Wānaka Sun       

Lean times

Posted at 6:00am Thursday 27 Aug, 2020 | By Pat Deavoll editor@thewanakasun.co.nz

I started skiing 50 years ago, back in the old days when there was plenty of snow. I'm still pretty crap!

As a farming family from North Canterbury, we started at Amuri Ski Field. I was about 10. We would drive from our farm at Motunau, on the coast, up past Hamner to the ski field in our Holden Kingswood. At the snowline, which in those days was not far off the Clarence Valley floor, the Kingswood would grind to a halt (no chains), and we would trudge the rest of the way up the hill.

As farming kids, we would be outfitted in our homespun jerseys, jeans and  Line 7 green PVC parkas and overtrousers, covered in cow poo. No breathable Gore Tex back then. We would hire our gear and flounder around the ungroomed slopes in our oversized boots and far too long skis.

 But the point here is that the snow line was at the valley floor- not three-quarters of the way up the mountain and less than a metre deep.

A few years later we graduated to Broken River. We would park at the bottom car park amongst the snow and do the 40-minute hike up to the field, slithering around on the ice in our ski boots and spend the day grappling with the rope tow and whizzing back down to the bottom at breakneck speed. Our skills were improving, and by this stage, we had our own gear. Again, the point here is that the snow was on the valley floor, and there was never any doubt about the field would be in good nick..

From there I went on to be a member of Craigieburn Ski Field for many years and then became a backcountry skier. This involved catching the first lift up the field and spending the rest of the day skinning/ skiing the back basins or off the back of Richton Ski Field. Or it was traversing the Craigieburns from Cheeseman along to Porters Heights. Glorious days only made possible by an abundance of snow and plenty of cover. That traverse wouldn't be possible this year- not enough snow. Sad.

I have since taken my backcountry skiing around the world- Alaska, Canada, USA, Europe, Central Asia- but sadly seen the snow cover in many countries diminish year by year. 

This year would be amongst the leanest I have ever seen the ski fields around Wānaka. And the club fields along the Craigieburn Range (including Broken River and Craigieburn) haven't even opened- this has never happened before. Why is this? I contacted Chris Brandolino, chief meteorologist at NIWA and asked him why. If you are interested, check out the article on the front page.

Sadly some young skiers and snowboarders don't know any different. A product of my old age. Too young to know any different. A sign of the times.

View edition 989 of the Wānaka Sun here.

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