Eager skiers hang out for snow

JESSY EDWARDS
Last updated 05:00 03/07/2014

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The heavens have finally sent fresh powder snow down on Ruapehu, but the ski industry is still on a knife-edge hoping it will be enough for the school holidays, which start this weekend.

But snow or not, Suzie Neilson was not going to let it dampen her family's yearly skiing pilgrimage to Ohakune, where she grew up.

"We're just waiting for it to snow, we'll go tomorrow unless it's closed, and even if it's not snowing or if it's yucky we'll still go up," she said yesterday.

The winter-loving family had travelled from Sydney for the Australian school holidays with children James, 6, and Georgia, 4, who both started skiing from the age of 3.

James was hoping for enough snow to ski before they head home next week, with other snow-related activities not having the same appeal.

"I don't really like snowmen. Hopefully tomorrow we can go skiing," he said.

While Ruapehu staff awoke yesterday to 15cm of fresh snow on both Turoa and Whakapapa, MetService is not predicting any snowfall on the mountain today, and the outlook for tomorrow and Saturday is for occasional snow showers.

However, it was forecasting snow on the Desert Road.

Yesterday, hail pelted parts of the North Island as a cold snap moved across the country.

A light dusting of snow fell briefly on the Rimutaka Hill Road last night, and further showers were expected overnight. MetService said it should have cleared by the morning.

Snow was expected to keep falling in parts of Canterbury, Fiordland, Southland and Otago last night.

Meanwhile, Mt Ruapehu customer relationship manager Annah Dowsett said they were working "round the clock" to get things going for the school holidays.

Turoa's beginners' slope, Alpine Valley, is opening today and Whakapapa's equivalent Happy Valley should be open by Saturday.

But the opening of the upper slopes are at nature's whim, with more snow needed to cover some of the big rocks.

"We have staff heading up to see if we can create trails but we need more snow on the upper mountain to begin - we need to get our grooming machines up there and they need to travel over snow," Dowsett said.

"We're hoping for Saturday should the weather continue to play ball."

Dowsett said opening in July did not mean it was a late ski season - in 2012 they opened on July 2. But this year the mountain was forecast to open on June 28 "so we're a week late".

Tracey Dean, spokeswoman at Ohakune hotel the Powderhorn Chateau, said they had their fingers crossed the mountain would be open for the weekend.

"We are hoping it's going to snow in town. It's perfect timing for school holidays next week."

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She said reports of snowfall had already spurred bookings to Powderhorn Chateau, and Ohakune was alive with people hanging out for fresh powder.

"What is quite cool is there are still a lot of people around town even though [the mountain's] not quite quite open, and once it happens, the phone will be ringing off the hook," she said.

Snow fell on State Highway 73 from Springfield to Otira and throughout parts of North Canterbury yesterday.

The wintry blast was more severe further south, with road closures and schools shut for the day in Otago, Southland and Fiordland.

- The Dominion Post

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