In many regions, alien conifers have spread widely at lower elevations and are increasingly found colonizing alpine areas. Although studies have addressed conifer invasions at low elevations, little is known about the rates and constraints on spread into higher elevations. Here, we assess the relative importance of climate and the availability of regeneration microsites on the establishment of the alien species Pinus contorta into a high elevation site in New Zealand. Spread has occurred from two stands planted at the elevation of the native treeline (1347–1388 masl) in the 1960s. Most stems established between 1350 and 1450 masl and P. contorta individuals were found up to 270 m above the original plantings. Although the population has increased by 180% in the last 20 years, population growth rate has been declining. Furthermore, comparisons with studies from other mountain ranges around the world and at low elevations in New Zealand suggest this is a relatively limited spread. Our results suggest that climate variation did not have a significant effect on establishment patterns, as opposed to availability of regeneration microsites. Soil and alpine mat microsites favoured establishment of P. contorta and, although these microsites did not appear to be saturated, microsite availability may be an important limiting factor for the spread of P. contorta. Thus management strategies should focus on preventing spread in addition to removing already established stems.