Skiing around Queenstown: In search of gullies at Treble Cone in Wanaka

Located close to the town of Wanaka in New Zealand is the ski resort of Treble Cone. This ski area has received favourable reviews from fellow skiers and is considered to have one of the largest skiable terrain in the South Island, along with the highest vertical rise. Vertical rise could generally mean steeper terrains and a resort that is suited to intermediate skiers and snowboarders.

Archway to the resort
Archway to Treble Cone

GETTING THERE

It takes just about 30 minutes to drive up to the resort from the town centre of Wanaka. The proximity means it is easy for skiers to stay in Wanaka and make morning rides up the mountain since there is no accommodation on the mountain. While it has a large skiable terrain, limited parking spaces exists in Treble Cone so a powder day weekend is sure to draw in crowds that would make the lots full such that one might be better off taking the buses from Wanaka Town Centre.

View of the Base Lodge
View of the Base Lodge

CHAIRLIFTS & GONDOLAS

Sure the resort might boasts of two basins for skiing and snowboarding, but the reality is that the resort only has 2 high speed chairlifts serving both basins. One being the Home Basin Express which is where all skiers start from with this 6-seater express chair bringing skiers to 1,760m in elevation.

Home Basin chairlift
Home Basin chairlift

Traversing to the other side of the valley, skiers gets access to lots more freeride terrain by the Saddle Basin, served by a quad chairlift. Other than these 2 chairlifts, there are a couple of magic carpets and rope bar system catering to lessons and beginners.

Saddle Basin Quad
Saddle Basin quad chairlift

COST & VALUE

A single day ticket for skiing here costs NZ$135 (~$98) which is expensive for the lifts infrastructure and the limited terrain for beginners. This alone does not exactly make it a very family oriented ski resort. The value here is for expert skiers and riders as there are far more challenging terrain and excellent free ride opportunities in the Saddle Basin area.

Base lodge
Base lodge

BEGINNER RUNS

Over by the base lodge, beginners and those on lessons can head over to a groomed area that is wide enough for easy learning though I would not call it particularly conducive. There is only one tow-bar system to the right and it can be quite packed during a nice blue bird weekend.

Nice 'n' Easy Platter with T-bar
Nice ‘n’ Easy Platter with T-bar

From here on, there is only one green-marked run from the top of Home Basin Express that zig-zags all the way down to the base lodge. This is similar to the green runs in some larger resorts that is not exactly great for beginners since these lines are narrow and requires short turns. Not to mention, some parts can be slightly steep for beginners. As such, I would not rate this resort highly for learning or progressing past the beginner stage. This alone makes it a no-go for skiers who are just starting out.

Zig zag down Easy Rider
Zig zag down Easy Rider

INTERMEDIATE RUNS

For intermediate skiers, there are plenty of terrain where they can easily cruise. It is not difficult to do most of the blue and red marked ski trails here which essentially means intermediate skiers can easily ride both chairlifts to the top and find an easy way down with little difficulty. Naturally the terrains around the Home Basin are easier and the Main Street trail is probably the most relaxed way back down.

On Saddle Track
On Saddle Track traverse to Saddle Basin

Over on the Saddle Basin, the South Ridge blue trail has some steeper sections at the bottom but they are still manageable, though intermediate skiers who are less confident can easily do the High Street before turning right into Side Saddle which is a longer route but provides a gentler slope back down towards Saddle Basin.

Shooter and Pipe runs
Shooter and Pipe runs in Saddle Basin

However the draw for aspiring experts here is the numerous bowls and gully-like features around Saddle Basin that would provide an introduction to backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Ungroomed terrains like these are certainly great when there is overnight snowfall and bright sunny skies for visibility. And with names like Cloud Nine, the Saddle Basin area can definitely allow intermediate skiers plan their own lines down back to the bottom of the quad chairlift.

Lower Cloud Nine
Lower Cloud Nine in Saddle Basin

EXPERT RUNS

Considered as one of New Zealand’s top ski resorts, Treble Cone excels in providing some of the best accessible terrain for expert skiers and snowboarders. For a start there are backcountry gates past first bend of Main Street that leads to the Matukituki Basin with several ridges and lines that leads back to the Home Basin. These would provide a starting point for explorers.

Backcountry runs
Backcountry runs seen from the top of Upper High Street

For the young or those with the sweet touring ski boots, they can make their way up the Summit Slopes. These are easily visible from the top of the Saddle Basin chairlift and should be filled with climbing lines on a clear afternoon. Skiers might want to load up on snack bars and chocolates for the climb though as there are no cafes or refreshments for sale in the Saddle Basin area.

Summit hike up for fresh tracks
Summit hike up for fresh tracks

The really adventurous ones though should check out the Hollywood Bowl and Motatapu Basin area that is accessed by the gates from South Ridge trail in Saddle Basin. These areas are complex and challenging and should only be tackled with a companion. Since I was skiing alone, I did not consider it for my one day visit, though from the looks of it, this has got to be one of the advanced terrains in a commercial ski resort. At least it was the most advanced amongst the ski resorts that I have been to.

TERRAIN PARK

There was no terrain park setup, at least not that I spotted as I spent most of my ski day in the Saddle Basin area. And with such great natural terrain, there really is no need for a terrain park since most skiers would be just searching for their favourite spot and I am pretty sure there are many so skiers and snowboarders might want to consider hiring a guide or local ski instructor when visiting here for the first time.

Payback to Saddle Basin
View from Payback trail to Saddle Basin base

ON-MOUNTAIN LODGES

Technically speaking there is only one lodge here and it is the one at the base. This is the only spot with an enclosed and heated space for dining in comfort and that makes it the only ‘ski lodge’. This is more or less similar to the other ski resorts in New Zealand.

Cafe seating inside the lodge
Cafe seating inside the base lodge

However there is a cafe serving a limited menu of food and drinks from the top of the Home Basin Express. A small makeshift cafe with outdoor seating serves a small number of skiers daily out in the open making it only suitable on clear sunny days. Other than that, it is disappointing to not have a ski lodge over on the Saddle Basin side. Skiers are reminded again to bring their own food and beverages as there are several picnic benches at the top of the Saddle Basin chairlift. However they have to contend with the windy conditions at times which can be cold too at 1,960 meters above sea level. At least there is a nice view here while lunching and skiers might even save with their packed lunches.

Makeshift Cafe by the top of Home Basin
Makeshift cafe by the top of Home Basin

FOOD & BEVERAGES

The food served in the cafeteria is similar to those found in other New Zealand ski areas. With up to 4 different pie selections, skiers can also choose from other dishes like sausage of feta rolls, chicken wings and fish & chips. There are also healthier options like hot soups of the day and good old chilli stew.

Self-serve counter
Self-serve counter serving pies and fries

Beverages served includes a selection of coffee and tea, along with soft drinks by the bottle to wines of the month (naturally New Zealand wines, and usually from the Otago region).

Cashier counter
Cashier counter at the base lodge

LODGING OPTIONS

There are no lodging on the mountain and this is expected with the small size of the base lodge but with the town centre an easy drive away, there really is no need for skiers to stay up here. After all there are probably more places to eat and stay in Wanaka.

APRÉS-SKI

Many of the facilities in the resort close at around the same time as the last lift at 4pm. This means the resort starts to be empty by around 4:30pm. Aside from the patio by the top of Home Basin and the Base Lodge, there are no other places to unwind for a drink. Skiers are better served by driving back to the town centre. Although I did notice an ice cream van at the bottom of the valley on my drive back to Wanaka so families might want to stop by for some desserts there.

Ski shop at the base lodge
Ski shop at the base lodge

SUMMIT VIEWS

With Treble Cone located so close to Wanaka, the views at the top are naturally that of Lake Wanaka. This is easily visible from the way up to the resort, from the car park, from the Home Basin chairlift right up to the top of Saddle Basin. The only differing point is perspective.

Freeride skiing with a view
Freeride skiing with a view

A terrain filled with rugged hills and peaks around Wanaka, heading to the other side of Saddle Basin actually blocks the lake view somewhat. Thus the best lake views are probably from the High Street trail linking Saddle Basin to Home Basin at the higher elevation.

Lakeview from High Street
Lakeview from High Street

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

Perhaps I am experienced enough and strong enough to tackle some of the more difficult terrains here. That is why I did find this resort fun though tiring. Considering this was the 3rd ski resort I visited consecutively for this trip I was a bit weary by the end. However, it gave me the most fun times even if the lift infrastructure is somewhat limited. But since I compare the ski resorts and I look at them on various levels, I cannot in my conscience recommend this resort wholeheartedly. If I knew the other person as a skilled snowboarder or skier, then I would definitely say Treble Cone is definitely worth a stop while in New Zealand. If it was to a family of 4 with mixed capabilities in terms of winter sports, then I would say skip Treble Cone and head to Queenstown, while saving the time in Wanaka for some sightseeing and nature hiking.

Top of Home Basin
Skiers at the top of Home Basin
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