New Zealand Ski Areas get Special Exemption to Open
14th May 2020 | Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Last modified on May 26th, 2020
The country has further relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, moving to Alert Level Two. Ski resorts are finalising their plans to open. Many resorts around the world are watching closely as it could be a blueprint for others.
UPDATED: SUNDAY 17th MAY
New Zealand is currently under a Level Two alert and this means indoor and outdoor gatherings are currently limited to 100 people.
However the government has agreed specific guidelines with the ski resorts to allow them to open.
Here at PlanetSKI we are paying particular attention to what is happening in New Zealand.
“It may set a model for what resorts in the northern hemisphere could look like next winter if social distancing needs to be implemented,” said the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove.
“However New Zealand has had very low levels of coronavirus after an early strict lockdown, so has had a different set of circumstances. The risk level at the moment is described as very small and the country claims to have beaten the virus at this stage.”
New Zealand has had just 1,149 confirmed cases and 21 deaths.
Level Two in New Zealand allows for domestic travel, though international tourists remain banned.
Some visitors may be allowed from Australia, as it has also had comparatively few cases, though details have not been announced.
Under the new agreed guidelines, the ski resorts won’t be subject to the 100-person outdoor gathering limit.
The only requirement for the number of people allowed on the ski area will be making sure appropriate physical distancing can be managed.
Restaurants and bars will be subjected to the only 100 people indoors who must be seated and served separately.
“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,” said a statement from the resort of Cardronna.
Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables in the South Island are getting ready to open in about a month.
GUIDELINES FOR SKI RESORTS UNDER LEVEL 2
– Physical distancing required
– Contact tracing in place
– No limit on number of people allowed at once
– Resort restaurants to follow hospitality limits of 100 people maximum, seated and served separately
– Increased cleaning and sanitation
The economic question for ski resorts is whether there will be enough demand and will they be able to allow enough people to ski to make it viable?
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.
See below for last week’s report on developments in New Zealand.
THURSDAY 14th MAY:
New Zealand is widely considered to have handled its response to the pandemic well.
The latest figures show there have been just under 1,500 cases and 21 deaths among a population of around 5 million.
Alert Level 3 allowed staff at the ski fields to get onto the hills and begin preparations for the winter season.
We reported last month as the lockdown was eased after its successful campaign to contain the virus.
Level 2, which came into force on Thursday 14th May, means they will be able to open, albeit with restrictions.
It will not be business as usual and only people already in New Zealand – and possibly Australia – will be able to travel to ski or snowboard there.
The final say rests with the government.
The scaling down to Alert Level 2 has allowed shops, cafes, and public parks in New Zealand to open with the authorities saying the chance of community transmission is now very low.
People are allowed to start seeing their friends and families again, with a limit of 10 people.
At a Covid-19 news conference, the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that the major ski field operators had been working together as well as with the Ministry of Health to determine the best practices when they eventually re-open.
She said good progress had been made on developing guidelines.
The resorts are working on physical distancing, managing gatherings in certain zones on the mountain, including lift queues, and ensuring additional cleaning and hygiene measures.
Some are hoping to open for skiing and snowboarding as early as mid-June, others later in the month or early July.
NZSki, which operates The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt in the South Island, says all three mountains will open, subject to getting final clearance from the government.
“All of our mountains are dearly loved by visitors for different reasons, so we are stoked to say we plan to open all three,” said the CEO Paul Anderson.
“They might look a little different as some of our operations may have to be altered to make sure we can abide by new industry operating requirements under COVID Level 2, but we’ll make sure it’ll be an epic season ahead.”
Mt Hutt in Canterbury plans to be the first to open in mid-to-late June, operating three days a week to start with before scaling up in early July to at least five days a week including the weekend, weather and conditions allowing.
“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,” Anderson said.
Mt Hutt is also considering reducing or limiting its season pass sales and day pass sales to restrict numbers on the mountain.
“This is a work in progress. We would ask you to bear with us on this until we receive further government guidance on maximum numbers and operational guidelines,” the resort said on social media.
In Queenstown, Coronet Peak – known as the locals mountain – is planning to open daily from late June, just a couple of weeks later than originally scheduled so it can catch up on maintenance that was on hold during lockdown.
The Remarkables is preparing to open daily from early July for the two weeks during the New Zealand school holidays and then at weekends at a minimum.
CEO Paul Anderson said he was hopeful the new 6-seater Sugar Bowl chairlift will be complete in time for opening.
“The Remarkables has a strong contingent of skiers and riders who love exploring the terrain parks and some of the big mountain trails so we’re really pleased that for now, we plan to get it open for the school holidays and then weekends.
“We do have the capacity to scale up our operations across all of our mountains if we see guest numbers that warrant this as the season progresses,” he added.
“We’ve been working on things like introducing physical distancing, managing gatherings in certain zones on the mountain, and ensuring additional cleaning and hygiene measures.”
The General Manager of South Island resorts Cardrona and Treble Cone, Bridget Legnavsky, told New Zealand media she was confident the resorts would be ready to open in about 6 weeks.
“We operate in small towns that rely on tourism and whilst we will be less busy initially, it’s great to see everyone getting back on their feet again,” Legnavsky said.
“We’re waiting to see what happens with indoor zones and hospitality but it is likely we will re-align with the industry guidelines.”
Cardrona & Treble Cone announced on Facebook on Thursday that they’re up and running for people to buy their lift passes.
“Now we’re at Level 2, Cardrona Corner is back open! Come in and say hi to our wonderful team – Kyah and Emily are super excited to chat to you about all things winter, help you out with Cardrona and Treble Cone passes, and get you kitted out with some snow gear. We’ll have another update on life in Level 2 for you all soon… watch this space ?”
On the North Island, preparations are underway at Mt Ruahepu Turoa & Whakapapa.
“Kia Ora, as the country moves to Alert Level 2 today, we can finally pop our bubbles and get out and enjoy our regions and support local!” the resorts said on social media on Thursday.
“All updates relating to Mt Ruapehu and our winter planning will be posted on our social channels and our dedicated Covid – 19 help centre when they become available.”
Meanwhile, the opening of Australia’s ski resorts this winter is still in the balance.
They are hoping to begin operating in early July but news reports suggest that there will not be a decision before early June.
There’s already been some decent snowfall there…..
We’ll update you hear on PlanetSKI when we have more news about the winter plans Down Under.