In the year Christchurch hosted the Commonwealth Games and Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States, Dardy Wallace co-founded a Queenstown ski hire business. He tells PHILIP CHANDLER why he’s still at it, 48 years later, and also talks through his other business track gallops
He’s been one of the longest stayers on the Whakatipu business scene.
In 1974, Dardy Wallace started a Queenstown ski rental business, John & Dardy’s, with former school mate John Guthrie.
Forty-eight years later, he’s still hiring out skis and boots in temporary CBD premises in Camp Street — about his eighth different venue.
In between, he’s also run a convenience store, art gallery and ice cream parlour, and co-owned Queenstown’s ice skating rink when it didn’t have a roof.
Now 73, Wallace was born in Queenstown but raised in Dunedin.
His first name’s actually David, ‘‘but I couldn’t pronounce my own name, apparently, and I just said ‘Dardy’’’.
Come holidays, he’d visit his grandparents at Whitechapel, Arrow Junction, where they’d bought a cottage for seven pounds, 10 shillings.
During the August school holidays he’d ski at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak, staying at the Otago Ski Club hut — ‘‘some of the happiest days we ever had skiing’’.
He set out to become an orchardist, but, so he could be a ‘ski bum’ all winter, settled in Queenstown instead.
In the early ’70s he went half shares in a cleaning business with Guthrie, before they set up John & Dardy’s in Shotover St premises which the latter went on to buy in his early days as a property developer.
‘‘Our very first year, we were sitting on our armchair outside the shop, watching the clouds hurtling past in the middle of winter with no snow and a bank overdraft,’’ Wallace recalls.
About this time he also married Penny, who was a district nurse, then, later, Plunket nurse.
They settled at Whitechapel, over the road from where his grandparents lived, and had twin daughters and a son.
Diversifying, he operated a Four Square store in Shotover St and an ice cream parlour in Beach St.
He and Penny converted old Arrowtown stables — now Bendix Stables restaurant — then opened a gallery/souvenir store in the town’s old butcher’s shop.
In the early ’80s, colourful local entrepreneur Jock Freemantle suggested he join him in reopening the Gardens ice rink.
They redid the concrete floor and opened Queenstown Amusement Park with roller skating, bumper boats and mini golf, rebuilt the admin building that had burnt down in 1980 and then, when they brought on a partner who provided ice skates, put ice down.
‘‘We used to have outdoor concerts and even outdoor movies.’’
There was seating for about 2000 people — ‘‘the problem was [former owners] built all the seating when they should have put a roof on’’.
The roof was put on by the next owners in the mid-’90s.
Meanwhile, Wallace bought out Guthrie at John & Dardy’s, then sold it to his brother Mike, while he and Guthrie operated Mountain High ski hire, before buying it back.
At one stage, he and Guthrie even ran the first ski hire at Wānaka’s Treble Cone.
Wallace says snowmaking’s been the biggest thing to happen in the ski industry, along with parabolic skis.
‘‘They went from long skis to short skis, which just completely changed the industry — it was like getting rid of old cars and just putting
electric cars in.’’
What he loves about the business, now called J&D Ski & Board Rentals, is the intensity of it — for four months, he works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, then takes eight months off, during when he does people’s gardens for about two days a week.
‘‘I’ve always managed to sub-let in the winter time, only — I never wanted to have a summer business in relationship to the ski hire.
‘‘It’s definitely more competitive, but I think, as the mountains have grown, it’s all kept in line, basically.’’
Back in the day he used to go fishing, ran a lot, notching up five Coast to Coast multisport races, and enjoyed tramping, while he’s always been a keen golfer.
Wallace says Queenstown’s growth has been ‘‘mind-boggling’’.
‘‘When we were kids [holidaying at Whitechapel], we used to run out to the road if we saw a car coming past.’’