Planning for the future, managing the present

7 minutes read
Posted 28 June, 2023
Paul Anderson CEO NZSki 1 copy

NZSki CEO Paul Anderson

Remarks & Coronet Peak

Change remains the one constant for NZSki as the Queenstown skifields operator swings into Winter 2023.

As Lakes Business went to press, the company was waiting to hear whether it had been successful in its bid to replace the Shadow Basin chairlift at The Remarkables next summer.

It wants a 40-year concession from the Department of Conservation to operate in the conservation area. A decision on the $15 million project was expected by the end of June.

Beyond Shadow Basin, there’s the long-term plan to extend into the next valley, The Doolans, potentially via a 230-metre tunnel, doubling the size of the ski area.

In recent years, it has replaced the Sugar Bowl chairlift at The Remarks (2020, costing $17m+) and the Coronet Peak Express (2019, costing $20m) across the basin at Coronet Peak, while Curvey Basin chairlift and The Remarks base building are less than 10 years old.

By contrast, 2023 could be considered something of a fallow year. But there are still dozens of minor and not-so-minor adjustments to operations, says chief executive Paul Anderson.

That includes the landmark decision to reduce its emissions by 50 percent this year, as Queenstown Lakes pushes towards its 2030 Carbon Zero target.

“We’re really excited and proud to be able to come out with this pretty bold move this year,” Anderson says.

“I’ve always said to our crew we want to be doing really good tangible initiatives that improve efficiency and lower emissions, so things like our investment in snowmaking, the latest grooming technology and our public transport buses.

“With Destination Queenstown coming out with their ambition . . . we attended a workshop and recognised we’re well placed to take a leadership position on this.”

NZSki has been measuring its greenhouse gas emissions for the past two years. It produces 3000 tonnes of GHG emissions each year.
Anderson says it will reduce that by more than 1000t per annum by partnering with Meridian Energy, which supplies 100% renewable electricity.

It also plans to offset 400t by purchasing carbon credits from Carbonz, which come from native vegetation blocks in the Otago Region. NZSki has been planting trees for a number of years on and around the mountains. They will eventually begin to sequester carbon, taking over from the credits.

NZSki’s main source of emissions is diesel fuel. It plans to reduce this by investing in its transport fleet, teaching and tracking fuel efficient driving techniques, encouraging bus use and carpooling, and using SnowSAT technology to measure snow depth on the main trails and target snowmaking only where it is needed, and trialling hybrid groomers.

It will also recycle all waste oils from hospitality and maintenance operation and reduce waste to landfill through aerobic digestion of food waste and reusable tableware.

“It’s a bunch on individual initiatives that all add up. We’ve invested in dishwashing capacity over the last couple of years, for example, which allows us to remove the consumables [plastic kitchen ware. etc.]”

Anderson says the plan has had an “amazing level of buy in from staff, who are really motivated by it”.

Destination Queenstown chief executive Mat Woods, a keen skier and one of the driving forces behind Carbon Zero 2030, is also delighted.

“To see a commitment like this in year one, from one of our big players, that’s just huge,” Woods says. “Sometimes it can be harder for a big company to make the move, so hopefully this will encourage other businesses to begin the process.

“2030 is still some ways down the track, so even taking small steps, such as getting rid of single-use cups for example, will start the ball rolling.”

Other projects this year include further major investment in snow making, including more guns at the bottom of Coronet Peak and upgrading the equipment elsewhere.

“Over the years, the technology has got better, so it means we can make more snow in marginal conditions,” Anderson says.

Coronet Peak, which gets about two metres of snowfall each year, now has 211 fixed guns and seven portable, while The Remarks, which gets 3.7m, has 148 guns.

There have also been various trial improvements up the mountains and changes to the bus system.

Gridlock peak traffic along Frankton Road means a change to buses to The Remarkables. They’ll be bookable from the CBD from 7.30am-9.30am, but then only operate from the Frankton interchange. The buses will then take everyone back into town at the end of the day.

“They were getting stuck in the traffic, reducing the number of people we could take up the mountain.”

NZSki has also faced some criticism for dropping the season bus pass, which appears to run counter to its plan to encourage more bus use. This year, all season pass holders will get a 10% discount on the $25 daily bus fare instead.

“When we reviewed the usage of the transport season pass last year, on average, people weren’t getting value for money. We had a few people using it a lot, but a lot not using it much at all. We thought it was fairer to apply the discount across every ride day that people took.”

NZSki has also added another two buses to its fleet this year, bringing the total to 33 including mini-buses, and has another two-four-wheel drive buses on order for next year.

“We definitely continue to ensure that the capacity is there for people to make the choice to take public transport up the mountains.”
The skifields have a full complement of around 1000 staff this year.

“Last year, we went into the season still looking for quite a few staff. This year, the workforce is available, Immigration New Zealand has sorted out its processes and we’ve seen a return of working holidaymakers, but the challenge has been housing in Queenstown.”

Anderson says he’s heard anecdotally of a number of ski instructors who’ve gone elsewhere after not being able to secure accommodation.

The company has bought Sir Cedrics Tahuna Pod Hostel, on Henry Street downtown, and has converted it to staff accommodation, providing 72 beds, with another 24 to come. It also has seven other houses on Gorge Road and Fryer Street.

“It’s a legitimate cost of doing business in Queenstown now,” he says. “Over the next couple of years, we’d like to get to the level where we housing about 250 of our staff. About 500 are long-term locals anyway.”

Some of the seasonal staff from The Remarks 2022 are featured on season four of Bravo reality show Snow Crew, which began screening last month.

“It’s a behind the scenes on what it takes to operate a skifield,” he says. “We had a reasonably good look at it [before it aired]. There were certainly some interesting things but I think it’s great to see the personalities of the awesome people who work for us coming through.”

Cardrona & Treble Cone

RealNZ-run Cardona Alpine Resort is also working behind the scenes on its next big chairlift project.

The skifield, over the Crown Range about halfway between Queenstown and Wānaka, in May submitted fresh plans for a six-seater Express down into Soho Basin.

The plan is for a 1.2km Dopplemayr lift, with associated towers and a heli-pad, opening up a vast area of skiable terrain, and linking to the top of Captain’s Basin.

Plans to expand into Soho Basin, in partnership with renowned Queenstown developer John Darby, were announced back in 2018. Since then, Cardrona has installed the Willow’s Quad on that southern face of Mt Cardrona, adding 65ha, and the Express would open up at least another 100ha.

“It’s like a whole nother Captain’s, essentially, which would be great,” Cardrona & Treble Cone GM Laura Hedley says, “a very exciting project.

“We’ve had consent for a lift into Soho for quite a while, since we took on the lease. We needed to do a couple of variations, mainly around the [chair] parking building and the towers, but it’s essentially the same idea. We’ll find out in the next wee while whether we can pop that lift in. We’re all hoping for it.”

Hedley says there’s no firm date on when construction might begin on the project.

“We’ve just got to go through that process of making sure it’s the right time for the company and in the right place, all that sort of stuff.”

The major change across Cardrona and TC this year is the introduction of dynamic pricing, commonly seen at skifields the world over. Essentially, visitors will pay more on busy days, with the aim of managing numbers on the mountains.

“We limited the amount of season passes we sold, no fewer than last year, but we didn’t want to sell more, and also limited the early bird multi-day passes. Those are the two flexible come-any-day ones.

“Now we’re selling more in-season passes, were asking people to pick a day or a mountain. So, there’s more pre-planning going into a ski trip but that hopefully means we can manage capacity and everyone gets a better experience when they are there.”

That will work out better for many locals, who tend to pick up a full season pass at the cheapest price, the early bird special.

Both skifields have a full complement of staff this year, with international staff returning. It means all the F&B stands will be open, and Cardrona’s retail store will also reopen, following last year’s fire.

Like NZSki, RealNZ has moved to accommodate more staff, taking on the lease of Base Backpackers in Wanaka.

“That’s given us nearly 120 beds, which really takes a lot of pressure off that local housing environment,” Hedley says.

The other focus is the dozens of freestyle, race and social events on the mountains, such as the Winter Games NZ, which this year includes the Junior World Championships.


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