A Queenstown family has claimed the first tracks up Coronet Peak for 2011.
Queenstown father Tim Bryant and his son Cougar, eight, and daughter Tallulah, six, arrived at the ski field base at 5.45am to ensure they were first on the lift at 9am.
“We were second last year and had to try and get first,” Tim says.
Rebecca O’Reilly, visiting from Perth, claimed the fourth spot on the chairlift beside the Bryants.
Her family was here for a holiday until the end of July, and she was “stoked” to get a coveted ‘First on the lift 2011’ T-shirt.
The first foursome were joined by 400 other keen skiers and snowboarders at 9am who cheered as snow field operator NZSki opened the mountain’s chairlifts.
Numbers peaked at 1500 during the day – including a 400-strong visiting Australian school group.
As staff from local winery Amisfield poured hundreds of free Arcadia ‘bubbles’, Coronet Peak ski area manager Hamish McCrostie welcomed his first visitors.
“We’re open and have a great day. It’s so, so good to finally be open and our staff are really buzzing to get underway for the season.”
The ski area opened with limited beginner, novice and intermediate terrain, with trails accessed from the Coronet Express and Meadows Express chairlifts, and two conveyor lifts.
Base building services up and running included rental, where the ski area’s new BYS rental system came into its own on the first day dealing with large groups of visiting schoolchildren.
Also open were the snowsports school, crèche, café, coffee bar, guest services and retail.
Mr McCrostie said snowmaking would continue at every opportunity with the ski area’s 211 snowguns ready to blast out more of the white stuff as temperatures allowed.
“We’ll open up more trails just as soon as we can. We’re looking forward to conditions improving as we go further into winter.”
NZSki chief executive James Coddington says they’ve always said they need just 72 hours of snowmaking conditions to get open – but they’ve done it with 30 hours.
“We’ve had 30 hours of snowmaking on the bottom part of the mountain.
“It’s a credit to the snowmaking team and grooming team – and certainly justifies the investment in snowmaking.”
Five years ago NZSki invested tens of millions into more than 130 extra snowguns – it now has 211 dotted around the mountain and ready to pump out snow when temperatures drop below minus two degrees Celsius.
Remarkables to open this weekend
The Remarkables ski area in Queenstown is also set to open at 9am on Saturday, NZSki has announced.
Like Coronet, it will also open with limited beginner, novice and intermediate terrain.
Lifts and trails opening include the Base Lodge conveyor, the learners’ area, Alta Quad Chair lift accessing the Alta Green Trail, and the Sugar Bowl Quad Chair accessing the TNT, Water Race and Gotham trails.
Ski area manager Ross Lawrence says it’s the first time in the history of The Remarkables that it had been able to open solely as a result of snowmaking.
“Previously there’s always been natural snow with the addition of snowmaking, so this is a first for us and really does reiterate the value of snowmaking to our business.
“The Remarks crew are very excited to be getting a start to the season.
“It’s been great to see the support they’ve been giving each other and the support we’ve had from the community in holding the team together while we’ve been waiting for this moment.
“We’re looking forward to a great opening with sunshine for the weekend.”
Mr Lawrence says all trails open had a base of between 20cm to 40cm snow coverage, but terrain was limited and runs were narrower in places than normal.
“Unfortunately no terrain parks are set up yet,” he said.
“At this stage it really is only suitable for beginners up to early intermediates, with no off piste at all, so care must be taken in these early stages of operation,” he says.