New Zealand is a terrific winter destination and it’s not surprising as there are many excellent snow resorts on the island of the long white cloud. The pro athletes will head south come June-Sept to train and compete at events like the Audi Winter Games. And when we think NZ resorts, the likes of Cardrona, Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt, The Remarkables and Treble Cone spring to mind.
But did you know both the north and south islands are scattered with countless ski club fields? We certainly had no idea of the extent of the club fields in New Zealand and now we do, we’re on a mission to ride as many as possible!
So that brings us to Mt Cheeseman, located in Canterbury approx. 2 hours west from Christchurch. The access road leaves the West Coast Rd (73) just after the Castle Hill community (if you’re travelling from Christchurch) and is approx. 12km to the base carpark. It’s a rough, steep, narrow road so we were happy to be in a 4WD. A 2WD could do it but most likely chains will have to be fitted on all but the finest days. 95% of cars in the carpark were 4WD’s, giving you an indication of the road type…
Mt Cheeseman Mountain Statistics
Base Area Elevation: 1539m
Highest Lifted Point: 1874m
Vertical Rise: 335m
Terrain: 15% beginner / 50% intermediate / 35% advanced
Lifts: 2 x T-Bars, 1 x beginner rope tow
Operating Hours: 9am to 4:30pm
Mt Cheeseman has two options for staying the night – The Snowline Lodge and the Forrest Lodge. The Snowline Lodge is on the mountain and offers ski in/ski out. It’s basic, with a communal dining/living area and although meals are cooked for you, you are expected to help with some basic chores. Guest provide their own sleeping bag, pillowcase and towel. The Forrest Lodge is halfway down the mountain and is backpackers type accommodation. There’s a communal kitchen where you can prepare your own meals.
Tickets and Facilities
The car park is about a 5-10 minute walk from the base building but there is a drop-off point so unload the gear and your lucky passengers so they don’t have to hike up the hill.
Lift tickets will set you back $79 for a full day and $59 for a half day (from 12:30pm). There’s a café serving things like hot dogs, pies and toasted sandwiches. The coffee is pretty good which we enjoyed while looking out over the mountain. Bringing your own food is fine as there is an area to keep your bags and hot water is provided.
Mt Cheeseman is serviced by two T-bars and beginners rope tow. The beginner area is pretty small, so if it's your first time you may be better off learning somewhere else. The good news is there are no nutcracker rope tows so happy days for us snowboarders! If you don’t know what a nutcracker is, take a look here. We’re building up the courage to take on one soon, and as many club fields around New Zealand only have the rope tow nutcracker, we really have no choice if we’re to ride at these fields.
There is limited groomed runs available but the large areas to both the left and right of the Ridge T-Bar were pretty nice as there had been a little fresh snow the day before to keep things soft. And that’s the great thing about club fields – the last snow was over 24hrs previous but at lunchtime we were still finding fresh tracks. And we never had to wait in a T-bar line – straight on every time.
Riding both the Main and Ridge T-Bar gives you plenty of terrain to explore. With a little more fresh, we could’ve dropped a few more gullies and ridden the lower part of the bowl, towards the carpark. Or Sunny Face (looker’s left) – good steeps but not enough coverage when we were there.
Mt Cheeseman would be amazing on a (or recent) powder day. On our day we rode mainly off-piste, and with only 2-3cm the day before, we were limited to the top 2/3rd’s of the mountain.
Although most of the terrain is fairly mellow off the Main T-Bar, heading up to the top via the Ridge T-Bar will give the more experienced riders a few more challenges. Do the little ridge hike to the top of Mt Cockayne (looker’s right) to really make the most of the Cockayne bowl.
For those with avalanche gear and backcountry experience there are some amazing options at Mt Cheeseman. Access the back bowls via the Ridge T-bar but just be aware this terrain is not avalanche controlled. Do your research and to help make a safe decision, ski patrol have an avalanche risk rating at the top of the Ridge T-bar for the current day. We dreamt about dropping in as it looked incredible but without avy gear, snowshoes or split boards, we did the sensible thing and remained mainly in-bounds.
The New Zealand Ski Club Field Experience
There was definitely a different vibe at Mt Cheeseman compared to the commercial ski fields. You kinda felt like you were riding in a family friends’ backyard – everyone was super friendly and chilled. Just be prepared as the facilities and lifts are not the same as the commercial ski resorts but if you want to explore new terrain, have uncrowded lift lines, slopes and lunch areas, then make sure you visit a New Zealand ski club field. We’re going try to explore many more!
If you’ve been to Mt Cheeseman or have another favourite NZ ski club field you’d like to share your thoughts on, or have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Until then, keep exploring!
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Mick is a lover of speed runs and hitting every feature on the mountain. Ex road bike and motocross racer with plans to dabble in mountain bike racing. Spends a lot of time looking at fast cars and bikes. Jen’s instagram model and selfie camera holder due to long arms. Sometimes an optometrist.