‘Mr Remarks’ slopes off

It's the end of an era.

After 16 years running The Remarkables ski area, Ross Lawrence is stepping down.

Ahead of handing in his NZSki name badge on April 30 — spelling the end, at least temporarily, of a 40-odd year snowsports career — Lawrence tells Mountain Scene "it’s just time for a change".

"I think it’s time to pass the baton on ... I want to leave the job in a good place."

He’s adamant he’s not retiring, but wants to spend some more time with his mother, in particular, before he works out what’s coming next.

Originally from Hastings, in Hawke’s Bay, Lawrence didn’t intend on a mountain-based career.

After completing a diploma in agriculture, with a plan to go farming, he headed to Centre Bush, in Southland, to try his hand at share-farming — sheep and cropping — with an uncle.

"I was probably two months into it and we were checking out with the bank, because I needed some money as a young guy ... and interest rates back in 1983 were 24%, 25%.

"For me as a young fella then, with no money, I was going, ‘I cannot see the light at the end of that tunnel’."

Instead, Lawrence worked on the farm for a year before heading back up north.

The 24-year-old applied for a job as a lift operator at Whakapapa, on the recommendation of his younger brother, got it and "never looked back".

Ultimately there for 10 years, he moved up the ranks, met and married his wife, Pam, and welcomed his son, Tim.

Ross Lawrence has resigned from his 16-year gig running The Remarkables. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ross Lawrence has resigned from his 16-year gig running The Remarkables. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
He next spent two years at Rainbow Valley ski area, in Saint Arnaud, near Nelson — a week after arriving there, the couple’s daughter, Adie, was born — before taking on the 2IC job at NZSki-owned Mt Hutt, in Methven, in ’96.

At that time, NZSki’s parent company, Trojan Holdings, was embarking on a development project, which resulted in about nine surface lifts being replaced with chairlifts.

"Just to see the change in terrain and how it’s used was pretty phenomenal."

During another 10-year stint there he had two unsuccessful cracks at the ski area manager’s job, before a fortuitous change in Queenstown.

The Remarks ski area manager at the time, Hamish McCrostie, crossed the valley to run Coronet Peak.

"Lo and behold, Sir John [Davies] invited me down to take on The Remarkables," Lawrence says.

"It still almost chokes me [up] thinking about it, because it’s quite a step and to be invited to come to Queenstown, from Methven, was a huge step for us.

"But you don’t turn those sort of things down."

During his tenure here, Lawrence has overseen phenomenal growth and development at the skifield.

That’s included a relandscaped learners’ area, replacement of the Curvey Basin and Sugar Bowl chairlifts, while the Shadow Basin chairlift’s replacement will be finished for this season.

A new base building — an expansion of which is being planned — has been opened, and The Remarks has developed its freestyle and freeride offerings.

And an expansion of the ski area, into The Doolans, is still in the pipeline. "It’s something in the background that we’re working on continuously.

"There are quite a few hoops to jump through with that — we’re a lot closer now than we were 10 years ago.

"I’m fairly confident we’re going to get there before too long."

Lawrence pays tribute to the company, the board for their continued investment in NZSki’s fields, and Sir John, in particular, for his ethos.

"He talks about the product, he talks about the people, he talks about caring and I think that’s a culture that we’ve got across NZSki. It pays dividends."

But he hasn’t ruled out a return to the industry in some form — "I don’t need to be in the front seat going forward, I don’t think".