New Zealand ski season gets underway

  • A snow-capped Mount Egmont near New Plymouth in Taranaki. Photo: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    Inspired by the events of the Winter Olympics, ski resorts are hoping to draw many people to the slopes over the next few months. Photo: EMPICS Sport/EMPICS Sport

    The forecast for next weekend shows a colder southerly airflow over New Zealand.

  • New Zealand ski season gets underway
    07.06.2014 13:40

    As we head into summer here in the UK, countries south of the equator are now heading into winter with ski resorts hoping for a successful season to come.

    New Zealand is located around 40° south of the equator, similar to Spain’s position in the northern hemisphere. With a similarly oceanic climate to the UK, extremes in temperature are fairly uncommon in New Zealand. However, New Zealand is a mountainous country, with its highest peak, Mount Cook, soaring more than 3,700m (12,000ft) above sea level. This means that the precipitation amassed from winter storms often falls as snow over high ground, giving an ideal landscape for ski tourism.

    As autumn drew to a close last week, New Zealand welcomed an early snowfall. While temperatures soared higher than average across the Tasman Sea in Australia, a winter storm hit the Otago region of South Island, bringing 50cm of fresh snowfall to The Remarkables in just one night, while 40cm was recorded on Coronet Peak. This has prompted airlines to put on extra flights to cater for the expected increase in snow-seekers migrating across from Australia.

    Cornonet Peak, near Queenstown has been the first ski resort to officially open this week, thanks to ‘reasonable’ snow cover on its main trails. On the other hand, Mount Hutt, to the west of the Canterbury Plains, has postponed its scheduled opening this weekend due to this week’s milder weather both preventing fresh snowfall and causing a melting of the white stuff accumulated from last week.

    It has been widely reported in recent weeks that scientists are predicting a greater than average possibility of El Niño occurring this year. Whilst this phenomenon is often linked to an increased occurrence of droughts and forest fires in northern Australia and the Indonesian archipelago as well as flooding across parts of South America, links to weather patterns further afield are much harder to determine. For instance, during the El Niño event of 1982, winter snowfall in New Zealand was minimal. When compared to the plentiful snowfall during a similar El Niño in 1991, it would be unwise to make any assumptions based on this year’s forecast.

    On a much smaller scale, both spatially and temporally, the weather across New Zealand looks set to be fairly unsettled this coming week with areas of low pressure bringing outbreaks of rain and maintaining temperatures of around 11-16°C in low-lying areas. Despite the fact that upland parts of the cooler South Island will be up to ten degrees chillier, this is still a little too mild for snow to fall, let alone settle. There are hints, however, of a cooling trend into next weekend as a cold, southerly airflow begins to take hold. This will no doubt come as good news to anyone hoping to take to the slopes.

    By: John Lee