Driving to New Zealand's Top Ski Destinations: Planning Your Winter Road Trip

Top Ski Areas in New Zealand: Shown here Mount Canterbury

As you plan your next winter road trip, consider driving to some of New Zealand's top ski destinations. With proper preparation and safety precautions, a road trip through the mountains can provide stunning views and exciting adventures. In this article, you'll discover recommendations for the country's premier ski areas, like Treble Cone and Cardrona Alpine Resort. Learn how to ready your vehicle for winter driving, including tips on installing textile snow chains. Find suggested routes and advice to make the journey to the slopes fun yet safe. A New Zealand ski road trip takes planning, but the chance to experience breathtaking scenery and world-class skiing makes it worthwhile.

Top 5 Ski Areas in New Zealand for Your Winter Adventure

Mount Ruapehu - North Island

Mount Ruapehu is home to New Zealand's largest ski area, featuring over 60 runs and 11 lifts across three interconnected resorts. The volcanic Mount Ruapehu receives some of the deepest snowfalls in the North Island, with terrain suitable for all skill levels.

The Remarkables - South Island

Nestled in the Southern Alps, The Remarkables ski area offers over 60 runs spanning 30km, with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and Lake Wakatipu. Most runs are intermediate, but there are options for beginners and advanced skiers as well, including terrain parks and backcountry areas.

Treble Cone - South Island

Treble Cone is one of New Zealand's most renowned ski areas, with the South Island's longest vertical drop at 700m. It is best suited for intermediate to advanced skiers, offering some of the steepest runs as well as wide-open groomed trails. Treble Cone is also a popular backcountry skiing destination, with access to open snowfields and chutes.

Cardrona - South Island

Nestled between the Crown Range and Cardrona Ranges, Cardrona is one of the most popular family-friendly ski areas in New Zealand. Over 50% of its slopes are suitable for beginners and intermediates, but there are also advanced runs including steep chutes and bowls. Facilities include on-mountain restaurants, bars, equipment rentals and accommodation.

Mt Hutt - South Island

Just over an hour from Christchurch, Mt Hutt is the highest ski area in Canterbury, with a summit elevation of 2,130m. It has terrain for all levels but is especially suitable for novice and intermediate skiers, with wide groomed runs and state-of-the-art facilities including a covered conveyor for beginners. Mt Hutt is known for its long ski season, lasting from June to October.

Planning Your Ultimate New Zealand Ski Road Trip

Determine Your Destination

To experience New Zealand’s best skiing, head to the South Island which offers over 20 ski areas with terrain for all abilities. Recommended spots include Queenstown, Wanaka and Canterbury. Queenstown is a world-renowned adventure hub, offering vibrant nightlife and access to four ski resorts within 90 minutes. Wanaka provides a quieter setting near Treble Cone and Cardrona, with stunning lake and mountain views. Canterbury is home to Mt Hutt, New Zealand’s largest ski area.

Prepare Your Vehicle

Ensure your vehicle has snow tires or carry textile snow chains in case of emergencies. Pack essential emergency equipment like blankets, flashlights, flares and a basic toolkit. For long drives, bring snacks, water and entertainment. Don’t forget a road map in case mobile service is unavailable in remote areas.

Book Accommodation in Advance

During peak season, accommodation around ski resorts fills up quickly. Reserve at least 6-12 months ahead for the best rates and availability. Consider package deals that bundle lift tickets, rentals and lodging. If driving between ski areas, book a night or two in each location to avoid tiring long drives.

Check Road Closures and Carry Chains

Some South Island roads close seasonally due to snow. Check nzta.govt.nz for updates and carry snow chains in case of closures or emergencies. Chains (including textile tyre chains) must be fitted to continue driving on some roads. Practice fitting winter traction devices before your trip for efficient installation if needed.

With advance planning, the right vehicle preparation and accommodation bookings, a New Zealand ski road trip can be the perfect winter getaway. Enjoy world-class terrain, stunning scenery and Kiwi hospitality. This ultimate adventure is worth all the planning required. Have a safe journey!

What to Pack for a Winter Road Trip in New Zealand

As you embark on an New Zealand winter road trip, packing the appropriate clothing and gear is essential for your comfort and safety.

For clothing, focus on layers that can be added or removed as needed. Thermal undergarments provide insulation without bulk. Fleece jackets trap body heat while still allowing moisture to wick away. An insulated winter jacket protects from wind and rain. Waterproof snow pants or insulated jeans shield your legs. Wool socks, waterproof boots, gloves, scarf and winter hat complete your outfit.

Vehicle Supplies

Ensure your vehicle is properly equipped for winter driving. Pack snow socks for traction on snow and ice, a shovel, jumper cables, a flashlight, blankets, a basic toolkit, and emergency food/water. A GPS device can help with navigation in areas with limited mobile service.

Camping Gear

If camping along your route, additional equipment like a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camp stove, lantern and other basics will allow you to stay overnight in relative comfort. Choose gear rated for winter temperatures.


Bring entertainment for long drives and nights in. Pack books, magazines, tablet/laptop, cards, games, charging cords and a portable charger. A camera allows you to capture scenic vistas and adventures.

Additional Items

Don't forget basic toiletries, paper towels, hand warmers, a first aid kit and any important medications. Baby wipes provide a quick method to clean up in areas without facilities. Plastic bags can be used for trash, laundry and other purposes.

With the proper clothing, gear and supplies packed for your New Zealand winter road trip, you will be well equipped for a safe, enjoyable mountain adventure. Take time to ensure you have all necessities before hitting the road. Your preparation will allow you to relax and focus on the stunning natural surroundings.

Driving Safety Tips for New Zealand's Mountain Roads

Check Your Vehicle and Tires

Before embarking on your winter road trip, ensure your vehicle is properly equipped for snow and ice driving conditions. Install high-quality all-season or winter tires with adequate tread to grip slippery roads. Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles handle better in snow, but front-wheel drive cars with good tires can also be suitable if driving carefully. Check that your windshield wipers, defroster, headlights, and brake lights are in working order.

Carry Chains and Emergency Supplies

Textile snow chains provide extra traction in snow and ice. Buy chains that properly fit your vehicle's tires and learn how to install them before your trip. Also pack emergency supplies like blankets, hats, gloves, a flashlight, jumper cables, kitty litter or sand for traction, a shovel, snacks, water, and a fully charged mobile phone.

AutoSock snow socks mounted on rear wheels of a gray Hyundai Ioniq 5 car, standing on snow in skiing area

You have never heard about textile tyre chains? 
Then read here about what snow socks are, why you need and how to use them. 

Drive Cautiously

Mountain roads can be dangerous, especially in snow and ice. Obey all posted speed signs and go slowly, as conditions can change quickly. Increase your following distance between vehicles to at least double. Avoid sudden braking, accelerating or turning which can cause your tires to skid. Engage low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. If your vehicle starts to skid, gently remove your foot from the accelerator and steer in the direction you want the front of the vehicle to go.

Consider an Escorted Tour

If you have limited experience driving in winter conditions, consider booking an escorted tour from a location like Queenstown or Christchurch. Tour companies employ experienced drivers and vehicles properly equipped for snow and ice. Relax and enjoy the stunning scenery without the stress of navigating mountain roads yourself. An escorted tour is a safe, convenient option, especially for those traveling to New Zealand for the first time.

By following these tips, you can feel confident embarking on a memorable winter road trip through New Zealand’s picturesque ski country. Drive safely and enjoy your winter holiday!

Do You Need Snow Chains for Your New Zealand Ski Trip?

To safely drive to some of New Zealand’s premier ski areas, you may need to equip your vehicle with fabric snow chains, especially if traveling during winter or to higher elevation destinations. Snow socks provide extra traction on snow and ice, enabling your vehicle to grip the road better in wintry conditions.

When Are Snow Chains Required?

Many of New Zealand’s alpine roads require vehicles to carry snow chains during the ski season from May to October, and they are mandatory when road conditions deteriorate. Major ski destinations like Queenstown, Wanaka and Mt Ruapehu often necessitate snow chains, especially at higher elevations. It is best to check with the local road authorities regarding chain requirements on specific routes before your trip. AutoSock textile traction devices are accepted alternatives to metallic snow chains in New Zealand.

For any more questions regarding snow socks, 
please refer to our extended FAQ page. 

What Kind of Snow Chains Do You Need?

For most passenger vehicles, simple tire chains that wrap around the drive tires are suitable. Textile Tyre Socks are more convenient than traditional chains, as they are lighter and easier to put on and remove. They provide sufficient traction for ski destinations around New Zealand. Socks should be properly fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions for maximum effectiveness and to avoid vehicle damage.

How do I drive with tyre socks?

Snow Socks create traction on the surface of the ice or snow layer. This is the major difference to conventional snow chains that need to “dig” into the snow or ice to create friction. Textile snow chains should be driven slowly, carefully and without wheel spinning. Avoid sudden, unnecessary hard braking and speeding. Please take them off once you have reached cleared roads.  It is okay to keep snow socks mounted for shorter sections of cleared roads when you know there will be more snow or ice to come.  Textile traction devices like Autosock are textile products and wear will increase when driving on cleared roads. We therefore advice to take off tyre socks when you do not need them anymore to make them last longer.

Read more about the impact of textile tyre chains for winter driving here.

Do You Need to Buy or Rent Snow Chains?

Renting chains eliminates the need to purchase, transport and store them. However, for those frequently driving to alpine areas in winter, buying a set of high-quality snow chains that suit your vehicle tires may prove a worthwhile investment for safety and convenience. With proper care and storage, chains can last for several seasons. Keeping in mind that textile traction solutions like AutoSock are lightweight, easy-to-store, convenient to use and easy to install, a purchase of snow socks might be the best deal.

Driving to New Zealand’s world-class ski destinations should be an enjoyable experience. Equipping your vehicle with the necessary snow chains and taking extra precautions will help ensure you arrive at the slopes safely. By preparing your vehicle and allowing extra travel time, you can have a stress-free drive through stunning alpine scenery.


As you plan your winter road trip to New Zealand's premier ski areas, proper preparation and equipment will ensure you have an enjoyable and safe experience. By following the recommendations provided here on trip planning, winter driving preparedness, and using snow chains when required, you'll be ready to take on mountain passes and winter conditions. With majestic scenery as your backdrop, a hot cup of cocoa next to a cozy fire after a day on the slopes will be your reward. The excitement of carving through fresh powder will create memories to last a lifetime. Now it's time to pick your destination, pack your bags and point your car toward the Southern Alps for a dream ski holiday.


Find your textile snow chains here