It’s back, baby.

Mountain Scene can exclusively reveal Queenstown’s biggest winter party is making a return this year — but it’s not a ‘Winter Festival’ as we know it.

Last year’s planned four-day festival got put on ice due to Covid and ultimately its director, Harald Ulriksen, was made redundant — he’s since taken on a role with Great South, in Invercargill.

Destination Queenstown interim boss Ann Lockhart says this year ‘Welcome to Winter’ will run over three days from July 2 to 4 — it’ll bring some of the favourite events from the traditional WinterFest together with some new, community-focused elements.

For example, a winter ball’s on the cards, as is a day on the mountain, the free community fireworks display and some musical entertainment.

The popular downtown Rail Jam will also be back.

And the town will be ‘‘dressed’’ for the occasion.

‘‘We’re working with council and other partners to totally dress the town up, so some light shows on buildings, etc, etc.’’

New look, new name for Winter Festival

She’s quick to point out while it’s a purposeful move to change the WinterFest branding, it’s not a permanent one.

‘Perfect timing’: Destination Queenstown interim boss Ann Lockhart

In part that’s because WinterFest carries with it ‘‘high expectations’’.

‘‘And two, we’re in uncertain times.

‘‘When we were planning this we didn’t have a border and we could have an outbreak, so we just think this year the pragmatic thing to do is give it a new look and the winter festival can come back bigger, brighter in the future.’’

The event’s timing, she says, is ideal.

That weekend falls in the middle of the Australian school holidays, and right before the New Zealand school holidays start.

‘‘I think it’s great that we can announce this now with the bubble being open [and] we’ll be able to use this opportunity to market it to our Australian visitors as well.

‘‘I think that it will work out well.’’

The Queenstown Winter Festival did receive some funding from the domestic events fund,
which will be used to help put it on.

Lockhart says there won’t be a festival director, but event professionals will be contracted in to run some aspects.

And there won’t be any naming rights sponsor.

Instead DQ will have ‘‘partners’’, including NZSki, Cardrona Alpine Resort, Wayfare and SkyCity.

Coming back: The 2021 ‘Welcome to Winter’ event will include a downtown Rail Jam

DQ’s going to look after some aspects of the event, like the fireworks and some of the community elements, using contracted events professionals.

‘‘And we’ll work with the others that will manage their events at their venues.

‘‘We’ll assist them, but they’ll be responsible for running their own events — so the day on the mountain, for example, NZSki are perfectly capable of doing that.’’

The event’ll also help support events professionals and suppliers who’ve done it tough over
the past year.

‘‘We’re absolutely delighted that we can support the industry at large by having this at that time of year,’’ Lockhart says.

The full programme will be announced on Monday, April 19 and tickets will go on sale later this month, but more information’s on DQ’s website,, now.

Ironically, Lockhart says, the party will coincide with the arrival of DQ’s new CEO, Paul Abbot, who’s due to take over the reins in July — ‘‘it could almost be the day,’’ Lockhart laughs.