Longer queues and reduced facilities - Ski bosses’ plea for international workers
Ski industry leaders are warning of reduced facilities and longer lift queues at ski fields if the government doesn’t urgently approve a scheme to let in critical international workers.
Ski Areas Association NZ (SAANZ) is calling on the government to allow people with highly specialised roles, including instructors, lift technicians, ski patrol and snow groomers into the country in time for the ski season.
General Manager of Cardrona Alpine Resort Bridget Legnavsky says New Zealand doesn’t have enough of these “high end employees” domestically to service all ski fields.
“I'm not talking massive numbers, we're saying up to a maximum of 100 across the whole country,” Legnavsky says.
“Bear in mind, we're going to employ about 800 people here at Cardrona and Treble Cone, and they're all Kiwis obviously.
“So we're only talking about this really specific group of people at the top.”
Chief executive of NZSki Paul Anderson says this specific group works both Northern and Southern hemisphere winters.
“To be an expert groomer or snow maker or patroller you need to be constantly practising your craft, these people are professionals and they travel between resorts," Anderson says.
“Obviously the COVID pandemic has made that very difficult.”
Legnavsky says commercial ski resorts will still be able to open without the international workers, but won’t be able to offer high end facilities.
“That’s really important when it comes to the fact that we're about to go into the last year before the Olympics cycle. We won't be able to build facilities to the level that the athletes actually need.
“And we won't be able to deliver high end ski and snowboard lessons, for athletes and top skiers and snowboarders, so part of our business will have to close down.”
Legnavsky says the shortage of snow safety specialists could also mean resorts can’t open on time, and it’ll take longer to do repairs on infrastructure.
She says without the international workers, the country’s club fields will be unable to open which means more crowds at the big commercial fields.
“If the commercial fields don't have enough resources, the pressure will just come on us rather than what we generally do is spread out the numbers across the country nice and evenly.”
Legnavsky says the industry wants a decision from the government soon, in order for the workers to be able to book Managed Isolation spots for June.
Both Anderson and Legnavsky are expecting a similar season to last year if the government doesn’t open the border with Australia.
“What that looks like is a really busy school holidays and then a relatively quiet August and September,” Anderson says.
He plans to employ just 700 workers across The Remarkables, Mt Hutt and Coronet Peak, when he’d usually have 1250 staff.
If the border opens to Australia, he’ll ramp up staffing to normal levels, he says.
Legnavsky says Treble Cone and Cardrona would normally employ 1100 staff, but this year it’ll be around 800.
The ski resort bosses are also appealing to the government to give them some direction on its criteria for forming a trans-Tasman bubble.
“That's the way you give businesses confidence and you can plan with confidence, but without it, we can only put contingency plans into place,” Anderson says.
Main image: Coronet Peak staff in a normal year.