Australia v. New Zealand Skiing: A Rumble On The Slopes

Monday, June 17, 2013

Australia v New Zealand Skiing A Rumble On The Slopes

You might have heard there’s just a bit of rivalry between Australia and New Zealand — a fairly healthy spirit of antagonism and one-upmanship which permeates everything from sports to music. It’s okay. They don’t really hate each other. Well, not that much.

Today, we’re going to focus on one area where the competition is particularly fierce and ask: Who delivers the best skiing experience?

Uh, no-brainer, right? New Zealand surely has the best downhill snow-related thrills because of those incredible Middle Earth mountain peaks,  right? And isn’t Australia just a big, dry empty place surrounded by beaches?

Well, actually, the answer isn’t quite so clear cut.

Australian Skiing

Yes, that’s right, in case you’re unaware (and no, we don’t mean “Austria”), Australia offers snow and plenty of it just right for skiing.

The Australian states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania all boast high-country areas that offer excellent ski conditions during the winter months. The biggest and best areas are extremely accessible, with Victoria’s Mount Buller a three-hour drive from Melbourne, while the major ski resorts of Thredbo and Perisher in New South Wales are only about six or seven hours drive from Sydney.

New Zealand Skiing

New Zealand is, of course, unquestionably an awesome skiing destination.

It ticks all the boxes: spectacular mountainous terrain, high latitude and a strong economy and tourist industry well equipped to deal with an influx of crazy thrill-seekers.

Skiing Quality Compared

Okay, let’s get down to business. Who has the most to offer?

Well, for the record, Australia actually has the largest commercial ski field in the Southern Hemisphere. Perisher, in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, boasts 3,076 acres of sweet, sweet skiing goodness. The ski resort of Thredbo, meanwhile, offers the longest run in either Australia or New Zealand at 3.7 miles.

By contrast, the largest commercial ski field in New Zealand is Mt Raupehu’s Whakapapa resort, which has a relatively small 1,259 acres.

The Kiwis, however, possess the longest vertical descent — 2,368 feet on the Turoa side of Mount Ruapehu.

Furthermore, the land-of-the-long-white-cloud definitely takes the lead in terms of snow fall. The Canterbury region of New Zealand’s Mount Hutt and the club fields of Craigieburn, Cheeseman and Broken River get an average snow of more than 13 feet a season, while Australian ski fields average about 10 feet. If deep, untracked powder is your thing, then New Zealand should be your choice.

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Still, for those who stick mostly to groomed slopes, the quality won’t be all that dissimilar. There a lot of arguments flying back and forth across the Tasman Sea about which country deals the best ski quality for the average skier. The reality is that the the truth will differ from individual to individual, and from field to field.

However, beyond the commercial boundaries, New Zealand does offer some spectacular and challenging terrain, and the chance to enjoy something removed from the hustle and bustle of the resorts. Think Coronet Peak’s back bowls, Turoa’s glacier or Remarkable’s homeward bound.

New Zealand is also the place to go for one of the definitive snow-bound thrills: Heli-Skiing. For many, there’s no experience quite like being flown up a remote mountainside by chopper then left to ski down incredible pristine terrain. It’s one experience that is, as yet, unavailable in Australia.

However, Aussies can boast something the Kiwis can’t: Tree-skiing. While all of New Zealand skiing is above the tree line, Australian snow gums will remain in evidence even after heavy falls.

Accommodation and Facilities

Australia offers plenty of accommodation that is either on or extremely close to the slopes, providing a mountain village vibe that’s similar to the European experience. Thredbo and Perisher not only offer places to crash (overnight, we mean), but they are both very close to the town of Jindabyne, a town packed with accommodation.

In New Zealand, you generally have to drive up the mountains to get to your slopes, with places to stay limited to satellite towns and villages.

Head into a town like Queenstown or Wanaka and you’ll be likely to find yourself with a 30-minute ride in a car before you strap on the skis. Not to mention that the road from Queenstown to the Remarkables in the morning can be a hair-raising experience in and of itself.

On the flip-side, you then have a choice of several ski fields, and, of course, the scenery is, well, epic.

In terms of catering, it’s probably best to pack a lunch when you’re heading to a Kiwi ski-field. Aussie slopes generally cater better, where top-notch grub is available on the slopes and from the ski-in/ski-out villages.

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Party Vibe and General Good Times

The ski-fields in Australia ably cater to those looking for what we can quaintly call “apres-ski” options. A town like Perisher offers scope for people to enjoy anything from a romantic dinner by candlelight, to a drink or two in a bar, or just the chance to dance until dawn in a nightclub.

However, for sheer unbridled nighttime thrills, then Queenstown — in New Zealand’s South Island — wins all the plaudits. It is all kinds of stunning. This lakeside town features over 100 restaurants and bars clustered together within a .6 square-mile area, which makes it a Mecca for those who like to ski by day and party by night.

It also has the added cache of a rather spectacular outlook, with views of the crystalline Lake Wakitipu and the Remarkables (a truly aptly-named mountain range). Plus, if you get sick of skiing, you’ve got so many other options, from bushwalking to bungee jumping.

The Verdict

Would it be slightly cowardly of us to draw a line in the snow and say it’s largely a personal choice as to which country offers the best skiing?

Australian ski resorts are excellent and fun destinations, especially for families and beginners. We definitely enjoy the ski-in, ski-out access from accommodations (and the bars) as well. In terms of cost, they are a relatively affordable option too, with a ski resort like Selwyn Snowfields offering budget package deals for families.

However, for the hardcore enthusiast, New Zealand is the unbeatable option with great snow and some stunning slopes — especially off the beaten track. When combined with the favorable exchange rate for most international visitors, New Zealand represents outstanding value for money as well as a great time.

By Richie Black

[Julia at top of Supertrail, Thredbo by Alpha via/Flickr; Looking West-ish from Coronet Peak by Yun Huang Yong/Flickr; Minus5 Ice Bar Queenstown by Adam Selwood/Flickr]


About the Author

Richie is a Sydney-based writer famed for his sophistication, flair and hair. He blogs his ass across a large number of websites, including Shlunk (Life Advice From the Experts), and VisitNSW. He is also a writer with credits for TV and the stage, notably The Local and The Cardboard Cartel (in which he also performed), both for the Sydney Festival.

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