No snow's a drag but the party goes on

Queenstown's Richie Heap in full flight yesterday. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.
Queenstown's Richie Heap in full flight yesterday. Photos by Stephen Jaquiery.
Coronet Peak skifield closed yesterday after overnight rain.
Coronet Peak skifield closed yesterday after overnight rain.

Staff at water-soaked Southern Lakes skifields were assessing the damage yesterday after heavy rain washed away some of the district's sparse snow cover.

Rain closed Coronet Peak in Queenstown and Wanaka's Cardrona Alpine Resort yesterday and set back opening prospects for Treble Cone, Snow Farm and the Remarkables ski areas.

However, a northwesterly change could bring snow to the mountains today and tomorrow.

Coronet Peak ski area manager Ross Copland said yesterday's closure was the result of rain on Tuesday night and yesterday morning that had ''saturated'' its snow base.

The trails had to be left undisturbed so the rain could drain out, but groomers were expected back on the slopes last night to prepare for reopening today, Mr Copland said.

The ski area's last substantial snowfall was 4cm on June 9, but snow was forecast down to 1200m today and 1000m tomorrow, and he expected snow-making to resume after being on hold for two days.

Fresh snow would set up the ski area for its first weekend of night skiing, which started tomorrow at 4pm.

The rain was ''not all that unseasonable'', he said.

''We are just at the crossover point where it's getting colder.''

Rain has also affected the Queenstown Winter Festival - among other ways - slowing 16 ''queens'' running in high heels in yesterday's drag race.

The race at Earnslaw Park changed from going hard and fast on grass, to being judged on overall performance on a plastic surface.

With four days remaining in the festival, director Lisa Buckingham said staff were assessing events daily, including Coronet Peak's Mountain Mayhem, planned for Saturday and the Slopestyle Invitational, to have been held at the Remarkables on Sunday.

''We are planning for everything to go ahead, but obviously, we're reliant on the weather gods,'' she said.

Remarkables ski area manager Ross Lawrence said the field had lost about 5cm from its trails.

Outlying areas that previously had a dusting of snow were now ''pretty bare'', Mr Lawrence said.

''You can get rain any time, and this time around, because we're still waiting for snow, it's had quite an impact.''

After a summer of major development including a new six-seater chairlift, new trails and the sealing of 4km of access road, it was a case of ''waiting for Mother Nature to help us along''.

''Realistically, we need a good 30cm of snow to blanket the place.''

Ski area staff were remaining positive.

''They are all keen and motivated, and we are looking after them with activities.''

In Wanaka, Treble Cone's planned opening today has been delayed ''for a couple of days'' as a result of the rainfall, the skifield's marketing and sales manager Nick Noble said.

''The lower Home Basin got knocked around a bit.''

A revised opening date was not yet confirmed and would depend on how much snow fell in the next few days.

''There's a fair bit of snow in the forecast for the coming week so, hopefully, it's not too far away.''

A decision will be made today on whether Snow Farm will be able to open on Saturday, based on what the weather produced last night.

A lack of snow delayed the cross-country skifield's original opening date of June 21 and the situation was looking uncertain for the weekend, too, newly appointed operations manager Andy Pohl said.

''The rain has certainly done some damage that's for sure ...

''We were hoping that this was going to come through as snow but it's come through as rain so it's certainly softened up our trails.''

Staff at Cardrona Alpine Resort - which opened as scheduled last Friday with limited facilities but closed yesterday - would not know the full extent of the rain's impact until this morning, sales and marketing manager Nadia Ellis said.

''We will give the snow pack a chance to drain ... and then at that point we'll be able to assess what the damage is.

''At the moment, we're just taking it day by day because the forecast seems to be changing quite rapidly.''

MetService meteorologist Rob Kerr said about 11mm of rain fell in the Queenstown area yesterday morning. The warm northerly air flow that had brought the rain would be replaced by a cold front with not a lot of moisture, Mr Kerr said.

However, snow-making was a possibility, with the freezing level expected to fall to 1200m by the end of the week, he said.


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