A MULTI-MILLION dollar upgrade of Queenstown skifield The Remarkables includes sealing its ramshackle and at times treacherous access road.
Operator NZSki has confirmed work will begin to cover the first four kilometres in bitumen by the end of this month – and the entire 13.8km road will be sealed within a few years.
The winding dirt and gravel road, with its vehicle-shaking pockmarked surface and sheer drops off the side in parts, has had its share of accidents during winters down the years.
NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says the new 4km of sealed road to Windy Point will be done in time for this coming season’s opening day scheduled for June.
The improvements will complement a $45 million redevelopment of the ski area, which is increasing the mountain’s visitor capacity by 1000 per day.
“We’re committed to doing this section of road now because the new high-speed Curvey Basin lift and other developments at The Remarkables will attract far more skiers and snowboarders to the mountain this season,” Anderson says.
“Sealing the road reinforces NZSki’s commitment to delivering an outstanding experience to our guests.”
It follows a project completed two years ago to install barrier arms on most of the road, including all the most dangerous bends and exposed edges.
That came too late for two lucky Australian tourists who plunged 35 metres down from the road in July 2007.
Kaspars Zibarts rolled his rental Mitsubishi several times before hitting a one-metre wide rock. Rescuers at the time said Zibarts and his daughter would otherwise have plummeted 150m down the mountainside to certain death.
Just last August, a Hong Kong family of four careered off the road in a mini-van and rolled 60m down a gully near Windy Point.
The door was ripped off in the crash and the daughter suffered a broken leg and abdominal injuries.
And a hair-raising video clip of a ski bus sliding out of control on the road, uploaded to YouTube in 2010, has been viewed almost three million times.
The Remarkables ski area’s upgrade is already well underway with the planned installation of the Curvey Basin chairlift, which opens at the start of this ski season in June.
It’s part of the creation of a new 1.2km trail suitable for beginners and will boost the field’s maximum capacity from 2500 skiers a day to 3500.
The six-seat high-speed Leitner-Poma rises 300 metres from the bottom terminal to 1900m near the saddle, featuring more challenging terrain for intermediate and expert skiers and boarders.
It will transport 2400 people an hour.
NZSki will also double the number of snow guns covering The Remarkables from 50 to 100.
The learner’s area will be expanded by 20 per cent and the carparks will be enlarged and improved. Next summer a new base building is planned.
The total project will cost tens of millions of dollars, NZSki’s largest investment since the 2008 Coronet Peak revamp.
“We love what we’ve got to offer at The Remarkables,” Anderson says, “and we’re keen to share that with as many people as possible.”
Early bird passes to The Remarkables priced $599 for adults are available until March 20.
Then-local MP Warren Cooper opened the first stage of the access road on September 24, 1983.