Free snow area
Queenstown is such an expensive city to visit because you are paying tourist prices for everything. It's nice to know about little gems like this when visiting to help keep your costs down. Whether you are wanting to touch snow for the first time without the hassle of entering the ski fields, or you are with kids and just want a super fun playground - this is the spot for you.
Unlike The Remarkables, on the way up to Coronet Peak, there is a great little flat / pullover area on the mountain that you can park up at and have some free snow play. The flat areas are easy to spot because they are the only large and flat parts on the mountain, and there are two of them. The highest one is closest to the ski field is where buses park and the snow play area we visited is the next one down from that (so the first one you come across when driving up). This one is much quieter and we often had the area to ourselves.
If you have never been before and happen to have missed it when driving up, you can continue driving to the top where the ski field drop off area is and do a U-turn to come back down. The mountain is very steep with lots of tight bends and on-going traffic, so this is the safest place to turn around. We spent two afternoons here and didn't spend a cent extra (no entry fees and no crowds), and were some of the best parts of our holiday. The boys had so much fun snowball fighting and making snowmen. It also gives the best vistas and photo opportunities over the valley into Arrowtown / Cromwell and out to Lake Wakatipu.
Make sure you take a change of clothes, socks, a spare pair of shoes and a towel for after. The kids wore thermal socks and Leo was in waterproof overalls and jacket just to help keep as dry as possible. Also, sunglasses, sunblock and lip balm are good if you are spending quite a bit of time here.
I love Coronet Peak as it's such a short drive from Queenstown centre (15 minutes) and it's also a good beginner slope. It tends to be shady there, however, because of the location of it, and if you prefer all day sun and a slightly more advanced area, The Remarkables might be better suited to you. The slope opens at 9 am in winter - so get there early to get a good car park, the gear hire you need and a locker too!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It cost us $279 for 2x adult day passes (Aary and Jah's) which included chair lifts, board hire and some clothing/boot hire. This also included snow boots and a snowsuit for Leo. Leo and I used the free kid's area, so we did not need to pay for passes. You can buy a lift pass if you wanted to take a ride to the top, I think they are $45. Car parking is free and there constant shuttles that take you back up to the top.
We went during the super busy time, the winter school holidays and we qued for two full hours to get passes and gear hire - it was nuts!
To save on time you could look into hiring gear at one of the hire shops in town and take it up with you. You can also buy slope pass online and there is an express queue (with no lines) for these online ticket purchases.
As soon as you get there, nab a locker! There were so many people wanting lockers and they sold out fast. It is $10 (credit/debit card payment) for full day hire, and they were big enough for our family of four's gear...just. The lockers are located at the back/far end of the main building when you come in the front entrance. Lots of people leave their bags out in the open (not locked up) in the cafe area, but if you have expensive camera gear etc - a locker is safest.
Take a small backpack with you so you can carry your wallet, phone, camera, sunglasses, a drink bottle (or two) plus a medical bag with plasters, arnica spray, sunblock and chapstick etc. Leave room to stuff in jackets etc when you get too hot from all the physical activity.
While Aary and Jah snowboarded, Leo and I played in the (free) kids area, no passes required. We hired a toboggan ($20 for the day + bond) and I was surprised that he wanted to toboggan ALL DAY, he never got sick of it. We would play then go to the cafe for hot chocolates and mulled wine to warm up then repeated with more tabogganing and snowman building...for 5 hours. When you are not using your toboggan you can just lean it up again the ski/snowboard racks outside, no one takes them.
We met up with Aary and Jah for lunch and I had the nicest green curry - all pre-made and ready to serve, topped with your choice of curry accompaniments like pickles, mango chutney and crispy fried shallots. The food was better than I expected but pretty expensive.
I also took an iPad for Leo for the end of the day when he was absolutely frozen and we just wanted to hang out in the cafe to wait for Aary and Jah to finish snowboarding. I was so glad I did as it gave them that extra bit longer on the slopes and I could just chill and enjoy a mulled wine and people watch while Leo was entertained.