Katie Deans - The Deans DNA

4 minutes read
Posted 19 June, 2024
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Katie, right, and partner Tim on top of the North Routeburn up by Lake Nerine on one of their epic adventures.

She was born in small-town rural Canterbury, a country girl with a love of horticulture, destined for a life on snow, both passions deeply etched into her DNA.

Katie Deans’ Darfield farming family may have famous Robbie Deans rugby ties, but it has an equally impressive Christchurch city heritage. Her great great grandfather was one of the first Europeans to settle in Riccarton, eventually asked to ‘move on’ as Christchurch city needed the family farm. “They left Riccarton House and the surrounding bush to the city, and my great grandmother’s little cob cottage is still there,” Katie says. Her grandmother’s father was General Russell, who led the New Zealand forces with 10,000 horses into Gallipoli.

Katie’s parents were early club ski area founders, heavily involved in Mount Cheeseman where Katie and her three siblings holidayed in the ski huts. “We were all lined up with our lace-up ski boots outside,” she says. “In summer we occupied ourselves on the skifield roads and in culverts while Dad crafted them with the bulldozer.”

After boarding school Katie was keen to bust out of the mould, completing a Diploma in Horticulture at Lincoln, preceded by a year’s practical at Methven Gardens Nursery. The value of planting, tending and growing was instilled in her early on. “My grandfather took me around the garden and taught me the name of every plant, how to love and respect nature, and plant for future generations,” she says. She learned that land wasn’t about ownership. “We’re just caretakers.”

In Methven Katie discovered a love for ski instructing at Mount Hutt so after graduating in the mid-70s she headed for the hills, instructing and coaching at Porter Heights – very young Cobergers among her students, and Ohau. A three-month couch-surfing, ski roadie through Wyoming with brother Phil was the lead-in to eight years of back-to-back winters instructing and coaching in NZ, Australia and the USA. But Craigieburn, working with Glenorchy’s Dan Kelly as a ski patroller, was her favourite. ”We’d ski until dark on rope tows, then under the full moon. It was so much fun.”

In her late 20s she headed back to Lincoln to study landscape design after which old Lincoln mate John Darby, by now working for Boffa Miskell in Queenstown, offered her a job.

“One day a farmer and Basil Walker walked into John’s office and talked about making a farm near Arrowtown into a golf course,” says Katie. John said to me, ‘Do you know anything about golf courses?’ I said, ‘No!’ It was a quick learning curve,” she grins. “We worked out the 18 holes, as John said, ‘Let’s head up this paddock.’” The initiators didn’t have the necessary $45 million so a Hong Kong banker was brought in. “We set up a nursery for the course with another Lincoln buddy Mark Stevenson. You learn as you go.” John did a specialist course in the USA, and Katie worked closely with Sir Bob Charles on placement of the trees, then Millbrook was born. She helped with the planning for the THC, Edgewater, Nugget Point, Snow Farm, Treble Cone’s Saddle Basin, and actor Sam Neill’s home.

In the late 1980s NZ’s first Powder 8s heli-ski competition was launched by Robin Judkins and Paul Scaife on Black Peak behind Treble Cone. Katie teamed up with NZ downhill racer Anna Archibald. “We got into Tim Wallis’s helicopter in our powder blue NZ uniforms and sat in deer blood all over the back seat,” she laughs. “AJ (Hackett) and Henry (Van Asch) were there on monoboards, and some big-name European instructors.” This launched 25 years of part-time heli-ski guiding for Katie, while balancing full-time landscape design for 40 years. She won the NZ Powder 8s twice, with Anna and then Kate Rattray, competing in the world championships in Canada where she and Kate placed fourth.

She’s skied ‘steep and deep’ the world over, in Alaska with heli-ski founder Doug Coombs, Gulmarg in the Himalayas, Georgia, and recently Norway. It was a hard and fast party lifestyle until the loss of too many dear friends from the mountaineering and skiing fraternity, special mate Bruce Grant killed on K2, among the first. “I’d lost a lot of friends in the mountains and began leaning on the partying too much to console myself,” she says. “Eventually I rebooted myself and now I don’t drink.”

She and vet partner Tim Penlington, whom she met in the singles line at TC, are based in Wānaka during winter and she’s grateful for both supportive communities. Katie’s popular radio Snow Show - started in exchange for a free TC season pass in the mid-90s, is still going strong on Newstalk ZB. Honouring the legacy of those that have passed, she promotes avalanche and snow safety, supporting and promoting snowsports athletes. Her landscape design business is her passion, blessed to work with talented architects, clients and contractors. “I just love the energy of the next generation and this beautiful environment.”

Unsurprisingly retirement is not in this Deans’ DNA.

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A powerful combination - Katie, front, and Anna Archibald competing in the Powder 8s in its heyday

Powder 8s finalist back in the day Katie front centre with Anna Archibald left front.

Powder 8s finalists back in the day - Katie, front centre, with Anna Archibald, left front


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