COVID-19 + NZ Snow Season: Will we be riding this winter?

An insight into the upcoming season…Current situation and what we can expect out of winter 2020.

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Words: Charlie Hay

What a strange time we live in…

The knock-on effects of that initial outbreak in China has changed the way we live, no one and no part of our hyper-connected society has gone unaffected. So what do we do when we are faced with a crisis? Well, it’s not uncommon to see people turn to the things they love for comfort, and for many of you reading, that’s snowboarding. We’ve been lucky enough in New Zealand to keep things under control to a degree, thanks to the babysitting by Ol’ Cindy, however things are still up in the air about the 2020 snow season. Fortunately, there’s some indication about how things could pan out!

The Current Situation…

It looks like NZ will be heading into Alert Level 2 in the near future. This means kiwis will have the freedom to travel country wide, chasing the best snow! But until Sco Mo & Aunty Cindy rig up a peace deal, there will be no Trans-Tasman travel. The amended restrictions with Level 2 limit outdoor and indoor gatherings to a 100-person maximum. There have been talks between the NZ Ski Association and the Government regarding expanding this outdoor limit, due to the massive space that could house an increased populous safely, and the ski industries unique ability to contact trace efficiently with RFID chips, so stay posted for updates on that front. Sports and recreation also get the green light, but to date, there’s no clear word on how these lifted restrictions will transpose into the functioning of ski resorts.

If reports from the execs up at the big resorts are anything to go by, things are looking promising.  

Image: Cardrona Resort

Three Peaks

NZSki officials said that the possibility of them not opening the Remarkables, Coronet Peak & Mt Hutt this winter is an “unlikely event”, and they are confident they will be open in level 2 conditions on their scheduled opening date; June 6th, 13th, and 5th respectively. Pass protection has now included ‘travel bans imposed by regulatory bodies’, including domestic and international, so if you can’t make it, you won’t be out of pocket. An extension by NZSki for early-bird passes means you can hold off until the start of the season before you make that decision about forking out for a season pass.

Image: The Remarkables Ski Area

Cardrona & Treble Cone

Even better, the conjoint owned Cardrona & Treble Cone recently confirmed they will be open for business in level 2, letting the locals get their fix! There’s talk of options of opening Cardrona and Treble Cone on alternating days, as well as opening a select number of chairlifts, due to the expected 50% decrease in visitors under Alert Level 2. Cardrona is expecting to open on the 27th June, and Treble Cone one day later on the 28th June. The terms & conditions of season/multi-day passes at these resorts have reflected the current situation, where pass holders may be given a partial or full refund if their ability to come riding is compromised by COVID19.

Image: Cardrona Resort

Mt Ruapehu Fields

Up north, public information is limited; the official COVID memo at Mt Ruapehu states “If we do manage to open for winter 2020, our operations will be significantly different to what our guests experienced in the past”. Considering the confidence from the southern ski fields, it’s no stretch to speculate that the northern resorts might open, at least partially, for the 2020 season. Mt Ruapehu Ski Fields have extended their Season Pass purchase date till the 31st of May, and if restrictions mean they won’t be able to open for 2020, season pass holders will have their credit transferred to 2021. But to date, there’s no word on when they are expecting to open.

Club Fields

At the club fields, like the commercial resorts, Alert Level 3 has meant the pre-season prep work could get started, getting things in place for the COVID winter season. Speaking with Mt Lyford’s Hamish Simpson, it appears that after group meetings with all club field representatives, the general consensus is that they are planning to operate under Alert Level 2. Safety precautions are still being sorted out, but talks with the NZ Ski association, and subsequently the NZ Government, means this information should trickle down in the coming weeks.

Image: Nick Hyne

This seasons going to be a weird one. The international travel restrictions currently mean no tourists. But, we are allowed to travel countrywide, if you can afford the hiked up plane ticket price. The ski towns and villages we usually see spewing with people will be a lot quieter, so will the mountains.

We could see a real club field atmosphere at the commercial resorts this year, where there will be fewer riders, consisting of mostly locals, where everyone knows each other. The staff may be a bit more laid back with these stunted numbers, and queuing for lifts could damn near be a thing of the past. If there’s only one chair being run at the local commercial resort, go to a clubby, it’s looking like they’ll all be in business, and not so heavily affected by the 100-man restriction.

This season has a lot of potential, it’s looking like it will be a bit of a throwback to the early days of NZ shredding before the world caught on to our secret, and the Northern Hemi residents poured in. Currently as I finish this sentence, the past week we’ve had just 3 new cases of COIVD-19 in NZ.

With over a month until the season kicks into gear, a lot can change for better or for worse, it’s a “rapidly evolving situation” as the news reader’s recite. But, if the number’s stay down, Alert Level 1 may be in our scope, and if Mother Nature provides us with the goods, we could be looking at an all-time season!

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