Bluebird skies around the Central North Island drew massive crowds at Ruapehu skifields, however it drew concern about lack of physical distancing from one avid skier.

Ruapehu Alpine Lift chief executive Jono Dean said "thousands of people enjoyed the snow safely" at the weekend.

But one skier says he was shocked at the way large crowds were able to congregate around the chairlifts, including the High Noon lift, with many not wearing a face covering.

"Unfortunately RAL, despite claiming to have restrictions in place on their website, had no such procedures in place during our visit on Sunday.

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"While they have said that 'face coverings' need to be worn on lifts to allow full lift loading, this was by no means enforced and we were on several full chairs, often shared with unmasked people, and sometimes with individuals who were clearly unwell with cold/flu symptoms.

"I am also not sure when it became acceptable for the use of face coverings to supplant the need for physical distancing."

The man said he knew the aviation industry had been arguing for it so it could fly at full capacity but had been denied.

"Why is RAL seemingly exempt from this ruling?"

People congregate around the High Noon chair lift on Sunday, sparking concerns around physical distancing as some skiers weren't wearing masks. Photo / Supplied
People congregate around the High Noon chair lift on Sunday, sparking concerns around physical distancing as some skiers weren't wearing masks. Photo / Supplied

He said as the crowd gathered at the High Noon lift, there were at least 200 people, some without a mask on and wait times between 8 and 10 minutes.

In non-Covid times there were usually ropes clearly delineating queues.

"Bizarrely there are no such barriers now, creating an even more crowded situation than normal times.

"While anti lockdown protesters make headline news for their lack of mask-wearing and social distancing, we feel it is a disgrace that RAL continue to operate their ski fields in such a way, seemingly under the radar."

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He had recently been at South Island ski fields which had adhered to all the rules, he said.

Another keen skier who had been at Whakapapa recently said it appeared as though RAL were trying their best and noticed an increased staff presence.

"But if people take them off while riding the chairlifts then what can they do?"

In response, Dean said teams at both fields urge visitors to "remember to take responsibility for their actions and play their part".

"We're not the enforcement of the Covid-19 protocols, our job is to educate, encourage and endorse the plan, which is all about keeping people safe."

As for the 100 person limit, RAL had negotiated the ski areas being based on all aspects of facilities; terrain and cafes which allowed it to operate at a higher level of visitors.

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"Cafes and indoor facilities are still limited to 100 people and strictly monitored, one out one in.

Weekend conditions were perfect for skiing and attracted thousands at Turoa. Photo / RAL
Weekend conditions were perfect for skiing and attracted thousands at Turoa. Photo / RAL

"If visitors require any clarification all the details are in the Mt Ruapehu website."

Dean said RAL worked closely with the Ski Association of New Zealand (SAANZ) helping to determine and set best practice operating guidelines which included physical distancing, hand hygiene, covering up and signing in using the Covid Tracer app.

"As long as everyone sticks to the guidelines visitors will be able to enjoy the rest of the winter season safely."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said protocols for riding a chairlift were updated on September 1.

If everyone on a chairlift was wearing a face covering they could now share the ride with anyone and fill it to capacity.

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However, as for queues, wearing a mask wasn't a replacement for physical distancing.

"Please keep physical distance in the lift queues and respect others and their comfort zones.

"Face coverings are not a replacement for physical distancing. People should consider wearing a face covering in crowded indoor settings even if they're physically distancing."

The spokesperson said the 100 person limit didn't apply outside on the slopes as there was more room to physically distance.

"Outside, the risk of getting infected is very low, especially out on the skifield because the virus is very quickly dispersed into the open air. Added to this UV levels will stop the virus from being able to infect others almost straight away."

However, restrictions needed to be enforced for indoor areas including the cafeteria or bathroom.

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"We advise people keep a 2 metre distance from those outside their bubble when in public. Take extra care if you interact with people you don't know as it won't be easy to do contact tracing if needed."

The ministry would "contact the local medical officer of health to advise on local procedures and reiterate health messaging if needed".

GUIDELINES FOR SKI RESORTS UNDER ALERT LEVEL 2
[Source: Ministry of Health]

• Physical distancing required,
• Contact tracing in place,
• No limit on number of people allowed at once,
• Restaurants limited to 100 people, seated and served separately,
• Increased cleaning and sanitation.