Hopes for a Christmas day spent hurtling down the ski slopes are being rapidly melted away as this year's record warm temperatures and sunshine hours are closing the ski fields early.

Mount Ruapehu sales and marketing manager Mike Smith said he doubted they would remain open after early November - last year people were skiing on Christmas day.

He said the snow base on the mountain's Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields resembled the middle of October, not early September -- a result of the nation's fourth warmest August on record.

"But we're hanging in there better than our mates down south," he said. "[Mount] Ruapehu is pretty exposed so we tend to get more snow than Coronet [Peak] or Mt Hutt, and we are a little bit higher in altitude too."

Whakapapa has a snow base of 155cm and Turoa 165cm, compared with Coronet Peak (55cm) and Mt Hutt (25cm).

Mr Smith said no snow had fallen in the past two weeks, but the lack of snowfall was not scaring off the skiers and so far it was a good season for the books, especially at Turoa.

Turoa skier numbers are ahead of this time last year, and 2004 was a record year since the field opened in 1978.

"We've had unbelievable stretches of fine weather -- if it's going to be warm and not going to snow, it may as well be sunny," he said. "But it has been hard to keep [enough snow on the] lower part of the mountain for beginners."

Nzski.com (Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and Remarkables ski fields) sales and marketing manager David Ovendale agreed that mother nature has needed a helping hand this season.

"Thanks to snow-making machines and snow farming (catching snow and moving it to lower levels) hard work has resulted in the groomed trails being pretty good throughout the winter"

Mr Ovendale said the lack of deep snow on the higher slopes, which more advanced skiers enjoy, did not worry 70 per cent of the ski market.

"[They] don't really give a damn if they're not knee-deep in the back bowls - they don't have any intention of going anywhere near there."

But he said business had been a struggle this year, especially for their Canterbury field, Mt Hutt.

"We've had continued warm temperatures and rain, and the implications of rain on a thin and somewhat soft snow pack is not good for business," he said.

"To get a sense of the magnitude of the drought, the average snowfall for Canterbury (recorded in eight-year intervals) is 387cm -- this year Mt Hutt has had just over 80cm."

If the next few days bring hard rain to Mt Hutt or Coronet Peak, they could possibly close this weekend. But Mr Ovendale said the Remarkables in Queenstown, Central Otago, is still in good condition, "so international skiers coming to this part of the world will still have skiing at their doorstep".

The national alpine ski-racing championships were scheduled to run at Cardrona ski field, in Central Otago today, but have been moved north to Turoa and rescheduled for September 14-16.

Ski fields that have closed in the South Island for this season are Rainbow, Hanmer Springs, Temple Basin, Mt Olympus and Fox Peak.

- NZPA