The obvious answer to the question is yes, winter will indeed happen in 2020! In fact we’ve already had the first snow at many areas around the country. Exciting!
The real question obviously, is will we be going skiing and riding in New Zealand in 2020? I’m writing this on the day we’ve had only 8 confirmed Covid-19 cases, our lowest so far and they have been steadily declining, so I’m going to call it ... Skiing will be happening in 2020!
There is a "but” however, and that’s because without question it will be different to our normal skiing experience, for a few reasons. In the next two to three months, almost certainly we’ll see our alert level drop to Level 2 at least, and maybe even Level 1, and if that’s the case we’re good to go. Under Level 2 “Participating in sports and recreational activities is allowed, subject to conditions on gatherings”. Lifts present maybe the biggest challenge and it could mean limited loading, and different queuing arrangements. But, as we suggest later in this article, numbers may be down so maybe that impact will even out? But it may mean that ski area cafes etc have to be closed. Instead you’ll possibly see ski areas with food trucks and pop up cafes, simply because physical distancing rules will still apply. Like the image we've used of the Snowlicious Mobile Kitchen at Panorama in Canada (which wasn't because of Covid-19, it was just a cool idea!).
The Government has published the Level 2 guidelines, how they apply to skiing has yet to be determined:
If this is the case, we’d suggest the ski areas could potentially open at Level 2, especially if they get a dispensation for the 500 person limit. However it's the non-essential travel that could be more of a challenge. Within region may be OK such as Canterbury or Otago, but that hasn't been detailed at this point.
If we see a drop to Level 1, no physical distancing is required so lifts etc should be all good and ski area cafes and services could probably open. But there’s another problem potentially, staffing. Think back to last season, did you hear many accents? Yes, right. Many internationals come here to work for our winter, and with our borders closed for the foreseeable future, that means staffing could be a challenge. But then, there will be many Kiwis looking for roles, so this could balance out?
And talking of staff, pre-season, right about now, there’s tons of work usually happening at ski areas in preparation for opening. That’s not happening currently, so some ski areas are looking at limited openings, or in extreme cases not opening at all. Temple Basin for example, as smaller club field, has already announced they may not open in 2020. Craigieburn has also announced a limited opening, members/season pass holders only and limited to 100 people per day. Even Mt Ruapehu has announced “we are currently working on whether it is possible to commit to the pre-winter costs of contracting labour and preparing the mountain.” And while that might all sound a bit dire, you can be sure that if the ski areas can open, they will. It’s just going to be a bit different and patience may be required.
But, we’re sure it will be worth it! And talking of waits … it’s quite possible some openings will be delayed, due to preparation, staffing, etc. In some cases, where let’s say several ski areas are owned by the same company, it’s feasible only one area will open thus saving costs and focusing their resources. Make sense.
The upside (for snow lovers, but not so much the ski areas) is that it will be less busy at some resorts this season. As we all know, the New Zealand border is currently closed, and is likely to be so for many months, up to 12 some suggest. This means no Australian visitors, so if you ski Cardrona, Coronet Peak, or the Remarkables; you may well feel like it truly is “my mountain”. We’ll temper that with the suggestion of an “open border” between Aussie and NZ, but who knows if that might happen in time for the snow season.
In summary then, we’ve got several smaller areas potentially not opening or restricting access, but that won’t affect too many people. You’re likely to see restricted facilities at some areas, maybe just the main lifts open, and it’s likely that services such as cafes could be limited, maybe to outdoor style food trucks (or repurposed snow cats!). For the most part, that probably won’t impact many of us either, and it will be an adventure!
The biggest impact however could be the lack of visitors, making it a unique season for you to get out there. Think less competition for car parks, more chance of fresh pow, and maybe the odd deal or two thrown out by the smaller ski areas to get you up there. We reckon then that 2020 has the potential to be one of the best seasons in recent memory. There will be no better place to sweep away memories of being locked down with your kids or bubble members. We also love the idea of a return to an old style “down to earth” ski experience.
And talking of deals, have you remembered that NZSki, the owners of Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, and Mt Hutt have extended their early bird pricing until opening day. What an awesome initiative and once we've got the "good-to-go" message we reckon you should buy a pass and get out there! The Three Peaks Pass is $799, valid for all three areas, and the Mt Hutt only pass is great value at $379, available until the 2020 season starts.
Finally then, here’s a few snippets from the ski areas themselves, as to what they think …
So we reckon, get the boards and planks out. This could be a season like no other!
Lastly, we know it's not NZ, but we’ve used an image of Panorama’s Snowlicious Mobile Kitchen, the first snowcat food truck in Canada, as a perfect example of what might need to happen here. We thank our Panorama friends for the image. BTW, it’s an awesome place to ski in Canada. Next year maybe?
In the meantime ... be kind, stay at home, and wash your hands. Winter is coming and the wait will be worth it! And remember, it's our duty as winter enthusiasts to get out there and support these local businesses in time of need. OK, I’ll do it!