New Zealand: Queenstown pushes power of popularity

By Simon Louisson

North Islanders are paying the price for Queenstown's popularity and for last year's poor ski season in Australia.

Aussies are already booking ski holidays in the deep south in droves after a miserable season over there. All the chatter over the effects of global warming means plenty of Australians wanting to be sure of getting good skiing will bypass Thredbo and head for Queenstown and Wanaka.

Duncan Smith, manager at Southern Alpine Recreation, which runs the fields at Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt, says the company is already getting far more bookings and inquiries from Australia.

Following a disappointing season in 2005, which ended prematurely, South Island fields are buoyant after last year's bumper season.

"In terms of consistency of snow conditions, last year was one of the best," Smith says. It was way better than 2005 and on par with the record 2004 season.

"We are very optimistic. There are a lot of things tracking in our favour - the long-term climate forecast for the winter is looking pretty good, we have a very competitive airline situation and the range of accommodation has never been bigger or better.

"And New Zealand had an absolutely stellar season, whereas Australia had one of the poorest in recent memory."

Almost 50 per cent of the skiers and snowboarders visiting the South Island fields are from overseas, and 25 per cent come from Auckland.

Mike Smith, marketing manager at Ruapehu Alpine Lifts says "Queenstown" is even stronger than "New Zealand" as a brand and very hard to compete against.

The downside is that some fields have felt confident enough to push prices up to international levels.

Treble Cone, the most challenging field in the country and a favourite with hotshots, has copped flak for lifting its season pass from $999 to a whopping $1500.

That's three times the price of an early-purchase pass for Turoa and Whakapapa at Mt Ruapehu.

As well, it has introduced a peak-season day pass price of $99 for July and August, when most North Islanders want to visit. For the rest of the season it will be the same as last year at $89.

"It brings our prices into line with where we feel our business is set," says marketing manager Anna Yeates.

"During the peak season it is pretty busy and we want to ensure it is quality, not quantity.

"If someone is paying $99 they want a good experience. They don't expect to be in big queues. We feel during that peak season we want to monitor numbers coming here."

In spring, numbers go down as people bring out their mountainbikes, hence the lower price prevails.

Yeates says the cost of a day pass at Thredbo is $105.

"We don't have enough numbers in New Zealand to justify lower prices. We just can't operate our businesses like that.

Treble Cone gets 1500 to 2000 paying visitors a day at peak season.

"Half of our visitors are international and they are very happy to pay our price," Yeates says.

Treble Cone season-pass holders tend to be "very avid skiers who last season used their passes on average 30 days against just five for Mt Ruapehu season-ticketholders.

"We can't afford to keep those avid skiers on the mountain at $10 to $15 a day."

Treble Cone offers multi-day passes - three days for $255, five days for $400 and 10 days for $700.

Yeates says most visitors come to Treble Cone for a week or two and buy multi-day passes that bring down the relative daily price.

Like other fields, Treble Cone is grappling with higher costs for power, diesel and wages and having to satisfy customers who want perfect snow which necessitates more snow makers and groomers.

Coronet Peak day prices have risen 6 per cent to $89, while prices at Mt Hutt and The Remarkables have gone up to $84.

At Cardrona, prices have risen from $74 to $77 for an adult day pass.

Early concession season passes (already closed), rose from $470 to $490.

Most new investment at the South Island fields has gone into snowmaking and grooming.

Coronet Peak will get a 150m "magic carpet" lift that will double the size of its beginners area.

It is adding to its water supply and pumping capacity which will improve the rate at which it cam make snow.

It has also bought two more groomers at $500,000 each, bringing the total to four.

Last year, Mt Hutt skiers and boarders enjoyed its new, high-speed detachable six seater chairlift that replaced the T-bars.

There have been some minor improvements to the trails, some being widened, and snowmaking equipment has been installed in the terrain park.

At The Remarkables, the main work has been a doubling the size of the terrain park and installing automated snowmaking through the park. There is a new groomer and snowmaking guns.

Cardrona sales and marketing manager Bruce McGechan says the company has spent $2 million upgrading its snowmaking equipment. It has built a large reservoir to supply the water for the snowgun pumps.

McGechan says North Islanders enjoyed the snow down there so much last year that there is already keen interest for future seasons.

Cardrona is doing much of its marketing in the form of holiday packages and he advises North Islanders to go shopping on the web for bundled packages.

He says "seriously sharp deals," including the Big Deal tailored especially for the Auckland market, can be assessed at cardrona.com.

Cardrona hopes to open on June 22. Treble Cone will open on June 26 and Mt Hutt on June 9.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 24 Sep 2014 13:50:43 Processing Time: 818ms