Skier told to stop teaching friends at Treble Cone or risk having pass cancelled

By Checkpoint for RNZ

A skier sharing tips with his friends on the slopes says staff at Wānaka's Treble Cone threatened to cancel his pass for unauthorised coaching.

James Sorrenson was on the mountain last weekend, when he says ski field staff approached him and told him to stop teaching his friends.

Treble Cone offers lessons with ski instructors, but it says recently there has been a spike of people offering unofficial lessons via Facebook groups, and that was also a health and safety issue.

Prices start at $240 for 1.5 hours and go up to $799 for a full day. A full day of group lessons (all levels) is $150.

Sorrenson told Checkpoint they were a group of four and one of them was on his own on the learner slope.

"I was with two guys: One whose was the second day and the other was his first time. I was just reiterating how to stop, making sure they're doing sort of a nice wedge - a pizza with their skis."

That was when a ski instructor approached him in a serious manner and said the group's interaction did not seem like they were friends, it "seemed like it was too professional".

"I tried to explain to him that I was a builder. Then he said that there must have been money exchanged, he felt, and I said no, definitely there hasn't. And he said I can't possibly prove that that's the case.

"And he took a photo of my pass and said if I come up with anybody else they'll explore options with my pass."

Sorrenson said he had a few extra pairs of skis and gloves which he lent to his friends on the trip.

"We were kind of sticking to our own. I didn't have my skis on, maybe that was something else. I knew that if I put my skis on, I wouldn't be able to stop a guy if he was flying towards a child or something."

He said it was a disappointing experience.

"I love the mountains down here and we've been skiing at these two for a few years now. I lived locally, I've always sung the praises of these mountains. And then having this happen, it's pretty disappointing."

Sorrenson said he was not sure of the line between helping a friend ski and being an instructor.

"I've paid for lessons in the past, but from my point of view, if somebody is a beginner and they have friends who want to teach them, I cannot see how that's bad for them.

"I would never have got lessons myself if I'd been put off at the start, if ... my father had been told to say that no, you're not allowed to teach your son. And then there was no chance I wouldn't be skiing now."

Treble Cone said the conversation with Sorrenson was civil and so far it had not had to ban anyone for unauthorised teaching.

Cardrona and Treble Cone general manager Laura Hedley said people gave friends and family tips all the time, but crossing the line into commercial agreements was where an issue arose.

"Most New Zealand ski areas have similar policies in place - once a commercial agreement is in place, external coaching is not allowed for many reasons. A big one is health and safety - all external contractors must be safety inducted to work on our mountains."

Wānaka's Treble Cone skifield (file image).
Wānaka's Treble Cone skifield (file image). Photo credit: RNZ

Hedley said paid external coaching without permission has been an industry-wide issue this season. They were not trying to single out groups of friends or families, but to identify the nature of teaching arrangements.

"We're sorry they were made to feel the way they were - our aim is never to stop friends and families spending quality time together in the mountains."