NZ snow resorts rue Aust bubble closure

·3-min read

New Zealand's ski resorts are whirring into life this week after a bumper snowfall, but there's still one thing missing.

Australians.

A polar front brought severe winds and snow across New Zealand this week, closing highways and placing Wellington into a state of emergency.

It was also a huge boon to skifields.

The Remarkables received a 60cm dump from the Antarctic blast, while across Lake Wakatipu, 25cm of snow was enough to start Coronet Peak's season on Wednesday.

"It's exciting to get a good winter storm to get us going," NZ Ski chief executive Paul Anderson said.

However, the snow is out of reach for Australian would-be skiiers.

The announcement of the trans-Tasman bubble back in April brought great relief to Queenstown's tourism-reliant economy, which suffered through a domestic-only ski season last year.

Australian visitors made up around 40 per cent of pre-COVID crowds in Queenstown.

Local operators circled this week and next - school holidays for most of Australia - as a chance to recoup lost earnings during the pandemic.

"This was the week we'd been waiting for since the bubble was announced," Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult told RNZ, saying instead his town had been hit by "an avalanche of cancellations".

"Instead of being a fabulous week it's a bit of a gloomy week I'm afraid."

Bridget Legnavsky, general manager of Cardrona and Treble Cone resorts, said the lack of snow and lack of Australians was a "two-fisted punch".

"The weather has been tough. There's another front from next Monday which is looking really promising," she said.

"The bubble closure has left us devastated. We planned for and staffed up to be at 100 per cent of our business which includes Aussies. We planned to be super busy and we're not."

Jacinda Ardern's government compensates businesses for loss of income when they are affected by local COVID-19 restrictions - but not for trans-Tasman border settings.

That means Wellington restaurants will receive assistance for a recent scare sparked by the visit of a Sydney man with coronavirus - but snow resorts and hoteliers down south will not.

There's little prospect of visitors from NSW - which provides roughly half of NZ's Australian ski tourists - landing in Aotearoa any time soon as it battles a major outbreak.

Instead, ski operators are pinning their hopes to a trans-Tasman bubble reboot that will allow Victoria, Tasmania, SA and ACT tourists to arrive from Monday.

"People that ski are generally quite brave and keen to get on with it. They missed out on coming here last year and are really, really keen," she said.

"We think they'll come as soon as they get the opportunity."

Mr Anderson said he understood the bubble closure given the importance of a health-first response, but noted a few accents already on his slopes.

"We've seen big cancellations with NSW and now Queensland ...that's really disappointing," he said.

"But there are a surprising number of Australians over here already. A few must have squeezed through last week ... there is a real hunger from Australians to get here."

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