Some of the world's best snow athletes, watched by throngs of spectators, received the first medals of the Winter Games as the event was officially opened in Queenstown last night.
The ceremony began with athletes and flag-bearers being ferried into Queenstown Bay on four K-Jet jet boats, followed by a powhiri and speeches by Games chairman Sir Eion Edgar and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.
The first medals had already been won and presented. Earlier in the day, at Snow Farm in the Pisa Range, Andy Newell of the United States took out the men's cross-country skiing sprint, while Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland secured the women's title.
Both earned NZ FIS Australia New Zealand Continental Cup holder status.
The silver medallist in the men's event was Alexey Petukhov, a Russian 2010 Olympic bronze medallist, and two-time Olympian Devon Kershaw of Canada earned bronze.
World Cup and Olympic athlete Daria Gaiazova of Canada and 2010 Olympic biathlon gold medallist Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, received silver and bronze medals respectively for the women's sprint.
In his speech Sir Eion said the games, with a staging cost of $5 million, were expected to bring an economic benefit of $10 million to the region.
"But the promotional benefit provided by the 150 accredited world-wide media representatives could be even more valuable," he said.
Mr English praised Winter Games organisers as the driving force behind an event that meant huge exposure for the region and New Zealand on a world-wide stage.
"It's going to be a magic 10 days," he declared as he officially opened the games.
More than 750 athletes from 41 nations are attending. They range from big-name professional snowboarders such as Shaun White of the US, to husband and wife cross-country skiers from the snowless island nation of Dominica, Gary and Angelica di Silvestri.
Games events include freestyle, cross-country, slalom and adaptive skiing, multi-discipline snowboarding events and curling.
Events will take place on Coronet Peak, at Cardrona Alpine Resort and at the Maniototo Curling Rink in Naseby. A series of off-slope events in Queenstown and Wanaka include an adventure film festival, concerts and music and a cyclocross series.
The games will close with a ceremony and concert in Wanaka on Sunday, August 25.
- © Fairfax NZ News