I left my heart in Craigieburn… again. Last year was my first time at Craigieburn, or any club field for that matter, and I vowed to make it an annual trip for as long as I could swing it. This is a place that’s not for everyone, in fact it would be quite the nightmare for a beginner skier. If you’re an advanced to expert skier who loves off piste and big mountain skiing than this is the place for you.
If you are able to make it out here, I’d highly recommend staying for a few days and booking into the on mountain lodge. The modest accommodation provides everything you need for an amazing ski trip – a bed, warm shower, family style meal, drying room for your gear, and a bar. The staff here are amazing and really make you feel welcome. You feel like you’re part of the family when you stay here, as you all eat together, drink together, and even clean together. You’re expected to clean up after yourself and also get assigned cleaning or food prep duty for the day. This all helps keep costs down and forms a nice community feel with all of the other guests at the lodge.
As far as the skiing goes, we experienced a little of everything during our stay. Warm spring temps had us in a nice melt-freeze cycle. We definitely found some rock solid turns early on, but also discovered some amazing wind buffed chalky turns in ‘The Guts’. The Chutes were getting soft and corned up by 1030am and provided some really fun laps off the top tow. By mid day, much of Hamilton’s Face and The Remarkables were corned up nicely and skiing fast and smooth.
One thing that Craigieburn doesn’t have that most ski areas have is chairlifts. They use the highly efficient, but slightly more dangerous method of nutcracker rope tows. They take a bit of getting used to, but once you get it they can be quite fun. You would never see these in North America due to their dangerous nature and the threat of getting sued into oblivion. The beauty of these nutcrackers is that they keep the riff raff out and allow for uncrowded days on the slopes. There were only 29 skiers on the mountain for our ski day, which meant no crowds and no lines. I can only imagine what this place is like on a powder day. Here’s what they have to say about themselves –
A warning to the uninitiated – you will not find any chairlifts, gondolas, grooming, snow-making, golf courses, day spas or fine dining here. What we do offer is a friendly club atmosphere and an environmentally responsible approach to skiing and snowboarding. It’s more like a fully serviced backcountry experience, where you will enjoy a quality day of recreation rather than racking up vertical metres with the hoards. While the mountain itself offers some of the easiest access advanced off piste skiing anywhere in the world, Craigieburn offers much more than a place to ski. The cosy slopeside accommodation is the seasonal home to a community of snow addicts from all over the globe who collectively share their stories over dinner after a day on the hill. Craigieburn is a non-profit, charitable organisation run by enthusiastic club members and even more dedicated seasonal staff. It exists solely for the purpose of skiing and snowboarding, not for commercial gain.
-Craigieburn Valley Ski Area
While many club fields like Cragieburn don’t have a lot of the luxuries that modern resorts boast, they do offer amazing terrain, uncrowded slopes, and awesome people. By taking the focus away from the fancy amenities, they do a great job of focusing on what we’re really there for – the skiing. Skiing has a soul and it doesn’t live at your favorite mega-resort; it lives here in the club fields of New Zealand.