DEBBIE Howie was the face and voice of the mountain for almost three decades. Now running her own business and entering her 35th year living at Falls Creek year-round, Mount Hotham Falls Creek News sat down to talk about the past, present and future.
You worked for a long-time at the Lift Company. What was your role there?
I worked 27 years for Ski Lifts. My main role was Public Relations Manager. Being a small company, the role was broader, encompassing not only all mediums of media but also wholesalers, ski shops and sponsorship.
I’d imagine that you have seen some massive changes at Falls Creek?
When you’re here for so long, the changes seem incremental, then you realise there’s been quite a lot happen in more than 3½ decades.
What do you think has changed the most about the industry – aside from the fact that there are a lot of people now on snowboards?
One of the endearing things about the snow industry is the people. They don’t change … passion is the driving force. The things that do change are infrastructure.
Snowmaking is the major influence now. It was very new when I first came to Falls Creek and over the years, 19kms of pipes were installed around the mountain. This has had a dramatic effect. It has changed the reliability of the snow offering. It has lengthened the season. Even now when there is no real natural snow, we can offer skiing, albeit limited, but it’s there and without snowmaking that wouldn’t be happening right now.
Am I looking through rose coloured glasses or were the skifields of the ‘90s more colourful, bigger characters – I guess in some ways still the pioneers of the industry in Australia?
I definitely think it was different in the ‘80s and 90s. It was more carefree, less regulated and you could get away with a lot more. The characters were more vocal, the parties louder and later and RSA didn’t exist like it does now.
There were also different regulations in the cities back then, where you couldn’t buy meat after midday on Saturday, shops and pubs were closed on Sundays, and bars had to close by midnight on Saturday night. Only tourist licences could operate seven days a week until 3am. This meant hoards of party goers would flock to the ski resorts and party hard. Falls Creek even encouraged the party atmosphere with the slogan ‘Ski All Day, Party All Night’.
It was adventurous, wild and mostly unregulated. And unpoliced.
Colourful characters were attracted to this hedonistic lifestyle and Falls Creek attracted more than its fair share.
A lot of people come and go – some last a season, some a decade – but you now have your own business venture on the mountain. Can you tell us a little about how that all happened and how it works?
After working for Ski Lifts for 27 years an opportunity arose to start a business with one of my closest friends. I took the plunge, which was quite scary given the security of a fulltime job and a network of colleagues all around Australia. Snonuts Donuts & Street Kitchen was created, which operates in Slalom Plaza and ATS. It has been very successful and it’s extremely popular. We’re ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor in our category.
Food is big business at Falls Creek, after all at peak season there are 5500 people to feed, is there a new trend on the horizon?
Trends seem to pop up all the time, but in my experience the staple is quality and tasty food. In the snow industry, people want quick easy snacks and meals, so they can get back on the slopes ASAP. They want something warm, something filling to keep them going all day. That’s where Snonuts Street Kitchen fits with quick, warm, quality food, both savoury and sweet.
Debbie Howie catches a few turns with longtime Falls Creek personalities Barry Iddles from Elk restaurant and Marnie Searles from Kilimanjaro.