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No matter how many kids you have, skiing and snowboarding can be all fun and no hassle, as we discovered when we packed up the family and went to Cardrona to begin a tradition of winter holidays at the snow.

family fun in cardrona

Cardrona was the ultimate. In fact, I find it hard to believe that you could go skiing at a resort more suited to families. There is an unbelievable sense of family in the backbone of this place – families work there, homeschooled children and local kids practically live on the mountain and there is a real sense of fun in the kids club. This would have to be one of the easiest places in the world to have a family holiday.

A definite strong point of Cardrona is the childcare and ski and snowboard school. The nursery and kindy cater for 3-months to 4-years, and their aim is to simply encourage the kids to play and enjoy the snow; but if you have a natural ski-bunny on your hands, the instructors will get them up on skis. Older kids, 5-years and over, can choose from the daily kids club, or join Skiwees or Lowriders classes that run from Monday to Thursday. The man behind the ski school, ex-Australian Olympic skier, Bob Irwin says, “Fun is the most important thing for kids’ enjoyment, so we make sure playing games on the snow is big part of their day.”

It was just so easy. Once we had our passes and gear all sorted (we decided on twin tips for the kids), our crew all made their way to join the daily kids programme in the Archway Kids Centres. They did a morning and afternoon ski session with their instructor and between sessions, they trooped in to the kids room for rest and refuelling. The good winter fare was
a real hit with our food-loving trio. They finished at 4pm and chilled out until we skied over
to pick them up.

If our experience is anything to go by, your kids could be up and going by the end of day one. There are no dangerous cliff concerns here for parents of daredevils, and plenty of challenge for kids who learn quickly and love the idea of jumps ... close your eyes, parents! The slopes are big, beautiful and wide, with plenty of terrain for all levels. We struck it lucky arriving after several days of snow, so the powder was perfect. By day three, we were skiing as a family and had already established our favourite runs: Westerns Gap down McDougalls, the Highway at Captains Basin and a fanciful run through the talking tunnel that leads you back to the White Star Express Chair and down Goldrush. We felt like regulars.

Lessons are definitely the way to go when you are new to the slopes. A worthy investment, so do as many as your budget will allow. Private lessons will get you going faster, but kids love the social side of the group lessons, and often make friends on the mountain that they get to see each year.

worrying about the weather

The stats show that Cardrona has the least amount of days closed and the best snow fall. They were closed for a measly four days last year and have a big season that runs from June 22nd to October 7th.

Check out or for daily updates.

to ski or to snowboard?

The latest and coolest trend in skiing are ‘twin tips’.  These offer all the benefits of skiing, like easy traversing, as well as the ability to do the jumps and tricks that snowboarding offers.

Most experts agree skis are easiest to learn on and get you up and going quickly, whereas snowboarding means a cold, wet backside and sore tummy muscles. If your kids are keen to snowboard, wait until they’re about age 7 when their core is a bit stronger, before you switch them over. If your kids are maestros with skateboarding or surfing, then they will catch on to snowboarding very fast.

transport up the mountain

We hired a Ford Mondeo from Britz. It was $56 a day and surprisingly spacious for a compact car. We were able to fit bags for five people, ski gear and some food. We drove up the mountain each day, and made the $20 investment to get our chains put on for us halfway up. (If you want to save on this cost, I would definitely suggest you practise before you head up. It’s not as easy as is suggested by the rental company, and even harder halfway up the mountain where it’s cold and your hands are numb.)

To park close, you will need to get to the car park by 9am. If you would rather leave your car at home, there are shuttles from town each day.

In the Snow

Handy tips from Bob Irwin, Ski Trainer at Cardrona.

  • Kids should wear a pair of long, not too thick, socks in their ski boots and make sure there are no pesky wrinkles or trousers caught inside.
  • When you ski together as a family, after the kids have had lessons, make sure you have fun and keep the advice to a minimum.
  • Also, stick with the runs they’ve done with their instructor. You don’t want to put them in a scary situation and ruin their confidence.
  • Don’t worry if your kids are leaning back when they are skiing. This is a developmental phase rather than a bad habit.
  • If you are staying in Wanaka, consider buying your tickets in town anytime after 7.30am. If you have your own skis, you can park at the Whitestar Express carpark, and ski straight onto the lift and head on up the mountain. No queues and more time on the slopes!
  • Helmets should be a must for Mum, Dad and the kids.

on a budget

  • If you are going to be skiing or snowboarding for more than seven days, then buy a Season Pass. At Cardrona, if you do this before March 14, then it costs $599 for adults and $145 for kids, and the kids are free on the snow after day three. Don’t forget to budget for lessons on top of this.
  • Take your lunch and snacks to the mountain each day, and maybe just splash out on a hot chocolate in between.
  • Borrow snow-gear from friends. As long as you take good care and return it clean and with a little gift, friends are often glad to see their gear getting use ... before the inevitable growth spurt!
  • Consider a house swap or stay with friends for accommodation, and cook your own meals at night.

splashing out

  • Book an instructor for the whole day, or week. Your skiing or snowboarding will leap-frog to advanced in no time, plus you won’t have to wait in any queues and you will learn the terrain like a local. Some families combine to share an instructor – learners in the morning, then daredevils in the afternoon. Luxury!
  • Book into the spa at Oakridge Resort in Wanaka and let your kids have a swim in their large heated pools and spa pools. Kids get to relax and Mum and Dad get to tag-team with a massage and a soak. Bliss!
  • For intermediate or advanced skiers, trying heli-skiing for a day. The ultimate!


staying comfy

We stayed at the Alpine Resort in Wanaka. I have to say, at the end of each day, when the kids were full of tales to tell and spent from hours of skiing, the Alpine Resort was a great place to retreat to. It was lovely, clean, warm and spacious with a large kitchen and full-sized appliances (no teeny ovens or fridges). They have a communal games room, pool, spa pool and tennis court with plenty of space for snow fights right out in front if you’re there in mid-winter. Our apartment also had movie channels for chill-out time. We have two boisterous boys, so room to move, reasonably sound-proof walls and areas where other family members can find escape is the ideal. We had all of the above in our apartment.  It was also very easy to warm-up and dry out our gear. We had a full laundry, an air-conditioning unit, a gas fire and the all-important electric blankets. We were as warm as toast! Go to


We had just as much fun off-mountain in Wanaka as on. Here’s our pick of what not to miss ...

Puzzling World

We spent two hours puzzling over illusions, navigating The Great Maze and playing mind-bending puzzles in the cafe. Viewing the silicon statue of creator, Stuart Landsborough, was by far my most disconcerting moment, and the Roman toilets provided the funniest photo-opportunity. You can puzzle over this on

Cardrona Adventure Park

Who gets to say, “I’ve driven the largest monster bus in the world”? All our kids do! If you’re over age 3, then you can have a drive, and the kids love it. Motor stuntman, Ian Soanes, has developed an Adventure Park that includes monster trucks and quad biking (across snowy terrain if you desire). You are in very safe hands, as stunt men know all the ins and outs and pitfalls of using this equipment. The drills are thorough and the fun is huge. Check out for all the details.

Paradiso Theatre

Watching a movie while sitting in comfy couches or a convertible Morris Minor, eating warm biscuits and slurping hot chocolate is a couch potato dream. Paradiso is an incredibly charming arthouse theatre that you ‘must’ take your kids to, particularly if they have only ever been to big mass-market theatres. My advice, book ahead in peak season – this joint is a Wanaka favourite. Check out for movie listings and bookings.

Dinosaur Park

All kids love to play at the park and of course it’s free. This is an award-winning park down on the lake with paddle boats for hire close by.

There are plenty of activities for families to do on rest or bad-weather days. For more ideas, go to

our favourites

  • Coffee in Wanaka – Te Whania: they also have a great menu for healthy eaters
  • Restaurant in Wanaka – Amigos: it was very kid-friendly, great food and friendly service
  • Item to pack – Camelbak drink bottles: an easy way to keep everyone hydrated on and off the mountain
  • Cardrona tip – leave your skis at the Cardrona ski hire shop overnight and just pick them up in the morning
  • Photo opportunity – the Roman toilets at Puzzling world
  • Lodging luxury – a blazing fire and the movie channel

Kids Say

Isabella (12 years): My instructor Charlie was the best. We worked on using my edges and parallel skiing, then we’d head to the cafe for a break and a chocolate fish.

Carlo (9 years): The jumps were so cool. I tried a couple on the White Star and McDougalls – I want to learn to do more freestyling. When can we go back?!

Luc (7 years): I was skiing with Mum and Dad after three days and could go across to the Captains. Sometimes turning is hard, so I just head straight down doing a snow plough.

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