EVERYONE was shocked at the decision by Vail Resorts Australia to suspend their Victorian season on July 9 at Hotham and Falls Creek. They had only been open for four days after a poor snow start, and just as you would think everything would be ramping up, they were shuttered.
Everyone associated with the industry knows it takes a huge effort to operate a resort, and then deal with everything mother nature throws at you plus more. Add to the equation a worldwide pandemic, government forced closures and lock downs, then reopening, and then locked down again in Melbourne with NSW borders closed to Victoria.
At present the Falls Creek and Hotham resort areas themselves are both open, just not the ski lifts which are operated by Vail Resorts. But considering most people visit for the skiing and snowboarding, it leaves the resorts and all businesses in a difficult position.
This lift closure has left many staff in limbo. If you have ever worked a snow season, you will know you pack up your life for the winter months and move to the mountains. Many staff affected would have been longer term return season employees, plus many first time seasonal workers.
Most never arrive loaded with backup funds. They are expecting to work and pay their way as they go, and possibly save for their summer adventures.
So when your ski lift company closes, it affects many people, directly with the lift company itself but also the villages, towns and the wider region.
It was never going to be a simple decision to suspend operations. The question will surely arise in August as to whether they may open again if the Melbourne lockdown and Victorian restrictions improve. There are sure to be season pass holders hoping in anticipation the lifts resume.
The lifts at Hotham have been suspended until August 19. Photo Hotham.
Vail Resorts senior vice president Australia and chief operating officer Perisher, Pete Brulisauer today has issued an open letter to give clarity about the decision.
The following letter was shared with Vail Resorts’ Australian employees to provide additional context around suspending operations in Victoria.
Following the announcement on Thursday that we are suspending operations in Hotham and Falls Creek, I want to express my gratitude to the team on the ground in Victoria for the support you are providing our seasonal employees as they transition home. The dedication and commitment that you continue to demonstrate during these unprecedented times, in this incredibly challenging year, is extraordinary and I am indebted to each and every one of you.
The decision to suspend our operations in Victoria was exceptionally difficult. Be Safe is one of our core values and throughout this crisis we have led with a safety-first mindset. Much like the March closing of our resorts in North America, no one ordered us to suspend operations at Hotham and Falls Creek and we understand that not everyone will agree with our approach, or make the same choices. We wanted to provide some additional detail on our thinking, to ensure all our employees understand how we made this decision.
While each situation needs to be uniquely assessed, three orders by Government heavily influenced our decision to suspend operations:
• The issuance of Stage 3, Stay-at-Home orders for Melbourne and Mitchell Shire;
• Restricting access to New South Wales for anyone who has been in any part of Victoria;
• The Safe at Home recommendation to anyone in Victoria, outside of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, of “seeing only those you need to, when you need to”.
These three orders, taken in combination, highlighted to us that Government believed COVID-19 represented a very serious risk across Victoria. Clearly, the risk is more elevated in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire than the rest of Victoria and there is currently no Stay at Home order at either of our resorts. However, we believe a few unique risks drove our decision to suspend operations:
• If we have learned anything about this pandemic over the past four months it’s that things move quicker than any of us expect and it’s important for us to be out front of the situation from a safety perspective, especially considering how quickly things just moved in Melbourne.
• At the time the Stage 3, Stay at Home order was issued, our resorts already had many guests from Melbourne and Mitchell on property, representing an unknown risk for future local cases.
• If we remained operational for guests outside of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, we would be bringing together people from all over the rest of Victoria, which seems directly counter to the guidelines and best safety practices right now.
With all of that said, we cannot say for certain that this will turn out to be the right decision. But we believe being extra careful about safety is both the right health decision for our employees, guests and communities and also the right long-term decision for our business. Toward that end, I have heard concerns that we made this decision purely for financial reasons. There is no doubt that the Stay at Home orders in Melbourne would have drastically reduced guests to the resorts but, it still might have been possible to remain profitable at a smaller scale. However, that was not how this decision was made. When we voluntarily closed our resorts in North America, it came at a massive financial cost to the Company, one which we accepted because we believed it was the right decision. The same is true here.
This is heartbreaking for so many of us; for the employees whose season ended so abruptly, for our year-round colleagues who worked tirelessly to get us open and for the businesses in the communities that rely on our operations to thrive. So once again, we need to regroup and look ahead to our recovery. We are a passionate group, dedicated to our sport, our mountains and our communities – and that gives me confidence in the future. We will continue to closely monitor the evolving situation and keep you informed as we gain clarity on the path ahead.
SVP and COO, Australia and Perisher
Vail Resorts Australia, Peter Brulisauer.
Snowy Mountains Magazine interviewed Pete Brulisauer before the season started, and you can read that interview in our July Digital Edition here if you have not seen the printed version.