Not all downhill from here: Fun alternatives to skiing and snowboarding

Alpine Recreation offer guided snow-shoeing and Nordic skiing tours in Lake Tekapo high country. Photo / All Kiwi

Skis and boards may rule but there are other ways to enjoy the snow, writes Steve Dickinson

Everyone is familiar with the two main sporting disciplines of winter: snowboarding and skiing. However, there are alternative activities to be found in New Zealand’s alpine towns, other than just making a snowman. For as long as there has been snow, people have found ways to have fun on it. Here are some other ideas to make the most of what’s shaping up to be a bumper snow season.


Hugely popular overseas, snowshoeing is starting to get a real “foothold” here too. It’s a type of tramping that simply involves walking over snow, with the help of footwear that relocates your weight over a larger area. It has been around for thousands of years and is the original snow transport, with trappers and traders utilising snowshoes to traverse isolated regions.

The basic design of the snowshoe is to displace weight, stop snow building up on your feet and give you some manoeuvrability. Traditionally they were just wooden frames with latticed rawhide lacings but have over time evolved with lightweight metals and plastics connected with synthetic fabrics.

It is a relatively easy sport to pick up and requires no experience. Anyone who can walk should be able to snowshoe. It is harder than just tramping, but it is unique, and you get to some amazing places.

Rent snowshoes at Cardrona’s Snow Farm and walk a one- to two-hour trail around the Pisa Range, or take a guided two- to five-day tour with Alpine Recreation to explore the Two Thumb Range above Lake Tekapo. Guided Walks NZ also offer a range of experiences, including heli-snowshoeing in Queenstown.

Hugely popular overseas, snowshoeing is starting to get a real 'foot hold' in NZ, too. Photo / Supplied
Hugely popular overseas, snowshoeing is starting to get a real ‘foot hold’ in NZ, too. Photo / Supplied

Telemark skiing

Combining elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing, and named after a region in Norway where the activity originated, telemark skiers use a squatting motion on downhill skis.

You do not see a lot of telemark skiers around currently but at one stage in New Zealand it was a super popular alternative to traditional skiing and was seen as very retro, hipster even. It has an unusual stance for turning which makes it stand out on the slopes. Every turn is done with a sidestep and a movement of the knee down to the ski, like a curtsy.

As in other ski disciplines, telemark also contains basic equipment such as telemark boots, special binding, and telemark skis, all of which can be hired.

One of the real appeals of telemark skiing rests in gaining access. Long pieces of synthetic fabric, known as skins, can be attached to the bottom of the skis, which can aid you to travel uphill in the backcountry.

Again, Alpine Recreation offer guided tours in Lake Tekapo High Country.

Cross-Country Skiing

There is a lot of similarity between telemark and cross-country skiing and often both come under the banner of Nordic skiing. But cross-country skiers rely on their own propulsion to move across snow-covered terrain, rather than using ski lifts or skins. They will either stride forward (classic style) or move side to side (skate skiing), with the help of their ski poles.

Overseas, cross-country skiing is widely practised for fitness and as a leisure activity and most major ski resorts have a cross-country region, some over hundreds of kilometres.
It is super hard work and nowhere near as easy as it looks.

While experienced cross-country skiers can just go out on the snow and travel anywhere, at some skifields there is also the option of travelling along railed grooves cut into the snow by a machine.

You can cross-country ski to huts from Cardrona at Snowfarm, New Zealand’s only purpose-built cross-country skiing facility.

Snow tricycle

This form of snow fun looks a little odd, yet it is so much fun – it’s as easy as riding a bike, actually easier. They have been around for years and have developed into high-tech products. With a basic bike framework, the main difference is small skis instead of tyres. There are lots of variants on how they operate, steer, stop etc, and again, not all ski fields allow them. But there are lots of places that hire them who will be able to advise where to go.


If you are heading out into the snow, you have a responsibility to keep yourself safe. Relying on your cellphone is not enough. Ask for advice, get the right equipment and start out with a guided tour to see if you like the activity and if you want to spend the time learning. Snow wherever it is – backcountry, mountain, ski resorts – is a lot of fun, but it does need to be treated with respect. For more information about snow safety, get tips and information from

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