In the face of a most unusual season the North Island's ski fields have reported a huge turnout during the school holidays.

In spite of grim economic forecasts and uncertain snow conditions more than 55000 visitors arrived at the Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields over the fortnight, a 5 percent increase on last year's figures.

"It's truly inspiring considering where we were some 12 weeks ago in the midst of a lockdown," said Jono Dean, CEO of Ruapehu Alpine lifts which runs both ski fields.

"It's incredibly promising considering we weren't even sure if we could open for a 2020 season," the company had adopted very conservative forecasts for visitor turnout, expecting some families might be feeling the financial pinch of the coronavirus lockdown.

Advertisement
Out of lockdown: Ruapehu Alpine Lifts were delighed to find the slopes busier than usual. Photo / Supplied
Out of lockdown: Ruapehu Alpine Lifts were delighed to find the slopes busier than usual. Photo / Supplied

It was a pleasant surprise then, when Ruapehu welcomed higher than average numbers of skiers. These crowds were perhaps made to feel even fuller due to some lifts being out of operation, after maintenance was delayed by the national lockdown.

"Our aim is to offer a season that sees both Whakapapa and Turoa ski fields open every day the weather permits, with top to bottom skiing" said Dean "and we're on track to deliver that."

The Ruapehu ski areas welcomed Kiwi visitors from all across the country. "We've also seen some South Islanders travelling north for a ski vacation this season," he said.

Perhaps these guests had crossed the Cook Straight to avoid the crowds at South Island ski fields.

In Queenstown Paul Anderson of NZ Ski said he had been "pleasantly surprised" by the turnout. Last Friday July 10, the company's Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski fields recorded their highest daily turnout in 7 years, with 10000 skiers on the slopes.

Although the overall number for the school holidays was down on last year, the daily average was similar or better than average. This was no small feat considering the South Island ski areas are far more reliant on inbound tourists from Australia.

Anderson was delighted to report that the extra turnout from domestic tourists had made up for the 30 per cent projected shortfall from closed borders, and were able to "more or less replace every lost Australian skier with a Kiwi."

5 per cent more visitors passed through Ruapehu's turnstyles than last year. Photo / Supplied
5 per cent more visitors passed through Ruapehu's turnstyles than last year. Photo / Supplied

In light of this the Remarkables ski field will be extending their 7-day operations to the 26th of July, after which it would be going back to weekends only.

Advertisement

The anticipated turnout after this initial school holiday rush is far less optimisitic. The traditionally more domestic-focused ski fields of the North Island are likely to fare better while international tourists are locked out of the country, but other ski fields have predicted a shortfall of as much as 50 per cent off last year.

However, this winter school holiday has been remarkable not only in being the first time in memory that Kiwis have had ski slopes to themselves but for what must be an historic turnout by skiers across the country.