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Rare commodity: Experienced groomer operators like Quentin Kenning are in high demand this winter

Seven-day-a-week skiing returns to Coronet Peak and The Remarks this season, thanks to Anzac-power.

But with Immigration NZ (INZ) still refusing to budge on border exemptions for highly-skilled foreign workers, normal service won’t quite resume.

NZSki boss Paul Anderson says they’ve managed to recruit five experienced groomer operators for Queenstown, but are desperately seeking approval from INZ to allow in four of the specialist workers from Europe and North America.

“We’re working on two applications at the moment … it’s been a long process, but it’s about timing because we really need these people in MIQ now.”

Without full staffing, they may be forced to close terrain parks and reduce the number of groomed runs available, especially after heavy snow dumps.

It also puts pressure on their ability to take on and train rookie Kiwis in the groomer operator trade, which can see them travel the world.

They’ve nonetheless hired five Kiwis with heavy machinery experience in Queenstown to join the crew.

Anderson says he still hopes to get government approval for the missing staff, and is working on how the company communicates the safety aspect and wider benefits, including provision of the best training facilities for NZ Olympian Alice Robinson.

Wayfare received border exemptions for three experienced groomer operators and 14 ski and snowboard instructors for their fields near Wanaka.

NZSki’s head of slopes Blair O’Donnell says the groomer operators work in extreme conditions, often overnight, to ensure everybody’s safety.

They must have a minimum of two years’ experience.

“They play a critical role in storms or avalanche work, when traditional snow-clearing equipment is not suitable or transport over snow is required.”

Learning how to shape terrain parks can take four years or more, he adds.

They’ll need to have snow cat skills, experience with terrain cambers, and expert knowledge of snow sintering.

Without the full complement of operators, events like Coronet Peak’s alpine ski racing could be affected.

Coronet Peak opens on June 19 and The Remarks a week later on June 26.

INZ did not respond by Scene‘s deadline.

matthew.mckew@scene.co.nz