19 Jul 2022

Visitors return to Ruapehu, but where is the snow?

7:38 pm on 19 July 2022

A lack of snow has meant a slightly rocky start for Ruapehu's ski season, and the businesses it supports.

While the central North Island has rolled open the welcome mat for school holiday makers and the first international visitors, chairlifts due to start turning 10 days ago have been still.

Only the beginner areas of Turoa's Alpine Meadow and Whakapapa's Happy Valley have been in operation to date, along with a rope tow at club field Tukino.

Locals are keeping a keen eye on forecasts for the "20 or 30 centimetres" of snow they need to coat the upper slopes and get ski season properly underway.

On the streets of Ohakune, visitors said they had had to tweak their holiday plans.

"We're here for the skiing, to teach these guys how to ski - but it's not so good up here," one visitor said.

"We've tried twice: Whakapapa yesterday, Turoa today, to go on the beginner slopes, but it's jam packed full of people ... and it's a desperate lack of snow ... it's awful."

Rock and snow at Whakapapa ski field.

Rock and snow at Whakapapa ski field. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

It comes as some South Island skifields enjoy snow bases of up to 180cm.

So far Turoa's snow base is sitting at 3-60cm, and Whakapapa's at 12-48cm - with much of the early season snow that fell in June washed away in heavy rainfall.

Turoa ski area manager Johan Bergman said in the right humidity and temperatures, crews could use giant snow guns to coat the ground in artificial snow.

That was still luring plenty of people up the mountain, he said, and keeping the skifield ticking over while they waited for more to fall.

"We're on the side of the mountain so we're always up against the weather. But we're a hardy bunch, so we get out there and do the mahi when we can."

But back on the ground, some hospitality businesses said getting a good snow base was "a matter of urgency".

Ruapehu Mountain Motel and Lodge co-owner Leigh Berry feared a continued lack of snow would see tourists venture to the South Island instead, costing the local economy.

"There'll be a lot of people who'll be hurting, real hard. We're resilient, we've got through Covid the last couple of years, but there's a lot who've really put their faith in this season being the way of keeping on going."

Last year was "a disaster", she said.

"We had that big lockdown in the middle of August which was our prime time. Beautiful, hot, bluebird days, powder snow, and no one from Auckland could come and play on it. We had 300 unit nights cancel immediately because of that. So that was basically all our income."

Only the beginner areas of Turoa's Alpine Meadow and Whakapapa's Happy Valley are open due to a lack of snow on other areas.

Only the beginner areas of Turoa's Alpine Meadow and Whakapapa's Happy Valley are open due to a lack of snow on other areas. Photo: Marika Khabazi

For now, TCB Ski Board and Bike director Mike Wiggins said visitors were sticking around town - some swapping out skis and snowboards for two wheeled alternatives.

"We've had untold [numbers of] bikers going out every morning, every day. And it's nice weather so they're enjoying it, as well," he said.

They could also enjoy local walks, disc golf, museums and rock climbing, he said.

"It's a great place to be outdoors."

He was optimistic about the snow season ahead and said the forecast for later this weekend offered some hope.

MetService is predicting a sprinkling of snow on all sides of the mountain.

"We've been doing a snow dance at night so it will come. Yeah, it's a bit late, but it will come," Wiggins said.

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