New Zealand’s ski areas are running out of time to fill 250 specialist positions before hordes of Australians hit the winter slopes.
Tourism NZ has backed a ski industry appeal to Immigration NZ for a class exemption to bring workers – including snow groomer operators, patrollers, avalanche experts and high-end instructors – into the country .
Ski Area Association NZ chief executive Marty Toomey said fulfilling the roles was key to keeping the industry safe.
If ski areas cannot have the staff they need, the courses could be closed, which would be frustrating for users and reduce the income of operators.
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The worst case scenario was that some smaller ski areas could not open.
“Or they might end up having to share resources between mountains, but then you won’t get the same kind of quality control.”
Staffing shortages at North American ski resorts over the past season have forced some ski resorts to close on certain days and services have been limited, Toomey said.
As there was no year-round work for specialist staff, many of them worked back-to-back winters and were based around the world, often in Europe and North America.
Early indications were that there were strong bookings from Australia and operators were hoping for a busy season in New Zealand, he said.
The industry has been hit hard by Covid-19, a lack of international tourism and Covid-19 related restrictions.
The 2021 season has been branded a ‘disaster’, after the trans-Tasman bubble burst, and 2020 has been the first domestic-only season for many years.
Cardrona and Treble Cone ski area general manager Laura Hadley led the work and said she hoped to hear from Immigration NZ on the class exemption by mid-April.
If unsuccessful, the industry would review individual critical worker visa applications. If that wasn’t successful, they should consider limiting what could be opened.
She also welcomed pressure from Southland MP Joseph Mooney to have work visa applications from an accredited employer go through.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has announced that thousands of migrants on temporary work visas will be fast-tracked for residency after a major change in immigration policy. (First published September 30.)
Mooney urged Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to bring forward the July application date because it would be too late for the ski season which usually starts in June.
Hedley said these visas would help fulfill hospitality roles, including chefs, cleaning and housekeeping, as the snow industry had to compete with hotels and restaurants for these employees.
“These are the ones everyone needs.”
Mooney said the lives and livelihoods of people working in the ski rental and retail industry depended on expediting visas.
Thom Beatson and Tori Shankster said they were between 15 and 20 workers short at The Snowboard Workshop, their ski and snowboard hire shop based in Queenstown.
The majority are technicians and rental and retail staff giving expert advice, Beatson said.
“Our main concern is that we use heavy machinery and install people who descend at 60 km/h, so safety is paramount for our customers and our staff.”
Last year, the couple did most of the work with key staff members and burned out.
“We really don’t want this to happen again,” Beatson said.
There are about eight businesses in the Southern Lakes region facing similar issues, including Alta Queenstown.
Owner Aaron Fernandez said there was a major security element to the job and that there needed to be enough staff to be open for long hours – usually between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. during peak season.
Asking for exemptions for critical workers meant paying 1.5 times the median wage, and that exceeded most retail outlets, he said.
A North American couple who had previously worked at the boutique wanted to do so again, and Fernandez hoped to bring them over.
“They want to come here and be part of the industry. They come for the lifestyle and are happy to have a fair wage.