NEW ZEALAND SKI AREAS PLAN TO OPEN WITH SOME RESTRICTIONS
27th April 2020 | James Cove, PlanetSKI editor
Last modified on May 15th, 2021
New Zealand says it has stopped the community transmission of Covid-19, effectively eliminating the virus. Ski resorts are cautiously optimistic they will be able to open for a locals’ season, albeit under tight restrictions.
The winter skiing and snowboarding season in New Zealand is due to start in June and usually continues to October.
Ski resort representatives have met with government officials to see if the ski areas can open safely and within coronavirus restrictions.
It looks like opening dates will be pushed back to the end of June, but there is some optimism in the mountains.
NZSki manages the resorts of Coronet Peak and the Remarkables in Queenstown and Mt Hutt in Canterbury on the South Island.
It says all three skifields intend to open near the end of June, though exact dates have not been set.
Mt Dobson skifield plus Cardrona Alpine Resort and Treble Cone in Wanaka also plan to open their doors at the same time.
So, how is it going to work?
The country has now moved from Alert Level Four lockdown to Alert Level Three.
This means ski resorts cannot open to the public, but maintenance teams can return to the skifields to prepare for the season.
Strict social distancing measures and other working restrictions will be in force for the people allowed to prepare the resorts.
Teams have already started work in Coronet Peak near Queenstown and there is a dusting of snow at altitude.
“During level 3 we have some of our team back on mountain getting things ready for the winter,” said a statement from the resort.
“For anyone coming up to ride bikes or go hiking we ask that you help keep our staff safe and remember social distancing.
“The mountain bike trails are still open but we are diverting people from the drop in zone and around our base building for the health and safety of our team.
“We ask that you please follow the government recommendations on recreation activities during alert level 3 including sticking to low-risk activities, sticking with your bubble and maintaining 2 metre distancing.”
It is hoped the country will be able to move to Alert Level Two in May.
This means mass indoor gatherings of 100 people or less and outdoor gatherings of up to 500 will be allowed.
People are advised to keep a distance of 1m from each other, with participation in sports and recreational activities acceptable.
Non-essential travel around the country is not encouraged, but there are no firm restrictions on using mass transport.
The first falls of snow have come down in Cardrona.
There is also some snow currently on the mountain tops near the ski resort of Mr Hutt on the south island.
THE NEW ZEALAND RESPONSE TO COVID-19
It has been widely praised and singled out by many commentators as the text book way to confront the coronavirus pandemic.
It was helped by its distance from other countries and relatively few points of entry.
It sealed its borders and enforced quarantine of all people arriving.
It mounted an extensive testing and contact tracing operation.
It introduced tough restrictions early on.
Offices, schools, beaches, waterfronts and playgrounds were shut on 26th March.
Bars and restaurants were also closed, including for takeaway and delivery.
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has said the country could never know how bad it would have been, but that “through our cumulative actions we have avoided the worst”.
From Tuesday, some non-essential business, healthcare and education activity have been able to resume.
People have been told to stay at home and work at home if they can, but businesses are allowed to open if they can provide a contactless service.
Schools are also allowed to re-open but will have to ensure social distancing rules are followed.
Mass gatherings remain cancelled and public venues closed.
New Zealand has reported 1,122 confirmed cases, 1,180 people have recovered and there have been 19 deaths.
WILL THE SKI RESORTS BE ECONOMICABLY VIABLE?
This is the key question for the resorts.
The chief executive of NZ Ski, Paul Anderson, said it was expecting a quarter of the normal number of visitors in Queenstown and half at Mt Hutt.
The business model for many resorts relies on the early sale of lift passes, but this has been hit by the virus and the uncertainty.
Prices for adult tickets with early bird discounts at NZSki cost $799, children $319.
The offer was due to end on March 31st but most ski resorts have extended their early bird offers to early June.
Numbers will likely be down with a drop off from international visitors.
The cost of running a ski area will likely be at the same level, so the resorts will have to deal with broadly similar costs, but absorb a fall in revenue.
Some point to the fact that under lockdown people have been spending less and saving more, so may have money in their pocket.
Others say the economic downturn and concerns for the future will put people off.
WHAT WILL SKIING LOOK LIKE?
Of great interest to all ski resorts around the world will be how the resorts operate on a day-to-day level with regard to social distancing, the wearing of facemasks and the use of coronavirus Apps and other tracing and tracking mechanisms.
- Will lift chairlifts run with only one person on?
- How will lift queues be managed?
- Will restaurants and bars be open?
- How can you hire skis and boots and have them fitted if people have to keep 1m apart?
On a wider level national borders may not be open to stop foreigners arriving who may have a significant risk in having the virus.
A quarantine period may be in place and this will not allow people to take a short ski break.
There are already mutterings in the Alps that some countries may keep their external borders closed to some foreign nationals if there is a continuing threat from covid-19 from some countries who are judged not to have handled the pandemic well.
There may be some form of quarantine put in place as the virus seems to spread quicker in the colder temperatures of winter.
All these questions will need to be answered and resorts in Europe and North America will be looking on with keen interest.
As we will at PlanetSKI.
Meanwhile if you want to know what skiing in New Zealand is like check out these PlanetSKI reports from 2018 as we toured the South Island in a motorhome:
- Mount Hutt – And So It Ends
- Cardrona – The Stuff Of Dreams
- Coronet Peak & The Remarkables – PlanetSKI Hits Queenstown & Its Ski Resorts
And if you go to NZ, it would be rude to explore the country outside the ski fields….
And this is a great way to get around….