you are changing resort or taking a rest day from skiing, you will need to return your ski equipment at the end of the day.

Getting up the Mountain

The drive from central Queenstown to the ski resorts is approximately 25 minutes to Coronet Peak and 40 minutes to the Remarkables (assuming there are no hold-ups on the road). In reality it took us anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the weather conditions.

You can choose to self-drive, take the bus or a private transfer.

Driving to Coronet Peak or the Remarkables

If you plan to drive up the mountain, I would recommend that a) you have a 4WD vehicle and b) you carry snow chains.

Not only that – make sure you know how to fit your snow chains! I cannot tell you how many people were stuck at the side of the road trying to fit their snow chains on the way up the mountain. (And we won’t mention the people who stopped ON the road to do it, causing massive traffic jams. Don’t be that person!)

Sign for chain fitting bay on road to Remarkables with snow on the trees.

Remember that the weather can change quickly on the mountain – so while you may be fine driving up in the morning, if the snow comes in, you may struggle to get back down again without snow chains.

If you have a car but aren’t comfortable driving all the way up the mountain, there is also the opportunity to Park & Ride from the bottom of the mountain. A bus with capacity will pick you up from the car park on the way past. You need to book ahead.

If you do plan on hiring a car, book it as far ahead in advance as you can. Prices soar nearer the time as availability is limited during peak times.

Also – plan to get up early and head up the mountain as car parking spaces fill up quickly. During school holidays, it is not uncommon for car parks to be full by 8.30am and they will close the road to private vehicles.

Queenstown Ski Bus

The ski bus is a convenient way to get up the mountain, whether you are heading to the Remarkables or Coronet Peak. 

There are several advantages to taking the ski bus:

  • There is no need to fit chains to your vehicle.
  • It saves you the hassle of trying to find a car parking space.
  • You get dropped off close to the ski field building (some car parking spaces require you to take a shuttle to the ski base building).

*Note: as of 2023, you now need to pre-book the ski bus. Book well in advance as it gets booked out weeks ahead during peak times.

Ski bus at Coronet Peak.

There are two options for the ski bus:

  • The Queenstown Ski Bus, which leaves the ski centre in central Queenstown every 30 minutes from 7.30am-12pm in the morning and returns from 1.30pm onwards back to Queenstown as it fills up. There are additional buses for Coronet Peak night skiing.
  • The Hotel Pickup bus, which collects from outside many different Queenstown hotels in the morning en route to the mountain and drops you back at your hotel in the afternoon. Pick up in the morning is between 7.30am-8am depending on where you are staying and it returns at 2.30pm and 4.15pm every day.

As of 2023, the hotel pickup bus is no longer an option via NZSki. You can now book this with Info & Snow.

For the hotel bus, you need to pre-book a slot for each morning you want to use it and let them know which hotel to pick up from. You will be given a pick-up time and told where to stand to meet the bus.

Pros/Cons of the Hotel Bus vs the Queenstown Ski Bus

  • The hotel bus picks you up and drops you back at your front door, so no need travel to/from the ski centre in central Queenstown.
  • There is NO QUEUING for the hotel bus. During peak times, this is a massive bonus – everybody tries to come back down the mountain at the same time and queues for the buses are long. With the hotel bus, you have a space booked on the return bus and you can skip to the front of the queue, while others may have to wait for up to an hour to get on the bus.
  • The hotel bus is less flexible. There is only a choice of two return buses in the afternoon. (You can also choose to return on the Queenstown Express but it will drop you in central Queenstown not at your hotel door).
  • The hotel bus is more expensive ($45 vs $25) per person, so it can add up if a family is skiing for several days.

Private Ski Transfer

If you are travelling in a group (or you have cash to splash), a private mountain transfer can be the best of both worlds. Someone else does the driving (and putting on the snow chains) for you, but you can travel on your own timetable with no queuing.

There are a few companies offering this:

On the Mountain

Both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables websites issue a snow report on their website every morning so you can check out the current weather and road conditions.

Always check this before you set off. It will let you know if the roads are open, whether you need to have snow chains fitted, what lifts and runs are open and the expected weather forecast for the day.

Sign for ski route at Coronet Peak.

Once you are up the mountain, you will find everything you need for a fun day in the snow: restaurants, bathrooms, lockers, ski shop, ski hire, information counters etc.

Both Coronet Peak and The Remarkables have large restaurants at the base offering barista coffee, hot meals, salads, sandwiches, cold drinks, licensed bar etc. in a self-service style. Plenty of people bring their own food and drinks too.

Restaurant at Coronet Peak with outdoor tables.

A few tips if you are visiting during school holidays and peak times:

  • If you are driving it pays to get there early. The car parks are quite small and fill up quickly. If you are in a further away car park you will need to take a shuttle bus from the car park to the ski base.
  • Get a locker as soon as you get up the mountain as these are limited and get booked quickly. It is very handy having somewhere secure to store all your boots, hats, bags etc while you are skiing.
  • Get your ski hire equipment arranged as soon as you get up the mountain. As busloads arrive from Queenstown the queues get longer quicker.
  • If you are skiing in the same resort for consecutive days, store your ski equipment in an overnight locker. This saves you having to go through the hire process again the following morning. However they only have limited overnight lockers, so get in the queue for these early (ie. as soon as ski school finishes at 3.30pm).
  • The restaurant fills up very quickly and it can be a challenge to find a table. The busiest time is between 12.30 and 1.30pm as this is when ski school breaks. It can be worthwhile sending someone ahead to try and get a table.
  • The quietest times on the ski lifts are before 10am, during the ski school lunch break of 12.30pm-1.30pm and after 3.30pm.
Skiers on ski slope.

Off the Slopes

There is way more to Queenstown than skiing and you will find plenty to do if you are having a day off the slopes. You can read my full article Things to do in Queenstown with Kids here. Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Wineries – the Central Otago region is renowned worldwide for its Pinot Noir, so if you love wine, don’t miss the chance to go and check out some of the local wineries. Felton Road, Chard Farm, Mt Difficulty, Rippon, Amisfield and Gibbston Valley are all personal favourites. Click here to book a private wine tasting tour.
  • Restaurants – Queenstown has so many great restaurants to choose from and eating out is a highlight of a holiday here. Some of my favourites include Jervois Steakhouse, Tanoshi (Japanese), Madam Woo (Malaysian), Blue Kanu (Polynesian), Margo’s (Mexican), The Cow (pizza & pasta), Winnie’s (Pizza) and, of course, the famous Fergburger.
  • Adrenaline fun – Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of the Southern Hemisphere and so there is a lot of high octane fun to be had here. Popular activities include bungy jumping at the original home of bungy, the Shotover jet boat ride, zip-lining and quad biking.
  • Sightseeing – for the ultimate sightseeing day out from Queenstown you can visit Milford Sound to take in the spectacular views of the mountains, waterfalls and lakes of the Fiordland National Park. It’s a full day trip but worth it. For something closer to home, you can take a Lake Wakatipu cruise on board the TSS Earnslaw.
  • Indoor fun – if you want to escape the rain or cold then there are plenty of things to do indoors in Queenstown too. My kids loved both Thrill Zone (virtual reality escape rooms and games) and the Sensory Maze. The Fear Factory is also popular with older kids who don’t scare too easily. There’s also iFly for indoor skydiving KingPin for bowling and laser tag, or head to the ice bar for a drink with a difference.

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