With the New Zealand Government having lifted its ban on domestic travel under its Alert Level 2, the nation’s ski fields are preparing to operate during the upcoming winter season.
With the New Zealand Government agreeing to specific guidelines for ski resorts to allow them to operate safely, albeit at a reduced capacity and with no international visitors, ski areas are now preparing their facilities and employing staff.
Speaking last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted that for “open air” spaces like ski fields and golf courses operating during Alert Level 2 “a different set of circumstances” would apply to manage “congregations of individuals (so as to be) very mindful of the contact people have with one another.”
The guidelines require resorts to manage physical distancing, ensure contract tracing is in place and to increase cleaning and sanitation. The large areas over which ski areas operate mean that there is no cap on the total number of people allowed on the ski area, provided physical distancing can be managed. Ski resort restaurants and hospitality facilities will be subject to hospitality requirements.
While plans will require approval from the New Zealand Government, operators are looking forward to opening.
NZSki Chief Executive Paul Anderson, Chief Executive of NZ Ski, which operates Mt Hutt near Christchurch and Coronet Peak and The Remarkables ski fields near Queenstown, said the ski industry was “heartened” the ski resorts would be open for business under level 2, noting “we have got so much space it is possible for us to keep everyone spread out. We will spread out queues, put only 100 seats in any seated areas and carefully manage people in those areas ... we are committed to being a responsible industry.”
Advising that the fields will stagger their starts, Anderson said Mt Hutt would be the first to open, in mid-to-late June, operating three days a week at the outset before scaling up in early July to at least five days a week.
He stated “at Mt Hutt we tend to get some great dumps of snow but that can mean we are closed because of the weather. By planning for the five best weather days we'll be able to give our guests more certainty on opening days.”
In Queenstown, Coronet Peak should open daily from late June after maintenance work that was put on hold during the lockdown while The Remarkables should be open from early July for the two weeks of the New Zealand school holidays and then on weekends at a minimum.
Bridget Legnavsky, General Manager at Wanaka ski fields Cardrona and Treble Cone, stated “in Level 2, we will be open and that's great news for our team and our town.
"It's been challenging to navigate a new environment, but we all have one goal this year and that's to open safely for our guests. We have been working hard to demonstrate to government that we can implement safe procedures across our ski areas at Alert Level 2."
With Cardrona and Treble Cone aiming for a 29th June opening, Legnavsky advises that operations will be resized to suit reduced visitation, noting need to resize operations to suit – "we can't open both mountains all the time, we can't open all lifts."
In Australia there is much less certainty about when the snow season might start.
Colin Hackworth of the Australian Ski Areas Association, the industry body that represents the lift company owners at each Australian snow resort, said until they had a timetable for the relaxation of travel restrictions and an increase in numbers at gatherings, the resorts were unable to confirm season-opening dates.
Hackworth noted “even if we can't get open for the June long weekend, as is usual, if we can get July, August and September, that'd be a good result. We'll just have to wait and see what's announced."
Images: The Remarkbles during the winter season (top) and Bridget Legnavsky, General Manager at Wanaka ski fields Cardrona and Treble Cone (below).
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