Aussie skier invasion unlikely

CEANA PRIEST
Last updated 09:16 29/06/2011

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Trans-Tasman rivalries are unlikely to form on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu this season, even after more than 18,000 ski-passes were snapped up by Australian holidaymakers for a bargain $1 each this month.

The marketing campaign which targeted skiers across the ditch, sold out within two hours on group-buying website Livingsocial. But Mt Ruapehu marketing manager Mike Smith reckons the skifield will not face an Aussie invasion.
He said indicators from similar campaigns had shown the actual uptake was quite low and it was primarily designed to raise Australians' awareness of the North Island slopes.

Mr Smith said the skifield also sold about 21,000 domestic season passes each year and "the reality is people don't turn up at the same time". He did not predict any issues this year.

The biggest constraint for the skifield operator was car parking and 5500 skiers on Whakapapa and Turoa slopes was a comfortable limit. "We have done 6500 but then you really start pushing car parking and transport facilities. We are trying to optimise the experience for people ... at 6500 quality drops away."

Yesterday Turoa's Alpine Meadow officially opened with more than 300 skiers enjoying the beginners slopes. Mr Smith said the upper fields would progressively open with more snowfall and trail grooming. "Optimistically, I think a week to 10 days. There is snow in the forecast for all week."

A lack of snow and "semi blizzard like conditions" delayed the opening of Turoa by one day but Mr Smith said steady falls over the weekend meant the skifield had "gone from quite rocky to looking ... much more like a skifield."

Whakapapa is expected to open on Saturday.

The Australian market remains key for the skifield operator, which manages Whakapapa and Turoa ski-slopes, in its efforts to increase mid-week trade. The joint promotion with Tourism New Zealand saw more than 19,000 one-day passes sold. About 800 "cheeky" Kiwis also capitalised on the cheap passes, which normally sell for $95. In May Mt Ruapehu launched the first Australian seasonal ski pass and this month participated in a Central Park promotion, which offered Australians a four-day ski deal, including return flights from Sydney, accommodation and rental hire for just A$512 (NZ$665).

Australian visitors account for 10 per cent of Mt Ruapehu's total visitors, and Mr Smith said last year they contributed to 35,000 ski-days, which averaged over a five-day stay meant about 7000 people visited.

The ski-slope operator had not experienced the same level of staffing woes its southern counterparts had. Last week it trained 200 workers for Turoa skifield and on Monday another 200 workers began training at Whakapapa.

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When fully operational, both skifields will have a total of 800 workers operating their lifts, facilities and transport.
Mr Smith expects to have a full load of workers employed within weeks ahead of the school holidays. About half the staff have returned for another season and almost 400 are international workers. He said any delays to staff had been minor and affected staff were told a week in advance they might be on reduced hours.

- Waikato Times

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