Queenstown friends of Hamish McCrostie — and he has a lot — were thrilled on December 30 to learn he’d made the New Year honours list. The man himself, who was incredibly humbled, talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about his wide-ranging career in the ski industry which ended, at this stage, with a five-year stint in China
In making the New Year honours list, former Queenstown skifield manager Hamish McCrostie’s in rarefied company.
The 65-year-old, who was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, is thought to be only the second NZ ski industry professional — the other’s Des Peters — to have been honoured in this way.
And in view of what he’s achieved it’s very fitting because, having set up the likes of pre-hospital emergency care and avalanche programmes, he’s made an enduring contribution to the ski industry, and beyond.
Though born in Invercargill, McCrostie learnt to ski in Queenstown at a very young age — his parents were foundation Coronet Peak skiers and because they and his grandparents had a house here, he frequented the place during school holidays.
Educated at Southland Boys’, he says his dad wanted him to join him in real estate and take over his business, ‘‘but I wanted to do something related to skiing’’.
He worked for a time in a Queenstown ski shop, but got his big break in 1979, patrolling for former Austrian ski racer Karl Burtscher senior’s Tekapo skifield.
‘‘He took me under his wing and really piqued my interest in snow and different types of snow and how to manage it.’’
McCrostie then became a ski patroller at Coronet Peak between summers working as a local rafting guide.
Then in ’85 he got the job of setting up ski patrol at Queenstown’s The Remarkables, which was known to be avalanche-prone — that year he also joined the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s snow and avalanche advisory committee.
He says the avalanche programme he developed for The Remarks became a benchmark for NZ.
It was similar to what he’d observed in Canada, where he undertook a Level 2 course.
He did avalanche monitoring on British Columbian highways with a Canadian who also came to NZ to share his learnings.
Then, in the late ’80s, McCrostie helped upskill ski patrollers, who’d previously only needed basic first-aid training.
‘‘Together with other patrol directors from around the country we got in touch with the national ambulance officers’ training school and set up the pre-hospital emergency care course.
‘‘That’s developed into a pretty widespread, widely-used qualification for all different types of outdoor recreation and adventure tourism.’’
Over the years, McCrostie also helped set up exchanges with North American resorts so patrollers and other staff could work back-to-back winters and have more of a career path.
And he had off-seasons himself in Switzerland, Japan and Canada.
In ’95, he became manager of The Remarkables, then moved to the same role at Coronet Peak in 2007.
It could be stressful when you had 4000 to 5000 skiers/boarders on your mountain, ‘‘but it was all about developing systems and training people in them’’.
There was an awful lot of fun, too — ‘‘we did stuff you’d never get away with now’’.
In 2012, after 30-plus years with NZSki, McCrostie left to set up the cat-skiing operation at Soho Basin, next to Cardrona, for John Darby.
Then, in 2017, out of the blue, he was invited to look at an operations management role in China five years out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.
That morphed into developing six freestyle courses from scratch.
‘‘I got involved in the physical development of the courses — all the earthworks, snowmaking installation, lift installation.’’
He had a team of about 350 including ‘‘some very good Chinese managers’’.
McCrostie says he managed his staff differently from the authoritarian model they were used to.
‘‘I developed my guys’ ability to think for themselves, and by the time of the Olympics, my team was very well-versed and very capable and really, really impressed everybody.’’
The biggest challenge was Covid — ‘‘it put the cat among the pigeons, and of course the Chinese got really strict on everything’’.
It also meant getting special visas to return from NZ each year.
Now living in Hawke’s Bay, where his partner’s from, McCrostie’s no longer active in the ski industry — he’s working ‘‘on one or two projects, but nothing’s come to fruition yet’’.
Looking back, he says one of his biggest satisfactions is seeing people who’ve worked for him progress to become skifield managers or paramedics or succeed in completely different fields.