*** Introduction ***
The Remarkables is a ski resort in Queenstown, New Zealand and is named after the mountain range within which it is situated. It is owned by NZSki Ltd who also run the resorts Coronet Peak (also in Queenstown) and Mount Hutt near Christchurch. It is usually open for skiing and snowboarding from mid June until early October depending on snowfall. I spent a winter season in Queenstown in 2005 and thoroughly enjoyed my time there as I managed to do 60 days of snowboarding at The Remarkables.
*** Accessibility ***
Like nearly all the other ski resorts in New Zealand, there is no accommodation at the slopes and you have to drive up to it from the nearest town which in this case is Queenstown. This is one of the main differences between skiing and snowboarding here compared with Europe where you can often ski directly to the door of your accommodation.
There is a good bus service provided from Queenstown and it takes 45 minutes to get up to the resort. It is definitely worth getting the bus rather than driving yourself because the road up there has very few barriers on the side of it with big drops off the side! You might also need to use chains on the wheels of your vehicle if it has been snowing and this is a real pain at first as it can be tricky to do and the longer it takes to get them on and off, the colder you get! I learnt this the hard way and it took me at least 5 or 6 attempts before I got the knack of using snow chains!
*** The Slopes ***
-- Overall size --
There are 220 hectares of skiable terrain which is not huge compared with European or North American resorts but there is enough variety in terrain to keep skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels happy. There are 3 quad chairlifts and the area is usually not very busy so you do not have to wait very long to get on the lifts.
-- Beginner runs --
There is a designated beginner area with a nice gentle slope which is perfect for learning on. There is a rope tow and magic carpet (revolving conveyor belt you stand on) in this area to get you back up the small slope. It can become very busy during holiday periods however so it is worth going at an off-peak time if you are a complete beginner.
Once you have learnt the basics you can then get on the Alta chair which has some nice mellow green runs heading back down. I usually snowboard but actually spent 2 days learning to ski here and found the easier slopes to be perfect for learning the basics.
-- Intermediate --
40% of the runs are suitable for intermediates and graded as blue runs. Most of these are accessed from the Sugar Bowl chair and are lots of fun with some varied and rolling terrain. One problem with this area is that it is very difficult to tell where you are going when it is snowing or foggy as the whole area is above the tree-line (having trees around helps give you some contrast in white-out conditions).
-- Advanced --
The best advanced runs are off the Shadow Basin chairlift and are best when there is some fresh snow to shred as there are plenty of natural features such as rock drops and narrow chutes to challenge you. There are some great runs which are a short hike up from the top of the chairlift and the fact that you have to hike up there means that the powder stays untracked for longer than the other runs.
It is also possible to hike up a bit higher out of bounds to access some more fantastic terrain but most of it is very challenging and you should definitely be wearing the appropriate avalanche gear (and have practised using it) if venturing out this way. You have to be very careful when heading down these off-piste routes as there are some huge cliff drops around and no signs to warn you until you get to them!
-- Terrain Parks --
There is a small beginner park near the base of the resort which is good for those just starting out and wanting to try some small jumps and also a main terrain park at the top of the Sugar Bowl chair with much bigger features. The jumps and rails here are well maintained and are definitely only for more advanced riders.
There is also a superpipe next to the main park but the quality of this varies hugely depending on snow conditions. During the season I was there, there were very few days when the halfpipe was worth riding as the walls kept losing their shape due to the snow being too soft (temperatures generally too high).
-- Best run on the mountain --
My favourite run is definitely Homeward Bound when there is fresh snow. It is in-bounds and 1.5km long but is not groomed and covers a wide open area. It is accessed by keeping left as you ski down from the Shadow Basin chairlift and once you start the run it feels like you are out in the middle of nowhere like backcountry riding. It is suitable for those who have at least intermediate skills and is a great introduction to riding off-piste powder for those who have not tried it before because there is a lot of open space and it is not too steep.
You can choose whatever route you like on the way down this run and eventually end up on the road that leads back up to the base of the resort. There is a regular 4x4 vehicle that runs up and down the road from here to take skiers and boarders back to the main chairlifts and you may have to wait a while on a busy day to get back but it is definitely worth it. Another thing to mention is that if it is your first time doing the run you should wait for a clear day when you can see what is ahead of you. On a cloudy or foggy day it can be difficult to tell where you are and may be a bit frightening for some as you really do feel very far away from civilisation on the way down!
*** Weather and snow conditions ***
The average temperature is around -4 or -5 although it sometimes feels a lot colder with the wind-chill. The average total snowfall is around 3 metres and snow conditions are usually pretty good on the slopes, although some slopes do get wind-blown which makes the snow feel a bit crunchy at times.
It is common to get a bit of rain early and late in the season so the best time to go is usually in July or August. Cloud and fog can make visibility a bit of a problem but there are usually lots of sunny days too when conditions are best for skiing and snowboarding.
*** Lift tickets ***
The current (2009) price for a one day lift ticket is NZ$87 (approximately £35 at current exchange rates) which is fairly expensive but you can obtain discounts if you pay for rental equipment and lessons together with your lift tickets.
If you are planning on buying a season pass, the best one to get is the Queenstown pass which gives you unlimited access to both The Remarkables and Coronet Peak. The current normal price is NZ$1299 but if you buy it a few months before the start of the season it costs just NZ$699 which is fantastic value for money!
*** Other information ***
Equipment rental is available up at the resort but it may be cheaper from one of the many rental shops in the centre of Queenstown, especially if you need it for several days. There is also a cafe at the base of the slopes where you can get some food and drinks but it is nothing special.
The quality of the ski and snowboard lessons at The Remarkables is very good and many of the instructors there work at ski resorts in the northern hemisphere once the New Zealand season is over.