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August 2014 Issue
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Cross-country at Snow Farm

Meadow Hut. Photo: Alina Suchanski
Meadow Hut, 25 bunks ($35/adult, $15/child), Bob Lee Hut, 12 bunks ($25/adult, $15/child)
Snow Farm is located 35km from Wanaka and 55km from Queenstown, on the top of the Pisa Mountain Range.

Meadow Hut, Snow Farm, Wanaka

Cross-country skiing is the world’s oldest snow sport, internationally recognised as an activity that promotes health and fitness for the whole family. In northern Europe it is common to see three generations of the same family skiing together. They call it a ‘sport for life’.

The Snow Farm in Cardrona Valley is a perfect place to venture out into this environment for first timers. Located on 310ha and between 1400m and 1600m, it is New Zealand’s only groomed cross-country ski field.

Three generations of the Lee family used to farm the area until 1989, when they opened the ski field. In 2008, the Pisa Alpine Charitable Trust (PACT) was formed to secure the ownership of the Snow Farm, and was assisted by the generosity of the Lees who wish to see the area preserved as the base for cross-country skiing in New Zealand.

Snow Farm is also the major access point to the Pisa Conservation Area – 23,000ha of stunning high country, largely snow-covered in winter and characterised by broad, gently-rolling ridges and valley systems broken by tors. From the heights of this wild and spectacular landscape, views of Lake Dunstan, the Wanaka region and Cardrona Valley, Mt Aspiring and even Mt Cook on good days can be enjoyed. There are many backcountry routes off the ski field to explore and 40km of groomed trails for the less experienced.

A 14km round trip following the sometimes babbling, sometimes frozen solid Roaring Meg. The trip incorporates the River Run and The Loop tracks and has two huts that can be booked for overnight accommodation.

The Fiordland Tramping Club has been going to Snow Farm for 20 years with the trip being one of the most popular on the calendar. Once we had completed a few rounds on the learning circuit, we were on our way to Meadow Hut where the club makes its base each year. It takes about half an hour to get to the hut on a groomed trail with parallel tracks conveniently pressed into the snow for beginners’ skis to glide through.

Meadow Hut (sleeps 25) has a feel of a Swiss chalet with its high ceiling and wood panelling. Its kitchen is well appointed, with four gas cookers and plenty of pots, cups, dishes and cutlery, while the wood stove warms the hut and provides a steady supply of hot water. Kids love to clamber up the ladder to sleep on mattresses lining the boards of the mezzanine floor, while the adults keep to the bunks below.

After lunch and having settled in, we went to explore the area. I was in the group that went to visit the Bob Lee Hut (sleeps 12), a few kilometres up from where we were staying. While lacking the charm of the Meadow Hut, this place is still warm and comfortable and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges.

It is always quieter at Snow Farm than at any other ski field. Even following the groomed trails you are likely to spend most of the time alone. Although sometimes you can be surprised by who you meet. On our way to the Bob Lee Hut we came across three dog sledges pulled by huskies.

Occasionally you may even see some of the world’s best Olympic ski teams who, chasing the snow around the globe, come to use the facility for training in their off season.

After a potluck tea a few brave souls armed with head torches ventured out for a night ski to be rewarded by a stunning display of stars and the shimmering of snow crystals in the torchlight.

The next morning, we were up early to climb Mt Pisa on skis. We reached the summit by lunchtime and ate our sandwiches admiring the views from the shelter of a rocky outcrop.

If we had more time we could’ve skied to Kirtle Burn Hut, situated in a snow-covered valley below the summit of the Pisa Range, but we returned to the car park because most of us had work on Monday.

You get a good workout cross-country skiing. And just like after a tramp, at the end of a big day out on the snow you really appreciate the simple pleasures of a cup of tea, a meal, a shower and a comfortable bed.

– Alina Suchanski