The warmest year on record has put New Zealand's snow season off to a sluggish start - and today forced operators on Mt Ruapehu to push back ski area openings that were scheduled this weekend.

The delay at Whakapapa and Turoa was the latest of several postponements at skifields around the country following an unusually balmy season lead-up.

But a climate scientist says one big event was all that was needed to kick the slopes into action.

Weather-permitting, the beginner trails on both Ruapehu ski areas would be open in time for the school holidays.


When the Herald visited Whakapapa today, there was a conspicuous absence of snow around the lower mountain as staff were busy making final preparations for the annual visitor influx.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts chief executive Dave Mazey said the mountain hadn't received as much snow this year as it did on average, but he noted the 2015 season also began similarly before good amounts arrived in mid-July.

The forecast for the next week included a low pressure system coming through next Thursday night, which could bring up to 15cm of natural snow on our upper slopes.

This was expected to be followed by cold clear conditions through the weekend which would provide good snow-making conditions on the lower slopes.

"We are optimistic this weather pattern will enable us to open beginner trails at both ski areas next week and on time for the school holidays," Mr Mazey said.

"We've already had two reasonable snowfalls so we have a base on the upper mountain. We expect that with one or two more heavy snowfalls we will be able to open for intermediate and advanced skiing at both Whakapapa and Turoa.

"We understand the delayed opening of ski trails is disappointing for our customers, but the teams at both ski areas are all trained and ready to go as soon as conditions allow."

Visitors to Whakapapa would still be able to ride the ski area's newest lift, the Rangatira Express, along with the Waterfall Express lift, which reached the country's highest cafe.

Ski Patrol members on the upper slopes of Whakapapa Ski Area on Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Alan Gibson
Ski Patrol members on the upper slopes of Whakapapa Ski Area on Mt Ruapehu. Photo / Alan Gibson