How the Ski Season in New Zealand ran with Covid-19 restrictionsColin Tanner 26th Sept 2020
As many of you may know, I spend my “summers” in New Zealand.
Obviously, summer in Europe is winter in NZ.
So in March 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic really kicked in and France, like many other countries, shut down it’s ski resorts, I packed up my bags and headed to my family in New Zealand.
Like many of us we thought that after a few months is was all going to blow over…. how naive were we?
In NZ, about 3 months out from the start of the ski season, it became very apparent that the question about whether or not the 2020 NZ ski season could go-ahead was a very real question.
As I heard one Ski Area boss say – the goal of getting a covid-19 ski season up and running successfully became a bit of a shining light of hope for the whole country…and the global ski world was watching.
NZ’s Government implemented a 4 tier Alert Level system. With Level 4 being “full lockdown” and Level 1 being life as “normal” but with the international borders closed.
In the build-up to the winter season, NZ started dropping down from the initial Level 4, to Level 3. With hard work and collaboration of ski resort management, guidelines and operating protocols were written up that would allow ski resorts to open if, and only if, Alert Level 2 was achieved.
So the goal was clear, get to Level 2 and the lifts could turn!
As it turned out opening dates were delayed because of maintenance delays that were caused by full lockdown in Level 4.
Then the alert levels dropped from 3 to 2 and then to Alert Level 1, all before the revised opening dates of 26th June.
So we opened the season on alert Level 1 – no restrictions, no masks required, no distancing required.
But would there be any customers? The international borders were closed and there are normally a lot of Australians and other overseas visitors who come skiing in NZ.
Turns out that New Zealanders, and those that were already inside the borders, couldn’t leave the country, so they came skiing! There were some really busy days during school holidays when the resorts infrastructures (roads, car parks, access etc) reached maximum capacity and therefore naturally limited the number of skiers in each ski resort.
The resorts were short staffed – no international workers – and things were busy.
Then on the 11th August Covid came back! As of the 12th August the whole country was at Alert Level 2 – so all the protocols that were originally written up were rolled out.
Masks were required – interestingly enough a ski buff, or neck tube, or a scarf was considered a suitable mask.
Social distancing was required which meant limited numbers of people on a chairlift at any one time – although if you were in your own “bubble” then you could all get on a chairlift as normal.
Lift line queues became longer as minimum distances between people was required.
Ski School lessons were still OK, but again distancing was adhered to and face masks/covers were encouraged.
So on the snow you were outside, in vast open areas, and things worked well.
Inside buildings and spaces were some of the trickiest areas to make changes.
Tables spaced out, limited numbers of people allowed in any space.
Bad weather was going to pose a problem, the limit to the number of people in an area would still apply. So if a storm or bad weather came in then people would have to head home, they couldn’t just squeeze into a restaurant or cafe and ride it out.
As it turned out the weather was good for the most part and outside tables were popular.
Restaurants and bars were table service only, all payments were cashless.
In fact, whole ski resorts went cashless for the whole ski season – all payments were by contactless card.
After an initial few nervous days, the ski season at Alert Level 2 got into the swing of things, and we all found ways to make ourselves and the people around us feel comfortable and safe.
It was all new, and awkward to start with, but everyone found their comfort zone, and it worked well.
Patience and kindness was the order of the day.
Things took longer!
Longer to buy a pass, longer to find a table, longer to get on the lift, longer to buy a coffee.
Everything took longer, and everyone knew this, but at first, there were still frustrations, but soon your expectations adjusted to the reality of the situation.
At the end of the day it was better to be skiing, and have to wait in a longer lift queue, than to not be skiing at all.
The NZ season is nearing the end now, and on reflection I think it will be seen as a successful season, ran under difficult conditions.
But it did run.
As the European and Northern Hemisphere winters approach, I am taken back to those feelings that we had in NZ three months before the season here.
The worry and the fear, the overall uncertainty about going into uncharted waters.
Looking to Europe and the Northern Hemisphere winter season I am sure that the next two or three months will be full of fear, and worries, and uncertainty.
But once it has started and we see that it can work, then the passion and love for the mountain and winter sports can shine through.
We will find ways to make ourselves, and those around us, feel comfortable and safe.
Here is hoping that in late spring 2021 we can all look back at what has been a successful season, ran under different circumstances.