Biggest snowfall in decades hits New Zealand

One of the biggest snowfalls in more than a generation has led to smiles and groans in the Queenstown Lakes area.

The road remained closed on Tuesday between the Eastburn Gates and Cardrona until an avalanche assessment was completed for the summit.

Ski operators are delighted after more than a metre of snow blanketed fields but motorists faced closed roads and schools in some parts of the district yesterday.

The Crown Range alpine pass, Haast Pass and Lindis Pass were among several routes closed throughout the South Island yesterday.

This morning a Queenstown Lakes Council spokesman said “following what can only be described as snowmageddon” the Crown Range Road would remain closed between the Eastburn Gates and Cardrona, until an avalanche assessment had been completed for the summit.

The assessment would help authorities understand what works were required to make sure drivers using the alpine pass, and crews working on the road, were in as safe as possible conditions, and when the road could reopen again.

“We’re currently working to organise avalanche experts and hope to undertake the assessment around 9.00am this morning. We’ll keep you updated as we get a clearer understanding of what’s required.”

The Lindis Pass was reopened on Tuesday morning and Haast Pass was reopened on Monday.

It has been about 30 years since Coronet Peak has seen this much snow delivered in a single storm cycle before opening day.

Ski area manager Nigel Kerr said that, to yesterday afternoon, 120cm of fresh snow had fallen on the mountain since late last week.

“It’s a rare season where we can take a photo of the whole mountain from the air [at the start] and it looks like a big ice cream cone.”

The sheer amount of snow had also led to “unprecedented” issues with avalanches all over the skifield and on the access road.

The weight of the snow pack was causing “huge numbers” of releases.

The access road was closed to all traffic yesterday while roading contractors aimed to get two-way access to the base building by Thursday morning, Coronet’s scheduled opening date.

“We can’t open unless we can turn that road into two lanes,” he said.

Provided that could happen, Kerr said Thursday’s opening would be limited, but by Saturday “we want to be wall to wall”.

“We’re not complaining … this, in the scheme of things, and all the pressure and everything that comes on here will be a short-term blip in light of the bigger season and, I’ll tell you what, the bigger season’s going to be epic.

The chairlift at Cardrona was stopped by snow on Monday. Photo: Supplied / Cardrona Alpine Resort

At The Remarkables, scheduled to open on Saturday, about 85cm of snow had fallen by yesterday morning.

In Wanaka, Cardrona was covered in snow and staff could not get out to work on the mountain. It was aiming to open tomorrow but more would be known today.

At Treble Cone, the base building had up to 150cm of snow on it and the field was set to open on June 25.

Queenstown Lakes District Council media and channels adviser Sam White warned about road conditions in the district.

“Consider if your journey is essential and, as we always say, drive to the conditions in front of you – they might have changed since the last update.”

The Crown Range Road remained closed overnight while Lindis Pass – which had snow drifts of 1.2m beside the road – was also closed overnight.

Council crews had also cleared fallen trees yesterday near Arthurs Point and Diamond Lake, near Glenorchy, caused by snow on branches.

Cardrona ski field. Photo: Supplied / Cardrona Alpine Resort

Cardrona residents Martin and Kay Curtis said they could not recall a snowfall bigger than that received on Sunday.

They had been blocked in by a large drift of snow created by snow ploughs.

“We have 40cm of snow… Trees are coming down with the weight of snow on the branches. We can’t drive up our drive. We’ve not seen so much snow. It is huge,” Curtis said.

The snow was expected to blow over today to be replaced by fine, frosty weather.

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*This story was first published in the Otago Daily Times