“Snow is my favourite and my best!” Your children might be long past Charlie and Lola, but they’d probably agree with the sentiment. Whether your children are tiny tots or towering teens, they’re bound to be excited at the thought of heading to the mountains. Here are our suggestions for first-timers wanting to make the most of your family’s time on the slopes.
Have a think about what your children will enjoy doing. If they’re very small they might be happy with sliding about on a sled, plastic bag or tube, with some snowman construction thrown in.
If you’re planning on getting your offspring up on skis or snowboard and you live around Auckland, consider a lesson or two at Snow Planet first. That way they’ll have a bit of experience and confidence when they get to the more expensive and unpredictable mountain slopes.
An indoor snow resort, Snowplanet is open every day til 10p.m., and midnight Fridays and Saturdays, so you can ski, snowboard, tube or toboggan whatever the weather. The slope is 200m long and includes a Terrain Park with jumps & rails plus a ski line and beginner’s area. There’s also a restaurant, bar, equipment rental and lessons if you need them. They have a July School Holiday programme, and after school programmes. Standard Pricing (excluding gear rental): 4 Hour Pass: Child $37, Student $40, Adult $47
Which glorious mountain you decide to ski at may well depend on where you’re coming from. Have a browse through our Snow Guides for the lowdown on most of the ski fields around the country, with links to loads of great places to stay. Most North Islanders start at Mt Ruapehu. In the South Island, Cardrona is a great place for families and all skill levels, has lots of advice and options for children, and is close to Queenstown and Wanaka. Snowpark is shut for 2013.
Further north at Lake Tekapo, Roundhill is ideal for beginners and intermediates, and has stunning views of Aoraki Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo. If you’re at the top of the South Island, the club ski field Rainbow, near St Arnaud, is open to all. While the big, commercial ski fields are well-known and have lots of facilities, you may find that for learners a smaller, club field works well - club ski-fields are often cheaper and more relaxed, with a friendly, family feel.
To enjoy a day on the mountain everyone needs to be warm, dry and comfortable. Make sure you have a thermal under layer, of polypropylene or wool top and long johns, then another long sleeved top of polypropylene, fleece or wool. You can always take a layer off if you get hot. Cotton is not good, as it will be cold if it gets wet. Make sure you have a waterproof jacket and pants. Ideally these should be insulated but you can add more inner layers if not. One piece snowsuits are best for children, so snow doesn’t get between the layers.
Take a spare outfit in case people get wet and want to change afterwards. You can wear ski pants and jacket from times gone by, hold your head high and call it vintage, but don’t do the same for boots. Really old boots can literally disintegrate. Make sure everyone has a warm hat, and gloves or mittens that are warm and waterproof; the nippers won’t be happy with wet woollen gloves.
To prevent damage to skin and eyes, use lots of sunscreen and remember to take goggles or sunglasses. Goggles are better for young children as they’re less likely to fall off, and provide better sun and wind protection. The glare off snow is intense, and skiing without eye protection can leave you snowblind, with eyes stinging horribly for days afterwards. With young children make sure they have your cell phone number on them at all times, written on a sticker on their helmet or on their arm or jacket.
If you’re just going to play in the snow, make sure footwear is waterproof. You could choose thicker socks with gumboots, or tramping boots, or snowboots if you have them. If you’re skiing or snowboarding, wear long socks that are not too thick, pulled up, making sure they are not wrinkled or bunched up in boots. You can hire boots with skis and poles or snowboard at ski fields and nearby towns. Take the time and spend the money to make sure you have good boots that fit properly! It will make the difference between fun and misery.
Feed the beast
Pack sandwiches, fruit, snacks and drinks. Most commercial ski-fields have a cafe, but since everyone will need lots of refueling, you might want to have cheaper, healthy options on hand for the day and the car trip afterwards, and save the cafe for hot food and drinks.
If your children are small and you want to whizz down the slopes unencumbered, there are childcare facilities at major skifields. Bigger children can go for lessons, while the very small can be looked after in professional creches. Booking a big bach with another family is a great option - that way you can take turns on childcare and cooking, and enjoy yourself on the mountain without worrying that your littlies are upset being left with unfamiliar carers.
Getting some lessons is definitely worthwhile! Ski instructors can save everyone a fair bit of frustration. The family can get together afterwards, and practice on slopes the children can manage. Keep expectations realistic - if it’s your children’s first time, they’re unlikely to need a lift-pass as they probably won’t make it beyond the beginner’s area. Check the lesson prices and packages at the skifield you’re interested in.
If you’ve always wanted to give cross-country skiing a go, or try out snow-shoeing, then head to Snow Farm, 35km from Wanaka and 55km from Queenstown. Set on the Mt Pisa range, Snow Farm has 55kms of terraced trails, with instructors on hand to coach you in either skate or classic cross-country skiing. The scenic trails have grooves ready made for classic cross-country skiing, while the snow at the side is groomed for skate style skiing.
Swing those arms, get fit and admire the countryside as you head out on the trails at your own pace. There’s a Snow Fun zone, where families can play with snow tubes and sledges. The place goes to the dogs during the Wanaka Sled Dog Festival August 22-24. Dog sled tours are run on the trails of Snow Farm too, by Underdog, aka Curt and Fleur and a team of Alaskan Malamutes. Access to Snow Farm is via a 12km gravel road from Cardrona Valley Road. Snow chains must be carried.