From kitchen to boardroom of Nevis Range
Peter MacFarlane has been appointed managing director of Nevis Range.
He steps into the role from his post as catering manager. Peter joined the business as head chef when it opened as a ski resort in 1989, and became catering manager in 1994.
He has also held the position of executive director of the board for the last five years.
During his tenure, he has opened the new Pinemarten cafe bar at the gondola base station, and has run large-scale outside catering at various events held at Nevis Range, including the Mountain Bike World Cup.
He is also overseeing a major refurbishment of the Snowgoose restaurant and bar, located at the gondola top station, high on the slopes of Aonach Mor.
Here he tells Your Jobs in Scotland about his career so far:
WHAT WERE YOUR CAREER ASPIRATIONS AS A CHILD?
When I was young, my dream was to race motorbikes. I even had a couple of bikes, but sadly they were only used for commuting to and from work.
However, in my 20s and 30s, I travelled by motorbike all over Europe, following motor bike racing, including the Grand Prix motorcycle racing and World Superbikes. I have only vague recollections of these trips; it must be an age thing.
Once I had settled down, and was married with children, I discovered mountain biking. The kids were keen on mountain biking and eventually succeeded in dragging their dad on to the trails. Once I had my first mountain bike – very basic in comparison to those available today – I started discovering the amazing trails we have around Fort William.
At that time, there was just half a downhill track and the very beginnings of the cross-country trails at Nevis Range. I even started mountain biking to work and still do today; it’s one of those things that’s great for keeping a general level of fitness.
However, I had always had the desire to be successful in whatever I did. Growing up around the family business, I saw myself owning and running my own business in the future.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
From an early age, I’d helped out in the family guesthouse, so it was natural that, when I left school at 17, I fell into the family business. I then signed up to a three-year catering course at Inverness Tech and, during the holidays, even found time to cut the grass for the council.
WHAT WERE THE OTHER CAREER STEPPING STONES PRIOR TO JOINING NEVIS RANGE IN 1989?
Soon, I started working full time in the catering industry, staying local and working as a commis chef for local hotels, including the Croit Anna Hotel and the Alexandra Hotel. I also did a stint offshore, working for three years as a chef near Shetland and then in the North Sea.
In 1982, we started our own family business, running the Ardgour Hotel. It was an old hotel needing lots of work and, during the five years we ran it, we upgraded the building and grew the business substantially. Although times were tough and challenging, it was a great learning experience.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO WORK AT NEVIS RANGE?
In 1987, I took over Coire Glas Guesthouse in Spean Bridge, which was the family business. However, the tourist industry at that time was very much a seasonal one, and that season was pretty short. We opened on Good Friday and closed at the end of September. Business during the winter was non-existent and there wasn’t the “October week” as we know it now, so it just wasn’t worthwhile to open.
When Nevis Range opened in 1989, I took the opportunity of winter work and joined as a chef, planning to return to the guesthouse during the summer months. After only two years, I decided to stay at Nevis Range all year round, still running the guesthouse before and after working hours. During the summer months, hours were long and it was hard work: I was doing breakfasts before Nevis Range and then evening meals when I returned home at night. It was a tough 12 years, but we were living through tough economic challenges. In 2002, we sold the guesthouse and I focused my efforts solely on Nevis Range, becoming catering manager the same year.
WHAT WAS YOUR TIME AS HEAD CHEF LIKE? DO YOU EVER MISS COOKING?
Initially, we served real staple food, such as mutton pies and sausage rolls. Then, we were the first Scottish ski resort to introduce freshly cooked food on the hill, such as homemade soup and hearty home-cooked meals, which of course included carb-loaded staples such as macaroni cheese and steak pie.
I certainly don’t miss cooking so much food for so many people, but I do like cooking and entertaining at home. I cook a wide variety of meals, but most of all I enjoy cooking with fresh and locally sourced produce such as seafood and venison. We’re incredibly lucky that this local produce isn’t all exported from the area. It used to be, but now we can easily buy it and cook it for ourselves. As catering manager, I was still involved in cooking from time to time, particularly when we had larger functions and events.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU’VE WITNESSED AT NEVIS RANGE OVER THE YEARS?
The biggest challenge faced by Nevis Range is undoubtedly the weather. One day we can have almost 2,000 customers, and the next day we can be closed. That makes everything tough to plan and tough to manage.
Other challenges we face are how to deliver great food to customers visiting from across the globe. In the early days, most tourists were from the UK, but, over the years, we’ve seen an increase of visitors from Europe, and today we welcome visitors from as far away as China and India. Each time customers arrive from new countries, we have to learn more about their cultures and values, as well as their food expectations.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BECOMING MANAGING DIRECTOR? IS IT A ROLE YOU SAW YOURSELF TAKING EVENTUALLY?
I’m delighted and excited to accept the position as managing director. It’s a personal challenge as well as the opportunity to drive forward an already successful business.
Over my career, I’ve watched the business diversify into new areas, such as mountain biking and ropes courses, and develop into a successful all-year-round sustainable tourism and activity business. As catering manager, I’d already become more involved in the running of the business, building the new Pinemarten cafe bar, and currently I am overseeing the refurbishment of the Snowgoose restaurant and bar at the gondola top station. And in the last five years, I’ve held the position of executive director of the board, so it was a natural progression into the role of managing director.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING AT NEVIS RANGE?
Nevis Range offers a huge deal of variety and diversity; no two days are ever the same. And being an enthusiastic mountain biker and skier, it’s exciting to be able to work in that industry.
I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I do like the people I work with at Nevis Range. We have a great team here, from the seasonal staff who join us each winter to those, like me, who’ve been with the company since day one.