Pair rem­i­nisce about ski­ing in 1947


When Queen­stown’s Coronet Peak ski field opened 70 years ago, a sled pulled by a dog served as a chair­lift.

The best groom­ing was pro­vided by skiers walk­ing down the field, and mates lift­ing a car stuck in snow on the ac­cess road was the clos­est thing to snow chains.

Those were among the ad­ven­tures of some of the pi­o­neer­ing skiers when the first com­mer­cial ski field opened in New Zealand with a rope tow and a lodge.

One Ski in The Grave ski club mem­bers Ron Stew­art, 86, and Les Brough, 89, re­mem­ber their snow mis­sions vividly.

The friends started ski­ing when the field opened, and said they would shred on 2-me­tre long skis with ‘‘sui­cide bind­ings’’.

Brough said he would tape his feet tightly to a waxed piece of wood to cre­ate skis.

‘‘You ei­ther break your legs or break your skis if you fell,’’ he said while rem­i­nisc­ing about the be­gin­ning of the ski field.

Stew­ard said fash­ions had also changed since the 1940s.

Over time shorter skis and dif­fer­ent styles were adopted from ‘‘fancy skiers’’, such as Amer­i­cans in­struc­tors and tourists com­ing to Queen­stown, he said.

Brough helped build the first chair­lift at Coronet Peak in 1962, when it was op­er­ated by Mount Cook and South­ern Lakes Tourist Co Lim­ited.

In other mile­stones, Coronet Peak was the first ski field in New Zealand to launch night ski­ing in the early 80s and in­stalled its first snow­mak­ing ma­chines in 1991.

Stew­art said that be­fore light­ing was pro­vided, skiers found their way down the moun­tain in the dark.

‘‘They gave us a broom stick with some sack­ing and wires on it. You put it in diesel and lit it up. By the time we got to the bot­tom we were cov­ered in black.’’

Decades later, walk­ing sticks re­placed ski poles for Brough, and he and Stew­art re­tired from ski­ing about two years ago.

‘‘My knees are bug­gered. It was get­ting too dan­ger­ous,’’ Brough said.

Stew­art said the crowd at Coronet Peak has also changed.

‘‘[Sev­enty years ago] we went up and we knew just about ev­ery­one. Now I go there and would be lucky to see one face I would recog­nise,’’ he said.

Coronet Peak man­ager from 1991 to 2007 Duncan Smith, who was cru­cial in pi­lot­ing snow mak­ing ma­chines as early as 1984, said the moun­tain had al­ways been fan­tas­tic.

‘‘If you look at the his­tory and its con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ments over the years, so much has been done by peo­ple be­cause they just love the moun­tain and what it means for all of us.’’

Cur­rent Coronet Peak ski area man­ager Nigel Kerr said he was proud of what the ski field has be­come over 70 years and was ex­cited for its fu­ture.

Af­ter four months in the role, Kerr was still learn­ing about the ‘‘beast’’ but was keen to take it fur­ther.

‘‘There’s been an aw­ful lot of in­vest­ment here over the years, which is a great thing, but some­times it takes lit­tle [bits of] con­stant in­vest­ment.

‘‘It makes me think in years to come this busi­ness will con­tinue to change and warp into some­thing new.

‘‘I think at its core is al­ways go­ing to be ski­ing, but how it de­liv­ers that will change,’’ he said.

Mem­bers of One Ski in the Grave club Les Brough, 89, and Ron Stew­art, 86.

Tod­dlers tak­ing the new chair­lift in 1964.

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