The school holidays brought with them a flurry of activity to the South Island's main ski resorts. In spite of having to open without inbound tourists from Australia, some ski slopes reported the highest turnout in years.

Last Friday, NZSki reported 10,000 visitors across its Queenstown pistes – the highest single-day turnout at the Remarkables and Coronet Peak in seven years.

"It's certainly busier than I can remember," said Paul Anderson, NZSki's CEO.

"That's been down to a combination of great snow conditions and school holidays."

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The resorts which normally rely on visitors from across the Tasman to supply 30-40 per cent of their business, were "pleasantly surprised" to find daily numbers similar or better than last year.

The interest in a season where New Zealanders would have the slopes to themselves has led to a situation where the Remarkables and Coronet Peak have "more or less replaced every lost Australian skier with a Kiwi".

"We don't have data on where the extra Kiwi skiers are coming from but you can infer that these 30-40 per cent are North Islanders or those who wouldn't normally take a Queenstown ski holiday."

After predictions of empty pistes, both operators and guests were surprised by the turnout.

In spite of a bumper school holiday, numbers were down overall. Photo / Supplied
In spite of a bumper school holiday, numbers were down overall. Photo / Supplied

Some visitors to the ski fields were even complaining of carparks filling up early and longer than usual queues. Skiers driving to the slopes reported that the Remarkables 1200 place carpark was full within the first half hour of opening.

Anderson described the conditions as "busy but comfortable".

"We only have one lift out of action, the Sugar Bowl Lift", for which repairs had been delayed by the Covid lockdown and would be reopening on August 1.

Having prepared to open resorts in a limited capacity under level 2 conditions, NZSki have been able to relax most restrictions and the resort was running "as normal".

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However, the disrupted season has been anything but normal. A delayed start to the season and slightly fewer visitors mean that overall numbers were already down compared to last year.

At the end of the boost brought by school holidays the ski fields are preparing for a slow season. The Remarkables will be extending daily services to Sunday July 26 in line with "independent school holidays" before switching to weekends only.

The Remakables and Coronet Peak had a record turnout during the school holidays. Photo / Supplied
The Remakables and Coronet Peak had a record turnout during the school holidays. Photo / Supplied

Nearby the ski fields of Wanaka and Cardrona have also recorded a slower start to the year than usual.

"Across the season we are expecting around 50 per cent fewer skiers, but Kiwis from around the country are definitely showing their support and love for skiing during these school holidays while the weather is good," said a spokesperson for Cardrona and Treble Cone.

"In saying that, we are still seeing fewer numbers on the slopes compared to the same period last year."

Covid 19 restrictions and maintenance has also meant that the Valley View entrance was out of action, adding to crowding on other lifts. Queues are expected to be considerably shorter after the holidays.

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The hope that a transtasman air bridge might open before the end of the season is looking increasingly unlikely. While skiers will no doubt take advantage of slopes which are quieter than usual – resorts are waiting for the September holidays, hoping that they might see a similar return to the slopes by Kiwi families.