Wonders of winter


It’s been hailed as Queenstown’s most successful snow season – and it’s also been one of the most action packed. Celia Williams looks at the highlights and lowlights up the mountains in 2009

Redhead fever

Snowboarding fans go crazy when arguably the world’s best rider, Shaun White – nicknamed the Flying
Tomato – shows up at Cardrona for the Burton NZ Open.

White makes history on August 15 by successfully executing back-to-back double cork 1080s and winning the men’s halfpipe event.

He’s currently back in town training with other Winter Olympic hopefuls at Cardrona after the mountain closes to the public last weekend.

Idiot in the van

Double Olympic medallist Danny Kass (left), a high-profile US snowboarder, is arrested after driving his conspicuously painted van up a crowded Cardrona learner slope without permission on August 17.

He’s later convicted and fined $530 after pleading guilty to careless driving.

Not for profit 

Coronet Peak bosses deny “profit maximising” by not opening the Greengates chairlift when the mountain is quieter in June.

The six-seat lift, traditionally opened a few weeks into the season, is able to open early due to ample amounts of snow but ski bosses only flick the switch when the mountain is busy enough – it isn’t economical to run the chair when it’s quiet.

NZSki’s actions draw criticism from local season pass-holders wanting to ski the whole mountain when snow’s good.

Countering killer flu
NZSki braces itself for an attack of swine flu in June.

All 800 staff at The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Mt Hutt are briefed on symptoms and hygiene during the deadly H1N1 scare.

Winter Games playground

NEW Zealand’s biggest snow sports event attracts athletes from around the globe.

But many international guns don’t know about the Winter Games and only enter at the last minute – as it coincides with their annual pilgrimage to southern slopes.

Weather threatens several events but only the ski-cross races, at Cardrona, are cancelled.

NZSki boss James Coddington says he’d prefer the Games to be held every four years instead of biennially.

But if held every two years then it needs big investment, sufficient funding, more people on the ground, more presence downtown and at the airport, and better-structured TV programming, he says.

“[Sky] coverage was on at different times and it seemed to be more curling and less boarding and skiing.”

The crowd favourites didn’t disappoint, such as local hero Tim Cafe (right) in the slalom, giving it their all – although not always pulling it off…

Great divide

The gulf between Coronet Peak and The Remarkables widens in July as NZSki bosses confirm they’re turning the two mountains into two target markets – Coronet a high-end resort suited mostly to skiers and The Remarkables aimed at “youth action”, snowboarders and families.

Clean crew

NZSki boss James Coddington confirms in July that two staff members were drug-tested – both are negative.

It’s common practice when staff driving a work vehicle – groomer, skidoos, buses or trucks – have an accident.

Coronet tragedy

An avalanche at Coronet Peak claims the life of Queenstown builder Ryan Campbell on August 2.

The 30-year-old was snowboarding beyond the ski area boundary with friends when they trigger a category 2.5 avalanche – Campbell is buried in two metres of snow.

The avalanche tragedy is one of several on South Island mountains this year – experts claim the dangers haven’t been this high since 1991.

Two dopes

Two United States pro snowboarders – in town for the Burton NZ Open at Cardrona – are busted in Wanaka for possessing “not an insignificant amount” of cannabis on August 1.

They’re granted police diversion – a let-off for first-time offenders facing minor charges.

Minor glitches

The Remarkables’ Alta chairlift is shut down due to “operator error” for 70 minutes on opening day, June 20.

A liftie accidentally presses a button that isn’t often used.

Native kea are blamed for a three-hour shutdown of the Coronet Express chairlift on July 5.

The cheeky birds – returning to Coronet for the first time in many years – chomp through a wire on the recently-installed new rope positioning system.

Memorable moment

The Remarkables’ powder-packed Homeward runs are open and the Shadow Chair up and running for open day on June 20 – normally unheard of so early in the season due to lack of snow, according to locals.

Them’s the breaks

Skifield bosses report a mixed bag of injury statistics this winter.

Coronet Peak has 2.2 injuries per 1000 skiers and 3.5 per 1000 for snowboarders.

The total cumulative rate is 2.7 per 1000 people, down from 3.7 per 1000 in 2008.

Figures at The Remarkables are higher than Coronet’s – about 5 per 1000 people – largely due to the ski area having more terrain park features, ski area boss Ross Lawrence says.

However, this is “on par” with last year.

Cardrona marketing boss Nadia Ellis says she doesn’t have exact figures but their injuries are “up slightly this year but that is reflective of the increased number of ski visits we had”.

“There were a few head injuries both on piste and in the terrain park and we encourage all our visitors to use protective equipment – especially helmets and wrist guards.”

A helmet prevents Irishman Tomas Mac Donncha from suffering a serious head injury – he’s knocked out in a skiing accident at The Remarkables on June 22 and finds himself in Lakes District Hospital after falling and hitting his head near the Sugar Bowl chair.

Legal lowlights

NZSki and Cardrona bosses have legal distractions this winter.

NZSki recently escaped prosecution from the Department of Labour after a magic carpet lift worker badly breaks her arm while clearing snow at The Remarkables in July.

The 20-year-old Australian worker reportedly needs surgery and spends three days in hospital before returning home for rehabilitation.

The company’s issued with a written warning instead.

Meanwhile, Cardrona loses a High Court appeal against a conviction for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure a skier isn’t harmed on its slopes.

Last month’s decision comes two years after the incident in which an Australian tourist broke her arm after hitting metal to be used in a motocross display.

However, the fine is reduced from $43,000 to $30,000 – not including unchanged reparation of $16,555. 

Are they nuts?

Crazy, steel-balled skiers and boarders take part in arguably Queenstown’s most dangerous rail jam event on September 12.

Those mad enough to enter throw themselves down a stair rail at Reavers Lodge – exposed concrete steps are below them and just a smattering of snow cushions their landing.

Several injured riders are picked up and treated by St John ambulance staff – the event’s a fundraiser for St John.

Buried alive

Australian teen Katherine Holdsworth narrowly escapes death on July 4 after plunging eight metres down a hidden crevasse on the Jura Glacier near Glenorchy’s Mt Head.

She spends two hours trapped in the chasm – with only her hips, wedged in a small gap, stopping her falling a further 80m.