The New Zealand ski season was their best ever, with skier days up to 1.6 million at their commercial ski areas. That’s an 8% increase on 2016, and an average 5% a year growth in skier numbers for the past 4 years. That is surely set to continue with some awesome Early Bird deals available from NZ specialists like MySnow.com.au
And it’s been dumping already this year – look at Cardrona on 22nd March!
“New Zealand ski fields had a bumper 2017 season with major new infrastructure, and new features on some of our biggest ski areas a key driving factor to success” reports Ski Areas Association of New Zealand (SAANZ) Chair Marty Toomey. “The result smashed the previous record set in 2009 when the Australian Government tax breaks provided an unprecedented uplift in trans-Tasman arrivals. All predictions point to another record setting year in 2018 as season pass sales heat up ahead of winter. Add to that the success of our athletes in PyeongChang, and we’re expecting the New Zealand industry to continue growing.”
Big investments have driven the growth, and the talents of their snowboard and freeski athletes, led by medal winners Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, never mind Carlos Garcia-Knight who went so close in Snowboard Big Air have encouraged interest. I don’t think SnowAction were the only ones yelling for Carlos from the Aussie side of the ditch!
The growth in international arrivals during winter remains strong fueled by the Australian market in particular. Being so close and very competitively priced helps a lot.
We did the super budget Jucy motorhome option last July, and had a huge time – more on that, and our cool road movie, shortly.
Cardrona smashes 300,000 skier days barrier
In the South Island Cardrona experienced its biggest ever year with visitor days eclipsing 300,000 for the first time. After being acquired by tourism giant Real Journeys there has been a multi-million dollar investment, headlined by the amazing $NZD 10 million McDougall’s Express Chondola opened in 2017. This combo lift of gondola cabins & 6 seat chairs is the first cabin-style lift on a ski area in New Zealand.
The Chondola increased uphill capacity by 150%, which means it reduces queues on the other mountain lifts. Combined with the carpet lifts it makes Cardrona arguably the best place to start to ski/board in Australasia, never mind New Zealand. Cardrona also added base facility upgrades and improvements in terrain, carparking and snowmaking.
Another factor in their success has to be the great food – we rated the Mezz Cafe there our favourite, and the fish tacos the pick of the menu! The historic Cardrona Hotel at the bottom of the access road is ideal for some apres and an early dinner too.
More night skiing and big investments boost Queenstown
Queenstown’s two closest ski fields, The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, have experienced growth off the back of major investment and improved terrain and product.
The Remarkables ski field has undergone a $45m upgrade in recent years including a new six-seater speed chairlift, new trails, snowmaking and the addition of an award-winning base building. This, along with the Remarkables big mountain experience, has spurred visitor growth of more than 40%, enabling the ski field to plan major expansion in the near future.
The relocation of a much-bigger base building has also created the potential for 70% more learner terrain and a new conveyor toward a more gradual progression up the mountain. This complements the 2017 installation of the gallery tunnel over the existing double conveyor belt across the main learner slope.
The learner experience at Coronet Peak is also improving this year, making it one of the easiest mountains to learn to ski, with its 25-minute drive location to downtown Queenstown.
But it’s the success of the twilight and night ski product that has really attracted crowds. A number of on-mountain events and an additional twilight/night ski option on Wednesdays in July last year drew record-breaking amounts of guests to Coronet Peak from local and off-shore markets. This looks set to increase with the announcement that Wednesday night skiing will now run the full night ski season for 2018 winter, with more events planned. As we learnt many years ago, heading up to Coronet late is the perfect answer to the inevitable big night in Queenstown.
Mt Hutt voted New Zealand’s best again
Up in Canterbury Mt Hutt ski area has once again celebrated being voted the best ski resort in New Zealand, for the third consecutive year. We won’t argue, having a ball there on our trip despited a busted chain on the steepest bit of the road one day – their super cool Mr Fix It guy driving the ute with the mattress on it to push people out of trouble fixed it in 5 minutes and we were off again. That said, the Methven Travel shuttle bus, from town or the entrance gate, is the hassle free way to get up there.
The 2017 season brought record snowfalls to Mt Hutt, delivering more than 6 metres of snowfall across the season. Visitors loved the conditions, as well as the extended terrain after the ski area grew by 21 hectares of skiable terrain in 2017.
Porters now offers lodge accommodation
Also in Canterbury, Porters Ski Area put in a new Doppelmayr quad chairlift and an automated high-tech snowmaking system in 2015. Extensive earthworks and infrastructure improvements were essential to this upgrading of facilities, anbd the total $NZD 6 million spent was the biggest investment by Porters in its 50-year history. It has transformed the ski area and as a result has increased patronage in the subsequent winters. This summer, the company bought the 40 bed Porters Lodge and built a professionally designed mountain bike track, ensuring year-round operation and revenue.
Ruapehu pumping in the cash, seeing the results
Up in the North Island Mt Ruapehu, with it’s twin Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas, is the mainstay of the domestic snow industry. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL) – which operates Mt Ruapehu ski fields – has invested $22m in new lifts, snowmaking, restaurants and night skiing at Whakapapa over the past 2 years. And it has paid off with a 47% year on year increase in visitor days in 2017 leaving CEO Ross Copland very pleased with the result.
“To see such a compelling response to the new lifts and facilities proves that as a nation we still love the magic of snow and getting outdoors in the winter – the Whakapapa example proves our guests are responsive to investment which is reassuring in such a capital-intensive industry.”
A recently announced $25m, 1.8km gondola for Whakapapa is scheduled to open in June 2019 and is predicted to drive an additional $50m of visitor spending in the Ruapehu visitor economy annually from when it opens. $50m of further investment is planned for Turoa and Whakapapa as part of a $100m, 10-year development strategy.
For Aussies wanting to try something different, plus visit attractions like Rotorua and North Island wineries, the ideal time to visit is spring – September and through October. The weather is usually better than, and the short touring opportunities above both ski areas are magnificent on a good day.
Heliski operators also had big seasons, like our friends at Mt Cook.