Canterbury’s Mt Cheeseman skifield reaches 90-year milestone


IAIN MCGREGOR/Stuff

Mt Cheeseman, the oldest club skifield in the South Island, turns 90 this year.

Mike Shand hopes to get his grandchildren up to Mt Cheeseman next week and introduce them to skiing.

They will be the fourth generation of Shands to click into ski bindings at the oldest club skifield in the South Island. 

Mt Cheeseman, about 100km from Christchurch, turns 90 on August 19. Parties have been held and more are planned, including a special ski day on the anniversary day.

Shand’s father, Allan, was club president in 1973-74 and pushed the access road up to the current day lodge and accommodation hut.

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Mike Shand remembered clearing the road of boulders in summer and winter when he was a teen.

The “just retired” Christchurch dentist and his wife were lucky enough to get a midweek ski at Cheeseman on Wednesday.  

Mt Cheeseman, about 100km from Christchurch, turns 90 on August 19.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

Mt Cheeseman, about 100km from Christchurch, turns 90 on August 19.

Skiing at Cheeseman has not always been as easy as hopping on a T-bar.​

In the early days, skiers would walk from the highway to the bottom hut, which was halfway down the access road.

They would then walk from the hut to the top of the mountain and ski back down.

That would be a day’s skiing, assistant manager Sam Timbrell said.

“It was walk up three quarters of a day, then ski down … and that was you done.”

Mt Cheeseman pictured in 1977.

Mt Cheeseman pictured in 1977.

Club patron Dave Hinman had five of his eight grandchildren on the mountain during the recent school holidays. 

He praised the “club atmosphere” and said members looked out for each other. The mountain was “safe for kids to go out and do their own thing”.

Hinman first encountered the club skifield in 1979 and joined the next season. The recently retired local government official learned to snowboard after the age of 50 and still skis and boards.

Timbrell said conditions this season had been firm and crusty after a slow start. 

Cheeseman skier Mike Shand hopes to get his grandkids on the mountain this season. His dad was a previous club president.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

Cheeseman skier Mike Shand hopes to get his grandkids on the mountain this season. His dad was a previous club president.

He doubles as a snowboard instructor and last year accumulated 122 days boarding at New Zealand and Canadian skifields.

Cheeseman’s success was “nurturing” people, he said. It wasn’t just about families.

August 19 marks the day in 1929 North Island farmer Allen Giles and all-round mountain lover Bill Day called a meeting in Christchurch for people interested in forming a winter sports club, according to a history of the club.  

Following more meetings, the Canterbury Winter Sports Club was incorporated in November that year. 

Hardy souls had already checked out what is now called Mt Cheeseman, even though the skifield is actually on Mt Cockayne.

Mt Cheeseman assistant manager Sam Timbrell celebrates the 90th birthday of the club skifield with a grab.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

Mt Cheeseman assistant manager Sam Timbrell celebrates the 90th birthday of the club skifield with a grab.

Club members had to push through a road and then build accommodation huts. Skiers had to hike the mountain until the first tow was installed in spring 1947. 

Cheeseman is now open to the public and has two T-bars servicing a vertical drop of about 320 metres, plus a beginner rope tow. There is no ability to make artificial snow. 

The history book records the struggle between commercial success and club atmosphere. 

Members are expected to volunteer for at least two working parties a year, usually in summer.

Working parties were always “work and then party”, Hinman said.

Some of the buildings on the field date back decades.

Iain McGregor/Stuff

Some of the buildings on the field date back decades.

When he joined, the waiting list for membership was about 1000 people.

This year, the club has about 325 members. The membership fee includes discounts and parties.

Fewer volunteers and increasing regulation around health and safety and environmental protection means the club increasingly relies on staff.

Mt Cheeseman in July 1980.

Mt Cheeseman in July 1980.

This season about 16 staff stay on the mountain. These costs cut into capital for expansion, but the club still hopes to install a “magic carpet” for beginners.

Mike Shand said his best memories of Cheeseman were at annual ski weeks for university students. “What happened on ski week stayed on ski week,” he said.

The annual Undie 500, which features races in scant clothing, is still a big hit.

Ski in your underwear during the annual Undie 500.

Ski in your underwear during the annual Undie 500.

Stuff


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