Mt Dobson Owner, Peter Foote

After 38 years developing, owning and running Mt Dobson Ski Area, Peter Foote reflects on his achievements.

Peter Foote on Snowmobile, Mount Dobson
Mt Dobson owner-operator Peter Foote.   

“I get a big kick out of seeing the people getting pleasure out of something I have created.”

If you ask Peter Foote what has kept him running Mt Dobson, what you’ll get is a list, a long one.

But what has kept Peter going? It’s been his lifelong passion. Peter Foote says, “It’s everything. Look at the view, the environment, the mountains, winter or summer. Where else would you want to be? You can sit out there and have your lunch and look at the view. I love the challenge of running about five businesses, (cafeteria, ski rental, ski passes etc.). If somebody comes along and wants to sit here and have a yarn as well, they can.”

“If it wasn’t for my boys and my wife we couldn’t have done it. I’ve got three sons and they did a great job of doing their part in it. I get about three months off, but the rest of the time out of season is spent doing maintenance.”

Foote knows a good day on the slopes when he sees one, and the personal thrill of a good day on Dobson lives on. “That’s what it’s all about: having nice weather, good snow coverage, happy customers, groomed runs, lifts all running well and at the end of the day you usually sit down and go ‘that was a good day’. Then you might have a drink or something to celebrate it.”

Early Days

It is absolutely clear that Mt Dobson Ski Area stands as it is today through Mr. Peter Foote’s hard “yakka”.
Officially, the field opened in 1979, but the groundwork started well before then.
It probably started with his Boy Scout days. He did a ski trip back in 1959 up to the Ball Hut. Then through the Boy Scouts he decided to climb Fox’s Peak, (this was way back in 1962), and went up and climbed it.

Peter and his scout team came across some men at Fox’s Peak who were working there and asked if they could “give a hand”. So the next week they went back and helped them. The next thing, he found himself on the committee and was involved in putting the tows in up at Fox’s Peak.

Being a motor mechanic, Peter was introduced to earthmoving machinery through working for International Harvester, and this experience with heavy machinery opened doors. Peter and a friend bought a bulldozer and having been asked, built the road at Fox’s Peak. Although he proved he could do the work, trying to get long-term security there was not easy situation. Cutting the Fox’s Peak road motivated Peter to undertake more major works, and eventually he decided “I’m out of here, I’ve got to get my own”.

Newspaper Cuttings on the Cafe Wall at Mt Dobson
Paper cuttings on the walls of Dobson’s cafeteria pay tribute to 38 years of hard work to make the ski area what it is today.

The hunt was on. Peter went on a mission to find his own field. By this time, he had accumulated a fair bit of knowledge, so he started searching to find a place for a new ski area. In those days there was a growing following for good ski fields, so he did a lot research and looked along the entire range here.

He found four or five basins that had potential, but was keen to get access off the main road. So he approached a local farmer who was sports-minded and was interested in Peter’s ideas.

Things started rolling in 1972. But Peter expressed frustration in having to deal with “20 different organisations” to make Mt Dobson Ski Area a reality. He applied to Lands and Survey to put in a new ski field; in fact he was going to put it around on the front face. But then, during the four years of bureaucracy he decided to investigate what else was around the area.

He flew over the area with a friend and the Mt Dobson basin looked a bit more sheltered and the snow looked a lot more reliable, so he walked up there one winter and decided to go ahead. In 1976, after buying another “dozer”, building the road up to Dobson proceeded. But, as Peter recalls, there was plenty of “bullshit” to push through on the way up the mountain.

Building the Road

Peter Foote cutting the road up to Mt Dobson in 1976.
Peter Foote cutting the road up to Mt Dobson in 1976. 

It took three years of building the road—there were a whole lot of bureaucratic delays particularly by the catchment board at the time. They were convinced he wasn’t going to do it. But that made him more “bloody determined than ever”. They had numerous bylaws and kept breathing down his neck, especially when he was going over culverts. If he had to work using the Resource Management Act, as we are today, he wouldn’t have even got started.

Today it takes roughly 20 minutes to reach the Mt Dobson carpark on a good day—cutting the road took about 10,000 hours on “dozers”. On top of that, Peter and his team had to prove they could finance each section. He got creative about getting the ski area up and running: while cutting the road, he was still doing tractor repairs and picked up “a couple” of contracts laying telephone cables. He’d go away and do contracts, earn some money, and keep going.

He bought two old “dozers”, (one for $500 and one for $1000), and wrecked both for parts to keep the main machine going. Completing the road was a team effort as his late wife, Shirley, made 700 culvert pipes for the 70 culverts discovered on the road. On completion of the road, the sale of a bulldozer gave him and his team a “few dollars” to install a rope tow.

Mt Dobson_History_Tractor P4
The original rope tow was powered by an old tractor. The rear wheels were replaced with a bullwheel to drive the rope tow.  

Opening Day and Important Milestones

  • 1972, application for the ski area lodged
  • 1976, 15km road to the ski area built
  • 1978, 26,000 trees planted along the access road
  • 1979, rope tow installed
  • Mt Dobson ski area finally opened in September 1979, with 140 skiers
  • The first full year was 1980.
  • 1983, borrowed a lot of money from what was the Development Finance Corporation, (at 26.5%), and put in the platter lift on the learners’ slope
  • 1984, T-bar installed
  • 1987 was a poor snow year as was 1988, they just about put him out the back door. To survive financially he had to pump the fuel out of the tanks and sell it to pay the bills. He vowed to never borrow money again
  • In 1989, he purchased the first Kassbohrer PB200 snow groomer
  • 1989 was a record year. They managed to pay out DFC and Peter thought, “I’m never borrowing money again after that performance”. Since Dobson’s record year, which still stands as 1989, times have been “pretty steady since”. “There’s good years and then there’s not so good years. It’s all snow related.”
  • Peter ploughed onwards and recalls 1989 being one “helluva year”, with Mt Dobson cashing in, thanks to a lack of powder further south. Aucklanders whom had flown to Queenstown for skiing, found no snow in Queenstown, and were driving back up to Dobson daily to enjoy the amazing snow.
  • An FIS, (international competition), was held on the field in 1996. FIS is the Federation of International Skiing. It was a world event and there were 13 different countries racing.
  • In 2001, the triple chairlift was installed, which was pretty major in terms of finding a suitable one, having one of his sons build the towers and financing it.
  • 2017 was an excellent year for snow.

Mt Dobson_History_Winter_Carpark P5

Read more about the Mount Dobson Team here.