Ski field investment spurs visitor growth to NZ slopes

More night ski options at fields such as Coronet Peak at Queenstown are helping to drive visitor growth. Image: Supplied

Visitors to New Zealand’s ski slopes grew on average by 5% over the past four years to reach 1.6 million in 2017, according to the Ski Areas Association of New Zealand (SAANZ).

Industry investment in new lifts, facilities and snowmaking helped drive growth in skier days by 8% last year, said SAANZ chair Marty Toomey. 

“New Zealand ski fields had a bumper 2017 season with major new infrastructure, and new features on some of our biggest ski areas a key driving factor to success. The result smashed the previous record set in 2009 when the Australian Government tax breaks provided an unprecedented uplift in trans-Tasman arrivals.

“All predictions point to another record setting year in 2018 as season pass sales heat up ahead of winter. Add to that the success of our athletes in PyeongChang, and we’re expecting the New Zealand industry to continue growing.”

Operators across the country were currently engaged in a round of recent or new investment totalling close $200m.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts had invested $22m in new lifts, snowmaking, restaurants and night skiing at its Whakapapa field, as part of a wider $100m 10-year development plan.

The company saw a 47% year-on-year increase in visitor days in 2017.

“To see such a compelling response to the new lifts and facilities proves that as a nation we still love the magic of snow and getting outdoors in the winter,” said RAL chief executive Ross Copland.

“The Whakapapa example proves our guests are responsive to investment which is reassuring in such a capital-intensive industry.” 

A recently announced $25m, 1.8km gondola for Whakapapa is scheduled to open in June 2019 and is predicted to drive an additional $50m of annual visitor spending in the Ruapehu region.

In the South Island, the Remarkables ski field has undergone a $45m upgrade including the addition of a new six-seater speed chairlift, new trails, snowmaking and base building. Visitor numbers grew by 40% at the ski field last year compared to 2016.

A record winter ski season helped spur $20m worth of investment in facilities at Cardrona Alpine Resort.

The operator, owned by Real Journeys, opened its McDougall’s Chondola last year and added improved snowmaking facilities.

The growth in international arrivals during winter last year was driven by the Australian market in particular. 

“As an industry we have a big focus on growing seasonal visitation, increasing the length of stay and spend per visitor and wowing visitors with our stunning mountains to ensure repeat visitation,” said Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd.

“Winter success in New Zealand underpins our aspiration for a sustainable tourism sector.”

Canterbury’s Mt Hutt ski area saw record snowfalls delivering more than six metres of snow across the season.

Also in Canterbury, in 2015 more than $6m was invested in Porters Ski Area on the installation of a new Doppelmayr quad chairlift and an automated high-tech snowmaking system. It was the biggest investment by Porters in its 50-year history.

This summer, the company bought the 40-bed Porters Lodge and built a mountain bike track to become a year-round operation.

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