DOC says yes to faster Remarkables chairlift

by Lauren Pattemore - Sep 20, 2023

In a decision released by the Department of Conservation on Monday, the new chairlift for The Remarkables Shadow Basin has been given the tick of approval by the government department.

In May 2022, NZSki Limited applied for a concession to replace and re-align its Shadow Basin chairlift from its approximately 35-year-old four-seater lift, to a new detachable Doppelmayr chairlift with six seats, and 53 carriers.

With more seats and also an increased speed, it will transport an extra 900 passengers per hour, from 1,500 to 2,400.

As part of this approved proposal, NZSki has a 30-year-long concession to operate commercial activity within the Rastus Burn Recreation Reserve, however, the company has a separate application sitting with DOC, asking for a 40-year concession.

The new lift system will transport skiers and snowboarders from the same spot at the Remarkables Base, but to a top station at a higher elevation – 1,986 metres above sea level – below the ridgeline Shadow Basin, meaning two extra trails will be created to link up with existing ones.

There will be the Upper Calypso Trail, up to 365 metres long and 30 metres wide, which will connect with the existing start of the Calypso Trail.

Also, the Cushion Trail, 183 metres long and 15 metres wide, will connect skiers and snowboarders to the Alta Chute.

Proposed earthworks involved with the top station and two new trails for Shadow Basin.

In total, it is estimated to be a $23 million project, and DOC’s southern South Island region director of operators Aaron Fleming signed off on the works on behalf of the Minister of Conservation.

In the decision document, it details NZSki has previously demonstrated it takes serious responsibility for its role as custodian of part of the Rastus Burn Recreation Reserve.

NZSki “seeks to operate its business in a manner that minimises adverse environmental effects yet maximises the opportunity to be a successful business and meet the recreational aspirations of its customers,” the decision document says.

There has been no timeline set out in the concession for when the proposed infrastructure is to be built, but NZSki Limited chief exec Paul Anderson has previously told Crux he hopes it will be all finished for the 2024 ski season.

Heavy machinery must be off the site by May 1 of each year.

There had been 24 public submissions on the matter, in which six were opposed to the works; expressing concerns related to climate change, disruption to the environment, recreation and wildlife, and visibility of the top station from Lake Alta.

It was “strongly communicated” in the submissions that recreational climbers and trampers want to be able to use the reserve at all times of the year, and the decision document advises road closures must be kept to a minimum and be well-publicised.

The decision document details there may be a “long-term effect on recreation values” as terrain used by other groups will now be used by skiers during the winter months.

And ultimately, "the effects of intensification on recreationists are unknown", the document says.

Documentation provided by NZSki showed the top station won’t be seen from on top of Lake Alta, however one of DOC's requirements is that if it can, it must be “immediately removed”.

DOC was satisfied that the infrastructure will be made from non-reflective materials.

Although the documentation shows "extensive earthworks” are to be undertaken for the project, decision-makers have reviewed the report and is satisfied that the effect on the landscape is low, and are “consistent modifications” for a ski area, and nothing in the proposal or the 30-year-concession breaches the Reserves Act 1977. 

DOC is currently reviewing its climate change obligations and responses to emissions from activities on public land to reflect climate change-related legislation and government or departmental policy.

Thus far, NZSKi is required to conduct a carbon emission assessment related to the activity within one year of the commencement of the concession that identifies sources and quantities of emissions, and remedial actions.

New conditions might be imposed during the concession to address these emissions.

After a rare earthworm was found during a 2021 study of the area, each proposed spot for the lift towers must have an invertebrate study, and if any are present they must be moved to an equivalent habitat further than 100 metres away.

NZSki is instructed to contact DOC if any lizards are found during the construction.

In total, the works will involve the decommissioning and removal of the old shadow basin chairlift, construction of the new top and bottom station and chair storage at both locations, eleven chairlift towers, new road access to the top station, two new trails, new snowmaking infrastructure, and altering of a stream bed near Lake Alta.

Main image: Two skiers look down over Shadow Basin.

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