Skifield crackdown on ski tourers


NZSki has trespassed three ski tourers from Coronet Peak skifield - handing them two-year bans.

Ski area boss Ross Copland called in police to help eject the skiers off the Queenstown field a week last Thursday night.

The firm and some tourers are at loggerheads over access to the recreation land, which NZSki leases from the Department of Conservation.

Copland says near misses with grooming machinery are commonplace and he’s worried someone will be killed or seriously injured.

Touring’s permitted when the field is open but restricted to after 6am and before 6pm otherwise.

Sarah Sue is the designated out-of-hours run.

The three tourers were spotted on that run at about 8.30pm that night.

“It was dark, minus three degrees, snowing, and there was a cold southeasterly, so visibility was poor and conditions were challenging,” Copland says.

“A staff member asked them to leave but they declined and carried on.

“I called the police to assist us in removing these gentleman from our workplace for their own safety and our staff safety.”

The three tourers are experienced mountaineers; one has skied to the South Pole and twice to the North Pole.

One, who did not want to be named, says he didn’t realise they were doing anything wrong.

“We understand where NZSki’s coming from but there should be signs up there, not everyone is on social media,” he says.

“If we’d known the consequences, 100 per cent we wouldn’t have been there.”

Copland says there are signs - they ignored them, instructions on the website, published guidelines, and direct instructions from staff.

“At that point we’ve no option but to remove them because they’ve shown they can’t or won’t follow instructions put there for safety,” he says.

Coronet Peak is a workplace, so NZSki has safety obligations under the Health, Safety and Employment Act and the DoC lease.

An explosion in ski touring has seen scores of people skinning up Coronet Peak this season and Copland says he’s grateful the “vast majority” adhere to the guidelines.

But some are on the mountain outside hours and others take the “massive risk” of skinning up Sarah Sue and skiing down other runs where operations are underway.

Queenstown adventurer Erik Bradshaw, who completed the first ski traverse of the Southern Alps in 2011, questions the legality of issuing civil trespass notices on reserve land.

“It’s a grey area for me,” he says.

“Without doubt NZSki can remove your pass and deny you access to their buildings but it’s whether they can actually deny you access to the reserve.”

Bradshaw says the conversation seems to be predominantly between NZSki and DoC, rather than with the touring community.

“We need a fair and balanced approach to how that recreation reserve is used,” he says.

“It should be available to all people.

“NZSki is generating the hazard, they can control when and where they do it.”

Copland counters NZSki is providing a balanced approach, with its provision for relatively small numbers of ski tourers in comparison to thousands of paying guests.

“About 250,000 people want to ski downhill at Coronet Peak this year and that means we need to run our pperations.

“There are millions upon million of hectares of public land above the snowline which are accessible for ski touring.”