Skier Threatened with Pass Revocation for Teaching Friends at Treble Cone

by Simon Naylor | Published: August 30th, 2023 |  Ski News

A New Zealand skier is speaking out after he was threatened with losing his season pass for informally teaching skiing techniques to his friends at Treble Cone ski area.

James Sorrenson, a local builder from the town of Hawea, recounted being confronted by the head instructor last Sunday while providing beginner pointers to three work colleagues on the learner slopes. According to Sorrenson, the instructor accused him of illegally coaching and took photos of his pass while warning he could lose skiing privileges if caught again.

a man standing on top of a snow covered mountain

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Resort Policy Prohibits Unapproved Lessons

Treble Cone, located near Wanaka on New Zealand's South Island, prohibits unauthorized lessons or coaching under its external coaching policy. The policy states that whenever a group is skiing or snowboarding with an instructor, it is considered a "commercial coaching situation" requiring pre-approval. Sorrenson maintains he was merely helping out friends and received no payment.

The incident has sparked debate within the country's ski community about the blurred lines between friendly advice versus formal instruction. Some argue the ski area's strict enforcement could dampen the spirit of mentorship often seen on the slopes.

"Where do they draw the line?" wrote one commenter online. "Can you teach your own kids?"

Prohibitive Cost of Lessons

Prices for a full day adult group lesson at Treble Cone start at NZ$150 (US$90). In comparison, a daily adult lift ticket alone costs NZ$192 (US$115). The steep cost of lessons has led some beginners to rely on more experienced friends for pointers instead.

"How could anyone ever learn to ski without spending several thousand dollars?" questioned Sorrenson.

a snowboarder is sitting on a snowy mountain

Resort Defends Policy

Treble Cone defends its policy as necessary to ensure public safety and protect certified instructors. Laura Hedley, general manager for Treble Cone and its sister resort Cardrona Alpine Resort, stated that while friends often share tips, "crossing the line into commercial agreements is where an issue arises."

"Our team are not trying to single out groups of friends or families, instead they are trying to address a season-long issue for our industry," explained Hedley.

According to Hedley, unauthorized coaching has been a problem across New Zealand ski resorts this winter. The resort apologized for making Sorrenson feel targeted but said enforcing teaching policies was partly about managing liability.

Debate Over Strict Measures

Sorrenson's story gained traction after he shared his frustration in a local Facebook group. Others came forward with similar experiences, including one woman who said Cardrona staff cautioned her for teaching friends despite no money being exchanged.

The crackdown has been criticized by some as excessive. "Where do they draw the line?" asked one Facebook commenter. "Tennis court? Bowling alley? Swimming beach? Golf course? Climbing wall? - all privately-owned entities. Skiing in 2023: expensive equipment, overpriced lift tickets, expensive food, now 'forced' lessons."

Another likened the strict measures to "protectionism gone mad." One commenter quipped: "Won’t be long before Cardrona start charging to use the toilet on the mountain".

Concerns Over Accessibility

Some say the high cost of lessons creates a barrier to entry for would-be skiers, especially families and beginners on a budget. Private lessons at Treble Cone can cost over NZ$200 for just 90 minutes.

"I would never have got lessons myself if I'd been put off at the start," admitted Sorrenson, who first learned from his father.

One experienced ski instructor stated he finds the policy "objectionable" given that quality teaching does not require formal credentials. He argued the rigor was more about ski resorts profiting from lesson packages than public safety.

Ongoing Debate

While the policy caused frustration in this case, Treble Cone stresses that most coaching interactions on its slopes are positive. The resort says it aims to work constructively with visitors to clarify teaching policies and has not revoked any passes to date.

The debate has put a spotlight on the exclusivity of ski culture and raised concerns that prohibitive costs are shutting out a new generation of skiers. For now, the blurred line between friendly guidance and paid instruction remains a tricky slope to navigate.