Winter road closure angers Arthur's Pass residents, skiers

Businesses and residents of a remote South Island village are concerned changes to a major highway could cut them off during winter. 

Motorists have previously been allowed to use Porter's and Arthur's Passes when it snows as long as they could fit chains.

But this year NZTA is planning on closing State Highway 73, the main route to South Island ski fields and the West Coast, to all traffic during freezing conditions.

Pete Connors from NZTA says the new policy is to ensure the safety of motorists when roads become more dangerous.

"Typically if we operate with chains we're operating with pretty marginal conditions, people fall off the road, it freezes," he says.

"What we're saying is short closures make sure the snow's cleared, hasn't frozen and we make sure we've got access up to the ski fields."

But the change has angered local residents and skiers.

"We're just a bit mystified as to why they're changing what seemed to be quite a workable way of dealing with the roads in winter, seemed to be working fine for us," says Temple Basin Ski Area president Hamish Peddie.

Ski fields say they weren't consulted prior to the change.

"We all got a bit caught out by it a bit surprised," Peddie says.

A petition's now been launched calling for an urgent review and nearly 10,000 people have signed in less than 24 hours.

Ross Thomas, who started the petition, says it's "clearly it's hit a bit of a nerve with some people".

"My motivation was purely selfish really, I want to be able to go skiing when it snows and I don't want the road to be closed." 

The new rules came into effect on Saturday, when motorists were held up from Saturday afternoon through to Sunday morning.

NZTA is sticking by its decision, saying it will make the road safer this winter.