Heading into season 31 at Buller, Lift Operations Manager Nick Reeves copes fine with the stress of keeping the whole wedding cake cranking. He loves nothing more than to get out for a few turns with son Mitch, at Buller, or O/S at the World Heli Challenge (at 13 Mitch is a regular competitor already) in NZ, or Alaska – where they skinned 5000’ Pyramid Peak earlier this year. He talked to Snow Action’s Dave Windsor.
How long have you been up here?
This is my 30th winter since I left school in the early 80s. I went straight from school to Mt Buller, staying at a Lithuanian lodge called Neringa. We used to come up a week every year as a schoolkid with my old man and his mad Litho mates.
I told dad that I didn’t want to go back and simply couldn’t leave the mountain, so I stayed at the end of August and got a job with Graham Potter from Orange Lifts. I worked on the baby poma on Bourke Street and that’s how I started. I’ve worked every summer & winter since ‘82, other than the summers of ’85 to ’87 when I worked in Whistler building a T-bar and supervising lifts at Blackcomb.
What’s your plan for the future?
To maintain my passion and excitement of being in the Alpine environment. To keep it real, have fun and continue enjoying it with my wife Sharon and son Mitch, and their friends and families. Sharon’s a physio and does a great job fixing people up and supporting Mitchell and I with all our injuries. I’ve had a few lately, it comes with the territory, but I take the view pain is weakness leaving your body – so its all good.
One of the strengths and staying points for being on the mountain is the really solid community here. It’s a big transient, international, bohemian, global family that comes and goes. In alpine ecology they call it phenology, meaning seasonal rhythms. And just as important as the winters are the summers. Not everyone knows but the Australian Alps are heritage listed and only make up 0.1% of mainland Australia. It’s a very special and a very old place. So it’s an honour to call this home.
Where’s your favourite area to ski around here?
I love anywhere there’s a tea tree. They’ve got the smallest leaves, but the most leaves, so they carry the most amount of snow. So predominantly I love to ski in the Chamois area. They’re like a big snow fence.
Mt Buller also is an amazing training ground for free skiing with short but extreme steeps. Around Yurredla, Chute 2 and 3, there’s some amazing stuff out there. I’d also say that the ancient woolly butt trees out on the Northern Side behind the community centre are right up there. We’ve got a really mixed bag up here, we’ve got the full 360 degree mountain. The nice thing about Mt Buller is that it has a peak, and my mate John Faulkner, who’s an international guide (and 007 stunt skier of yore), used to call it a mini Verbier.
Yeah that’s what I love about Buller – you can keep chasing lifts from North to South and back again looking for good snow and empty lifts. How about overseas?
I’d have to say the Southern Alps of NZ, Jackson Hole and Valdez Alaska would be my favourites OS. I’ve been to the Southern Alps five times now. I love the vertical skiing, bowls and gullies of Treble Cone.
What are some of the challenges of being Buller’s Lift Operations Manager?
It starts with recruitment. From the interview process and then training so that our people are competent. It’s a delicate balance between finding people that have a good work ethic, are friendly, competent, and want to be in a ski area. Lifties get their hours up too, with ski to and from work, a ski to and from lunch, plus an hour off each day and two days free a week.
We have a great exchange programs with the US, Canada, and we even have some Italians this year. We aim for diversity. It’s truly a global community.
What about dodgy days like today?
High wind days are purely about safety. We look at how the cables are running in the wheels in the towers, how the chairs are going round the bull wheel, what direction is the wind hitting lifts. You might need to slow a lift down or add another liftie at the top to help customers. And if we can’t run a lift safely then we’ve gotta put it on wind hold. This year’s been pretty good. Some years we might get up to 6 days, but this year we’ve only had 2 or 3. This morning was really rough, but we kept monitoring the situation and got all the lifts running in the afternoon so that it’s not a complete loss for the customers. It’s tough, because we have to decide whether to keep the lifties on or send them home. Running lifts are about economies of scale and ensuring that budgets work. We’ve got processes and they work.
You must be pretty proud of your son Mitch?
Yeah, very proud of Mitch, or as they say in NZ “Mutch”. He’s competing in his 3rd World Heli Challenge this year and he just loves skiing. He loves going fast, powder, jumps and hanging out with his mates on the mountain. I think he’s got his first addiction – heli skiing. He’s probably been in over 30 heli flights already, not bad for a 13 year old. The proudest moment to date would’ve been in Valdez. We were on the Thomson Pass and we did a Level 1 avalanche course. Skinning up Pyramid Peak, 5,000ft vertical, with my son and a guide was just such a special moment.
He wants to win the World Heli Challenge and keep skiing and having fun. Mind you, I’m scared all the time. But we’ve done a lot of training and we are all about the mountain skills and he’s got some awesome grounding and knowledge. The future’s looking great.