Wintry blast dumps snow on North Island's ski fields
An unseasonably early dump of snow on the North Island's ski fields has excited skiers and snowboarders, prompting a few to hit the slopes for some pre-winter fun.
A brutal southerly blast straight from Antarctica swept New Zealand on Monday and blanketed the country's ski fields in snow.
North Island's four fields – Whakapapa, Turoa and Tukino on Mt Ruapehu, plus Manganui on Mt Taranaki – were all celebrating the snowfall. "Everyone is excited about it," New Plymouth snowboarder Craig Balks said.
The 27-year-old spent Tuesday morning on Mt Taranaki with girlfriend Aleisha Tippett after the lure of early snow proved irresistible, despite his taking a day off work because of a nasty cold.
About 6cm of snow covered Manganui Ski Area's top car park by early Tuesday morning, he said. "I definitely think this is the earliest snow for ages."
While it was unlikely the snow would last till the end of the week, and was too little to snowboard on, he hoped it boded well for a "nice cold winter".
Stratford Mountain Club spokesman Rob Needs said it was the most significant snow to fall at such low levels and so early in the winter season for several decades.
"Dedicated snow people love the turning of the season and the first snow fall gets them fizzing."
The ski field, which was run by the club, needed only about 15cm of snow to operate because it was on a moss slope rather than on rock, like Ruapehu, he said.
"If the ski club was a little bit further along in our ski field operation, we could have been skiing today."
The field had a history of being the first to open each winter, but he predicted the fresh snow dump would last only until Thursday.
The club would aim to be ready to open by mid-June, depending on the weather.
He was up on Mt Taranaki's northeast slopes on Tuesday to drop off two Danish mountaineers, who planned to climb the 2518m peak this week. "They were blown away with the snow."
While the pair was well prepared for alpine conditions, the snowfall was a classic example of how overseas tourists could get caught out by New Zealand's changeable climate.
On Saturday, some of his outdoors company's clients climbed to the mountain's summit wearing trainers in summer conditions, with no snow visible on the mountain from New Plymouth. Only 48 hours later, its winter conditions meant alpine gear was required to reach the summit.
The early snow was unlikely to change Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas' planned opening day on June 27, but hundreds of people took to social media on Tuesday to celebrate Mt Ruapehu's first snow dump of the season.
"Now we need this to continue for the whole season," wrote Matt Thomson on the ski areas' Facebook page.
The two fields had about 15cm of fresh snow at their car park level, and snow fell to about 900m above sea level.
Deeper snow was likely on the higher slopes, which would be assessed on Wednesday. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts spokesman Simon Dickson said.
"It is a considerable snowfall for this time of year and that's a good thing. It's fabulous for us. It certainly gets our skiers in an excited mode."
It was also good timing as the company had just started selling its ski season passes for the two fields, he said.
MetService duty meteorologist Rebekah LaBar said it was a "pretty early season snowfall", with such heavy snow falls more typical by late May. "It doesn't necessarily mean winter is setting in just yet."
She said snow showers above about 900m eased by early Tuesday afternoon in the central North Island and freezing levels were predicted to rise to about 1400m overnight.
Wellington's temperature stayed in single digits on Tuesday morning, but wind chill made it even chillier, and just made it into double digits in the afternoon.
LaBar said drier weather was predicted for the next few days across New Zealand, with temperatures remaining chilly but slowly warming.
Another cold southerly front was expected to cross the South Island and hit the North Island on the weekend, which might bring a dusting of snow for North Island's ski fields.
However, she said a northwest weather pattern was forecast for next week, which would probably melt the fresh snow and bring warmer temperatures.