A combination of drifting snow and poor visibility has lead to Canterbury’s Mt Hutt ski area closing the access road with a total of 316 guests still on the mountain.
Mt Hutt ski area manager James McKenzie said while ski area management had been aware of an approaching front and a poor forecast for today (Wednesday September 4) the situation deteriorated “pretty quickly”.
“We made a decision to close the mountain at 11.30 this morning and a number of people made it safely down the road,” he said.
“However at midday a combination of new snow blowing around everywhere and wind gusts of up to 45kmh, especially around the Saddles, meant visibility along the upper section of the access road deteriorated to the extent we closed the road completely.
“Guest safety is of paramount concern and we’re continually assessing the conditions. We won’t rush to get people down until visibility improves.
“We’ve got plenty of food, hot drinks and space up here in the base building, so if we do have to hunker down into the hours of darkness our guest will be warm, dry and well looked after.”
Of the 316 guests currently on the mountain, up to 270 of them are students, staff and parents from nearby Mt Hutt College.
Mr McKenzie said the Year 7 to 12 students were all in good spirits and many were going out to “play around” in new snow accessed by one of the ski area’s Magic Carpets in the beginner’s area.
“We’ve received 10 to 15cm of new snow so far today, and while visibility has closed our chairlifts we’ve still got the Magic Carpet going for them and they’re pretty excited to be up here enjoying that,” he said. “I think the majority will look back on this as one great adventure.
“We’ll give them afternoon tea and of course dinner if they’re still here, but our priority is to only let their buses down the road if we’re comfortable it’s safe to do so. Our staff also will drive pilot vehicles to provide a safe escort.”
The Southerly blast is set to ease back later this evening.