Skiers pray for more white stuff
Skiers will be hoping for a fresh dump of snow this weekend, after strong winds kept Mt Ruapehu's upper slopes closed for the first week of the school holidays in a delayed start to the industry's peak season.
The snow base on the upper fields has been deep enough to ski since Tuesday, but strong winds have stopped the skifield from opening any of the upper lifts. Whakapapa's Happy Valley and Turoa's Alpine Meadow are open, but all other slopes remain closed.
MetService meteorologist John Law said northeasterly winds would increase to severe gales today and tomorrow.
However, the outlook is improving, with 20cm to 30cm of snow above 1700 metres expected tomorrow afternoon and winds dying down on Sunday. That is to about the level of the Turoa skifield car park.
Mt Ruapehu spokeswoman Annah Dowsett said she hoped the rest of the mountain would open some time this weekend.
"It's been great but the last couple of days we've had strong winds up at Whakapapa and Turoa . . . being quite exposed we can't control that, but we are quite fortunate that we can still offer our beginner facilities."
With the school holidays in full swing the area was buzzing, Dowsett said.
"People are amping to go skiing and snowboarding. There's a lot of families around, families and friends. It's definitely a school holiday crowd."
The upper mountain has a snow base of 80cm at Whakapapa and 89cm at Turoa.
Ossies Motels and Chalets owner Sue Laurenson said that bookings had jumped dramatically after last week's snow.
"Thankfully given that there was that little bit of snow, we went from very little to fully booked . . . but if we don't get another dump it's going to be scarce."
The ski industry relied heavily on this three-month window as people were less inclined to ski later in the year, even if the conditions were good, she said.
"You hit September and even though you've got beautiful spring weather, most people are over it - which is a shame because it's actually better skiing."
Wellington snowboard enthusiast Dayma Otene, who has been skiing at Mt Ruapehu for about 15 years, said the last few seasons had been disappointing.
"I remember last year being pretty poor and this year has been delayed . . . It's not worth going up for just a day."
He planned to wait until conditions improved.
Skiers further south have had slightly better luck, with most lifts open at Mt Hutt, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak.
Mt Hutt operations manager James Urquhart said it was an unusual season nationwide. "It's been a challenging time with the lack of natural snow."