Southern skifields push back opening days

By Laura Mills

Snow has been scarce in the South Island, as seen in this image of Castle Hill viewed from the Arthur's Pass road earlier this month. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Snow has been scarce in the South Island, as seen in this image of Castle Hill viewed from the Arthur's Pass road earlier this month. Photo / Mark Mitchell

From the West Coast to Arthur's Pass, from weather observers to skifield operators, people are asking - where is the winter snow?

The skifields have pushed back their opening dates to July 9, and for now it is even too warm to run the snowmaking machines.

Niwa said yesterday the first six months of 2016 were set to be the warmest start to the year yet, based on data from seven weather stations, including Hokitika.

Long-term Arthur's Pass resident John Charles said usually he would see a blanket of snow from his house.

"I can't see any snow outside from our place, and that's unusual for the end of June. There's a possibility it will come, but looking at those long-range forecasts, the trend is for stuff from the north, rather than the bitter southerlies."

Mr Charles said there had been a good early fall of snow and people were sledging at Queen's Birthday Weekend.

But that was followed by nor-westers, which "totally took the lot (snow) up to about 5000ft".

"It stripped it off."

Last winter was also mild but this year was even warmer, he said.

Hokitika weather observer Mark Crompton confirmed it had been warmer and "much, much wetter".

He also noted the lack of southerly flows, and said extensive cloud had kept the temperatures up at night. The daytime temperature was also up slightly.

The skifields would be "hoping for a dramatic change".

"Nothing's really on the horizon."

Mr Crompton said looking towards the mountains from Hokitika this morning, the "snow's very patchy".

Niwa climate scientist Brett Mullan said nationally February was 2.2C above average, March was 1.3C warmer, May 2.1C, and March-April-May was the second warmest autumn on record, second only to 1938.

With just over a week to the school holidays, the skifields hope to open about July 9.

At Porters Skifield, marketing manager Anton Wilke said "we are praying for snow".

It was looking hopeful for later next week with weather patterns, Mr Wilke said.

Cheeseman aims to open on July 9, and the Temple Basin website says "after some good solid snowfalls in late May and early June we've been experiencing some very unseasonal warm weather which has taken its toll on the snow pack, and as you will have witnessed on the webcams the snowline has been retracting up the mountain".

The website said temperatures were forecast to cool down and people should "do a snow dance for us".

- Greymouth Star

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