Skifields held up by warm weather

Lamenting the lack of ideal snow-making conditions, Coronet Peak ski area manager Hamish...
Lamenting the lack of ideal snow-making conditions, Coronet Peak ski area manager Hamish McCrostie waits underneath a snow gun yesterday for Jack Frost to bite so the slopes can open. Photo by Matt Stewart.
The unseasonably warm weather which marked the 2011 autumn has continued into the first month of winter, frustrating Southern Lakes skifield operators as they gear up for the start of the 2011 season.

Coronet Peak had to scrap its plans to open over Queen's Birthday weekend, as mild temperatures meant it could not even use its snowguns to provide artificial snow for skiers and boarders.

"It's incredibly disappointing for the tourists, our season pass holders and our staff," NZSki general manager James Coddington said yesterday.

Wanaka's four skifields also do not have a snow base.

Between 10cm and 15cm fell at Treble Cone and Cardrona in mid-May, but the old adage "snow in May never stays" proved true.

Queenstown meteorologist David Crow said 2011 had been the second warmest autumn in 135 years of recording keeping, "which spells a very, very late Indian summer".

The warmest May was in 2007, to be broken by a late June cold snap.

NZSki operates Queenstown's Coronet Peak and Remarkables ski areas as well as Methven's Mt Hutt - all of which are bereft of the white stuff.

"It's far from winter - the temperatures are very autumn-like. It's incredibly unusual but as skifield operators the weather is one thing we can't control," Mr Coddington said.

However, he has been encouraged by recent snowfalls down to 500m in Victoria and New South Wales.

The Snow Park was planning to open its Pisa Range operation this Saturday, but this now looked unlikely because of the lack of snow on southern mountains. Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort and Treble Cone Ski Area traditionally open around the shortest day of the year - June 22 this year - and both are sticking to that plan.

Marketing staff at those skifields said, with two full weeks still to go, no-one was worrying yet about whether to delay opening.

The focus was on training staff, Treble Cone marketing assistant Julia Atkinson said yesterday.

Cardrona's marketing and sales manager, Nadia Ellis, said it did not take long for snow to cover the mountain, with the skifield managing a lack of snow in 2007 by opening each area as conditions allowed.

"We are not worried. The world can change a lot in two and a-half weeks," Ms Ellis said.

The Snow Farm's boutique cross-country ski resort near the Snow Park never schedules a start to the season and opens "when it has enough snow".

The Remarkables is due to open on June 18, but because of ever-changing forecasts Mr Coddington was not willing to wager on whether NZSki could stick to that opening date.

"We all have to be very hopeful the cold temperatures come soon."

Weather forecaster Dave Crow predicts winter will not arrive in earnest until July. "It's just going to be late, I'm sorry to say."

matt.stewart@odt.co.nz

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