Words: Mark Catsburg
Resorts are opening across the Tasman today, which means it’s already winter, almost the 7th month of the year, and what an absolute shit-show the first six months have been. Chaotic and insanely stressful for some, and sort of just like a boring banana bread holiday for others.
Now that we are slowly waking up from the weirdness of the coronavirus, we are faced with an even stranger experience. While COVID related restrictions are sure to have an impact on all ski resorts and towns both in Australia and NZ, nowhere will the impact be as noticeable or hard hitting as Wanaka and Queenstown, which are isolated even after isolation. Situated in the bubble of Central Otago, completely shut off from international travel, these towns, usually overrun by tourists, are now left to their full-time residents, who can perhaps find a parking spot for the first time in years.
Since everyone in town knows each other the usually vicious fight for first tracks is likely to be more of a friendly tussle, with only the occasional weekender and the school holidayers to contend with.
But it’s sure to be somewhat of a double-edged sword, as the local businesses which heavily rely on the influx of internationals will surely be missing that extra income, especially after having just scraped through the lock-down.
While it is worth mentioning that the actual full-time population has grown from 3,700 in 97′, to a staggering 14,000 in 2019, and Queenstown an insane 14,800 in 97′ to 41,700 in 2019, grown also has the infrastructure, jobs and revenue that businesses lean on tourism dollars to provide for.
What does the ski field, and more importantly the ski town look like without the influx of international fun seekers? Is a tourist trap without the tourists now just a trap?
Will and Abby Jackways, Wanaka locals through and through, launched their tourism driven business Explore Wanaka 3 years ago, as they transitioned out of Professional Snowboarding. Hosting out of towners on unique travel experiences, tapping into knowledge hard earned by years of exploring the area themselves. With their main client base usually being the USA, AUS and Asian markets, they have had to adjust their business accordingly to appeal to a more local market.
“Naturally with the way that COVID has played out this year, we don’t have much of a choice, and are really restricted as to who we can target and sell our product to.”
Will is a purely positive soul, his career a beacon of light on the NZ snowboard scene. He is as humble as a mince and cheese, and to catch a bad word escape his lips about someone or something is on par with catching a Leprechaun.
“We have been incredibly lucky to have a lot of local and domestic support around what we’re doing. We have definitely had to adjust our approach, we rely quite heavily on word of mouth, recommendations from previous clients, friends of friends etc, but that has now reached corporations and professional industries, and we are very fortunate to have secured work for this winter”. Not business as usual. Different, rather than desperate.
“All things considered we’re looking about average, we haven’t thrown the kitchen sink at it”
Confident they will be able to weather the Corona storm as business owners, are they excited about the winter as local snowboarders?
“Theres been a lot of talk about how it will play out, it does depend on snowfall, but I certainly know there are a lot of locals that are excited about having the mountains to themselves. Not that they don’t mind sharing, but I think it will be nicer to have that slightly more localised, community feel up on the mountains. I’ve had about 20 messages from people trying to track down last minute goggles and gear”.
And with Cardona and Treble Cone now sharing a dual pass for the first time in history, the community feel will be at an all-time high.
“In a time when there hasn’t been a lot of positive of late, it’s a blessing to have that.”
So with businesses adapting, locals taking it all in stride, will the Coronavirus impact be as large as first anticipated?
Will people start growing dreads again?
Will there be more Aucklanders than ever?
Will Stances get wider?
Will everyone race beat up old Toyota Corollas up the mountain roads again?
Will they reopen Shooters?
Time will tell, we most likely will have to watch from our phone screens as our kiwi counterparts literally lap it up on the scarcely populated mountains, or be on the first plane out once Saint Jacinda decides to let us in.
Personally I’m for all of the above, apart from perhaps the dreads part.