The ride of their lives (Part 2)

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Old school …

If anyone has the credentials to call modern-day skiing a “lazy man’s sport” – it’s Queenstowner Les Brough. 

Now approaching his 83rd birthday, the sprightly veteran has been hitting Coronet Peak’s slopes since it opened in 1947. 

One of New Zealand’s oldest skiers, he recalls the days before motorised lifts, shuttle buses, snow groomers and multi-million-dollar mountainside facilities. 

When Brough first started making regular ski trips from his then home in Dunedin, it was a major expedition. 

“The car we used was an old two-seater Whippet that did 40 miles an hour (65kmh), had a canvas roof and was bloody freezing in the winter,” he recalls. 

“There were also two other seats in the boot and it was murder if you had to sit in there because you were basically out in the open. 

“The road from Dunedin to Queenstown wasn’t so good either, so it took us six or seven hours – the only way to get heat was to stop at a hotel for a few rums.” 

After arriving in the resort, it wasn’t the cushy 15-minute trip up the mountain that it is these days either. 

“There was a mud track to Coronet Peak and it could take four hours to shovel our way up to the ski huts,” Brough says. 

“When we got there, the first thing we did was drain the car radiator otherwise it could freeze within 10 minutes and do in the engine.” 

Before the first chairlift arrived in the 1960s, skiers used a rope tow and, unlike now, when thousands flock up daily, a crowd of more than 60 people was considered busy. 

“If the rope tow broke, it could take up to an hour to splice it back together and everyone would help out, which wasn’t that easy when you were wearing socks for gloves. 

“By comparison, skiing nowadays is a bit of a lazy man’s sport,” he jokes. 

Brough shifted to Queenstown 50 years ago and was an accomplished mountaineer and mountain rescue person in his day. 

He’s still a regular on the slopes and is one of Coronet Peak’s ambassadors – a group of senior skiers who greet visitors and guide them around the hill. 

Brough insists he’ll carry on skiing for as long as he can. 

He jokes: “I take things a bit easier now, especially with so many snowboarders – or terrorists as I like to call them – about. 

“The boarders were pretty scary when they first arrived because it was all new and they didn’t have much control over what they were doing – but that’s changed as they have got better and they’re a good bunch, really.”