Blizzards hit fields; snow welcomed

A southerly blast forced the closure of some Queenstown and Wanaka skifields yesterday, others were only only partially open but the snow was welcome.

Both Cardrona Alpine Resort near Wanaka and Queenstown's Remarkables skifield were closed for the day due to high winds and poor visibility.

Cardrona sales and marketing manager Nadia Ellis said ''gale-force southerlies and blizzard conditions'' closed the skifield for the second time this season - the first had been on the scheduled opening day.

About 10cm of snow fell at Cardrona between midnight and 6am and it continued to snow steadily throughout the day, ''but it's difficult to know how much we've got in the midst of the storm,'' Ms Ellis said.

NZSki sales and marketing general manager Craig Douglas estimated more than 20cm of snow had fallen at the Remarkables base area.

Both skifields were expected to reopen today. Coronet Peak ski area manager Ross Copland estimated about 10cm had fallen at the mountain's base by 4pm yesterday, but ''a lot more than that'' had fallen further up.

''It is absolutely beautiful - it's really transformed the place,'' he said.

Mr Copland said staff had been working on the access road since 3.30am yesterday but motorists needed to carry chains. While the lower mountain was open yesterday, both the Coronet Express and Greengates were closed due to winds.

More snow was forecast, but yesterday's weather meant temperatures had dropped enough for the ski area to make snow and further boost its base.

''If we get some good weather, it's going to be amazing,'' Mr Copland said.

Wind and low visibility closed Treble Cone's Saddle Basin yesterday with heavy snow falling at times and creating pockets of fresh snow across the ski area, sales and marketing manager Nick Noble said.

The skifield's Home Basin was open to visitors.

Snow Farm's operations manager Emma Davies said while there were snow showers and moderate winds earlier in the day, the cross-country ski area remained open and the weather had cleared by mid-afternoon.

Low-level snowfalls in Queenstown yesterday caused multiple flights to be either cancelled or diverted from Queenstown Airport.

An airport spokeswoman confirmed the weather had caused the delays and diversions.

At least four flights were cancelled and another three were diverted.

Hundreds of skiers and snowboarders were trapped at Mt Hutt skifield in Canterbury yesterday

afternoon after the cold snap brought high winds and low visibility, closing the alpine access road.

They included 60 staff and 260 pupils from Mt Hutt College in Methven.

The pupils were waiting out the storm in the field's cafeteria last night but staff were told the storm could lift about 8pm.

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'', manager James McKenzie said.

- Additional reporting APNZ


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