The most exciting development for decades in NZ skiing – Cardrona’s Soho Basin Mega Expansion – starts now, winter 2021, several years earlier than planned. All thanks to a few rare lizards..
Yes, they had originally planned to extend below Captain’s Basin with the re-purposed McDougal’s Quad Chair slated to go in for winter 2019 there, after it was replaced by the ‘Chondola’ combi gondola and 6 seat chair lift in 2017.
Nationally vulnerable Orange-spotted gecko and Lakes skink lizard species were discovered whilst surveying the proposed footprint of the Pringles Quad chairlift. A significant effort was made by the Cardrona team, working closely with scientists and DOC, to create a plan that would mitigate any potential impact on the lizard species caused by the lift construction. But despite that, because of the high significance of the area and the species involved, DOC made the decision not to approve the Wildlife Act Authorisation so the project was cancelled.
Not problem, no lift ever dies in NZ! There was no way Cardrona was going to waste the chairlift. Instead they fast-forwarded the Soho Basin master plan for 2021, installing the re-birthed lift as the Willow Chair.
For the first time since the resort opened 45 years ago there will be lift-accessed skiing and riding on the back side of Mt Cardrona looking back towards Waktipu and the Southern Alps. The expansion adds 65 hectares of primarily intermediate terrain, accessed from the top of the McDougall’s Chondola through to the bottom of the Willows Quad.
On a pow day it will be hard to ignore for first run off the back too. It’s pretty much ideal rolling terrain perfect for getting your pow act together on. Speed is your friend, no cliffs to drop off so open the throttle in that case!
It all adds to the variety at Cardrona which will continue to be a family favourite as well as park and pipe central, incubator for a generation of incredible Kiwi ski and board talent.
The new lift addresses some of the resort’s capacity challenges that were highlighted during the busy July school holiday period in 2020. Yes, despite COVID keeping Aussies away. Valley View Quad will be back operational in 2021, and with the new Willows Quad also in action, the resort’s uphill lift capacity will be 44% greater than it was in 2020.
Let’s hope there is better news on the Trans-Tasman COVID bubble front soon so Aussies can get over there too.
The Soho Basin boutique cat ski operation utilizes the terrain further around from Willow Basin. They are scheduled to open from 6 July, snow permitting.