Winter coming early for North Island skiers at Whakapapa Ski Field
Winter is coming early thanks to a state-of-the-art $1.5 million snow machine at Whakapapa Skifield.
Three trucks navigated their way up the mountain so the new snow making machine - the first of its kind in New Zealand - could be put in place on Friday.
It was an exciting time for the team as there are only 10 of these machines operating worldwide, Whakapapa's operations manager, Steve Manunui, said. The investment means snow can be made in higher temperatures, meaning the skifield can open eight weeks longer than normal.
The German-made 'snowfactory' is the latest technology and can make snow in all weather conditions, compared with the standard snow maker that needs a temperature of at least minus 2.
This is the first of its kind in New Zealand and staff are "gunning" to be the first ski resort to open in the Southern Hemisphere.
Installation of the snow making pipeline started in March and will see seven guns set to fire up.
"We are going to press the 'on' button on Friday regardless of the weather," Manunui said.
"Happy Valley will be open June 3, guaranteed. It's pretty nice to be able to say that."
As snow doesn't usually start happening until the second week of June, this machine means they will be able to make snow in April instead of waiting for Mother Nature to cover the mountain in the white powder.
The machine had to be lifted by crane over the Rangatira Express chairlift where it will be stationed.
"It gives us coverage to feed snow into the whole of Happy Valley and also to pump snow up to the Rockgardens," Manunui said.
The machine will produce 220 cubic metres of snow over 24 hours.
It produces a crushed ice which is then piped into Happy Valley and pumped 300-400 metres uphill to the Rockgardens.
"We are eight weeks ahead of the ball game as far as snow making goes," he said.
With this new machine now in place, Manunui said night skiing will be introduced in the second lot of school holidays and they also have more big plans in place.
"We are going to be able to keep Happy Valley open through until the summer holidays," he said.
"Next year we are aiming to open in the Easter school holidays and also have snow right through the Christmas and school holidays.
"It's reasonably ambitious but I think we can pull it off."