THE Ruapehu region has received a shivering wake-up call that winter is finally here.
After months of drought conditions, the central North Island was expecting its first big dump of snow last night. There have been two falls in the past week, but last night's was due to be much the heaviest.
The southwest blast was forecast to bring snow down to 800 metres - halfway down the Mountain Rd from Ohakune to the Turoa skifield.
"It feels like we are going to have a fantastic winter," Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Turoa communications manager Annah Dowsett said.
The last time the region had a dry summer, in 2008, the mountain enjoyed a 5-metre snow base during the winter. "The two snowfalls last week were quite decent and the snow has hung around, but this is the first really heavy fall."
Snowguns were in place to begin snowmaking on both Turoa and Whakapapa skifields when the temperature dropped below zero.
The ski season is due to begin on June 29, two weeks later than previous seasons to take advantage of the school holidays. The two-week delay will allow extra time for snowmaking.
RAL is now processing job applications for the 600 vacancies at Turoa and Whakapapa skifields.
"There is a really high calibre of people wanting to work this year, which is good for us," Ms Dowsett said.
More than 22,000 discounted season passes had been pre-sold. RAL was also offering discounted flexible multi-day passes during June ranging from $165 for two days to $406 for five days' skiing any time throughout the season.
Meanwhile, Ohakune is expecting hundreds of people will arrive this weekend for the annual Carrot Festival. The drop in temperature had produced a "feverish excitement" among residents, ski shop owner Ben Wiggins said.
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