Sharing Coronet’s 75th birthday

How's this for style: Sue Knowles skiing recently at Coronet Peak. PICTURE: NZSKI

Now in her eighth decade skiing on Queenstown’s Coronet Peak, Sue Knowles still looks
forward to going up as often as possible. She tells PHILIP CHANDLER how she got into ski racing and what gives her pleasure about skiing these days

Sue Knowles was born the same year Coronet Peak opened, however she shares much more in common with the skifield than just a birth year.

Knowles (nee Ryan) has skied there for most of the past 63 winters, raced down it, even winning the Coronet Cup, worked summers there during high school and university
holidays, and now enjoys skiing there with her grandkids.

No wonder she says ‘‘Coronet is a very special place for me’’.

Almost a true local, Knowles moved to Queenstown with her family when she was five, and learnt to ski while at primary school, when she was 11.

‘‘Each year the Mount Cook company generously gave a free day up for the entire  school, which was tiny anyway.

‘‘I loved it from the moment I saw everybody on skis, however not many of the  students picked it up because it wasn’t incorporated as it is nowadays into a skiing programme.’’

She and her brother would get extra days’ skiing when the school’s coal-burning boilers
blew up and closed school.

At the start, though, she admits the rope tow was ‘‘always sort of an ordeal’’.

She also recalls the access road was ‘‘terrifying’’.

On the way up on a bus, on seeing another come down, ‘‘I prayed we were on the inside of the road’.

‘‘I joined the Whakatipu Ski Club, which was fantastic, and skied with wooden skis that
were riveted together and my brother’s boots that he wore to school.’’

Knowles thinks the first race she entered ‘‘I was maybe the only competitor from my age grade and I won a cup, so that got me hooked’’.

No slowing down: Now in her eighth decade skiing on Coronet, Sue Knowles still gets up the hill as often as possible

She says she learnt to ski fast by following friends Gus Watson and Tony Chance down
the hill — ‘‘going behind two guys like that, it really forced my skiing’’.

She ‘‘absolutely idolised’’ a local ski racer, Anne Reid, who was about three years older and skied at the Olympics in ’68.

Knowles made an Olympics training squad, and skied for New Zealand at the interdominions in Australia in ’69.

‘‘I got a lot of seconds and thirds.’’

After placing second in the first two Coronet Cups, she won in ’70, and was also South Island champion that year.

With no dedicated racing lanes on Coronet, she recalls skiers walking up and patting down a track — ‘‘it was like being on a luge’’.

Knowles retired from racing in ’71 and in ’74 became the first female NZ Ski Association
council member.

Incidentally, her mum, Anita Ryan, had in ’59 become the Queenstown Borough Council’s first female councillor.

Like Jules Tapper, in Mountain Scene last week, she praises ‘‘the vision’’ of Coronet’s founder, Harry Wigley — ‘‘I think they need to do perhaps more than a wishing well named after him’’.

What’s great about Coronet, she says, is ‘‘it’s got such a variety of terrain, so if you want to take an easy course down, you can, if you want to have a challenge, you can’’.

Three generations: Sue Knowles watches as her granddaughter Clara, 8, and daughter Katie ski downto meet her. PICTURE: NZSKI

More latterly, she also thinks the manmade snow makes Coronet ‘‘very skiable’’.

She also hails the development of carver skis — it’s added 10 to 15 years to her skiing, she suggests.

She’s proud, too, not only her three children but all seven of her grandchildren ski.

‘‘It’s just a fabulous family experience.’’

Knowles is just hoping her two local grandkids, aged 10 and eight, don’t get so good she can’t keep up with them.

Meanwhile, she says a big thrill about turning 75 this year was ‘‘I went in and paid nought for my annual pass — it’s lovely’’.

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