VISION, HEART AND AN OILY RAG
Surely someone will make ‘The Snow Farmer’ film soon, the book is certainly riveting? Hey, Sam Neill maybe you could pass muster as John Lee, do get in touch for an audition.
Snow Farm NZ is an inspiring true story about a big dream, a stoic family, a close community, struggles-a-plenty, and, spoiler alert, a happy ending. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark sums it up in the book’s foreword: ‘A Kiwi story of grit and determination of which we can all be proud’.
Here’s the bite-sized plot:
Act One: Bob Lee a returning World War One rifleman, is allocated a plot of land to farm by the New Zealand government.
Act Two: His son and daughter-in-law John and Mary Lee transition from Sheep Farmers to Snow Farmers, by having the tenacity and vision to develop Cardrona Alpine ski resort on one side of the valley and Snow Farm NZ cross-country centre on the other.
Act Three: John and Mary retire and help ensure Snow Farm NZ becomes a charitable trust* so that the local community will always be able to enjoy cross-country skiing and summer pursuits on the magnificent Pisa Range.
Happy ending new beginnings
On 3 August the local community gathered to celebrate the 30th birthday of Snow Farm NZ, with guests-of-honour John and Mary, introduced as ‘The Vision’ and ‘The Drive’ by Sam Lee, their son, now General Manager of Snow Farm NZ.
Amidst the bustle: naming ceremony for ‘Geoff’ the new snow-groomer, avalanche dog demo, club ski race, biathlon training, I noticed John, sat quietly, like the powerful eye of a hurricane, taking it all in, his legacy, with a gentle smile on his face. ‘It is wonderful, just wonderful’ he said when I thanked him for his life’s work and asked how it felt to be back on his old stomping ground.
A non-profit ski charity serving the local community is a rarity.
Snow Farm NZ relies on the enthusiasm of its skiers, trustees and volunteers, who muck in with ‘working bees’ to replant tussocks, paint race signs, help out in the car park and provide accommodation for seasonal staff. Board Chair Samuel Belk says: ‘it shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did…on the smell of an oily rag’, recalling how he used to see Sam in the early hours (pre-Geoff), red-eyed and covered in oil after toiling away to prepare the trails.
Make no mistake, charity does not mean amateur. ‘Snow Farm NZ is a world-class facility, on a par with anywhere in Scandinavia or North America’ said Samuel explaining why Olympic teams from America, Canada, Italy and France are drawn to train here during the Northern hemisphere summer.
Snow Farm NZ: The Sequel?
Sam and the Trust are shaping up ambitious plans for the next generation of cross-country skiers. Thirty-six schools currently visit Snow Farm NZ, students need accommodation, a teaching facility, a purpose-built lodge. Above all, more people need to know about this hidden gem and amazing sport which is so low-profile, with NZ ski culture dominated by downhill skiing.
The potential for snowshoeing, biathlon and sled dogs alongside cross-country skiing is vast. Many visitors experience snow for the first time in their lives at Snow Farm NZ, taking great pleasure in simply tubing down a slope or building a snowman.
Most ski operators would be delighted if their mountain huts were fully booked all season, not Snow Farm NZ. Sam would love more people to enjoy the unique experience of sleeping in a remote hut and is determined to keep the whole cross-country skiing experience as accessible and affordable as possible.
The ethos of skiing with heart and local soul is set to prosper with Sam Lee, custodian and scriptwriter of ‘Snow Farm NZ: The Sequel’.
Casting suggestions: which actor and actress should star as Mary and Sam Lee in the film?
Margaret Batty, Ski Musteress, 12 August
A bit about me:
After 30 years of commuting, career and city life
in crowded London and travelling to over 90
countries, I moved to wonderful Wanaka with
Gary, to pause, breathe and reconnect with the
mountains – and my muscles…We’re totally
smitten with New Zealand, immersing ourselves
in all four seasons, biking, hiking, kayaking and
skiing, for a precious year-off (an ‘OE’ in our
fifties) before heading back to England,
Attempting the Merino Muster is my nod to the famous Kiwi ‘give it a go’ attitude.