NZSki’s eye on conservation as it plans Remarks upgrade

SHARE

Local skiers and riders have been waiting years for NZSki to announce plans for dev­elop­ment at The Remarkables. 

While major investment has transformed Coronet Peak in recent years, many snow lovers have wondered if it’s higher, but smaller, sister field will ever get its turn. 

But economics is not the major dictating factor for NZSki. 

The Remarkables is a unique piece of land governed by different sets of regulations to Coronet Peak – and it’s these rules that need addressing for development to occur. 

When NZSki last month revealed its “first stage” plans to build a new six-seat express chairlift to The Remarkables’ Curvy Basin, it was an announcement that’d been at least six years in the making. 

The Curvy Basin chair will begin in the lower of the two existing car parks at 1600m and rise to a terminal at 1900m, opening up much more terrain. 

But before the 1.3km-long chairlift and extra snow guns go in, the ski area must get approval to extend its car parks and be allowed to pump enough water to make snow for new trails. 

NZSki boss James Coddington (above) says it’s a chicken-and-egg situation, adding consents must be gained for each project. 

“We can’t go and invest in a whole lot more snowmaking without having more water. And we can’t put a chairlift in until we have got the right level for the car park. It’s a package deal.” 

As the chairlift proposal lies in the existing ski area subzone, there aren’t any major barriers. The Department of Conservation can approve the consent and it doesn’t have to be publicly notified. 

To extend the main car parks, add another one and improve the access road, NZSki must get approval for earthworks and extend the lease area it holds with DoC. 

While DoC’s recommendations about the lease must be made public, NZSki bosses are hopeful this will get the green light without community opposition. 

The most contentious consent is for taking water from Lake Alta, an area governed by DoC and its over-arching planning body, the Otago Conservation Board. 

As it stands, NZSki is allowed to take 15cm from the lake for snowmaking. They want a further 37cm, resulting in a total 52 million litres of water taken each winter. 

The company’s spent more than six years researching how much water it can safely take from Lake Alta without posing a risk to the environment, Coddington says. 

Hydrologists, biologists and other experts have regularly monitored the 65 metre-deep lake, concluding that 52cm can be taken each winter, because it naturally replenishes at 1cm – or 1million litres – each day. 

Also prickly is the issue of transporting the water to the pump station near the ski field base. 

NZSki pumps the water into the Rastus Burn Creek beside the lake and it’s gravity-fed down to the pump station. 

Ski area manager Ross Lawrence: “It takes about two-and-a-half hours to pick it up down there. 

“Anything between 15 and 30 per cent of the total volume that’s pumped out of the lake is lost to the environment. It’s not sustainable. 

“From the time you realise you’ve got the temperatures for snowmaking it’s two-and-a-half hours before you’ve got to allow the water to get there to maximise the opportunity. And when you shut it down, there’s another two-and-a-half hours of water that’s wasted, which you’re accountable for.” 

What’s proposed is an underground pipe – but this approach may not be favoured by the conservation board. 

The company is awaiting DoC’s and the board’s recommendations, likely to be at the end of this month. Then there’s a 40-day public submission process – any major opposition will dictate how long before work’s likely to begin. 

They’ve been liaising with potential opposition groups to address concerns. 

Coddington adds: “We also have a very good working relationship with DoC. We talk to them regularly, they’re up on our mountain regularly, we talk about how we can achieve mutual benefit. We have to keep in mind conservation values.” 

NZSki hopes to start some earthworks this summer, but it’ll be a few years before the multi-million dollar project is complete. 

Ultimately, NZSki’s grand plan for The Remarkables is to cater for market expansion. 

“We’ve seen strong growth out of Australia and good domestic growth over the last decade, and the medium- to long-term projections are that tourism growth will continue,” Coddington says. 

“It requires medium- to long-term planning to meet this opportunity.”