UPDATE: Victoria is go! Ski season from June 22nd announced this morning by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews, great work! See the full statement here
NSW situation remains as below – pending a decision, which will surely be very close know Victoria has moved!
Reports the Australian ski season was set to go earlier this week are premature.
Yes, regional travel is back in NSW from June 1st. As Deputy Premier John Barilaro said, this would allow for the ski season to happen. But there are no opening dates, no timelines, and nothing, repeat nothing, actually confirmed. Which explains why the resorts had to place season pass sales on hold pending clarification and an actual real go ahead.
So we put some questions to the Deputy Premier to get more clarity.
This limbo situation is bad enough for the big players like the resorts, and even worse for smaller businesses. How do you plan staff and stock levels, never mind pay bills, with no timeframe, or income?
Mr Barilaro was born and bred in Queanbeyan, a local through and through who knows the situation in the NSW Snowy Mountains better than most politicians normally would. It’s his electorate. He is very aware this all comes on top of the disastrous bushfires that ruined the summer season and obliterated Selwyn Snowfields.
We mentioned to him the fact that New Zealand has, after a more draconian COVID-19 lockdown response, managed to come out of their lockdown and get businesses working again in a coherent way that has allowed their ski resorts more clarity, and the ability to set opening dates and get on with it.
We also told him the Japanese ski season ran almost without hitch, and with no discernible effect on COVID-19 transmission. Indeed, as we said at the end of April, and it’s still true 3 weeks later, Iwate Prefecture remains COVID free, despite their ski areas staying open till the end of April.
Apart from raising these points, we put 4 key questions to Mr Barilaro (and also to his NSW Opposition counterpart and the Victorian Government for their responses):
- 1/ When will the NSW government release a clear timeline for ski resorts to open?
- 2/ Or if not, why not?
- 3/ And again if not, how do you expect businesses to be ready and bear the extra burden of the uncertainty on top of everything else?
- 4/ Why not start with a local opening for a week or two in June – for locals to Cooma &/or ACT (which has no cases) ahead of the school holidays – so any potential problems, and inevitable teething problems for COVID safe measures being insituted – can be put to the test and adjusted.
Given his hectic schedule we appreciate the Deputy Premier’s prompt next day response on Friday.
As politicians will, not surprisingly he didn’t directly answer the specific questions. But he outlined the government’s position and state of play which pretty much covers our first three questions, here.
“This year has been incredibly tough for the Snowy Mountains with the drought, bushfires and now COVID-19.
The bushfires meant businesses in this part of the region lost most of their summer trade. We also lost Selwyn Ski Resort in the fires. The last thing they needed was another setback like COVID-19, but this is the reality we are facing.
Throughout this crisis I have kept in touch with local ski resorts, businesses and community members. Understandably there is a lot of concern in the community about COVID-19 and the ongoing impact it is having on our communities who have had to adapt to a fast-changing situation.
I am confident we can have a ski season, but it is crucial that health is at the forefront of the decision making process.
“I have encouraged our ski resorts to work together on a proposal to the NSW Government, which I understand was submitted this week.
The proposal will then be reviewed by NSW Health and there is obviously a lot that will need to be considered. We will need assurances that the social distancing laws will be strictly followed, while there will need to be a requirement of increased cleaning in resorts and public areas to reduce the risks.
I understand there is a lot of concern in the community but we need to start paving the way forward so we can get the local economy going again.”
That is still a long way short of actually having a ski season.
The resorts have announced in the past couple of days they won’t be opening on the LWE as a result of this ongoing uncertainty. The longer it goes on the worse it is for those affected, especially businesses and employees.
At the NSW Premier’s news conference yesterday restrictions on bars, clubs, restaurants etc were lifted to 50 patrons per venue. But there was nothing much new about large scale outdoor activities. The NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard even boasted to the assembled press that NSW has the best record in Australia, if not the World, in combating COVID-19.
Reality fact check: sorry Minister, but it was you and your Health Department, along with Border Force, that let the Ruby Princess disgorge 3,000 passengers into the heart of Sydney. Nursing home tragedies are nothing to crow about either. So World beaters no.
But definitely Australia – every state – is doing way better than most of the World. USA, UK, Brazil, Sweden .. The list of fails is long and sad.
So we are not quibbling. We would just like less self-congratulation and more action. Here, and around the World, some politicians seem pleased by the extra exposure and the exaggerated powers the crisis has given them.
The longer the COVID-19 crisis continues the more random decisions seem to be getting.
Interstate travel is one obvious example: Federal health experts/authorities say there is no valid medical reason for inter-state travel bans, some State experts/authorities maintain there are.
Or how about pro football codes firing up while community and kids’ sport can’t? Does anyone seriously believe the chances of infection in the NRL and AFL are not far higher than touch footy or kids’ soccer? Or skiing or snowboarding?
NSW Netball Chief Executive Carolyn Campbell summed it up this way (source SMH), “What sport is needing is a clear roadmap and timeline from the government around when community sport can return.”
Which is exactly what skiing needs too. And has in NZ.
If the late great Kerry Packer was still with us, and still owner of Channel 9 and Perisher, I would bet big money that the Australian ski season would start June LWE as usual. The Big Fella got what he wanted.
A few blowtorch exposés on 9 News, A Current Affair and 60 Minutes would soon have the politicians changing their tune. Those with the financial clout and influence like the NRL, AFL and horse racing, to name three, are go. Those without are joining the queue.
The fact is we have flattened the curve already.
Millions have downloaded the app. We know what to do on a personal level. The resorts and businesses know what to do. We have all done pretty much everything we can do as individuals. We make our own personal risk judgements everytime we step out the door.
Getting on ladders on weekends is far more dangerous statistically for guys my age than COVID-19. So I’m happy to postpone those jobs (sorry darling) and take my chances skiing instead. And more seriously, people in high risk groups will be very wary of going to the snow, or anywhere, until things completely settle down.
The idea that we all just wait like patient sheep to be told what to do is wearing thin. Especially as what we are told varies so much. So let your voices be heard, not be part of the herd people. Message your politicians.
Can’t do any good? Well in NZ Deputy PM and leader of the minority coalition government partner Winston Peters was instrumental in being more pro-active and pushing their government to move faster over there – even canvassing Tasmania – NZ flights in discussions with the Tasmanian Premier.
Here’s a prediction: if it keeps snowing like it is there will be a flood of people heading up anyway.
Any bets as soon as the regional travel ban lifts people will head up, ready to grab some turns, or just build a kicker by the road and session it?
On the LWE even more will do the same, lifts or no lifts.
Then what will happen? An outcry like the Bondi Beach saga? Then a panicked over-reaction to close things down before they even get open?
Why not just set some timelines and guidelines and get on with it in a more orderly fashion.
Mr Barilaro did not address our last question: why not have a limited opening on the LWE or the week prior for locals only.
That would allow for a live check of the protocols/procedures in place. Fix the invevitable problems that appear. Fine tune things.
Our resorts deliver an immaculate groomed snow surface the morning after an Antarctic blizzard smashes through. They do an amazing job in the most adverse circumstances already. We all take that completely for granted. So getting organised for COVID safe procedures is not going to be a stretch for them. But it will take time to bed down whatever is being done and get staff used to it.
So it’s a no brainer to get that trial done in mid-June with less people and be ready for the July holidays and main season thereafter.
The clear risk otherwise is a caotic at short notice opening. Everyone floods up, any teething problems get blown out of proportion and we could be back to square one.
*NB we are waiting for the NSW Opposition Shadow Minister for Investment and Tourism’s response to the same queries we put to the Deputy Premier. We also asked the Victorian Premier for their plans, and will add them as and when we receive them. We are not interested in party politics or a blame games, just achieving the best outcome for our industry and those dependent on it in a safe manner.
UPDATE Sunday 24 May:
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews gave the best answer possible this morning with season is go news from June 22!
And joining you back out there. Sooner rather than later! – Owain Price