District councillor and former Eichardt’s Hotel licensee John Mann, along with wife Ann, has been a Winter Festival stalwart since 1991. Between them, the Manns cooked up and ran several festival events such as Outrageous Arts & Fashion, the Old Farts Ball, the Family Arts & Variety Concert, the Senior Citizens Luncheon – and John’s personal favourite, the Top Bloke contest, which ran for 19 years to sell-out crowds. Before moving here, John ran pubs in Auckland and earlier toured as publicist for travelling shows put on by legendary promoter Joe Brown. As events go, John scored his first Winter Festival of 1991 an eight out of 10. This year, he’s looking forward to the Jazz Brunches at the Hilton.
Naturally, the thing Coronet Peak ski area manager McCrostie looks forward to most about Winter Festival is snow. “Having lots of snow so we can kick off winter in style,” he says. Long-time local McCrostie has attended most festivals since the town’s annual winter party started in 1975. “It’s a fantastic way to herald to the world that winter’s open, the skiing’s on. It’s a lot of fun, a great community event.” McCrostie says his favourite events are the opening party with the fireworks and Mardi Gras. He’s also entered the drag race in previous years. “The comedy shows are fantastic, as is Thriller in the Chiller. They’re great nights out.”
Wilson, 31, is a serial festival competitor. Since 2004 he’s regularly entered Splash for Cash, winning twice, Dash for Cash and Musical Chairs on Coronet Peak, Undy 500, which he’s sponsoring this year, and the Dog Derby and Dog Barking. Famously he entered the 2009 Suitcase Race in his birthday suit after losing a bet. This year he’s also debuting in the Drag Race. Wilson explains his festival addiction: “It starts as a bit of something to try and then it becomes a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time in your home town where you can just let your hair down and run amuck.”
Allen is the festival’s health and safety manager. “I look over all the events to make sure there’s no holes that people are going to fall into physically and metaphorically speaking.” Allen – a film industry health and safety professional – says no one had the role till he started five years ago. It was just luck accidents didn’t happen, he says. Allen enjoys festival: “There’s plenty of acts and fun and all sorts of people can get involved, from kids to visitors.”
Heasman is such a festival fan he returns from his native Scotland each year to work on it. After volunteering at the bar for the Queenstown Rocky Horror Show in 2007, he was asked to join the festival production crew. Heasman said yes even though he had no experience. “It was the hardest work, it blew my mind”. By 2009 he’d graduated to night event manager and now he’s production manager for the whole festival, working from early April to mid-July. “I love festival, it’s the diversity of events, the quality of the bands and comedians and acts, and the standard of the team I get to work with. I can’t stop learning off them.”
Kennedy, who organised the 1991 and 1992 festivals, says things were a bit different 21 years ago. “We had six weeks to organise the [’91] event. I remember the stress of trying to get the one-colour, one-page festival programme finalised and printed – it came out the day before the festival. A beer sponsor helped immensely as all the staging and scaffolding was paid for in slabs of beer.” Kennedy recalls ’91 was the year of the first drag race, the mayoral jelly wrestling scandal and the famous Lakeland Ball. “Best of all were the beautiful Snow Queens.” Kennedy believes today’s festivals still capture their original essence – “celebrating winter in the special place that is Queenstown”.
Trapski organised the 2002 festival and says it’s an important event on the Queenstown calendar. Trapski says 2002 was the year after most of the larger sponsors festival relied on withdrew their support. “We really had to look at the festival with very limited cashflow. It was probably one of the few years that the festival really had to stand on its own two feet.” Community support made it a success, she says. “The festival is an important event and always will be – try taking it away and see what happens.”