Community, Tourism

Ski area counts COVID cost

Skiers enjoying the Rainbow Ski Area last year. Photo: Supplied.

Rainbow Ski Area bosses are weighing up if opening this year will be possible after COVID-19 saw costs spiral.

The future of this winter’s season is reliant on community support.

And a one off $25 ‘Covid Tracing Fee’, to help cover coronavirus associated costs at the ski field, was scrapped yesterday.

The announcement of the fee was widely panned by commenters online but Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin says they’re on track to get the numbers needed to open.

“There are added costs we have to bear and we’re passing that on,” Mark told Marlborough Media last week.

But a post on social media last night saw Rainbow bosses ditch the controversial charge.

“We no longer have to employ staff for the bottom of the hill, put in connectivity and build the shed in the carpark,” it says.

Those who have already paid the fee will be refunded.

“We still need to be prepared in case we have to move back up the levels but at least we have the systems in place, ready, if we do,” he says.

The access road to the popular Nelson Lakes ski area was recently upgraded at the clubs’ expense – and Mark says skiers were subsidising other mountain users who use the road.

Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin.
Rainbow Ski Area committee chair Mark Unwin.

The planned ‘Covid Tracing fee’ was originally touted to cover costs of contact tracing, cleaning and to pay for the road upgrade.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on the road, we have increased costs and changed the ticketing system,” Mark says.

“It’s fairer for everyone using the mountain.

“No one wants to see extra fees but it’s all going to the mountain.”

“We’re a club field – we don’t have shareholder backing and we can’t take financial risk,” he says.

A flurry of posts on Facebook outlining the changes and increased fees attracted scores of negative comments with hopeful mountain-users raising questions about the affordability of visiting the local ski field.

“Is that per person? Not a bad price if you visit a lot in the season, will make it unaffordable for families who can only manage to go once in the season,” one commenter wrote.

Another posted: “What happened to making tourism activities cheaper for kiwis?”

Marks says they have put packages in place for non-skiers and ski rentals to lessen the burden on families and make it more affordable.

“We’d like to be able to do more, but it costs a lot of money to run the field,” he says.

“The alternative is to shut completely and see what happens next season – that just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

Tickets are only available online and staffing levels have been slashed in a bid to stay a step ahead should the country be forced into a higher alert level.

Multi-day, half day and learners area only tickets have been scrapped to streamline administration and make contact tracing easier.

The field will also close two days a week to give the smaller crew an opportunity to rest.

“We normally have around 40 staff, this year we’re running about 20,” Mark says.

Usually about a third of staff are from overseas, but with borders closed that was not an option.

“We could get staff from New Zealand if we had to, but [a smaller staff] allows us to scale up and down if we need to.

“If everything changed and we had to shut down there’s less financial risk.”

Mark says the club has about 72 days to make money to pay for facilities.

The committee is also looking at opening over the summer months for tramping, mountain biking and other activities.

“It would be good to spread the cost over a longer period,” Mark says.

Staff are aiming to open the mountain on Friday 24 July provided enough passes are sold with staff saying they are about 90 per cent there.

With snow forecast Mark says they’re on track to open.

“Lots of people love the mountain. We’re hopeful that we will get the support.”

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