© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Future of skiing set to change with the climate

Travis Mitchell
Mt Hutt Snow Guns
Snow guns preparing the ski field at Mt Hutt  Black Bird Production

The future of skiing in New Zealand is set for dramatic change over the next century but resorts are prepared.

Climate change will have a major effect on the future of New Zealand's ski seasons, as a large rise in the snowline is predicted. 

Hydrological forecasting scientist from NIWA Dr Jono Conway said by the end of the century the prediction was for 1.5-degree warming and a 10 percent precipitation increase. This will cause a 200 metre rise in the snowline.

“This 200-metre rise is more than we had previously thought it would be, we first predicted a 150-metre rise at most,” Conway said. 

The latest generation of climate input and models has also shown NIWA a reduction in the time snow will stay on the ground by six to seven weeks. 

That is between 20-50 percent of the snow cover. 

Conway said this would affect all ski resorts and clubs in New Zealand significantly as all mountains are reasonably low in elevation. 

So, if you think about the base of Mt Hutt, it's around 1400 metres and goes up to 2000 metres, so now the snow that you're getting at the top at 2000 metres will be what you get at 1800 metres now. 

New Zealand ski seasons are based on seasonal snow that comes in the winter and melts in spring. 

Conway said this meant the mountains were susceptible to variability from one year to the next and there would always be good yearand bad years.  

With climate change in general it’s going to get warmer, and although that warming is going to mean less snowwe will still be able to ski for generations to come. 

Mt Philistine site near Arthurs Pass in August 2016. Dr Jono Conway

Libby Baron, a spokesperson for NZSkiwhich owns Mt Hutt, The Remarkables, and Coronet Peak skifields, said the South Island’s skiers and snowboarders do not need to worry. 

“Although this doesn’t sound great for the future, we are always upgrading and future-proofing our mountains with snowmaking capabilities.” 

She said in future, people must be prepared to ride man-made snow,” if a bad season occurs. 

Baron said they have just finished commissioning for a new snowmaking bore at Mt Hutt which can draw more water to make more snow, for greater periods. 

Snowmaking is already a key factor to opening the mountains on time and will progress to become more important as the years go by. 

This season is expected to be a warmer and drier winter which may see snow-making being a crucial factor to mountains opening on time.

Climate scientist for NIWA, Gregor Macara, said it was hard to be precise about what this season may look like as New Zealand ski seasons could be defined by a couple of snowfalls.

"It's not great news for the ski season, but it doesn't necessarily write off the fact that could still be good because you only need one or two good dumps."

Macara said dry conditions also made for nice snow as long as the temperature up the mountain was below zero.

"If you got a dump of snow and then clear skies, that dries out the snowpack and makes for nice chalky snow which can be quite pleasant conditions for skiers and snowboarders."

Mt Hutt is set to open on June 11.



SNOW 2 v2
NIWA's Muller Hut site near Mt Cook Village from October 2019. Dr Jono Conway