Ski Tasmania and NZ on same trip this winter?

Speculation is rife about how and when Trans-Tasman skiing might fire up again. After the Prime Ministers of both Australia and New Zealand video conference this week suggesting flight resumptions are definitely on the agenda, but apparently less urgently from the Aussie side than the Kiwis, others on both sides of the ditch are more fired up to get things moving quicker.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein has raised the possibility of reviving direct Hobart – NZ flights, which last ran back in the 1990s.

Hands up who would like to get back to Coronet Peak? ©

NZ’s Deputy PM Winston Peters liked the idea.

“Well it is seriously exciting that first of all you’ve got a premier thinking outside the square, so to speak” he told NZ radio.

“He is looking now at the success of the Covid-19 attack from Tasmania and New Zealand’s attack as well and he sees possibilities and we need to think like that, we have got to give the words agile and nimble some real meaning and not just be a bureaucratic cliché.”

Which would open some novel combinations for skiers. Aussies have a long term love affair with skiing NZ, but as we have shown you Tassie skiing can be none too shabby either – awesome backcountry, fun club style skiing (just like you get in NZ too) and a “resort” of sorts at Ben Lomond near Launceston (the Whistler of Tasmania in fact).

Maybe some kiwis will come over and find big mountain skiing in Tassie too? © Shaun Mittwollen

New Zealand is set to move to their Level 2 restrictions as early as next week after a cabinet meeting on May 11th, which then allows their ski resorts at least limited operation. The biggest drawback to that operation appears to lie in a limit on “gatherings” of more than 500 people at a venue. They are lobbying hard for some extension of that – NZ Ski (who own Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt) and others have made clear it would be uneconomic for them to operate with those sort of limits.

NZ Ski’s Chief Executive Paul Anderson is expecting as few as 25% of the normal visitation to their Queenstown fields and 50% for Hutt. Aussies usually supply.

Queenstown Mayor and long time tourist business operator Jim Boult points out the pretty ridiculous restrictions skiing space wise.

“We’re sort of restricted to two people per hectare of ski terrain and that seems like a bit of overkill. For the ski season I’m looking for a bit of freedom in that regard.”

Ditto that Mr Mayor! The Coronet Peak Express opened last year can shift 2,600 per hour all by itself.

For the club fields and small commercial ones like Ohau it could work. But not for larger areas. Something pertinent for Australia to consider too – 2500 people in Perisher at 2 per hectare is not a lot. Or very viable.

Ohau could work OK with 500 skiers a day © Owain Price

Level 2 restrictions include indoor limits of 100 people for restaurants, bars etc – which would be manageable. Outside realistically when people are spread around skiing thousands could be spaced out quite safely. The resort managements have suggested raising the limit to at least 3,000.

Meantime domestic flights are also on the agenda as domestic travel is allowed again under NZ’s Level 2 rules. Local Queenstown MP Hamish Walker presented Air New Zealand with a petition signed by 5500 locals in support of resumed flights. Air New Zealand have not released details of schedules – until the country actually moves to Level 2 (next week hopefully) it’s all hypothetical anyway.

A challenge will be to keep local businesses operating if numbers are severely limited. Mayor Boult has come out strongly in favour of Queenstown firing up locked down icon business like the TSS Earnslaw steam ship, the gondola, and Jet Boating to welcome tourists.

“Because would people come here if they can’t do those activities? No. We all want people to come back but we’ve got to open the door for them.”

Aussies who go for the apres scene as much (or more ..) than the on mountain side of things will be dissapointed even if the other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Realistically venues will not be back as we knew them for a long time. Level 2 keeps nightclubs and dance venues closes. Bars/restaurants all patrons be seated, spaced out at tables, tables served by one server.

Certainly the pressure is on from below – the people and the businesses who are hurting to get things moving again sooner rather than later.

If Hobart – Christchurch did fire up again as a route it would be a sneaky back door for Aussies to Kiwi skiing.

From a containment point of view, and keeping the lid on things traceability wise, having initial international resumption flights limited to smaller destinations like Queenstown from Sydney or Melbourne, and maybe Gold Coast or Cairns from Auckland, would actually be a smart way to go. Especially if the respective international arrivals were allowed to avoid quarantine if they stayed in the area – so Aussies can go ski Southern Lakes, Kiwis can warm up in Cairns or the Gold Coast for example.

Then if there are any random cases they can be traced and contacts contained more easily.

Pro-active Peters has already flagged the South Pacific as his next target for expanding international flights from NZ. From Australia we should equally be looking to add more as soon as safe/practicable – Taiwan would have to be a leading contender, with Japan not far behind.

As we have shown, there was low to zero effect on Japanese COVID-19 cases from keeping their ski areas open.

The Remarkables can probably safely space out more than 2 skiers per hectare ©