First snow of 2012 hits Queenstown

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Queenstown awoke to a winter wonderland this morning – sending social media a buzz with ski season anticipation.

Snow flurries overnight blanketed the mountains and surrounding hills almost to lake level, including Deer Park Heights and Skyline on Bob’s Peak, which is 790m above sea level.

The town itself remained clear but up to 13cms settled on nearby ski fields Coronet Peak (pictured) and The Remarkables.

The snowy blast has been welcomed by skiers, snowboarders and tourism operators, who have peppered social media sites with photos, messages and tweets.

But it is already causing problems for drivers, with the first cases this morning of two-wheel drive cars attempting to cross the snowy Crown Range saddle without chains.

NZSki sales manager Craig Douglas says: “We hope this is a sign the winter will continue this way.

“But you can’t really tell – it depends entirely on the weather patterns.

“I’ve not been up there myself this morning but you can see from our webcams.”

NZSki boss James Coddington cautiously predicted an earlier start to the ski season than last year when he spoke before Queenstown Chamber of Commerce last night.

Coronet Peak is scheduled to open for the 2012 season on June 9 and The Remarkables from June 16, subject to conditions.

The New Zealand MetService is predicting chilly conditions to continue in Queenstown throughout the week, with a daytime average of nine degrees and zero overnight. But there are no snow warnings on the weekly forecast.

And with a picturesque wintery landscape comes winter driving conditions.

Queenstown Lakes District Council transport manager Denis Mander says ‘chains must be carried’ signs were put in place on both sides of the Crown Range last night.

But he says ultimately all the signage in the world could not take the place of people looking at the conditions and considering whether they were equipped for them.

“The forecast was very widely promoted through multiple mediums, snow arrived as forecast and drivers need to take some responsibility,” Mander says.

With snow clearance this morning on the range, 4WD vehicle and two-wheel drive vehicle with chains fitted did not encounter any issues.

Grit and the frost fighting chemical CMA have been applied to roads. Council has met with contractors, police and schools to revise and reinforce an action plan in the event of heavy snow. School closures and bus notices would be broadcast on local radio stations.

The council will hold public chain fitting demonstrations next week. Snow reports will also commence formally from next week.

Police are also urging motorists to move into winter driving mode after two crashes this week.

A 63-year-old driver had to wait four hours to be recovered after skidding off the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road at 4am on Sunday morning.

The Queenstowner, who crashed about 25km out of town and could not get mobile reception, was recovered by a search and rescue team on its way to a training exercise in Glenorchy.

On Tuesday evening as snow fell to low levels, a 31-year-old Queenstown woman lost control of her car on State Highway 6 near the Gibbston Valley Winery. The woman’s car crossed over the road, through a deer fence and about 100 metres into the deer park.

Neither driver was injured and both passed breath tests.

Sergeant Mark Gill says: “Winter is almost here. There’s snow on the hills so we expect a few more incidents over the coming weeks as conditions worsen.”

Chain fitting workshops: Next Friday, May 25, from noon-2pm on the Village Green; Saturday, Remarkables Park shopping centre, 1-3pm; and Sunday, Wakatipu Ski Club Ski Sale at the Events Centre, Frankton, 1.30-3.30pm.

Winter Driving Tips:
• Clear ice off all car windows before driving
• Reduce speed and increase following distances
• Carry chains and check you know how they fit
• Roads can freeze at any time of the day and conditions are changeable
• Brake and accelerate gently
• Keep some extra warm clothing in your car