8 Oct 2013

Skifields expected to turn profit despite challenges

7:18 am on 8 October 2013

Skifield operators expect to make a profit this year despite warm weather putting off visitors at the end of the season.

NZSki had a mixed season at its Queenstown skifields of The Remarkables and Coronet Peak, and Mt Hutt near Christchurch.

The Queenstown ski fields have closed on schedule, while Mt Hutt will stay open until Sunday as planned.

NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson says the season was satisfying, with Queenstown visitor numbers equalling last year.

"Coronet had a really challenging season. Great snow early on and fantastic numbers of guests during the school holidays but then a really unseasonably warm July and August," he says.

"Fortunately we could keep the field going. We've got a big investment in snow-making and grooming up there, which enabled us to carry on.

"But what we found is that was because there was some brown patches up there, guests were starting to go over to The Remarkables, which actually had excellent snow cover because it's a bit higher."

Lured back to Mt Hutt

Christchurch skiers have been lured back by a bumper snow season at Mt Hutt, with a 4% increase in visitors compared with last year, Mr Anderson says.

But it had its own challenges, with an early season avalanche damaging the triple chairlift, closing it for the year.

"Visitor numbers are starting to rebound post-earthquake and we're looking forward to next year, when we'll have the triple chairlift up and running again and (we're) hoping to get higher numbers still," he says.

"Revenue is stronger than last year, particularly in Queenstown. Trans-Tasman flights have increased and that means because visitor numbers are about in line, we've got a higher number of Australians on the field, and the Australians tend to use more snow school products, more rentals, more of the restaurants and so on."

Australian visitors account for half the skiers on the Queenstown fields, and NZSki is working with tourism groups to boost international numbers next year.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann Lockhart says the warm winter hasn't hurt business confidence.

"Other than skiing, obviously there's a lot of other activity that goes on in Queenstown during that period," she says.

"If the weather is inclement, then a lot of the activity operators and retailers are able to get their fair share of the business."

Turoa up, Whakapapa down

Mt Ruapehu will stay open to skiers until at least Labour Weekend. But Ruapehu Alpine Lifts, which operates Turoa and Whakapapa, says the season has been disappointing.

Chief executive Dave Mazey says the numbers are weaker than last year, which was a poor season.

"We've had very good snow cover and very good business at Turoa but Whakapapa didn't get the natural snow earlier in the season and has had a patronage that's been probably 15% down on what we would have expected, whereas Turoa's been about 10% up."

The company will continue to concentrate on luring more visitors from around the North Island, which make up 85% of total numbers.

But after investing heavily in snowmaking equipment in the past two years to mitigate changing seasons, there are no major spending plans next year.

The company expects to make a profit but it will be affected by last week's diesel spill at Turoa, Mr Mazey says. The spill has contaminated Raetahi's water supply, leaving the town without a water supply.

The spill will affect Ruapehu Alpine Lifts' 2013-14 profit but Mr Mazey says he has no idea by how much.