While many New Zealanders are still thinking about sun and surf, the crew at Mt. Hutt ski area near Methven are already preparing the resort's capital improvements for the 2009 ski and snowboard season.
Three new state-of-the-art snow groomers and new snowmaking compressors will combine to help produce more snow and improved trail conditions, according to ski area manager Dave Wilson.
“The new groomers mean we will have New Zealand’s most modern and extensive grooming fleet," Wilson says. "This investment gives us the capability to significantly improve skiing and riding conditions for visitors to Mt. Hutt.
“The new machines are bigger and better making it easier for us to groom trails across a wide range of terrain. The machines are especially designed for park development, too, which means we can also improve the way we build and maintain our extensive terrain park system,” Wilson explains.
The high country resort has also invested in a cutting edge ski rental system designed by Head, which will deliver better skis faster for those renting equipment.
“The new system will improve the flow through our rental services allowing for a quick and personalized set up – customers won’t even have to take their boots off to get their skis fitted. This means less time getting fitted and more time on the slopes for skiers, with the high quality skis making learning and improvement easier.”
Wilson said there were also improvements for families with increased facilities and programs for children ages 2 to 17.
“It’s designed to create more fun for kids and make it easy for families – it’s what it’s all about at Mt, Hutt,” said Wilson.
Despite concerns that the tourism industry in New Zealand would slow down during the global recession, tourism operators are confident that this winter would see strong results in the ski fields, as Australians and New Zealanders chose to have their winter skiing holidays closer to home.
Although skiing is typically an expensive activity, tourism operators are expecting to see results to match previous year's high revenue. A New Zealand Tourism Research Institute study showed that in 2005's winter, $98.2 million was spent in the Southern Lakes region while an extra $68.1 million was spent throughout New Zealand during the same period.
Tourism operators say that the strength of New Zealand's dollar against Australia's would be a large pulling factor this winter, alongside the quality of the snow and the cost of skiing in the northern hemisphere during the economic downturn.
"We see Australia as being an opportunity to protect our winter. A lot of Aussies this year have elected not to go to Japan, the United States, Canada or Europe, but are still intending to go skiing somewhere," sales and marketing manager David Ovendale, of NZSki, operator of the Mt Hutt, Remarkables and Coronet Peak ski-fields, said.
"We're not petrified about the winter. We're somewhat protected because for many of our customers, this interaction and engagement with the sport is part of their social fabric," he said.
"You don't give up part of what identifies you. If you're a skier, you're a skier."
Hundreds of international seasonaires will also be hoping to call New Zealand "home" this winter; snow bunnies from the northern hemisphere follow the winter season Down Under to work on the slopes following the European and American winters. Most of these travellers can work on a New Zealand working holiday visa, which allows nationals from participating countries to work and holiday in New Zealand for up to 12 months in any given job. British nationals also have the opportunity of extending this visa for another eleven months.