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Friday 1 August 2014, 5:41:35

 

New Zealand Ski Fields: Coronet Peak Review

Ideal for: Experts, Intermediates, max vert' days, Race Training
Weather: Consistently the best in New Zealand
Snow: Usually firm, Good man made, can be bulletproof in spring

Coronet Peak is the oldest and lowest ski area in New Zealand. For many years the pioneer in lift technology and facilities - the other commercial fields have since caught up.

"The Peak" has something for everyone - except Beginners - the Beginner area being extremely small and occasionally it's standing room only there. Beginners should head across the valley to The Remarkables where they will find conditions and facilities more to their liking.

Coronet Peak has been so successful because of its awesome terrain and infinite variety of skiing lines across the entire mountain, plus the fact that if the road is clear, it can take as little as 20 minutes to get to the carpark from Queenstown!

The only sealed ski area road in the country it is usually childs play to get up but icy conditions can make things fairly interesting. Carry chains just in case.

Facilities are top notch, with fully licensed Brasserie, Rocky Gully restaurant and all mod cons usually associated with such mountains. Kids are well catered for with Skiwiland and specialist ski instructors.

With one of the only high-speed detachable quad chairlifts in the country you'll need to be strong and fit to ski a full day at Coronet Peak.

What's "The Peak" really like?
The best little ski area in the world! More terrain than on most mountains five times the size. Better weather than anywhere else. Up to 70,000 vertical feet in one day!

The Peak is quite unique in that there must be at least 10,000 different runs to take! Most hills will have at most, 20 ways of descending - not so at the Peak. I saw the late Arnold Divers (50 seasons skiing the Peak!) with a huge smile on his face on a not-so-good day in 1997 - it turned out he had just found a new run! After 50 years!

Coronet is the third steepest ski area in New Zealand. Only Craigieburn (Canterbury) and Treble Cone (Wanaka - close by) are steeper. It averages 27 degrees of pitch. It is mostly intermediate to advanced terrain.

Coronet can suffer from what we like to call "Coronet Peak Loud Powder" - that's when you stick your pole into it and it goes "ting ting" and you can't even make a dent in it! You'll need some very sharp skis if it gets like this when you're here.

Because it is so low (The base building is exactly 1200 metres above sea level) it tends to melt and freeze late in the season, or get rained on! Don't get me wrong, it's not always like this, but it can be bullet proof, if it isn't perfect! For this reason it is NOT an ideal hill for snowboarders to crash and burn on.

For intermediate to expert skiers the Peak has it all. Wild terrain, jumps, amazing weather and a superfast quad chairlift. If Coronet bores you, just ski faster (But NOT on the main trails - they don't like that!) and harder. Plus, if the skiing sucks (which it can do occasionally) there are a million groovy things to do in Queenstown. Book your holiday now! The best time for it is usually mid July to Mid August.

It took me over 500 days skiing on The Peak before I knew what was behind every roll on the mountain, but parts of the Sarah Sue trail can still surprise me! If you can ski well at Coronet Peak in any condition then you can ski well anywhere in the world! It's so good that it attracts World Cup Ski Teams from; USA, Canada, Italy, Austria, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland during the northern summer.

The Snow
Powder snow at Coronet Peak tends to be on the heavyish type. However, it is seldom that it gets more than 30cm of fresh snow at a time so you won't find it too hard. Because the high speed quad puts so many people on the snow, and because on any powder day there will be 100 locals waiting in line before the lift opens, it will be pretty tracked out by 10am. GET THERE EARLY.

Coronet gets most of it's snow from the warmer and wetter north-west quarter. This makes for interesting powder skiing - but at least it's not usually too badly wind affected. The very best snowfalls are from the south and occasionally this will lead to outstanding powder mornings where the snow is of equal depth all over the entire mountain!

On a powder day, Exchange Drop is arguably the best ski run in New Zealand and once tracked out, the "Nose" runs of Exchange will thrill and challenge.

When to Come
Early season is typically 1st of June to mid-end June. Conditions are often hard and fast on man made snow only. However, the snow is made by the fan forced method, and it can be very very good indeed. Usually by late June most of the snowmaking runs are open (and there's a heap!) but the M1 trail stays pretty crowded. (Making learning on it something of a hit or miss affair - literally!) If it rains before enough natural snow falls to open the entire ski area, it can get a bit ugly! Death Cookies can abound, and if it freezes hard there will be patches of beautiful new man made and sections of filling loosening stuff as well!

The real beauty of the Peak is not apparent until the off-piste opens up. Then it completely changes character. What was a crowded and noisy experience becomes almost as good as heliskiing! There are many places on the Peak where you will not be able to see a lift (or even another person!) or hear anything at all. The terrain rolls around all over the place, and the range of different approaches to skiing the hill is incredible. You want to ski it fast and steep - there's plenty of that. You want easy cruisers with challenging pitches thrown in? Heaps of them. Huge Speed air with steep landings? Lots of 'em.

The views of the Harris Mountains over the back of Coronet are astounding. A huge section of the Southern Alps will drop your jaw. Fortunately there's also plenty of private places along the ridge you can soak it all up!

By July it is full-on winter. The mountain is completely open, and beautiful winter snow is the order of the day. During mid winter the wildest skiing imaginable and break-neck speeds in softish, grippy snow are standard. Have fun - go mad. It's still quite cold on the mountain though. Dress for temps down to minus 5 degrees C.

By August the days are starting to get longer and it won't be dark by the time you get home. Night Skiing begins in August - and if you like that sort of thing then you can freeze yourself and ski freshly groomed stuff (Groomed about 4pm), while trying to figure out which of your 11 shadows to watch! Alternatively you could take two runs and go get drunk in the brasserie where most of the night skiing action really is!

In September, the rot starts to set in. Coronet experiences night time temperatures too warm to make snow, and day time temperatures often create rivers down the access road! It's not all bad news though. It'll be immensely hard and fast first thing, but because the groomer drivers have had most of a season to feel comfortable - the grooming is often perfect. It'll soften up during the day however, and there's always great skiing to be had on the east facing slopes after 10am. Midday ski the south-faces, and in the afternoon the west faces will have softened enough to get some enjoyment from. If you can't be bothered trying to work out where the good snow is, quaff a beer on the sun deck and work on your tan. But be careful, the sun is horrendously strong!

In October, if the mountain is still open (usually closing 12-14th Oct) it'll be very very warm indeed. Wear a tee shirt, but don't fall over! (Ice rash is as bad as gravel rash - except cleaner!) Bring plenty of sun screen!

Wrap Up
In the seventies, Coronet Peak frequently appeared on the list of the Top Twenty Ski Areas in the world -- giving some indication of exactly how good it can be -- you'd be crazy to come on a ski holiday and not ski The Peak!

In general, Coronet gets incredibly good weather. The Peak can go over 100 days solid without a closed day. In 1993 I logged 42 days in a row without a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky -- AND three snowfalls overnight during that period! Early in the season it is cold though, but is seldom colder than -5 degrees C. The weather at some mountains would not allow you ski in sunglasses, but at the Peak you'll be able to wear them 9 days out of 10. And that just about says it all!