Merino Muster Ltd chairman John Burridge (left) nand Snow
Farm founders John and Mary Lee at the Worldloppet Ski
Federation signing ceremony in Italy last weekend. Photo
The inclusion of Snow Farm's Merino Muster cross-country
ski event in a major international race series is expected to
boost the number of big-spending overseas visitors to the
Queenstown Lakes district.
The Merino Muster was formally accepted as an associate
member of the Worldloppet Ski Federation of cross-country
skiing marathons at the sporting organisation's annual
meeting in Italy last weekend.
Only the best race from a country can be a member of
Worldloppet, which attracts 135,000 participants each year.
New Zealand's Merino Muster race - which has received
Queenstown Lakes District Council events funding - had a
Worldloppet inspection last year and will have official
Worldloppet status when it celebrates its 20th anniversary
Run by Merino Muster Ltd (MML), a wholly owned subsidiary of
Snow Farm manager the Pisa Alpine Charitable Trust (Pact),
the race has a strong local following and attracts a handful
of overseas competitors each year.
However, Pact trustee Peter Soundy, of Arrowtown, said the
international exposure gained through Worldloppet membership
would result in a ''significant increase'' in overseas
entrants, particularly from European countries.
That would be a boost not just for Snow Farm, but for the
''At the moment, most of our international visitors to Snow
Farm are semiprofessional or fulltime athletes, but this is
another category of visitors who'll be going to spend a lot
more time in the district and spending a lot more money, and
helping us in a way to support the Snow Farm operations as
The Merino Muster's arrival on the Worldloppet circuit has
been a long-held vision of Snow Farm founder John Lee and is
the culmination of years of work by his wife Mary and MML
chairman and Pact trustee John Burridge.
The trio formed the New Zealand delegation which travelled to
Riva del Garda, Italy, to present their case for acceptance,
earning unanimous approval from all 16 countries in the
As an appreciation of her work for the race throughout its
20-year history, Mrs Lee was nominated by Pact as the
official signatory for the acceptance ceremony, which was
covered by European television networks.
In an email from Italy this week, she said it had been an
''incredible journey'' achieving Worldloppet sanctioning.
''This is a wonderful family of races ... It's about more
than skiing, it's about uniting the world with skiing.''
Earlier this year, Mr Burridge said each of the Worldloppet
races had its own unique story and Snow Farm's history as a
retired merino farm was ''very attractive'' to the European
''We know a number of the Worldloppet masters who have skied
all the existing races have been agitating for our inclusion
over several years.''
Three other races in Argentina, China and Iceland were also
accepted into Worldloppet, meaning a new southern hemisphere
series will take place this year, which will include the
Merino Muster and the long-established Kangaroo Hoppet in