Fresh snow boosts skifields

New Zealanders Brook Miller and Brittany Hart relax after arriving in Queenstown yesterday from Melbourne, where they have been living for the past 18 months. The couple said the resort's downtown area was quieter than they had expected. Photo by Guy Williams.
New Zealanders Brook Miller and Brittany Hart relax after arriving in Queenstown yesterday from Melbourne, where they have been living for the past 18 months. The couple said the resort's downtown area was quieter than they had expected. Photo by Guy Williams.

Winter has delivered a mixed bag for Queenstown and Wanaka skifields, ranging from rain-saturated snow and consecutive closed days, to capacity crowds and the best season on record.

With New Zealand and Australian school holidays condensed into three weeks this year compared with five last year, a patch of poor weather last week has had a proportionately greater impact on skifield visitors.

However, falling temperatures, non-stop snow-making and capacity crowds in the past week have the skifields declaring the school holidays a success.

Treble Cone marketing manager Nick Noble said the skifield was back on track this week after closing for three days from last Saturday because of poor weather and rain-affected snow.

The mountain had received 10-15cm of new snow since then and consistently low temperatures had allowed ''non-stop'' snow-making for the past four days.

''Obviously being closed for any days during the school holidays hurts a bit, but since we've reopened, the numbers have been really good and we've had lots of families up here which has really helped,'' Mr Noble said.

Numbers at cross-country ski area Snow Farm, on the Pisa Range, were slightly up on previous school holiday periods, ski operations manager Andy Pohl said.

''Partially I think because the alpine fields have been so busy so we're getting a bit of run-off from that.''

Cardrona Alpine Resort, which closed its gates after reaching capacity on Monday, was experiencing its ''best year on record'', but numbers would ''soften'' from next week as families returned to school and work, sales and marketing manager Nadia Ellis said.

''Our numbers are tracking really really well. We're well ahead of last year.''

The unprecedented Cardrona holiday crowds came despite a difficult start to the season, in which some warm and wet spells affected snow conditions, Ms Ellis said.

The Remarkables ski area manager Ross Lawrence said it had been ''catching up fast'' since opening on July 3, 12 days later than scheduled, and school holiday patronage was up on last year.

''If we didn't get that, we would have been surprised, what with all the development we did over the summer.''

The skifield experienced a ''bit of a learning curve'' on July 6 when it closed its access road after its top car parks became full, and then charged people $10 for a bus up the road.

It had underestimated the crowd that day, but better car park management meant it would be a ''one-off'', Mr Lawrence said.

Coronet Peak ski area manager Ross Copland said the school holidays had started with ''a bit of a hiss and roar'', with fine weather and good crowds, followed by a patch of warm, wet weather in the second week.

''But in this final week, we are back to big days and good conditions with the area's busiest day in two years on Monday.''

He estimated school holiday numbers overall had been about average.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd said families had been the dominant visitor groups in the past two to three weeks, which meant ski areas had been busy and accommodation full, but the resort's bar scene might have been quieter than usual.

He expected visitor numbers to remain steady for the rest of the month and into August because young professionals tended to schedule visits after the school holidays.