8am: Ski day!! Breakfast eaten, car packed, skis on the roof, we made our way up to Cardrona Alpine Resort. There was minimal snow for this time of the year, so no need for chains at this point. I did notice that they’ve put in a shuttle service from just after the turn off to the mountain road. $10 per head, which would be a fantastic service on a heavy snow day.
9am: I’d had some challenges with securing day passes online, so we needed to drive to the top carpark (with a bit of a walk up the hill) to the ticket office. Cardrona have modernised their ticketing system in recent years (as with many other ski resorts). Passes are now digital card based, personalised to you, with your photo on file to avoid fraud. These can be easily topped up online prior to skiing, hence avoiding queues, but you need to keep a record of your user name and password, as this cannot be released to you in person. However, reissuing a card is a fast and straightforward process (they also have an office in Wanaka, so you can top up prior to heading up the hill).
After the ticketing palava, we headed in for a quick coffee at Mezze Cafe. This is upstairs above the main cafe in the central quad area. It does get busy up here (as do all the cafes on the mountain), but they offer a great breakfast, wonderful coffee and an excellent range of wine, beer, etc apres ski. They also do a mean bloody mary and a delicious cheese scone (not necessarily together) that I would highly recommend.
10am: Tickets in hand and fully caffeinated, we dropped down into the Whitestar trail, then onto Valley View and a brilliant mornings skiing. Cardrona has recently changed hands, and is now owned by Real Journeys. They’ve also done a deal with Treble Cone, which means you can buy ski passes that are valid at both ski fields. The major win though, is that they have put some serious work into improving the quality of the ski trails. Despite little snow, there have been a number of nights cold enough for snow making, and this, combined with a great deal of effort put into grooming, means good conditions on trail.
11am: Little tummies were starting to rumble, and we weren’t quite ready to stop for a long break (we’d be warned that the wind was coming up in the afternoon), so we dropped into the new coffee stand/snack bar at the bottom of Valley View. The grooming I mentioned above, meant it was no problem to ski right to the bottom (unlike many other years, where light snow meant an abundance of ice chunks and rock). It also turns out that Real Journeys have increased the size of the carpark there, so it’s a good place to park, stop for a quick coffee and breakfast and ski straight out, rather than dealing with the bun fight for the top carpark. They have a limited range, but do a good breakfast panini, a few pastries and muffins, chocolate bars and cold and hot drinks.
1pm: The wind came in and it was time to call it a day and get some lunch. The decision was made by all involved to eat at the world famous (infamous?) Cardrona Hotel, who have also lifted their game since my last visit. Their mulled wine is back to it’s former glory. When I asked why, I was told they’ve outsourced production to a local vineyard to ensure consistency. I worked my way through two glasses, both garnished with cinnamon sticks and orange slices, and both were just the right balance of wine, spice with a little sweet. Foodwise, they offer the standard pub fare. Sausage and mash, pies, burgers, potato wedges, but the quality seems to have improved. The fried chicken was a particular stand out. A couple of small tweaks, like making their own aioli (or even putting the bought stuff into a dish so you don’t know!!) would make things even better.
6pm: We ate in tonight, which I normally wouldn’t bother mentioning, except that we bought ready meals from Florence’s Foodstore and Cafe, straight across the road from our hotel. We had a beef and ale casserole, which while it needed salt, was hearty and an easy dinner when paired with some crusty bread and steamed vegetables. Prices are fairly reasonable, at $18 for two serves. Florence’s also serve breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea at their cafe, and sell a small range of grocery and specialty food items.