October 13, 2009 / 5:26 AM / 8 years ago

Good snow spells a record year for New Zealand ski fields

WELLINGTON (Reuters Life!) - New Zealand’s ski fields are winding down after a record-breaking winter, where cold weather and steady dumps of snow saw skiers hitting the slopes in unprecedented numbers.

The global economic woes have also helped boost skier numbers, with many New Zealanders choosing to holiday at home rather than go overseas, industry experts say.

The North Island’s Turoa ski field is already well past its previous annual record of 204,000 skiers, and a healthy base of 2.7 meters (9 feet) of snow will see the season extended into November, said Ruapehu Alpine Lifts marketing manager Mike Smith.

“There’s a lot of factors there but predominantly it’s about that snow depth,” Smith told Reuters.

The bulk of Turoa’s skiers come from around the North Island, and a 40 percent jump in the number of people buying season passes pointed to a willingness to holiday at home, he added.

New Zealand has about 25 ski fields, about half of which are commercial operations, and in 2008 saw a total of 1.4 million visitors.

Most of the ski fields are located in the more mountainous South Island, and NZSki, which owns three of its largest fields, also reported a record year in terms of visitor numbers and revenue.

A cold snap saw the season start two weeks early in May, momentum which continued throughout the winter said NZSki chief executive James Coddington.

“We had great snow conditions and we experienced a significant increase in Australian visitors,” Coddington said, although he did not disclose the numbers for commercial reasons.

Skisouth, who represents non-commercial club fields, reported an increase in season membership, with anecdotal evidence pointing to skiers downgrading from full-scale commercial facilities to save money, spokesperson Jane Clifford said.

New Zealand emerged from its longest recession in 30 years in the three months to June, a period which saw rising unemployment and slowing wage growth.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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