Snow Farm numbers double with limited facilities

3 minutes read
Posted 29 June, 2023
Cross country skiing doubled in popularity last year 7 MS

Cross country skiing in some of NZ’s most spectacular scenery at Snow Farm

In the last five years visitation to Cardrona Valley’s Snow Farm has doubled, as the boomers generation head to the hills for some gentler cross-country skiing.

Snow Farm sports 55kms of groomed trails over 300ha, offering 69 beds in its four backcountry huts, including the new Musterer’s Hut, which opened last year with 36 beds. Thirty-four years ago Cardrona Valley runholder John Lee had just sold his Cardrona Ski Area with a vision for Snow Farm as NZ’s first cross country ski area which opened in 1990.

“Dad always believed the baby boomers were coming through and alpine skiing was not a lifetime sport, knees give out and there are more potential injuries,” says Sam Lee, Snow Farm’s general manager “Cross country skiing is the golf of snow sports, suitable for anyone aged from three to 90.”

“We’re now seeing that vision come to fruition with a new popularity in the sport,” he says.

While alpine skiing remains tremendously popular, Lee says some have become frustrated with their ability to access the alpine fields, especially with car parks filling up several hours before the lifts start after a big dump.

“People’s time and money is precious and Snow Farm’s an affordable alternative attracting mostly locals at $50 a day, $109 with lessons and rentals.”

More skiers are also accessing the internationally renowned Snow Farm from Queenstown and further afield as it increases in popularity.
“We’re seeing more people trying snow shoeing. That’s also doubled in the past year,” says Lee.

Operated under the Pisa Alpine Charitable Trust (PACT), since 2012 as a not-for-profit cross-country ski area, the trust was required to return Snow Farm’s base building to its owner and neighbouring business, Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground in October last year.

Left with no base the trust is now fundraising to build a new Snow Farm facility and operating from basic Portacom buildings and shipping containers for this season. As a result it’s unable to run the café or shelter the usual numbers this season, but Lee says the trust is hoping to reach its $1.5m fundraising target by later this year so building can get underway in summer.

To date $430,000 has been raised with the bulk coming from the Otago Community Trust and Central Lakes Trust. “We’ve had a really positive response from private donors with an estimated $20,000 coming in from them. People are reaching into their bank accounts, which all helps, but we really need a large benefactor,” says Lee.

A trust submission to the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Draft Annual Plan attracted more than 100 submissions in favour of the council making some contribution or providing the necessary toilets and infrastructure for the facility.

Lee says one of the greatest challenges this season is managing people’s expectations. With cross country skiers used to turning up at the café and buying hot drinks and food, they’re trying to get the message out that this year will be different, he says. Operating from one large Portacom building on loan from Naylor Love, there will be limited indoor seating alongside the rentals area.

“People are usually understanding if they know what to expect but we need to ensure they’re aware they have to bring lunch, time it right, and know that they can drive 12kms down to the Cardrona Hotel for hot chips.”

“Our previous coffee cart really brought the community together with a family atmosphere and while we’re working with various coffee cart providers, we can’t leave the trucks up the mountain. It’s too cold, however, we’ll do all we can to run barbecues and offer that grass roots community vibe.”

The limitations aren’t putting school groups off. “We’ve got schools coming from Canterbury, even Wellington this year, and high schools doing cross country skiing for NCEA.”

Shotover Primary School has also booked its usual hut with batches of overnight students coming up to enjoy the experience.
Snow Play offers a snow experience for those who want a tube slide, snow fight or snowman building. “Some people just want to experience being on snow.”

Snow Farm huts have been more than 80 percent booked out since early June, even with the extra capacity, and it’s still an immensely popular experience for youth groups and local schools.

Snow Farm also supports a plethora of charities and trusts.

Samuel Lee Alyse Lee with son Archie. credit Geoff Marks

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