Lees see ski area handed over

Snow Farm founders John and Mary Lee and Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden (centre) celebrate the handover of the cross-country ski area (behind them) to the community at a ceremony on the Pisa Range yesterday. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Snow Farm founders John and Mary Lee and Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden (centre) celebrate the handover of the cross-country ski area (behind them) to the community at a ceremony on the Pisa Range yesterday. Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
New Zealand's only dedicated cross-country ski area was officially handed over to the community at a small but significant ceremony high on the Pisa Range near Wanaka yesterday afternoon.

The deed of settlement for the Snow Farm land, situated above the Cardrona Valley, was presented to Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden, fulfilling a long-held vision of the skifield's former owners John and Mary Lee to place the skifield in community ownership.

After what Mr Lee described as a "seven-year gestation period", the land was vested in the Queenstown Lakes District Council to be held in perpetuity as a recreational reserve and leased to the Pisa Alpine Charitable Trust, which bought the skifield business and took over its management this year.

The Lees applied for a recreation permit for the Pisa Range in 1984, before opening Snow Farm in 1990. They also developed the Snow Park skifield and the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground on Waiorau Station, and the Cardrona skifield across the valley on Mt Cardrona Station.

Mrs Lee, who was manager of the Snow Farm for 22 years, yesterday said preserving the ski area for public use was "our dream, but we couldn't have reached the reality today without the trust members sharing the passion".

The Lees were hailed as great visionaries for what they had achieved.

"John Lee has the most amazing, huge, selective blind spot," friend Denis Pezaro said in a special tribute.

"He's congenitally unable to understand two concepts: one is 'can't', the other is 'don't'."

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean congratulated the Lees on causing "a bit of a sea change" in Parliament.

"We can see that there is mixed use for the high country ... you can have environmental values and you can make a buck out of it along the way," Ms Dean said.

Ms van Uden read a message from former prime minister Helen Clark, a long-time user of and advocate for Snow Farm.

"I'm delighted that a way has been found to maintain this wonderful area for recreational purposes for generations to come," Miss Clark, a keen cross-country skier and alpine enthusiast, wrote.

QLDC community general manager Paul Wilson said the Snow Farm purchase also resolved any risk to the future of the winter sports - including next year's Winter Games - which used the facility.

Funding for the land purchase was achieved with cornerstone funding from the QLDC, matching support from the Central Lakes Trust, and major contributions from the New Zealand Lotteries Grants Board Community Facilities Fund and the Community Trust of Otago.

"The Lee family have also assisted with the finance for the purchase of the business assets on generous terms," Mr Wilson said.

-lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz