After a fabulous summer, Kiwi skiers could be in line for a superb season of snow.
Cardrona Alpine Resort in Wanaka says it had the best ski season opening in over a decade, with the weekend polar blast adding to their solid snow base. "The above-average snow falls mean we could be in for a bumper season," says Nadia Ellis of Cardrona.
With predictweather.co.nz forecasting plenty of snow, the South Island, where the majority of New Zealand's ski fields are, will not be the only place to experience significant snowfall. Big falls are also predicted for Mt Ruapehu - very timely for the start of the July school holidays.
The Winter Festival in Queenstown, which started last week, marks the beginning of the season. Entertainment and activities have international tourists and locals fired up for what looks to be an promising season.
New Zealand is one of only a few countries in the Southern Hemisphere with a growing ski industry. The market has steadily grown over the last 30 years and is continuing with some interesting developments.
Porters - the most accessible ski area to Christchurch - is on track to complete stage one of a $500 million development. Michael Sleigh, director of development for the ski area says, "The chairlifts and gondola in Crystal Valley will be operational for winter 2016. Magnificent views of the Southern Alps will be visible from the gondola." The resort will also be open for summer activities, including hiking and mountain biking.
Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa ski field plans to replace two T-bars on the upper eastern slopes. Knoll Ridge and the Valley T-bars will be replaced with a 1.3km express quad chairlift. The Waterfall T-bar will also be replaced with a double chairlift. David Mazey, general manager of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts Limited says, "The development is exciting because we will increase the capacity of people we can move and will open up the skiable area by removing the T-bars off the snow." The new facilities will be operating for winter 2015.
The Remarkables ski area is also looking to expand into Curly Basin with a new chair lift. Significant changes have also been made to widen the access track off Shadow Basin. This will give intermediate skiers access to a far greater part of the mountain.
Real Journeys, a Fiordland tourism company, is in the process of completing its due diligence to buy Cardrona. If the deal goes ahead, the ski resort will be back in the hands of locals.
As well as the major developments, ski operator are constantly enhancing facilities and services to make the experience on the slopes a good one.
Skiing is no longer about just the skiing. Over the last few years there has been a much greater emphasis on food and beverages, entertainment, apres-skiing and facilities for young families, including childcare facilities.
What's new in the ski resorts around the country?
The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt all have licensed childcare facilities to cater for 3-month-old babies to 5-year-olds.
This season Cardrona has increased its facilities to take babies as well. It has also increased the flexibility of its childcare programme so children can have family time with their parents then come back to childcare. The childcare programme also encourages skiing for anyone who can walk.
Safety is paramount for all the resorts, not just on the slopes but also on access roads.
The road up the Remarkable ranges can be intimidating, but new guard railings on all the exposed outsider edges have increased its safety. For those with no transport, a fleet of purpose-built four-wheel-drive buses leave from the Snow Centre in Queenstown regularly. Improvements have also been made to the Mt Hutt access road.
A number of new eateries and bars have opened, including Coronet's ice bar serving hot cocktails and European inspired alpine food. Heidi's Hut has had a makeover and has been reconfigured as an a la carte restaurant. Heidi's will also be open on Friday evenings as an alpine restaurant.
THE GOOD NEWS
According to predictweather.co.nz, the mild start to the winter is over. More severe weather is on the way. The first few weeks of this month will bring significant snow dumps.
The bad news: Weatherpredict says the snow falls could be so heavy, the access roads to ski fields could be blocked for extended periods of time, causing huge problems for ski operators.