A lack of snow on the central plateau has led to one of the worst ski seasons in decades.
The peaks of Mt Ruapehu and Tongariro saw good snowfall early in the season, but since then the slopes have looked bare.
Tūroa remained closed and being assessed on Sunday, with the Mt Ruapehu team citing the “fragile snowpack” after high winds and rain pushed the ski area. The Happy Valley beginner’s area in Whakapapa was open, but bad weather closed all other facilities on the high mountain, and an update said there would be a “significant” reconstruction of the trails once the rain would have calmed down.
Locals relying on income from the ski season are watching the ’20 or 30 centimeter’ forecast while others say it would just be the ‘icing on the cake’ and cycle tourism is a growing market.
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There was genuine excitement about the snow at the start of the season, said Visit Ruapehu general manager Jo Kennedy, but it just didn’t come.
“A crowded area with three meters of snow, that’s not us this year,” Kennedy said.
The ‘real amp skiers’ still come in droves as the snow at the top of the mountain is good, but for beginners and intermediate skiers – the majority of visitors – it’s not the best.
Over the past two weeks, staff have managed to make piles of snow, but now the high temperatures of the past week have put things on hold, she said.
“I really feel for the ski areas that have worked hard.
“Whenever I come home at night, and it’s dark, the lights will be on both sides of the mountain with staff making snow and pushing it.
Despite that, she says, it’s not the worst the district has seen.
“We compare that to what we saw in the 90s where there was little or no snow on the lower mountains, but at the top there was meters of snow, but at the time they had no no snowmobiles.”
With the season not officially ending until the end of October, she said they hoped to see a good spring that would see them through.
“If we had snow, we would be out jumping happily.
“That would be the icing on the cake.”
For Tongariro Holiday Park, however, things are more serious.
The first snowfall in July made owner Greg Hooper think “Mother Nature was going to play ball” this season, but with the warm weather, no visitors come.
On a good ski weekend, he said, they would probably have about 80 guests in the park, but last week there were only about eight.
With few international visitors, they hoped to make do with the money they earn from school trips, but even they aren’t spending, Hooper said.
“Before, we had money in the bank, but that’s not the case anymore.”
He estimates that once this storm passes, it will be all for the top of the mountain.
“I don’t want to say it, but I think the mountain is going to have a hard time reopening. They will keep Happy Valley open, but for skiers they will struggle,” Hooper said.
“We’re going to take a huge hit.”
Meanwhile, Skotel Alpine Resort manager Sam Clarkson said the bad weather was also impacting the district’s ability to retain workers.
“A number of staff who came here for the snow got up and left because – so far at least – Queenstown has had a fabulous season when we haven’t,” Clarkson said. .
“Once six people left in a week.”
“Many local businesses have this problem, not just us, and it’s been brutal.”
For businesses living under Mount Ruapehu, however, all is not bleak.
The district’s growing cycling scene has places like Ōhakune buzzing as the weather turns bad.
TCB Ski, Board and Bike managing director Ben Wiggins said that when there was little snow on the mountains the town would be full of around 40 people riding their bikes.
He said TCB started mountain biking in Ōhakune 12 years ago in hopes of keeping visitor numbers going during the summer, but has since become popular year-round.
This has led many companies to follow suit by adapting their business to meet the needs of both markets.
“Once upon a time if there was a perfect weather forecast people just wouldn’t come, but since Covid that has changed,” Wiggins said.
“Now 60,000 bikers pass through Ōhakune every year and that number is only growing. It is catching up with skiing and snowboarding.
“The mountain will always be there and when there is good snow it is the best in the country, but the bikes take over.”
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