Coronet Peak is in the North Otago, province of New Zealand's South Island, amid some of the world's most stunning mountain scenery.
Atop the 5400ft mountain sits an outcrop of rock, in the shape of a crown, hence the name given to it by explorer/surveyor James McKerrow when visiting this virgin area many decades ago.
Another, more modern pioneer was Sir William Hamilton who, with typical New Zealand 'Kiwi' ingenuity, put Coronet Peak on the map by manufacturing the first rope tow at what was the country's first commercial ski field in 1947. He followed this with the country's first double chairlift in 1962 and the first triple lift in 1973.
Skiers and snowboarders love Coronet Peak which provides around 20 percent ski space for beginners, intermediate skiers get around 45 percent and experienced/advanced and competition skiers use 35 percent. Nearby the base facilities you can use the early/beginners slopes or as you progress you have the rolling off-piste runs and the long, groomed trails.
Where-ever you ski there are the most fantastic views, a patchwork quilt of colour and terrain changes, down to Queenstown and into the historic goldmining Lower Shotover Gorge area. If you aren't there to ski or snowboard there is plenty to keep you amused in the cafe/bar, sipping coffee or tea on the huge outdoor balcony, or just people watching which is the way I best enjoy my ski days!
Facilities include a first aid unit, a creche, ski equipment hire and ski school instructors as well as all the usual amenities found on a modern, progressive ski area.
Coronet Peak is owned by Mt Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company and it has so effectively brought the ski field into the 21st century. It now presents as an international ski area where northern hemisphere skiers go to practice when the season closes in their own countries.
Skiers, will be interested in the vital statistics of this challenging ski area: 1650m elevation, vertical 420m, skiable 9.280 hectares with various lifts to get up to ski areas: a Six seater, quad, double chair, triple chair, a handle tow as well as a T-bar. The newest lift is the 146m magic Carpet Snow lift in the Big Easy Leaners area. The longest run is 1.8km.
Snowboarders will be impressed and challenged with the 1/2 pipes, Terrain Park and the wide trails. At this point I state what I think may well be obvious to readers; I have not tried either the skiing or snowboarding trails so I confess I cannot provide ''personal'' experience here. I like to look though, and each time I go I take the obligatory bacon and egg pie for the energetic skiers who I tag along with. They love my hot chocolate and my very special ''winter warmer'', hot red wine and lemon juice concoction!
You cannot write a review about Coronet Peak without a mention of the Queenstown Winter Festival because many of these annual events take place up on this mountain. I feel another review topic coming on!!!!
People come from all over the world to take part in the fun, the sport, the not very serious competition and the apre-ski that is experienced over the 10-day celebration of ski and snowboard sport. Memorable is the Dog Derby and Barking competition; shepherds and dogs are taken to the top of the mountain and then slip,slide down, anyway they can. Many other ski and snowboard activities take place on Coronet Peak as well as a huge variety of events for al the family, in and around Queenstown. Art displays, a street parade, a formal ball, and some years there's been ''flying'' off the pier.
Coronet Ski area's modern, well equipped base complex which serves thousands of skiers a day , has not always been there. Here's where my most memorable Coronet Peak experience comes in.
The manager of the local radio station, where I was the news editor, phoned around 10pm one freezing, cold wintry night to say the Coronet Peak Ski facilities were on fire and it looked like a total write off. I was despatched immediatley to drive to Queenstown, to take a motel and to hire a helicopter for first light . I was to go up and do a live-cross to air, hovering about the burnt-out buildings.
This I did and when we crossed live to many thousands of early morning news listeners I gave a birds-eye report on the devastation below. But my report upset the helicopter pilot as I declared, ``I can see a flare up as I speak''. He was horrified and gestured frantic hand movements not to continue along that line. When I got off air he explained it, ''it is my rotors which are causing the embers to re-ignite!'' All the way back to Queenstown we were looking out for the fire engines which may have been sent, due to my up-to-the-minute report , 18 kilometres back up the mountain, from Queenstown . Luckily they didn't.
The complex was rebuilt and has continued to attract winter sport enthuisasts to this easy accessible field. New Zealand national and international ski and snowboard competitions are held all season, and at least one winter school holiday break means an influx of families, so it will pay to book your accommodation before leaving home to avoid disappointment.
When the New Zealand ski season is underway you can use the webcam to see Coronet Peak action as it happens. Visit www.nzsnow.com/html/coronet-peak-webcam.htm - easy skiing and you don't get bruised or break a limb! Added bonus, you don't have the 24 hour flight to get to this ''happening'' out-door adventure place they call New Zealand.... but you still enjoy the Coronet Peak ski experience.
Coronet Peak ski area usually opens mid July and closes mid September depending on snow conditions. There are pretty sophisticated and effective snow making machines so it generally means there is a good base right from the beginning of the season.
The road is now tarsealed all the way to the carparks but you should always take chains for the tyres as it can be treacherous driving in winter conditions.
Coronet Peak is of course a winter destination but during the summer the views out over the tussock mountain, down in to the valleys and up to the Remarkables Mountain range are breathtaking to say the least.
You can fly in to Queenstown International airport or perhaps to Christchurch and take the 5 to 6 hour drive through some stunning South Island country to reach your skiing destination.
Once there, accommodation of all budgets and types is available in and around Queenstown and Arrowtown; then take the shuttle up to the ski area, or hire a vehicle. In Queenstown, there is a progressive information centre where bookings can be made, so call there first to update yourself on the latest conditions and other relevant details.
Snow packages are available both in Queenstown and on the internet. From overseas you can book flight,accommodation and ski days as packages, so that may work out more cost effective - I haven't done the sums but if you do it will be an exercise to introduce you to what you can expect on a winter ski holiday in New Zealand, nearby Queenstown or Arrowtown.
During the 2005 season, a Coronet Peak lift ticket cost Seniors (64 years plus)NZ $29; Adults (18-64 years) NZ$57; Junior (7-17 years) NZ$29 and children free. Check out a seasonal pass.
Coronet Peak is a ski- traveller's `must-do' when in New Zealand. Those who have contributed to the excellent facility it is today can be well pleased with this winter-fun experience, open to all, seven-days a week, as well as some nights.
After a Coronet Peak ski day there are so many restaurants, nightclubs and other entertainments in Queenstown, you are spoiled for choice.
For Coronet Peak ski area and Queenstown related information visit wwwnzski.com/coronet/