Justine Tyerman nearly falls off her chair in excitement at the announcement this morning that New Zealand's largest alpine resort is to be developed between Wanaka and Queenstown.
The news skiers and snowboarders have been praying for, for years, popped into my inbox this morning: the creation of New Zealand's largest alpine resort incorporating ... drum roll ... Cardrona Alpine Resort and the adjacent Soho Basin Ski Area.
I nearly fell off my chair with excitement. For decades we've looked longingly at the vast basins and slopes over the back of the Cardrona ski area, hoping that one day they would be accessible to us, and it's finally going to happen . . . in my lifetime.
OK, enough of the floating-on-air euphoria. Here's the nitty-gritty.
A partnership was announced this morning between Real Journeys Group, the owners of Cardrona Alpine Resort, and Queenstown businessman John Darby who owns Soho Basin.
Soho Basin faces Queenstown and covers all the southern and south-west faces of Mt Cardrona, and includes the two Willow Basins that directly adjoin Cardrona Alpine Resort's southern boundary. Soho Basin will add an additional 500ha of high altitude skiable terrain, offering up to 500 vertical metres of skiing.
Cardrona will effectively more than double in size to over 900ha of skiable terrain. Access to the Soho Ski Area will be from the top of the recently-installed McDougall's Chondola, with facility development at the top of the mountain to support this.
Real Journeys Group Chief Executive Richard Lauder says: "This has been something we've been looking at for some time and we're both extremely pleased that we can work together to build a world class ski area with integrated facilities and amenities that will be both New Zealand's largest mountain resort and a truly world-class ski destination."
Soho Basin, part of Glencoe Station, was first acquired by Darby over a decade ago.
"The diversity of the slopes in the Soho Basin make it an exceptional ski area for all levels of skiers. Its high altitude, southerly-facing aspect means it receives and retains a good cover of early snow. Soho's offers spectacular views out over Queenstown, the Wakatipu Basin, and across the Main Divide," says Darby.
"I've skied Soho Basin with friends and family for now well over 20 fabulous winters seasons. With Cardrona, I'm now looking forward to opening up this same opportunity to the public. It's a very special place and great care will be taken to preserve this wonderful alpine environment."
Cardrona General Manager Bridget Legnavsky says: "To be a truly world-class alpine resort, you need to have extensive lift networks, multiple aspects and varying terrain – this new terrain and the developments that go with it will really make Cardrona an extraordinary experience in Aotearoa.
"We're thrilled at this opportunity to continue creating epic experiences for all our people now, and into the future."
Cardrona is three years into a five-year development plan that has focused on preparing Cardrona for the Soho expansion by improving guest flow and capacity. This has included installation of the McDougall's Chondola to increase uplift, the refurbishment and repurposing of the Base Area buildings, and expanded car parking with a connecting shuttle service. Development of the larger, integrated Cardrona-Soho Ski Area will be in accordance with the agreed masterplan for the combined ski areas.
The expansion also has implications for Cardrona's summer operations, with the opportunity to grow further as New Zealand's only mountain resort to offer a full summer of activities including mountain biking, mountain carting, dining, events and stargazing experiences.
All necessary approvals are now in place to commence the staged development of ski area facilities in the Soho Basin and the development of the ski area and supporting facilities is expected to begin once the current Cardrona master plan is completed.
In the meantime, cat skiing will continue for those who wish to experience the Soho Basin before commercial ski operations are developed.