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Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Bonus 'Snovember' on the cards

Before then, skiers and boarders can expect an average snow season as the slopes get set to open next weekend

Rental co-ordinator Daena Young has been preparing hundreds of skis for the upcoming season. Photo / Alan Gibson
Rental co-ordinator Daena Young has been preparing hundreds of skis for the upcoming season. Photo / Alan Gibson

A wildcard El Nino weather system could give mountains a late blast this year, treating the ski industry to a bonus "Snovember".

But until then, skiers shouldn't expect a bumper lot of the white stuff on the slopes this season, Niwa meteorologist Chris Brandolino said.

Niwa's latest seasonal outlook for June to August showed near average precipitation was the most likely weather outcome - implying an "okay" snow season, but not a great one, he said.

Forecasters had been watching for the possible development of an El Nino system, but in New Zealand, this was not likely to play a part until the end of winter, or even later.

"That means it is possible that the snow season could extend further into spring if we are affected by El Nino southwesterlies by then."

Ski websites are also keeping a keen eye on global El Nino predictions.

Mountainwatch said the last 14 El Nino systems to hit New Zealand could be split into two types.

One was characterised by higher pressure over most of Australasia that effectively killed snow-making systems, but the other resulted in lower-pressure systems, bringing increased frontal activity and "very decent snowfall".

Based on present predictions, the website was leaning toward the latter type, calling a "solid year" for the North Island and Canterbury fields.

Figures posted yesterday for the South Island's fields showed snowbases of 30cm at Coronet Peak's upper slopes, now open, and 35cm at the upper slopes of The Remarkables, opening this Saturday.

Mt Hutt skifield, which opened last Friday but was closed yesterday, had a 30cm snowbase on the upper mountain, and a 15cm base on its lower base.

Levels at Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa and Turoa fields had been low, but that was expected to change with a cold blast throughout this week, followed by clear weather next week. Snow-guns had also been put in place to "complement nature" ahead of next Saturday's big opening, Mt Ruapehu safety services manager Callum Learmouth said.

At Whakapapa, enough snow was expected to at least open the Happy Valley field running next weekend.

"We've had some good snow up high, and all last week we had snow from the northeast, which was really good and filled up our gullies," he said.

"It has linked nicely into this week, and it's all slowly bringing that snow level down. What you want after that is a few clear days, so we can boost snow-making on the lower field."

Snow business
300,000 - 400,000
Visits expected to Mt Ruapehu's Turoa and Whakapapa skifields this season, opening next Saturday (June 28).
700
Staff on Mt Ruapehu this season, more than 600 of them seasonal workers.
More than 20,000
Season passes on Mt Ruapehu booked so far.
600-1000
People expected at Whakapapa ski area's opening day


All ready for the white stuff

The ski racks are being filled, the snow guns towed into place and come next week, staff numbers on Mt Ruapehu will balloon from 70 to 700.

"It's a big old machine to wind up here," said Steve Manunui, operations manager for Whakapapa ski area.

Two weeks out from the opening of the Whakapapa and Turoa fields, the excitement was already building among staff busily preparing, he said.

Many were firming up pre-booked season passes - more than 20,000 this year - while others were organising hundreds of pairs of skis, snowboards and gear that had been reserved for the year.

A crew of engineers had arrived to oversee snow-making, while stocks of food and beverages were also being built up.

From next Tuesday, between 700 and 800 staff would be on the mountain, most required to undergo pre-season training and induction.

"There's a lot of planning and logistics that go with that, as you can imagine," Mr Manunui said.

The huge preparations were warranted - a good season could draw up to 200,000 visits to each side of the mountain. Up to 1000 people were expected at Whakapapa on opening day alone.

- NZ Herald

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