Forecast of cold winter should warm this resort

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Snow makes credit-card zappers run hot. For the second year, Coronet Peak snowmaking allows a fairly firm opening date planned for the ski season – this year it’s June 6.

It should be a boomer. These kick in: lower kiwi dollar, cheap Tasman flights, the $2.5 million Govern­ment boost for promotion in Australia and confidence thanks to the snow guns, now with ample water.

How long the season will last still depends on precipitation – rain and snow – and cold.

Southern Alpine Recreation owns the Coronet Peak, Remarkables and Mount Hutt fields. Chief executive James Coddington says ideally Coronet snowmaking will start about May 22.

“If you make it too far out and you get warm weather it’s wasted.”

The company is spending a lot of its own money telling Australians Queenstown skiing and snowboarding is much better than theirs.

Australian skifields use less sophisticated snow-making gear, Coddington says. Climate change – warming – seems to affect Aussie fields more, too.

New Zealand attracts about 70,000 a year of Australia’s 1.1 million active skiers and snowboarders (NZ has about 200,000). Boarders makes up 30 to 35 per cent of the NZ snow sports market. The advent of short skis has attracted some boarders to skiing.

Coronet Peak usually closes around October 3, and the Remarkables a week later. Some suggest this season will be one of the coldest for years, Coddington says.

Bob McDavitt, Met Service official “weather ambassador”, says it’s too early to talk about winter. An El Nina oscillation affecting NZ may be on the point of fading away. Last year it faded in July when three big lows brought much snow to the country’s skifields.

If El Nina fades before July this year, lows might come at the wrong time for snow, McDavitt cautions.

While weather scientists back off talking more than a month or two ahead, long-range forecaster Ken Ring, the Moon Man, picks a long, cold 2009 winter for the Wakatipu – cold enough for the Shotover River to freeze over in July. It hasn’t frozen since 1991.

Ring, known for his almanac, says Queenstown precipitation may be heaviest in August.

Ring thinks it will be cold enough for Ruapehu skifields to remain open until January and Wakatipu fields until mid-October.

“But sub-zero minimum temperatures in some areas like Fiordland and Coronet Peak may be below minus-five degrees into December, and that may be cold enough for late-season snow.

“Queenstown hills may see snow down to 600m in mid-December. I think there’s a possibility for winter sports to continue well towards the end of the year.”

Ring has completed writing his 2010 almanac. He expects next summer to be dry and at times as hot as the 2008-09 summer.

“It’s going to very hot for New Year’s Eve, around mid-January, and at the end of the month.”

Ring bases some forecasting on the Moon’s 18-20 year cycles, particularly the 19-year Metonic cycle (which helps set Easter’s dates). Basically, Ring looks at weather on the corresponding spot in the previous cycle then factors in other Moon data.

“You can virtually say the seasons come around again every 9-10 and 18-20 years.”

Neill Birss will chase up your biz tips: neillb@maxnet.co.nz