Prior to moving to Queenstown, my familiarity with snow sports was on par with my knowledge of early 1980’s Congolese politics – that is to say, I had none. While Peter was busy learning how to snowboard during family trips to Lake Tahoe and Colorado as a kid, I was busy fine-tuning my gymnastics floor routine in Irving, Texas, blissfully unaware that my roundoff back-handspring back tuck would end up being a skill I’d much rather swap for snowboarding twenty years down the line.
While I am, admittedly, not the most athletically-inclined person, I have already learned how to ride a bicycle and a skateboard this year (get it, self!), so snowboarding was really just the next logical step towards my eventual goal of competing in the X Games. Just kidding, that is my nightmare.
Learning to Snowboard in Queenstown
As a side note, you should know that I currently have zero health insurance and therefore always hope to avoid shattering my appendages in a shining display of personal snowy athleticism. I’m happy to report that not only have I been successful on that quest, but should you find yourself in the same predicament, you probably will be, too.
New Zealand Season Passes
Since our move from Australia to New Zealand happened to be perfectly timed with the start of the winter season in Queenstown, we decided to make the most of our move (and the short 3 month season) by buying a NZ Ski Season Pass for Queenstown’s two local mountains, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, which is also valid for Mt. Hutt, a third mountain located about a 5 hour drive north.
Costs & Buying Gear in Queenstown
While a single day pass for the mountain (not including gear or transportation) costs about $120, we planned ahead and bought our early bird season passes for $600 NZD each. If you know you’re going to live in (or travel around) Queenstown for at least a couple of months and can budget ahead of time, the season pass obviously makes the most financial sense if you really want to learn, improve your skills, or simply ride on a regular basis. If you miss the early bird special and decide to buy a season pass once you arrive at the start of season, however, be aware that the price jumps to $1,000 NZD per person. In this instance, try to plan ahead and save yourself some money!
Assuming you aren’t traveling with previously purchased ski or snowboarding gear – you’ll want a board, bindings, boots, helmet (optional), jacket, gloves, snoveralls or pants, goggles, thermals, a beanie and thick socks – there’s thankfully plenty of people selling used (and new) gear once you arrive. Since it was my first time snowboarding, I honestly had no idea what I was looking for, so Peter helped me pick out a cheap but decent board (which came with bindings) and some lightly used snow boots, all of which I got for $80, while he upgraded to a slightly nicer setup for around $150. I suggest looking on the Queenstown Trading Facebook Group, though you can also find cheap items at the local op shop, Happiness House.
Lastly, if you don’t have a car with snow chains or don’t want to regularly depend on hitchhiking to get up and down the mountains, you’ll need to buy a bus pass. Departing from the Snow Centre every 20-30 minutes to both Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, a 10 ride bus pass costs around $130 NZD as of 2017.
The closest mountain from Queenstown, the bus ride to the base of the ski fields at Coronet Peak only takes about 30 minutes. With a large ‘magic carpet’ area that’s perfect for beginners to practice (points to self), Coronet Peak is also the only mountain with night skiing (Fridays, Saturdays and some Wednesdays until 9pm) and snow tubing.
While some jaded locals refer to it as ‘Concrete Peak,’ as the mountain now relies fairly heavily on snow-making machines to keep it going the whole season, Coronet Peak is actually my favorite because 1) it feels like there’s more room to spread out, which is beneficial when you’re learning, and 2) the view from the top is (arguably, of course) more dramatic than it is from the Remarkables, because you can actually see the Remarkables. It’s the same idea as in Paris – the best view often isn’t from the top of the Eiffel Tower, but from somewhere you can actually see the Eiffel Tower.
With its highest point at 1,649 meters (5,410 feet), Coronet Peak has 2 terrain parks, 4 learner lifts, an onsite cafe, restaurant, bar, and separate outdoor Ice Bar near the summit. While night skiing is ‘freezing as’ and more experienced (see: choosy) snowboarders might prefer the nearby mountains of Cardrona and Treble Cone in the next town over, I think Coronet is the perfect place to learn to snowboard, or at least enjoy plenty of fun rides with a phenomenal view.
P.S. The video below was taken by Peter, because I absolutely cannot multitask while going .064 miles per hour (or 1.02 kilometers per hour) on a snowboard.
I can say in all honesty that the Remarkables, or ‘Remarks’ for short, is one of the most gorgeous mountains I’ve ever seen. With postcard-worthy, jagged snow-capped peaks and several sublime vantage points from areas in and around Queenstown, the 45 minute bus ride up to the Remarkables is also one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever witnessed on any form of public transportation. And y’all, I have taken a lifetime’s worth of rides on public transportation, be it bus, train, subway, trolly, ferry or drunken piggyback rides.
With a slightly higher peak of 1,943 meters (6,375 feet) and 3 terrain parks, 3 surface conveyor lifts and an onsite bar, restaurant, cafe and separate outdoor Ice Bar, the Remarkables’ magic carpet area is also a delightful place to learn to snowboard and ski, though it is a bit shorter and more cramped than the beginner area at Coronet Peak.
And while there’s no night skiing or tubing, the Remarkables does host plenty of hilarious (and free) events to attend throughout the season, including the recent Red Bull Jump & Freeze event in which skiers and snowboarders dress up in costumes and launch themselves into a freezing pool for a chance at a cash prize (and possible Instagram fame).
Knowing how to snowboard opens up a whole new category of travel opportunities we never seriously considered before, including places like Japan, Canada, Switzerland, and even other ski resort towns in the States.
Since Peter now has ski lift operating experience on a mountain, and I am now mostly comfortable on a snowboard, we may in fact live in – or at least willingly travel to – other winter wonderlands of the world we would previously have skipped in favor of a beach. If I can learn to snowboard in one winter in New Zealand, you can too. Winter X Games 2018, here I come! Just kidding, that is a hell no.