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Craigieburn blog.

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Mel Summarises the 2021 Season

The winter of 2021 brought about many different scenarios that the staff and club had to manage. The season started off looking promising with a great team assembled by Sander and the committee. They all turned up for staff training and induction in mid-July. The committee and Neil Foote had the base area facilities and field looking in good shape by the time we arrived for a solid hand off. This was huge and cannot be emphasized enough as being a great way to start the season for the staff. Vanessa helped initiate me into how the club and field worked and was an awesome behind the scenes administrative support to us all season.

Along with training, a lot of mountain and day lodge set up took place also. Despite not having an access tow to utilise the on-field team knocked out some good work towards having everything ready for a projected opening date of July 22nd. Deb Harris and her base area team did a phenomenal job of getting the lodge, ticket office and food operations set up well.

Unfortunately, this was the time when a few things started to go a bit south, starting with the kebab, which in hindsight, was a minor situation. Thank you to Andy Troup for dealing with this.

Without enough snow we had to push our opening date back. About this time the bottom of our access road fell out due to a large slip on Walkers. This added another layer of complexity to our newly anticipated opening date and the ability to keep staff on paid work. Luckily for us Mt Dobson needed some extra help and a chunk of our team were willing to head south for a couple of weeks of employment. This was crucial given we had three overseas patrollers who had committed a lot of time, effort and money to travelling to NZ and doing MIQ. For those of us left on the hill, we set about addressing a few other new problems that had arisen in the form of the middle access tractor having some “issues”. With great help from Andy Firth, Jeb, Hans, Hamish and a couple of contractors we got it all sorted. We also carried a lot of heavy things up hill. Prior to opening we also lost one of our patrol staff, Tom Hillstead, to a knee injury. This was a huge blow as he was an experienced patroller that would have provided relief to our core staff.

A few more snafoos arose along the way such as losing both of our cooks (due to lack of work), but luckily by that time Al and Dinah had showed up to keep us entertained and help out with a bit of boiler room action and food expertise. It also rained a lot. There were plenty of weather systems moving through but they were too warm at lower elevations. We did acquire more snow up high so the top tow was starting to ski well by the beginning of August, but it was a tale of two mountain halves. By the second week of August, we finally got some snow to stick down low and a solid looking storm system on the horizon to be able to call the Dobson/Craigieburn team home. We also got Ella Harris on the scene, and between her and Dinah we were able to fill the gaps in our cooking situation. They did a fantastic job of improvising and figuring it out.

In the meantime, Sander and the committee were doing some strong work of navigating the road fix and getting it underway. It all culminated with the perfect storm of more snow, DOC approval and a late-night rallying effort. Thanks to some rebar, orange fencing and a few slightly ghetto looking homemade signs we were able to open on Wednesday the 11th of August. Thanks again to Andy F, Jeb, Neil and Kurt for helping execute the slip work late into the night.

We were finally open and we had a really fun five days. It was great to see all the hard work come to fruition. There was a giant storm on the horizon that would set us up for the season and things were looking promising; even Dawson showed up. Then, alas, the naughty virus snuck its way into the country, right as we were getting copious amounts of snow. Sure enough, after one of the most plentiful snow falls in recent years, we had to close due to the Covid 19 lock down and leave all that snow on the hill, untouched. It was brutal. Definitely a buzz kill. Telling our team they could not go up the hill and ski under any pretense made me feel very mean. It went against our DNA.

The next few weeks were a bit bizarre living up on the mountain with the staff in our Craigieburn bubble. Luckily, we had such a good diverse team and a bar on hand that we were able to make the most of it. Movie nights, cooking, walks, weird hot tub excavation, possum control and various other random activities took up our time. There was also some exceptional Covid 19 policy and regulation deciphering from Axel, who helped put together a robust pandemic operations plan for when we came out of lock down. To be fair this was a challenging time, especially for our overseas staff who had come a long way to be here. We were fortunate that the committee was quick at applying for the wage subsidy to keep our staff getting paid and for us to be able to retain them for reopening. Allowing the staff to stay on the hill and be housed and fed was a huge positive not only for employee retention in 2021 but for next season also. Some people did not have homes to go to for lockdown. A lot of the team have expressed their desire to return if possible and this is in part due to the huge efforts made by the club to take care of them and make them feel a part of something special. Hanging on to the diverse skill sets and CV knowledge this team now has is huge for any manager who is coming in to such a unique work environment where there are so many peculiarities in the job setting (some of you know what I mean).

By the 8th of September we were fully open again and we had a great 3 weeks of skiing until closing day on October 3rd. Solid skier numbers showed the desire for skiing late into the season, possibly as a result of two tough recent seasons where skiers were robbed of their normal mileage. It was awesome to experience the day-to-day operations of the mountain and lodge and pull off a few fun events with quiz night, club champs and beer tasting. Sally, Lindsay, Ella and Debs were amazing at improvising and filling any work gaps we needed done outside of their normal job descriptions. Everyone got up the hill and helped with “turtling” the snow to keep the access tow open but none so much as Kurt Carter, who hung in with me until our final day of work. At times I could tell it was soul destroying work for him as he raced against the warming temps to keep another day’s riding on the tow line, but he was such a good sport about it. We finally lost the access line a day before closing.

A special mention also goes to Hans and the snow safety team. His experience at systematically opening a mountain safely and calmly was invaluable to me, given the high-risk management skill that it is. Also, to Hamish, who can do just about anything. And boy did I ask him to figure out a lot of different random things. He also ran our social media very well during the season. Finally, Deb Harris took on a lot with managing the base area team and her inherent knowledge of the Craigieburn club and how things got done, and by whom, was huge.

Being a part of the Craigieburn family has been an awesome experience and here’s hoping for a strong returning staff turnout and a bit of decent snow next year. Thanks to everyone who supported us through all the ups and downs. It was a massive learning experience. A special thanks to Sander Kriek for taking on the unpaid full-time role of president and being there to support and help us along the way. An extra special thanks to the amazing staff we had on board who made it all much easier than it should have been. Cheers and here’s to a great 2022!

Mel Russek