A severe storm has brought rain and heavy unseasonal snow to parts of Canterbury's ski fields this week. As much as 5 m (16.4 feet) of snow fell at the summit of Mt. Hutt between Monday and Tuesday, May 31 and June 1, 2021. The same weather system brought 2 to 3 months' worth of rain to the Canterbury region in just 2 to 3 days.
NZSki chief executive Paul Anderson said Mt. Hutt was at the center of the heavy precipitation event, ensuring a "fantastic opening day" on June 11.
The weather bomb has prompted an avalanche warning across the Southern Alps. Four staff members were on the mountain undertaking avalanche control and were yet to examine the access road, where around 340 mm (13.4 inches) of rain has fallen.
"We’re expecting a bit of loose rock," Anderson remarked.
Mt. Hutt Ski Area Manager James McKenzie added that between Monday and Tuesday, around 50 cm (20 inches) accumulated at the base of Mt. Hutt while as much as 5 m (16.4 feet) fell at the summit.
"It was pretty impressive, right up to the top of our big wind fence up there. The Hutt is pretty much buried in snow at the summit."
"There’s a huge amount of ice growing out from any metal structure, the lift is caked with ice," he further described. "That ice is up to half a meter thick, maybe more, in some places."
"Huge mounds of snow everywhere. It’s a really strange thing just seeing everything swallowed up by the snow. That ice layer needs to be broken up with groomers and we’ll be mobilizing our team pretty shortly to get out there and start preparing trails."
Richie Owen, Mt Hutt’s sales and marketing coordinator told 1 NEWS that the ski mountain can be vulnerable to huge ice buildups as it's near the ocean.
"When we expect [an] event like this we have a stormtrooper crew that monitor and remain on the mountain."
He continued, "This would include at first light climbing each lift tower with a Yetti stick and bashing the ice off. We cannot move the lift until most of the ice is cleared from the towers and pully sheaths."
Aside from Mt. Hutt, the Mountain Safety Council has also issued a high avalanche advisory for South Island areas including Arthur's Pass, Craigieburn Range, Aoraki/Mt. Cook, and Two Thumbs.
The same weather system brought extremely heavy rainfall — 200 to 400 percent of normal for the month of May to the Canterbury region, causing rivers to rapidly rise, damaging roads and bridges, and flooding many properties.
A state of emergency has been declared on Sunday, May 30, 2021.
Featured image credit: Mt. Hutt
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