Despite almost 40 years’ experience in running events, Winter Games CEO Arthur Klap says they’re still a huge challenge. However he still tries to stay calm, he tells Philip Chandler
The first major event organised by Winter Games NZ supremo Arthur Klap was the freestyle skiing national championships at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak in 1976.
Somehow it seems fitting that almost 40 years later, the fourth Games launched at Coronet on Friday night with a star-studded dual slalom.
“There hasn’t been a dual slalom there for ages,” Klap says.
“To see head-to-head racing is cool, and once you do something in the dark, at night, it feels totally different.”
Since those freestyle skiing champs - one of the many snow sports also on the menu for these Games - Klap’s organised hundreds of events including 12 world championships in eight sports.
Those sports include triathlon - Wellington in ’94 and Queenstown in 2003 - mountain biking, mountain running, motorcycling and, wait for it, unicycling.
He also set up the popular NZ Masters Games in Dunedin and Wanganui.
At the behest of event founder and Queenstowner Sir Eion Edgar, Klap conducted the feasibility study into the Games and has since organised every edition, starting in 2009.
Despite their growing success and profile, he admits the last Games in 2013 were probably the hardest event he’s ever organised.
The event didn’t just battle a lack of snow, it was also struck by bad weather on the opening day.
“It affects the morale of everyone,” he says.
Speaking last Sunday, his fervent wish was that the opening is blessed by fine weather.
“We want a really good night, it could be a tremendous evening for everyone - you can have bad weather later.”
Despite the vagaries of the weather last time, Klap applauds a bold move by himself and his trustees for ensuring the Games’ survival.
He says they deliberately increased their spend significantly on marketing and international TV production and distribution for the 2013 Games - at the expense of making a surplus.
Due to the value of that exposure, the organisers, together with new naming sponsor Audi NZ, went to parent company Audi Germany, who agreed to come onboard for 2015.
Klap also brought on offshore companies GoPro and headphone maker Skullcandy.
“The only way we can start to become financially viable is by getting international sponsors,” he says.
If it hadn’t got that international exposure in 2013, “we wouldn’t have a Games this year, we’d be dead”.
He also notes that Tourism NZ has increased its investment because of that international exposure, while the government is contributing a healthy $1.5 million.
Klap says the Games - with a GST-excluded $4.8m budget - differ from other sporting champs with their focus on tourism and community objectives.
Marketing the event so heavily in Australia and around NZ, he says, doesn’t grow the number of competitors, “but we do it because we are promoting this area as a snow sport destination”.
The same applies, he says, to their commitment to promoting the event to schools as far away as Tarras and to running kids’ and adaptive skiing races.
Klap says the one major area he’s hoping to improve on these Games is the downtown Queenstown and Wanaka villages, which were introduced last time.
It’s important, he says, given that most people won’t go to events on the skifields.
“The villages didn’t totally click last time, but we saw that the potential is certainly there.
“I’m hoping that locals really understand that every day there are bands playing, most days there’s a free adventure film festival going on.”
From this week till the end of the Games, on August 30, Klap has a team about 45 full-timers and 1500 volunteers.
Klap, who turned 64 this week, says: “My role during the Games is not to run the Games but to manage the staff, to make sure that their wellbeing is looked after.
“It’s really important as the leader that I’m relaxed and calm because then that feeds right through the organisation.
“Sometimes I might snap a bit or get a bit frustrated with something, but I can’t afford to do that.”
At least something he shouldn’t fret about these Games is any lack of snow.