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.