Aussie and Kiwi ski resorts prepping for season amidst coronavirus

The world’s current reality has shifted in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and with it the face of the ski and tourism industry, for now.

While resorts across Europe, the USA and Canada were either forced to close or voluntarily closed in the face of the coronavirus crisis, many Australian and Kiwi skiers and snowboarders are now concerned about the upcoming ski season.

There are 90 days (3 months) until Australasia is due to flick the switch on the chairlifts, though we all know the first weekend of the season isn’t always the most reliable for snow. So the idea of a later opening and later closing definitely appeals and may become an option with the developing situations.

Air New Zealand have reduced capacity across the Tasman until June. So theoretically if they review and increase capacity after that, then booking a New Zealand ski holiday right now still makes sense. Especially with ski and snow wholesalers and travel agents that are offering flexible cancellation options for both the southern and northern seasons.

Australia’s Snowy Mountains were directly impacted by the bushfires that traumatised the nation this summer just gone, so investing in these resorts also matter these winter holidays, so start waxing those skis while in self isolation.

But will there even be ski resorts open on either side of the ditch for us to slide down?

“We are currently discussing different levels of scenarios and how we can minimise the impact that Covid-19 may have across our business and during our winter season” said Paul Anderson, CEO of NZ Ski who operate The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt.

“These scenarios range from what our operations might look like if our staff can’t get here to a normal season and everything in between.”

It’s a good point as ski resorts rely on seasonal workers and many, like New Zealand, recruit those staff from overseas. There are only so many ski and snowboard instructors to go around.

“Our concerns at the moment are around seasonal staff who are currently overseas. With the current travel restrictions and advisories, and with airlines reducing international services their journeys to New Zealand in time for winter may be disrupted or delayed” advised Anderson.

“Our team is following this closely and working on contingencies. When staff do make it to New Zealand, we are working on plans to assist them should they need it while self-isolating. We are also staying up to date with industry guidance and Ministry of Health advice and following this when making decisions and developing communications to staff and guests going forward.”

In Australia, the team at Vail Resorts referred us to their official Covid-19 statement page which is the same for Perisher, Hotham and Falls Creek. 

Perisher continues to make preparations for our scheduled opening of the 2020 winter season on 6 June. Vail Resorts is closely monitoring the progress of COVID-19 in Australia. As the season approaches, we will advise of any planned changes to resort operations for the 2020 winter season.

Though the Australian Ski Areas Association go into a little more detail with their official statement, it’s pretty much the same message – we’re all systems go until we’re not. 

Australia’s ski area operators continue to prepare the resorts for the official opening of the Australian ski season on Queens Birthday Weekend. The resorts, which play a significant role in driving the local economies in bushfire affected communities such as the Snowy Mountains in NSW and Bright, Mansfield and surrounds in Victoria, continue to progress programmed summer projects ready to greet their first guests this winter. 

The resorts are monitoring the professional advice and recommendations from governments and health authorities with regard to Covid-19, in particular to ensure the safety, health and well-being of employees and guests through the balance of the summer season.  

And delivered with a positive punch at the end.

The ASAA also wishes to convey to our valued stakeholders, customers and staff that the current circumstances are temporary, and as an industry, community and society we will get through this. 

We’ll have more information on Mt Buller who will have their policies and approach in place by the end of this week and we’ll report here for you. Thredbo are yet to be in a position to deliver a statement on the current situation but will do soon and posted this on their Facebook. 

Stuart Smythe, CEO of Falls Creek Resort Management Board revealed that “various scenarios are currently being considered. The resort is following the directions and action plans as outlined by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.”

According to Smythe, who says coronavirus is a double whammy after the bushfires for resort operators, the planning team are undertaking scenario analysis looking at:

‘Best Case’, it’s business as usual, in that resorts open as per planned on June 8th. ‘Worst Case’, season 2020 doesn’t happen. ‘Delayed Case’, resorts open but the season is delayed and ‘Closing Early’ – contingent on when the season starts and what the snow is like to ensure business sustainability.

For the time being, prioritisation is being given to ensuring the resort is able to function as normal as they head into the season. 

The good news for Falls Creek resort users is final payments on resort entry season pass payments have been delayed until mid April. 

Back across the ditch we spoke to Bridget Legnavsky, General Manager of Cardrona and Treble Cone. 

“We’re 100% committed to understanding the situation and looking after all our people” revealed Legnvasky.

“This commitment starts with making a plan – we’re working through a range of scenarios based on many factors. This is fluid and is changing every day. These plans will help us prepare to act and move quickly when we need to.”

Cardrona and TC will be making a public statement this week and, again, we’ll report back on that too (update, here it is).

In the meantime Mt Ruapehu revealed to SnowsBest.com the following:

At this stage the team at Mt Ruapehu are preparing for winter as we would in any other pre-season. We’re also keeping a very close eye on the latest advice from the Ministry of Health and NZ Government and ensuring we do everything to protect the health and safety of our team and will respond accordingly.  

What we do know in this situation is that come winter, the snow will fall, and we’re preparing to be ready to open at the start of the season as usual.

It’s a constantly evolving and fluid situation which makes it difficult for those looking to book but the good news is Anderson says his team “is monitoring cancellation and refund policies that are being implemented by the wider tourism industry and international resorts. We are taking these into consideration for our current policies and will continue to review them as we get closer to season opening to ensure it is fair for our guests.”

He also remains optimistic about the season ahead with the new Sugar Bowl chairlift and new terrain at The Remarkables launching this winter with a scheduled opening date of June 6.

Mt Hutt is set to open June 5 and Coronet Peak June 13 and the new gondola cabins at Coronet Peak on the Coronet Express will also turn for the first time this winter after their inaugural summer operations.

We here at SnowsBest.com are gunning on the side of “open”, late or on time, either way, we plan on responsibly skiing this season and you should too because what are we, without hope of flattened curves and long term health.

Watch this space as we bring you more reports in the lead in to the season.

*Updated at 7pm

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.