ROundhill Ski area – Tekapo
In the heart of New Zealand, the “Heritage Express Rope Tow” makes Roundhill one of the World’s most unique ski areas.
The World’s Longest and steepest rope tow
Roundhill Ski Area is a medium sized ski area (by general standards), in roughly the middle of New Zealand’s Southern Alps near Lake Tekapo. It is lesser known among New Zealand’s commercial ski areas, but has a lot to offer those that make the trek to visit it. Over 250 kilometers from the nearest city in any direction, visitors to Roundhill enjoy the peace and serenity that is earned by it’s isolation and its friendly vibes, stunning views and amazing terrain go a long way to win over skiers and riders of all abilities and experience levels.
The closest town to Roundhill is a village named Lake Tekapo that offers a small variety of holiday lodging options, eateries and petrol stations. The village is poised at the end of the nearby lake that goes by the same name, just off of NZ Hwy 8. The ski resort is accessed via a narrow gravel road that runs from the town of LT roughly halfway down the length of the Lake and then a slight elevation gain to reach the base area at Roundhill.
The World’s Longest surface ski lift
The resort has all the basic amenities of any ski area, with rentals, food, drinks, and lessons, but where they really shine is with their stunning lake views, uncrowded slopes, friendly vibe, and of course the longest and steepest surface lift in the world! Named “The Heritage Express,” this lift is basically one big long rope tow that (because of it’s great length) runs through several sheaves from a base altitude of 1,350m (4,429ft) to a summit altitude of 2,133m (6,998ft). Because the rope tow runs through sheaves on it’s haul to the summit, skiers must use what’s colloquially known as a “nutcracker” which is a metal clamp that is affixed to the skier’s waste via a harness and the skier’s must hold closed around the rope as it drags them up the black diamond slope.
Full resort access lift tickets can be purchased on site the day of skiing for $99NZ and $75NZ for a half day adult ticket. Child tickets are $48/$38 and Seniors are $65/$49. A Nutcracker rental is $15NZ.
No shuttles here, and it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. So the best and only way to get there is by renting a car (preferably a 4WD) and driving yourself in. While no route is shown on Google Maps, the ski area is about 32km Northeast down a gravel road from the town of Lake Tekapo.
The ski area was originally founded in the early 1960’s by local farmers and was soon taken over by the Tekapo Ski Clun, and later the family Burtscher. The ski area ran until 1990 then was closed for 11 years and reopened again in 2001 when expansion began including adding T-bar lifts and snowmaking and later the famous Wall Rope Tow in 2011. Now owned by Rieder family.
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To ride the Heritage Express rope tow, one must first rent a waist harness from the ski shop that comes with a manual rope clamp that is nicknamed a “nutcracker” due to it’s similar appear to the metal tool that is used to open large nuts. Also the harness kind of cramps your groin area (nuts) which might also lend to the name.
Once you’ve ridden up one of the lower mountain t-bars to find the rope tow house, you can strap into your harness and clip on your nutcracker and you’re ready to go. Ski up to the rope tow and when given the okay from the liftie, you swing your nutcracker clamp around the rope and clasp it closed with one of your hands. To avoid hand or finger injury, it is best to choke your hand down the clamp a little bit as the nutcracker rope clamp is meant to stay affixed to the rope while passing through several sheaves while it drags you to the summit.
783 vertical meters later, or whenever your arm gets tired, you can release from the rope, tuck away your nutcracker and pick one of many beautiful open faced ski runs on The Wall, with stunning views as you descend.
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RoundHill has snowmaking resources on the lower mountain and also receives an average of 276cm of natural snow per season. (109″) per Snow-ForeCast.com
Roundhill boasts the most vertical in all of “Australasia” with 783 vertical meters of skiing/riding. That’s about 2,569ft! The ski area has about 18 runs spread over 550 hectares (1,359 acres).
A bit short by New Zealand standards, a normal season at Roundhill is usually from late June through mid September.
A quaint day lodge at the base provides food and drinks during ski hours, and an adjacent building has ski/snowboard rentals as well as “nutcracker” hire.
Roundhill Base area
A winding 32 Kilometer scenic road takes you halfway down Lake Tekapo, the starting point being a town by the same name (Lake Tekapo). With only minimum elevation gain from the lakeside road needed to access the base area, one can park near the lodge and grab lift tickets and gear before heading up on the slopes.
Even a true powder hound would do best do take a few warm up laps on Roundhill’s intermediate terrain before tackling the wall. Roundhill has a moderate offering of intermediate terrain with 14 assorted runs serviced by two t-bar surface lifts.
Where the journey begins. After warming up in the intermediate area, strap on your nutcracker harness and ski over to the base of the wall at the lift connex. Once lined up properly, you can clip your nutcracker on to the rope, and away you go!
At 783 vertical meters (2,569ft), Roundhill has the most vertical in all of New Zealand, “The Wall” is one large open Black/Double Black Diamond face that looks down onto the rest of the ski area and the valley below and is ungroomed.
Skiing “The Wall”
After dawning my “Nutcracker” harness, and holding for dear life as it dragged me up a shear black diamond face, I was rewarded with some of the best powder turns (and views) that I’ve ever had in New Zealand.
Enjoying The View
After dismounting the rope tow line, you’ve got a whole huge face of powder runs to pick from, and on a clear day their are stunning views of Lake Tekapo, the beginner and intermediate runs at Roundhill, and the surrounding valley and Southern Alps.
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Click the button to be redirected to the Roundhill Ski Area page for more information.
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