28 Jul 2011

Stranded skiers leave mountain

5:55 am on 28 July 2011

All 250 skiers and snowboarders descended from the Mount Lyford skifield on Wednesday afternoon, after spending a night on the North Canterbury mountain.

They were stuck on the mountain after the access road was closed due to the risk of avalanche.

The first cars made it down from the mountain just after 2pm on Wednesday, and by 3pm all had left the mountain.

Police search and rescue incident controller Sergeant Craig Prior says the mountain road is normally a half-hour drive, but drivers were taking it very cautiously.

Many people spoken to by Radio New Zealand had spent the night in their cars, and said it was a cold and windy experience. Others spent the night in the cafeteria at the skifield, near Hanmer Springs.

Skifield owner Doug Simpson said almost half a metre of light snow had blown onto ridges above the road on Tuesday, and operators decided to take a cautious approach because of the potential for avalanches.

He told Radio New Zealand's Afternoons programme that the potential for avalanches made it too risky for snow groomers to try to clear the road. He said a number of large charges were set off on Wednesday morning to dislodge any loose snow and the road was cleared for cars.

Mr Simpson said the decision to shut the road was the right one, as four small avalanches later covered it. He said it was the first incident of its kind in the skifield's 23 years of operation.

Snow groomers picked up food from Kaikoura for the skifield's unexpected guests early on Wednesday morning, along with explosives to clear any more potential avalanches.