Queenstown ski fields boosted by $35m upgrades

With just over a month until the Central Otago ski season opens, contractors are hard at work trying to complete major upgrades at two of Queenstown's popular ski fields.

At Coronet Peak, cranes and helicopters have been employed to help install a new high-speed, six-seater chairlift, aimed at catering for more visitors.

"It's going to give us a smoother ride, a faster ride, and a more comfortable ride," says ski area manager Nigel Kerr.  "And it'll lift our capacity."

The facility replaces the old Coronet Express quad lift, which was removed over the summer.

The new chairlift will be running by the time skiers and snowboarders arrive in June, with plans to add enclosed gondola cabins to the mix next season.

The increasing popularity of night skiing is one big area of growth at Coronet Peak, with slopes open three nights a week during July and August.

But there's confidence this investment will also boost the mountain's year-round potential, expanding summer operations for both mountain biking and sightseeing.

"It's year round," Kerr says.  "We're so close to Queenstown, and the view is just stunning."

The lift is just one part of a $35 million redevelopment programme by NZSki across its two Queenstown ski fields.

The company was also planning to install a new chairlift at sister field The Remarkables this winter, opening up another two and a half kilometres of trails.

But opposition by environmental campaigners delayed the process, with approval for the new $16 million lift only coming through in recent weeks - too late for this winter's skiers.

That means 60 containers' worth of equipment will have to sit in storage for the entire ski season. 

Ross Lawrence, ski area manager for the Remarkables, is philosophical about the enforced delay.

"We'll get straight onto it in November this year, and have it built for the 2020 winter season."

That's shifted the focus this year to upgrading the learner facilities.  A new 158 metre covered conveyor lift has expanded the learners' terrain and capacity by almost a third.

"If we can provide that experience for the beginners, for the first time users here at the Remarkables, you'll always remember that place and ideally keep coming back to it," Lawrence says.

There could be even more options for those hitting the Central Otago slopes in the future.

NZSki has bold plans to almost double the size of the Remarkables by expanding the ski area into the adjacent Doolans Basin over the coming years.