Fairytale opening to ski season...
A stormy May, with waves of snow-laden southerlies marching up the country, has handed New Zealand ski-fields a fairytale opening to the new season.
With tough economics compelling ski- fields to market themselves hard to Australians, don't be surprised to see more than a few Wallaby jerseys in the queue this season. Interest from Aussie skiers at nationwide ski fairs this month has been reportedly at record levels and bookings are up on the last (albeit scantily clad) snow season.
Northern ski areas are inundated with snow bases of more than a metre. Manganui, on the slopes of Mt Taranaki, is the first field to open this year (in case you hadn't heard!); Whakapapa and Turoa are expecting skiers this coming weekend, though they don't officially open for a fortnight.
Whakapapa pulled out all stops to rebuild the island's highest cafeteria, at Knoll Ridge, lost to fire late last summer, but is inundated with enough snow to bury vehicles at the Top o' the Bruce base station.
The southeasterly tendency of the past few storms has been welcomed by Rainbow in the Nelson Lakes, Mt Lyford near Kaikoura and Amuri at Hanmer Springs, all family fields that do well in early snow years.
Canterbury's tight-five club fields - Porter Heights, Mt Olympus, Cheeseman, Broken River and Craigieburn - make up the heart of South Island club skiing with Temple Basin at Arthur's Pass like a loose forward to the north. They form the core of the multi-mountain Chill Pass that encourages snow riders to experience a variety of fields on a single ticket.
Porter's general manager Uli Dinsenbacher said there was 40cm of snow in the car park and 1.5 metres at the top of the mountain. Staff were packing down the snow, and carrying out avalanche-control work ahead of a June 26 opening.
They're under heavy snow and really looking like an attractive economical option as the relatively huge commercial fields feel the pressure of a lack of discretionary income among mum-dad-and- the-kids skiers.
With lift pass prices breaking $100 a day at some southern fields, the friendly, club-run fields are enjoying fresh interest and have been able to win customers with personal service and flexibility.
Underlining the popularity of the little fields, Cheeseman won, at the end of last season, a skier-voted service award for small ski areas, and Ohau, south of Mt Cook, won the overall service award.
The excitement is palpable as the crown prince of Canterbury, Mt Hutt revels in early snow. For the first time in 10 years, Mt Hutt will open in May, and skiers have already carved up the runs before the lifts open.
Ad Feedback For the first time, the fields of the Mackenzie basin are being promoted as a destination in themselves, centred on the picturesque lakeside town of Tekapo. With a brand new set of steaming hot pools next to an ice rink, a range of terrain from the family friendly Mt Dobson and Roundhill to the magnificence of Aoraki Mt Cook and its attendant glaciers for experienced ski- mountaineers, the Mackenzie is blessed with formidable terrain and unique frost-clear air: Mt John's observatory is world- renowned for its clear atmosphere and is well worth a mid- winter star-gaze.
Down in the Southern Lakes, Treble Cone and Cardrona near Wanaka have announced a range of developments including new trails and free learner lifts.
Cardrona is expanding its terrain by creating a new trail down the Arcadia Basin aimed at more advanced skiers and boarders. It is creating a race course that will be certified for international slalom and giant slalom races, enhancing the Wanaka area's ability to host the Winter Games NZ 2009, the biggest snow sports event outside the Winter Olympics.
Treble Cone is offering free use of the lower mountain learner lifts all season, to encourage beginners and families. A 90-minute complimentary guided tour of the mountain's is available twice daily to experience the extent of Treble Cone's peak-and-bowl terrain.
Coronet Peak ski area manager Hamish McCrostie said the field's snow-making ability had combined with fabulous natural snowstorms to guarantee great skiing from now until well into September.
Snow Park NZ created new fun features over the summer as it maintains its dominance as the only dedicated terrain park resort in the Southern Hemisphere. Night riding and skiing will expand to three nights a week following its successful launch last year. Guests staying on the mountain at Snow Park NZ, in the luxury apartments or backpacker bunkrooms, can take advantage of the new all-inclusive accommodation packages to include breakfast and dinner served in the popular Woolshed Restaurant and Bar.
Visitors to Snow Farm can experience 50km of world class trails with huts scattered across the Pisa Range, great for a lunch stop or overnight experience in the wilderness with a fire and outside BBQ. Bags and supplies are dropped off by snow mobile while skiers travel at their own pace. Snow Farm, New Zealand's only Nordic ski area, offers a range of lessons and experiences for all ages and abilities.
The Remarkables ski area manager Ross Lawrence said some keen, local freestyle skiers and back country tourers had taken advantage of the snow at the weekend. The field's high alpine location, north facing sunny aspect, wide open bowls, fantastic terrain parks, great snow and friendly, relaxed nature make it a true alpine experience for all ages. And its emphasis on ski and ride education makes it a great choice for beginners.
ESSENTIAL SKI LINKS
Snow info and weather: www.snow.co.nz
Mt Ruapehu: www.mtruapehu.com
Coronet Peak, Remarkables and Mt Hutt: www.nzski.com
Canterbury club fields: www.chillout.co.nz
Mt Cook basin: www.mackenziewinter.co.nz
Treble Cone: www.treblecone.co.nz
Waiorau Snow Farm: www.snowfarmnz.com
Snow Park NZ: www.snowparknz.com
By CAMERON WILLIAMSON - The Dominion Post