The future of Perisher
On a whistlestop tour of Australia, The Snow Gauge caught up with Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz (with a little help from local chief Peter Brulisauer) to talk all things Perisher:
- Expect some significant announcements ahead of next season
- Snowmaking and new chairs the priorities; refurbed village after that
- Approval still being sought for Superpipe build – won’t happen this season
- Not shying away from the season pass philosophy over day visitors
The Snow Gauge: Can you give me any insights into how the Epic Pass has been embraced by Australians. What are the numbers of Aussies like going to your resorts?
Rob Katz: We don’t like to get too specific with any country but I will say this. Right after we did the deal to acquire Perisher last year we saw a pick-up of close to 70 per cent at Perisher (for season passes) and that really helped drive and increase visitation to Perisher last year.
In the US – Australia was by far the strongest major international market for us … In a year where the US dollar was very strong … The pass that we sold in Australian currency provided an amazing deal. I’d say a lot of things we hoped to see from the Perisher acquisition played out – and played out very nicely.
TSG: Most people appreciate that you’re leading the way out here with the Epic Pass for season passes but the flipside is some people are noting how costly it can be for casual skiers/snowboarders these days. Your thoughts on that?
RK: Our approach is we want people to buy their skiing and snowboarding in advance. It’s true we give our best deals out the further in advance. But even if you want to buy two days of skiing – if you buy a week in advance you’ll get a discount, if you buy a package a few weeks in advance you’ll get an a bigger discount. For the person who wants to ski who shows up the day of skiing and walks up to the lift ticket window we don’t give a discount. We’re really trying to push people to plan in advance and that helps everybody – it creates long-term sustainable revenue for the resort but also for the community, the hotels, the retail shops … when you look at the aggregate we have made skiing more affordable but yes we do tend to shy away from the person who just walks up without any advance (to ski or snowboard).
TSG: A year on, how’s things working out with the Perisher acquisition?
RK: We spent the first year learning about the resort and getting up to speed and learning about the opportunities. It has gone very very well. The level of connection and alignment with Perisher and our company has been very very strong. We’ve had terrific sharing of best practices and equipment. We’ve moved things around and bought equipment together. It’s helped Perisher but we’ve also done things that have helped us in the States.
TSG: There was a masterplan floating about here in the early 2000s for Perisher. It called for things like an underground carpark/retail/restaurants and a village centre that may rival Thredbo’s. What are the chances of some or all of that getting dusted off?
RK: There’s a conversation going on right now about the nature of the lease itself … there’s a good dialogue going on that is being led by the government … On our side our top priority is going to be some future upgrades of snowmaking, some lifts and how to improve the on-mountain experience. And then also see the base area (improve). How we set up the conditions for ourselves but have other people – third parties, build restaurants, build retail too. This requires a high degree of co-operation.
It will certainly (happen) in the next couple of years. We’ll sit down after this season and see how things go. We’ll be talking about what the right announcements are for improvements for next season.
TSG: Some chair replacements? There are a few antiques there! The Mt Perisher double for instance …
RK: I think new chairs and snowmaking will be the top priorities. The village piece takes longer.
TSG: What about a superpipe? It’s been spoken about for sometime and Perisher is getting a great turn out of international athletes – last season was pretty incredible. Our Olympic people certainly would like one too. Is it going to happen and when – or is it just not worth the investment for the general public?
Peter Brulisauer: We saw a lot of the top riders from around the world come to Perisher last August and that was really for our parks … in terms of the halfpipe we have a development application sitting with the department of planning at the moment … I would think that during this year we’ll know whether the department of planning will issue an approval for that or not. (It’s out of the equation for this year).
TSG: Summer has been a bit of a dead zone there. What can be done to make Perisher a year-round destination?
In the United States all the resorts have some level of summer engagement. Some have way more than others. One of the things we really look at is the level of visitation at the resort … I am very open to it and very interested in looking at it. It’s definitely part of the larger conversation.
TSG: How have you found working with NPWS? They have certainly been raised as a sticking point to getting things done in the past.
RK: Most of it has been with Peter and his team but from what I have seen it has been terrific. We are very used to that kind of dialogue. Five of our US resorts sit on national forest land and it operates much as it does here … It can be frustrating at times (taking the amount of time to get things done) but I think in the long run it ensures the resort and the community is set up in the right way.
TSG: New Zealand would seem like an obvious place for you to acquire a resort – big mountains and underdeveloped. Thoughts?
RK: It’s not a priority right now for us. We felt that Perisher was the right resort for us to own in the southern hemisphere and certainly in this region of the Southern Hemsiphere. We want to drive additional visitation here and we feel that our job is to keep people here, seeing the benefits of a domestic ski holiday.
Thanks also to Perisher Snow Riders While I had considered many of the issues myself many people from the forums helped to sharpen my focus with questioning. Can’t mention everyone but some good input in particular from: Shayne Coomber, Stephen Pascoe, Cam Hardy, Leigh Elliott, Dylan Treloar, Danny Rebel, Jaime Davis, Cameron Hughes and Matt Weaver.