Skiers and snowboarders are clapping their gloved hands and kicking up their snow boots - kei te heke te hukapapa / it is snowing - and the New Zealand ski season is underway.
Despite a late start due to unseasonably warm weather with record temperatures for May and a mild start to June, the first fields are now open for business and current fresh falls will help kick start others.
Mt Hutt, the Canterbury region’s largest commercial ski area and just an hour from Christchurch airport, was the first to open and has already attracted strong interest from Kiwis as well as international visitors, especially Australians.
NZSki chief executive James Coddington says the South Island ski areas of Coronet Peak, Mt Hutt and Remarkables are enjoying an "Aussie invasion" with thousands of visitors from across the Tasman.
He says snow is currently falling across the South Island fields and is predicted to continue for the next five days making conditions ideal.
"The season has started with a real bang and people are coming out of the woodwork to make the best of the new snow. They’re coming in their droves and are excited - it’s great to see so many happy faces," says Coddington.
With a later start, it is hoped the 2011 ski season may be longer than usual and some predictions are it could continue until late October - good news for Rugby World Cup visitors who want to combine their passion for action on the rugby field as well as the ski field during their New Zealand stay.
Mt Hutt was the first ski field in New Zealand to open for the 2011 season, closely followed by Turoa on Mount Ruapehu, in the central North Island.
Artificial snow making saved the day for many ski fields when a drop in temperatures allowed operators to fire up snow guns and prepare the pistes for opening.
Some of the first skiers on Mt Hutt were Australians who had flown to Christchurch for a family ski holiday. Others like local snowboarder Ashley Hickman said it was great to be up the mountain again.
"I’ll be here for the winter to do as much riding as I can. I’m over summer now, I just want to snowboard," said Hickman.
Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said that although skiers had to wait a bit longer than usual, the hope was for a great season, with enough snow to allow skiing right through to late October.
He said Canterbury offered some of the best skiing in New Zealand, with 13 ski areas all within easy reach of Christchurch International Airport.
The fields range from large commercial areas, such as Mt Hutt and Porters, to smaller club fields, meaning all ages and abilities are catered for, said Hunter.
Ski fields in the Mackenzie area, a half-day drive from Christchurch Airport, are also starting to open - offering family-friendly options at Ohau, Mt Dobson, Fox Peak and Roundhill, as well as the heli-skiing thrills of the Tasman Glacier.
Those not interested in skiing or snowboarding were also well catered for as Tekapo township was "a wonderful winter base", according to Hunter.
"With its Alpine Springs hot pools and spa, ice rink and snow tubing with magnificent views of the lake there’s plenty to keep the whole family occupied when they’re not on the slopes. Night star-gazing in the impressive skies above Tekapo is another must-do while you’re there."
Well-earned rest days could include après-ski experiences like soaking in the natural thermal pools at Hanmer Springs, a spa treatment or a visit to some of the region’s wineries, he said.
The Mackenzie Country also has a line-up of winter events which include quirky and traditional activities, and already Lake Tekapo’s famous Alpine Springs is iced up and ready to host ice skating and ice disco events.
Ice hockey and curling is also underway and a new 69-metre long magic carpet carrying visitors to the top of a 150-metre snow tubing slope will provide added fun for visitors.
On 17 September, Mt Dobson Ski Area celebrates the Rugby World Cup with its premiere ‘20 Below Rugby in the Snow’ tournament - seven-a-side, men’s and mixed teams competing in the snow.
After weeks of anticipation, the temperatures have dropped in Queenstown and with snow-makers working overtime, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables ski fields opened last week.
Snow arrived in time to ensure the annual Queenstown Winter Festival was another roaring success, and organisers say the southern hemisphere’s biggest winter party lived up to its name.
From the start of the festival which attracts thousands of local and international visitors each year, Queenstown is busy during winter, not only with skiers and snowboarders but also holiday makers enjoying the alpine resort’s other attractions which include adventure sports, golf, hiking, spa treatments, food and wines and the lively après-ski culture.
Other winter sport options on offer this year include snow-shoeing, tubing, ice skating or riding a snow mobile.
Queenstown now receives 32 international flights a week, up from 21 last year and just seven four years ago. Coddington says it also offers the largest number of beds (1.3 million a year) of any centre in New Zealand apart from Auckland (1.9 million).
The added capacity has been positive for the ski industry and NZSki, which has invested NZ$100m in its three ski fields over the past 10 years, reports a 62% increase in business over the past three years.
Marketing manager Craig Douglas says the major investment in snowmaking machinery, which can transform slopes without snow into skiable areas in just three days, guarantees a full and extended season of 135 days, up from 70 to 80 days.
Base buildings have also been redeveloped, world-leading smart pass technology introduced and fast lifts installed, which mean skiers get the maximum number of runs a day, he said.
Cardrona Alpine resort
The 2011 ski season is also underway at Cardrona Alpine Resort, in the Cardrona Valley, between Queenstown and Wanaka.
For the first time in the ski area’s history, it had to rely solely on snowmaking to open.
Cardrona marketing manager Nadia Ellis said the high elevation and south facing aspect had traditionally meant the ski field always had reliable snowfall but this year’s warmer weather had delayed opening by two weeks.
Limited beginner, novice and intermediate terrain was available from 8 July but current snowfalls would ensure the field would be fully operational shortly.
Snow news - 2011 NZ ski season
Queenstown Winter Festival fun