Ski fields race to reinvest

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 07:00 01/06/2014
Cardrona
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FREESTYLE FAVOURITE: An extra four kilometres of extra terrain will open at Coronet Peak in the upcoming ski season.

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Winter. Time to reach for the duvet - unless you're a snowsport enthusiast, in which case the white stuff can't come thick and fast enough.

Heavy snow has blanketed parts of the North and South Islands this week, as skifield operators rub their gloved hands together in anticipation of a bumper season.

Mt Hutt will be throwing all its resources into pulling good ski crowds this year, as it recovers from an avalanche that took out a chairlift in mid-2013. Further south, the Remarkables are halfway through a $45 million makeover. And at Turoa, new smart-gate technology should help to cut down those weekend lift lines.

Ski passes for adults vary from $95-$105, and young children ski for free at many of the fields.

With the first field set to open from June 7, here's what you can expect.

MT HUTT

Opens June 7

Mid-season adult pass $95, kids under-10 ski free

From Christchurch, it takes 1hr 15min. A Snowman shuttle is $60 return for adults, $50 for kids.

From Methven, it's 35 minutes. The Mt Hutt Ski Bus is $20 return, with kids under 10 free.

Mt Hutt is recovering from a nightmare season last year, which saw a massive early snow storm bury the skifield. A controlled avalanche - an attempt to make the skifield safer - then went haywire, damaging the Triple Chair chairlift and snowmaking machines.

The chairlift has been rebuilt in time for the season, and NZ Ski sales and marketing general manager Craig Douglas said the field was hoping to entice back local skiers who might have given the field a miss last year. Other new developments include the Sky High freestyle terrain park, two extra snow groomers, a revamped ticketing area, and free wi-fi. It's also one of the most kid-friendly fields, with all-day supervised programmes for children two years and up.

TREBLE CONE

Opens June 26

Mid season adult pass $105, kids under five ski free

From Wanaka, it takes 35min. A return shuttle is $35 for adults and $28 for kids.

From Queenstown, it's 1hr 30min. A return shuttle is $49 for adults and $37 for kids.

With the longest vertical drop in Central Otago, Treble Cone has long been a favourite for advanced skiers and boarders - earning the title of Best New Zealand Ski Resort at last year's World Ski Awards. There's plenty of off-piste for more adventurous skiers, and this year Treble Cone has also made changes to cater for those at intermediate level.

The High Street trail that runs along the top of the field has been extended by 400 metres, providing a gentler gradient for those returning from the Saddle Basin to the Home Basin. The investment in two new $500,000 grooming machines means there will also be more groomed trails on-piste. For the kids, more little jumps and mini-rollers have been added to the kids' snow park, the Jazz Kids' Fun Terrain Trail.

CARDRONA

Opens June 20

Mid-season adult pass $99, kids under five ski free

From Wanaka, it takes 35min, and ranges from about $35 for a return shuttle.

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From Queenstown it's an hour, and ranges from $45 for a return shuttle.

Cardrona has long been a favourite training ground for freestyle skiers and boarders, and this year it is the official sponsor of the SnowSports NZ team - so if you want to spot an Olympian, it's definitely the place to be. For those who aren't quite ready for the biggest jumps, this year there's a new terrain park especially designed for intermediate riders.

It will bring Cardrona's terrain park total to four, and will include a "triple jump line", with jumps ranging from 5m-10m. Around the mountain, several trails have been widened. Cardrona is under new ownership, with New Zealand company Real Journeys taking over in November last year. More developments are promised.

CORONET PEAK

Opens June 7

Mid-season adult pass $98, kids under 6 ski free.

From Queenstown, it takes 20min. A return shuttle from the Snow Centre is $18 per person.

The closest mountain to Queenstown, and the hub of its biggest party, the Winter Festival (June 20-29), Coronet Peak is extending the nightlife of its skifield, too. More than 100 new lights will illuminate 4km of extra night skiing trails this year, open on Friday and Saturday nights.

There's another terrain park specifically for night skiing, the auspiciously named Park after Dark, and a giant airbag placed underneath a ski jump will allow the more adventurous to go for big air without fear of being hurt. A boardercross track will also open in time for the season.

REMARKABLES

Opens June 21

Mid-season adult pass $98, kids under 10 ski free.

From Queenstown, it takes 40 minutes. A return shuttle from the Snow Centre is $18 per person.

While the rest of the country hit the beach this summer, work was under way on a $25 million chairlift development at the Remarkables. The new Curvey Basin six-seater high-speed chairlift is 1.2km long, and will open up 20 per cent more terrain for skiers and boarders from the beginners to the black diamond chasers.

The learners' area has also been expanded, with 1.6km of new trails, and there will be 50 new snow guns to bolster the white stuff where it's needed. For those who dread the winding trip up to the skifield, 4km of the road is newly sealed this year, with the remaining 9km to be done in 2015. There are also 150 extra carparks. The foundations have been laid for a new $20m base building, also to be completed next year.

MT RUAPEHU

Both sides open June 28

Mid-season adult pass $99, kids under-5 ski free

From Auckland, it's four hours to Whakapapa and 4hr 30mins to Turoa.

From Wellington, it's 4hr 45mins to Whakapapa and 4hr 14mins to Turoa.

Shuttles from Ohakune to Turoa and National Park to Whakapapa are around $25 return.

Smack bang in the middle of the Central Plateau, Mt Ruapehu offers two major skifields - Whakapapa on the northern, and Turoa on the southwestern. Both are popular, so the fact that new smartgate technology has been installed in both ski areas will be welcome for those who hate being stuck in lines. The skifield has invested $700,000 in the smartgate system, which will see all skiers given a snow card with an embedded chip, which they will scan to get on lifts.

Once marketed as "The Giant", Turoa has the longest vertical descent in Australiasia, at 720m, while Whakapapa boasts the country's largest beginner area. At Turoa, the $3 million Nga Wai Heke quad lift opened up 20 per cent more terrain in 2012, and this year the Yeti Childcare centre has been upgraded. There's also been a rental gear upgrade on both fields, as well as more snow guns.

- Sunday Star Times

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