No business like snow business

Nigel Kerr

After 13 years, Nigel Kerr is back in the snow business, heading up Queenstown’s iconic Coronet Peak. He discusses his varied career, including owning two dumpling shops, with Philip Chandler

No one’s looking forward to Saturday’s opening of Queenstown’s Coronet Peak skifield more than its new boss.

With a friendly personality and huge background in the snowsports and tourism industries, Arrowtowner Nigel Kerr was a popular choice late last year to take over from Ross Copland.

Ironically, Kerr admits he’s only skied Coronet about six times, but he takes 21 years’ experience at a rival field, and a lot of business knowledge, into his new role.

The Invercargill-born, Christchurch-raised 53-year-old says he fell in love with skiing on Canterbury club fields.

“I went to university but decided that skiing was, possibly, a better option – I’m not sure my parents have ever quite got over it.”

Kerr says the only field that would employ him was Cardrona, between Queenstown and Wanaka.

He was just the field’s fifth ski instructor when he joined in 1983.

He soon also started working northern hemisphere winters, initially in the United States.

On a US field he was one of five instructors invited one season to try out a new thing called a snowboard – in this case, a Burton swallow-tail steel edge.

“They said, ‘go and figure out how they work and then how you’re going to teach lessons’.

“It was hilarious.”

Back at Cardrona, then Wanaka-based Kerr graduated to ski school, then snowsports director, and oversaw the writing of a snowboard instructors’ manual.

“We started events as part of the long-term strategy and built a halfpipe which I suppose was as much of a liability as a benefit because we really had no idea how to build it.”

By fostering various skiing/boarding associations, he says Wanaka became the snowsports centre for New Zealand because of Cardrona.

“And as Cardrona grew, my role grew.”

While it was fun, it eventually came at a cost.

“I was doing marketing, sales, communications, media and sponsorship and all that sort of stuff in the summer, and then I had a really intensive winter, and then I was just completely burnt out.”

He left the industry in 2004 to become operations manager for Queenstown-based hospitality group St George Trust, which morphed into Good Group.

“I learnt a lot about other forms of business, built a lot of bars.”

After five years, during when he shifted to the Wakatipu, he started his own marketing consultancy.

“Treble Cone [skifield] was one of my clients for a couple of years – I can’t stay away from it, can I?”

In 2012 he joined Ngai Tahu Tourism’s Queenstown office as sales and marketing manager, mainly because he wanted to work for then-boss David Kennedy.

A highlight was successfully pitching its Glenorchy jetboat business, Dart River Jet, to the fast-growing Chinese market.

While working at its Glenorchy HQ, he says it became an office joke that the hamlet needed a dumpling shop.

Biding his time between Ngai Tahu Tourism CEOs, when he felt the company lacked direction, Kerr found a vacant space in Queenstown’s Camp Street and opened Queenie’s Dumplings in 2015.

For good measure he added a Glenorchy outlet.

In more recent times, he says his marketing role no longer spun his wheels.

“I like marketing but eventually what I don’t like is the fact that you don’t touch all the customers, all of the time.”

To add some variety, he started also managing the company’s new Glenorchy horse-trekking acquisition, Dart Stables, about the time he saw NZSki’s Coronet Peak job advertised.

“I was like, ‘hold on, what do you really want to do?’ and this is what I want to do.

“I suppose it goes back to Dart [River Jet] – I could see more potential at Coronet Peak.”

Coming onboard in March, Kerr says his hands have been tied a bit because budgets for this season had already been set.

He says his priority will be “looking, more than anything else, for the staff to step up towards our customers”.

He’s already implemented a few customer-centric changes.

At the breakfast bar, punters will no longer have to stand in a queue to collect their order.

“It seems a really little thing but you tell me another restaurant or cafe in town where you have to stand and wait for your food?”

He’ll also ramp up the ice bar, and is adding Wednesday night skiing to Coronet’s offering.

“I expect I’ll be doing a lot of walking and talking,” he says of his first season in charge.

“Besides, I’m not very good at typing.

up at the hill, and it’s a really funny thing, but I’m getting very excited about going skiing.”