Snowfall heartens skifield operators
South Island skifield operators are pinning their hopes on fresh falls of snow over the weekend for the start of a bumper winter season.
They are investing tens of millions in infrastructure including snow-making equipment to back up the natural white stuff that has arrived in the last week or so.
Canterbury and Central Otago are expecting strong tourist arrivals from Australia, given that airlines recently have increased seat capacity for ski bunnies.
Hotels are reporting strong demand for rooms in Queenstown.
NZSki general manager sales and marketing Craig Douglas said there had been heavy Central Otago snowfalls overnight adding to cold temperatures that had enabled snow making in the middle of last week.
The weekend fall had added 50 centimetres of snow at The Remarkables to give a base of 75cm, with the field due to open on June 21.
Coronet Peak ski area manager, Ross Copeland, said the field, also operated by NZSki, had seen a fresh fall of 20-30cm plus the snow guns had been running continuously during the recent cold snap.
Both Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt, where there had been light falls, are due to open on June 7.
NZSki, part owned by NBR rich-lister John Davies, had committed to tens of millions of investment at its fields over this year and next, including upgrading snow-making equipment at Coronet Peak. Airlines flying into Queenstown had allocated an extra 55,000 seats of capacity over the winter season.
A $45 million investment plan at The Remarkables included a $20m base building to be completed in 2015, to offer skiers ticketing, rentals a restaurant and cafe.
"We've got a major development programme underway, which kicks off really this winter.
"So we'll have a new chairlift, a whole lot of new snow-making infrastructure there, new guns, plumbing and pumphouses, and things like that," Douglas said.
There was also insurance-funded work completed at Mt Hutt to reinstate infrastructure that had been damaged in avalanches in 2013.
Also Mt Hutt had seen some new ski trail development to provide more space between advanced and intermediate skiers.
Porters Ski Area general manager Uli Dinsenbacher said there had been good snow overnight and with the drop in temperature to about minus-6.8 degrees Celsius on the tops, the skifield was running newly installed snow guns.
Staff had been busy over the summer building and installing an automated snow-making system.
The snow guns-based system was a $500,000 investment and would produce 20 to 30 per cent more snow than a manual system it replaced.
"Like everybody else we had quite a good snowfall over the weekend, cooling down the ground," Dinsenbacher said.
So far the snowfall had covered the rocks on the mountain, and Porters was on schedule for a June 20 opening, he said.
There was a lot of interest in the field from the Canterbury market, with young people coming to Christchurch for the earthquake rebuild likely to be skiers.
The Southland Times