Story: Skiing

Page 4. Alternative snow sports

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A number of snow sports have developed out of or alongside conventional skiing. They take place on club and commercial skifields and elsewhere.


Snowboarding began in New Zealand in the early 1980s, and appeals mainly to young people. A board, halfway between a skateboard and a surfboard in size, is used instead of skis. The rider’s boots are attached one in front of the other, and the stance is side-on rather than forward-facing.

The skiing industry was slow to adapt to the new sport, but most commercial skifields have now allocated areas for it, and for freeskiers, who use shorter, wider skis to perform tricks and jumps. Club fields cater more to ‘freeriders’, who enjoy the challenge of unmodified terrain. Freeriders often walk to adjacent snowfields to find fresh slopes.

Sixteen-year-olds Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (women’s big air) and Nico Porteous (men’s freeski halfpipe) won bronze medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Both subsequently became world champions, Sadowski-Synnott in women’s slopestyle (2019 and 2021) and Porteous in men’s freeski halfpipe (2021). In 2022, Sadowski-Synnott won the women’s slopestyle and came second in the big air at the Beijing Olympics. Porteous won the freeski halfpipe.

Off-piste skiing

Off-piste areas are skiable slopes that lie outside the boundaries of a ski area, but can be accessed using that area’s road or lifts. Some ski areas will sell a single-ride ticket on their lifts. An off-piste skier might travel to the top of the ski area, and then embark on a trip, perhaps along the adjacent range. Alternatively the off-piste area may be treated as an extension of the ski area. Off-piste skiing has become very popular at some club fields.

The right gear

In the early days it was difficult and expensive to import skis, so many people made their own. These were wooden, with metal and leather bindings that often came adrift. Until the late 1920s, skiers carried only one pole, which they dragged in the snow like a rudder to help with steering. Skiing technique was as basic as the equipment. Most skiers aimed simply to glide down a gentle slope in a straight line. Now light boots and skis made of fibreglass and plastic make all kinds of manoeuvres possible.

Telemark skiing

Telemark skiing harks back to the early method of skiing, using narrow skis and boots fastened to the ski only at the toe.

Telemark skiers in New Zealand tend to favour club field skiing, or backcountry ski touring. Mountain contours in New Zealand are often steep, so telemark skiing is more physically demanding than in other countries.

Activities and events are organised by the skiers themselves. While small in number, they form a strong subculture within the skiing community.

Nordic skiing

Nordic (cross-country) skiing uses lighter equipment than Telemark skiing. It takes place on flat terrain away from established skifields. This type of terrain is in short supply in New Zealand.

Ski mountaineering

This activity combines skiing and climbing. People ski across snow country to reach climbing opportunities, or climb to the top of skiable slopes, far from the busier snowfields.

Ski mountaineers attach ‘skins’ underneath the skis to prevent them sliding backwards when travelling up moderate slopes. On steeper slopes, they carry the skis while using climbing techniques and equipment.

Much of the Southern Alps is well suited to ski mountaineering. Many such trips are based around the large glaciers, of which the Tasman, Fox and Franz Josef are best known. Guided trips are available for people of different skill levels and aspirations.


Skiers and snowboarders have another option to reach uncrowded and untracked terrain: aircraft. Helicopters in particular operate on commercial fields and in every skiable area of New Zealand.

Helicopters also frequently carry parties of ski mountaineers. They can quickly reach high-altitude huts to take advantage of brief spells of clear weather.

Adaptive Snow Sports

Skiing and snowboarding are popular sports for people with a wide range of disabilities. Equipment, lessons and accessible support systems have been set up at resorts around the country to allow people to experience the freedom of snow sports. 

Competitive adaptive snow sports include alpine ski racing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding. 

How to cite this page:

Andrew Troup, 'Skiing - Alternative snow sports', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 April 2024)

Story by Andrew Troup, published 24 Sep 2007