The evolution of Wānaka Ski and Snowsports Club
As the sale of TC to Cardrona moves imminently closer, the Wānaka Sun looks back over some of TC’s history.
Posted at 6:00am Thursday 19 Sep, 2019 | By Allison McLean email@example.com
As Treble Cone (TC) was getting started as a commercial ski area, a group of Wānaka locals were mooting the town's first ski club. Fast forward to last June (2019) where Wānaka Ski and Snowsports Club (WSSC) celebrated its 40th birthday; four decades have passed since the club, social in origin, put Wānaka on the map to the alpine ski world.
Formerly called the Wānaka Ski Club (WSC), the group was officially formed in 1979 with its members passionate about the slopes of TC. Founding president and WSSC life member Peter King had been a member of ski clubs in Otago and Canterbury prior to moving to Wānaka in 1976. He quickly got to know the fellow skiers in town at the time and suggested the idea of a ski club.
"At the time the club got started, there was a chap called Graham Sinclair who had bought into TC and was essentially the managing director," said King. "Graham heard that we wanted to start the ski club and thought it was a really good idea because he wanted more people on the ski area. And, a ski club was one body that could do that."
With the help of local young teachers Heather and Gregor Ronald, the club became an incorporated society and was formed at the Kingsway diner. Membership dues were around $5 per year and included a discount for TC day passes. "That discount far outweighed the WSC membership, so within a very short period of time, we had around 300 members," said King.
As TC continued developing, the group's ski field discount eventually disappeared, and WSC's reason for existence nearly disappeared as well, until eventual club president Prue Wallis entered the scene.
Wallis quickly saw the opportunity for children's programming within the club. "Once the mountain got going, and Cardrona started at about the same time, children were skiing with their school, but they didn't go skiing again because their parents didn't ski and it was expensive," said Wallis. "We were a small village, so what happened was that I and a group of friends started to organise, and we changed the club."
Wallis was elected to the committee, and the young social club started up children's programmes. "We were assigned two ski instructors, Mike Shenkell and Jude Arvidsen," said Wallis. "They are keen ski racers, which none of us had done.”
She added, "Coronet Peak had a very active racing programme, and the Queenstown skiers were skiing nationally and internationally. There was no such thing in Wānaka."
With the amount of children who wanted to ski, and the parents who could not afford to learn, meant the number of people who wanted to join WSC grew to be enormous. The group set up ski programmes where children went to class, learned to ski and also to race. "That's what Mike and Jude were all about," said Wallis.
However, as the children grew older and started to go away to school, the families spent less time on the mountain and memberships once again started to dwindle. The landscape of snow sports was also changing as snowboarders started to arrive on the slopes in the 1990s.
By the mid 90s, the clubs membership had diminished and it was regarded as a ski racing club. Tony Rice had a great rapport with the Austrian coaches and people were becoming ski race inspired. To help with inspiring the young local athletes, Sean Langmuir was hired by the club and brought with him a number of Scottish athletes from Scotland.
Present Secretary Bonny Teat joined the committee in 1995 and has continued the club's story. To be more membership-inclusive, the WSC started organising ski improvement for older members on both TC and Cardrona. Our athletes were training on both mountains and families had skiers and boarders.
In 1997/1998, a WSC sub-committee formed the WSC Academy, which provided coaches, transport and also extra academic lessons for athletes to keep up with school work. The WSC Academy contracted Adi Bernasconi, who still resides here and coaches at Cardrona. The academy started attracting athletes from across the globe.
Queenstown already had an academy which allowed for kids to go to Spain in the off-season to train. World Ski Connect adopted that idea with Grant Winsloe and Bernasconi using Switzerland as a base. The WSC Academy ran for four years and was eventually sold to TC and then renamed the Treble Cone Race Academy.
WSC officially changed its name to WSSC to reflect the evolution of snow sports in Wānaka and the wider range of snow sports activities that were of interest to its members.
WSSC's fluidity and adaptation over the decades have also been instrumental in helping children make their dreams a reality. In the late 1990s, it started more fundraising for a desired on-mountain base. From the early 2000s, WSC raised additional funds through organising increasing International Alpine events in order to support athletes. The committee policy began allocating grants for the younger children, including a compulsory report back to the club where they were required to speak publicly and show footage of their achievements. This allowed the children to give something back in return and to build their confidence in public speaking.
In the last six years the club has organised a Grassroots program for six- to 12-year-olds, including a Nordic skiing through all the other disciplines.
The club also offers skill improvement lessons for older skiers, called Social Locals, which have given many people, especially women, extra confidence to ski on steeper terrain and continue into older age.
The WSSC continues to support its numerous members, some of whom are now Freeride World Tour leaders, World Cup athletes in all disciplines, X Games medallists and Olympians.
As of today, WSSC is one of the largest snow sports clubs in New Zealand. Teat said the details of the proposed sale of TC to Cardrona, along with future season passes, are unknown as everything is based upon speculation at this stage. “However, WSSC anticipates a shared mountain pass enabling our athletes to train on the entirely different terrain offered by TC and Cardrona/Soho [basin],” she said.