The temperature is dropping and snow is already making an appearance on some of New Zealand's highest points, preparing for the 2017 ski season when winter sports fans will reap the benefits of multimillion-dollar investments at New Zealand’s leading ski fields.
Fancy a ride on a Chondola? Or, how about a journey on a Magic Carpet surface lift that looks like a giant Slinky? These are just two of the many service and infrastructure enhancements that visitors to New Zealand's main ski regions will enjoy when the 2017 winter season opens from early June.
Ruapehu ramps up its offerings
In the North Island winter playground of Mount Ruapehu, Whakapapa Ski Area is cementing its place as New Zealand's premier beginner ski and snowboard facility with the transformation of its iconic Happy Valley beginners' slopes into Happy Valley Snow Park.
One of the first stages of a planned NZ$100 million investment in Ruapehu's three ski areas of Whakapapa, Turoa and Tukino, Happy Valley Snow Park will feature a snow play zone complete with sledding, tobogganing and teaching areas located well away from the public slopes. A new covered surface lift (the aforementioned Slinky) will help small skiers get around and two new 26-person high-speed Schindler elevators will give families fast and easy access from the car parks.
Intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders are by no means forgotten at Whakapapa with new Slinky-style surface lifts and a Doppelmayr Delta Quad chairlift to eliminate queues for the higher slopes. At Turoa, seven new snow guns are expected to have the core trails up and running for the season in record time.
Over NZ$4 million has been invested in new snow making technology for the mountain including a Techno Alpin SF210 All-Weather Snowmaking system that can make snow in above-zero temperatures up to 25 degrees Celsius. The enhanced snow-making capacity promises to extend the Ruapehu ski season as far as February and enable the creation of new trails.
Mount Hutt expands
Recently named as New Zealand’s Best Ski Resort for the second consecutive year at the annual World Ski Awards in Austria, Mount Hutt isn't the kind of place that rests on its laurels.
During the southern hemisphere summer, the big, wide mountain just over an hour's drive from Christchurch was a hive of activity as 21 new hectares of skiable terrain was added to the ski field. Modifications were also made to improve snow coverage on the higher runs, new automated snowmaking guns were installed on the upper mountain and a PistenBully snow winch was added to the resort's grooming facilities.
Over the years, Mount Hutt has embraced its loyal patronage by skiers in the Canterbury region with family-friendly policies, and 2017 is no exception. Under the resort's Kids4free programme, children aged 10 can again ski for free all season and have access to free accommodation, meals and transport.
Other ski packages provide four or six multi-day lift passes from NZ$72 per day, and season passes to Mount Hutt plus Coronet Peak and The Remarkables in Queenstown for NZ$799. A four-day "Intro to Snow" programme includes an upgrade to a Mount Hutt season pass that delivers unlimited skiing or snowboarding for 2017.
Queenstown and Wanaka continue to innovate
The biggest development amongst the $15 million or so of new investments at Cardrona Alpine Resort in the mountains between Queenstown and Wanaka is a $10-million-dollar Chondola. The first cabin-style chairlift in any New Zealand ski area, the Chondola comprises eight-person gondola cabins and six-seater chairlift chairs that will boost passenger capacity to the top of the mountain by 150 per cent. Over NZ5$million has also been spent on an expanded day care centre, a new on-the-slopes café and bar, 100 new car parking spaces and enhanced snow making systems.
Not to be outdone, Treble Cone ski field northwest of Wanaka has invested in a sophisticated, whole-of-mountain snow making system that will deliver superb skiing at all levels from beginner to advanced. It will also future-proof the resort against seasons with minimal natural snowfall.
There are additional snow making facilities too at The Remarkables ski field close to Queenstown where guests can expect to see a new 123-metre Slinky-style double conveyor lift on the learners' slope from opening day on 10 June.
At Coronet Peak a new kids' fun zone complete with tunnel and bank turns makes its debut from 17 June and from July, the resort is boosting its popular Friday and Saturday night-skiing experiences with Wednesday evening floodlit skiing on two new trails.
Speaking of fun, New Zealand's main ski regions have a busy line-up of events and festivals this winter. Highlights include the family-oriented Ohakune Carrot Carnival near Mount Ruapehu on 4 June; the fireworks, concerts and street parties of the 2017 American Express Queenstown Winter Festival from 22-25 June; the fifth biennial 2017 Audi quattro Winter Games NZ in Queenstown, Wanaka and Naseby from 25 August to 10 September, and Gay Ski Week QT 2017 from 2-9 September.