Ski workers are setting off explosives on Mt Hutt this
evening to prevent avalanches and clear the way for more than
300 stranded students, skiers and snowboarders to make their
way down the mountain in -5C temperatures.
A cold snap brought high winds and low visibility to the
Canterbury ski field this afternoon, closing the alpine
access road and stranding 316 people, including 260 pupils
from Mt Hutt College in Methven.
Mt Hutt ski area manager James McKenzie said ski field
workers were setting off explosives above the road to try to
clear it so vehicles could leave tonight.
"We've received something like 20cm of snow which has started
to accumulate in places, so we're just going to go out and do
some control work on the main cliffs above the road to make
sure there's no unstable snow up there. We'll be setting off
a few bombs."
Driving was actually easier in the dark because there was
better definition on the road, unlike during the day when it
could be difficult in poor conditions to distinguish the snow
from the sky.
At -5C it was too cold for the snow to turn into ice on the
roads, he said.
A decision would be made about 8pm on whether or not to make
the trip tonight.
The students were in high spirits and prepared to stay the
night on the mountain if they had to, Mr McKenzie said.
Mt Hutt College Year 12 student Markus Body said everyone was
relaxed and comfortable, but getting back down the mountain
tonight "would be a dream".
"[The weather] closed in late morning and we were told to get
on the buses so we could go home, but we missed the gap,
unfortunately," the 16-year-old said.
"It's not too bad. We're warm, there's good food, and we're
just hunkering down and socialising, really."
Trinity Daniels, 12, added: "No-one is really panicking.
Everyone's in the cafe and the fire's going so we're warm."
Parents vented their frustration on Facebook, calling the
road closure "predictable" and querying why the school went
ahead with the trip when bad weather was forecast.
But Mr McKenzie said the morning weather report said there
was a "good probability" of snow today and indicated all
lifts would be subject to weather.
Fraser Moore's wife, Karalee, was one of the teachers stuck
on the mountain.
He said the decision to allow people on the mountain this
morning was wrong.
"I said to my wife at 6.30 this morning 'I bet you either get
sent home early or you're stuck up there'. And sure enough
His wife was fine and being well looked after, he said.
MetService forecaster John Law said bad weather had been
forecast for the mountain.
"We've had the warning out since yesterday. We saw this cold
front coming up the country and bringing some snowfall to the
higher ground of Canterbury so it's going to plan so far," he
The weather would improve for most of the country tomorrow,
although it would still be cold in most places.
Mount Hutt College deputy principal Kaylib Gorrie defended
the decision to send the students onto the mountain.
The school's policy was that if the experts on Mt Hutt gave
the green light to open, the college followed through with
plans, he said.
The students were accompanied by 14 staff, and were safe and
Mr McKenzie said Mt Hutt stocks enough food and water to
cater for up to 4000 people over a weekend, so could hold out
for "days and days".