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Some ski field operators poised to welcome season's first skiers

Waitaki App

RNZ

12 June 2024, 9:18 PM

Some ski field operators poised to welcome season's first skiersSkiers ready for a day on the slopes of Mt Hutt in Canterbury during the 2023 season. Photo: NICOLE HAWKE via RNZ

Snow guns are going full bore as southern ski fields prepare to welcome onto their slopes.


With the mercury dropping in the South Island, ski field operators hope they can get the lifts running this week.



And while North Island skiers will have to wait a little longer before they can take to the slopes, the operators of the financially troubled Whakapapa field are cautiously optimistic about this year's season.


A dry autumn and a recent warm patch down south have not been the best for snowfall.


NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson has been keeping a keen eye on the weather forecast as Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Mt Hutt fields get ready to open.



"We're keeping all of our fingers and toes crossed. At the moment, it's a bit of a day-by-day watching brief," he said.


"But the weather has got very cold in the last week and we've had some fantastic snowmaking so we're going all guns blazing and still hopeful to get there for Friday for Mt Hutt and Saturday for Coronet Peak."


Mt Hutt ski field pictured in May, 2023. Photo: Facebook via Mt Hutt / Nicole Hawke via RNZ


The new multi-million dollar Shadow Basin chairlift would be a gamechanger for the Remarkables this season, with the six-seat express unlocking more terrain and runs, he said.


On Mt Hutt, its snowmaking machines can create 400 tonnes of snow an hour.


Staff were prioritising investing in snowmaking as part of their climate change planning, as it was denser and far more resilient on the trails, Anderson said.


"What it allows us to do from our perspective is make sure there is snow on the ground so we can get our business operating.


"From a customer's perspective, it means they can book with confidence and still turn up knowing that we will mostly likely be open from when we say we'll be open."


Cardrona and Treble Cone Experiences general manager Laura Hedley said June was always a bit unpredictable.


"Sometimes we get a really early June storm and it sets us up really well. Other times, it's a slower start and we really rely on making snow. But we're prepared for that," she said.


Both fields were getting good bookings through, but she said they were managing daily numbers at Cardrona to ensure it didn't feel crowded.


Skiers and snowboarders line up in August 2022. Photo:Tess Brunton via RNZ


They were also looking at their emissions and have added a new hybrid electric groomer this season.


"That's a good step in the right direction so it's understanding what our impact is, trying to reduce how much impact we have whilst also investing in technology to keep the skifields up and running," Hedley said.


She was looking forward to next season when they planned to open the Soho Basin and its 150 hectares of terrain.



Whakapapa 'locked and loaded'

In the North Island, Whakapapa has already opened for sightseeing and sledding but it isn't expected to open for skiing until Matariki weekend at the end of this month.


It has been a tumultuous year for the ski field after its owner Ruapehu Alpine Lifts was put into liquidation last year, receiving $7 million from the government to ensure the 2024 season could go ahead.


Whakapapa ski field. Photo: Unsplash / Matthew Buchanan via RNZ


Chief executive Travis Donoghue said active bidding remained underway, but Whakapapa planned to run for 150 days this season.


"Whakapapa is locked and loaded, confirmed for 2024 so we're also systems go, able to recruit up to 300 team members to come and work here at Whakapapa," he said.


"We'll be opening everything as soon as mother nature and the snowfall allows."


Managers were re-establishing the size of their snow school, targeting 20 to 30 more instructors than in the last few years.


The ski field has offered free season passes for children under 10, with thousands of kids signing up.


"But in a paid sense, we're actually able to grow our revenue by 67 percent year-on-year for a season pass sale so we're really positive, taking a lot from that, that that's a good, strong indicator for a successful 2024 season."


Boosting the field's snowmaking capability would be a large priority into the future, he said.


"There's no reason why improved snowmaking technologies couldn't have you making snow and achieving coverage to the same degree in 2090 as what was falling naturally from the sky in 1990."