Free Skiing in Selwyn

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Free Skiing in Selwyn

Words by Ollie Hunt

Canterbury’s Club Ski Fields, or the “clubbies”, are some of the most unique ski areas in the world. Nestled in Selwyn, on the Craigieburn Range and on the Main Divide, they are distinctly different from the large commercial operations. They’re more difficult to get to, they have less people, and when you get there you often need to use a nutcracker and rope tow to get up the mountain - there are no chairlifts at the clubbies.

While these fields have some slightly different challenges compared to the large commercial fields, the challenges are well worth it when you get there. No 5.30am rush to get a carpark, very few queues, and snow that stays fresh for days rather than being tracked out before you’ve finished your breakfast latte - there is a lot to like. Add in hot tubs, saunas and on-mountain accommodation, and you can see the fields have much more to offer than just awesome skiing.

Renowned for the lifestyle and atmosphere, the clubbies also contribute to a lesser known but well respected export: The New Zealand Big Mountain Skier. With skills honed on the ungroomed slopes of the clubbies and through the series of competitions held there too, a significant proportion of the kiwis, who represent New Zealand on the Freeride World Tour (FWT), hail from the clubbies - and have a lot to thank the competitions at the clubbies for. 

I grew up skiing with my whānau at Broken River and took to the joy of skiing like water off a duck's back.  Initially, my interest in skiing was focused on one ski area.  However, growing up it was hard not to see the selection of ski areas on highway 73. Combine this with the growth of free skiing in NZ in early 2000s, I can see how I came to roam the ski areas and joined the free ski competitions on offer. 

Here’s my recount of those days starting out:

Back in 2009, after talking my Dad into buying me a pair of twin tips at the CSA ski sale, we saw a poster at Broken River advertising a Big Mountain session with Tom Dunbar. Fourteen at the time, and not really knowing what it was, I jumped for it - and while I was the youngest and smallest in the eight person program, I loved it.

It is probably worth mentioning that at this point (2008/2009) big mountain skiing was not particularly common - and nor was any type of skiing with the exception of racing. This coaching session was also the first time I saw a pair of Rockered skis - Tom’s 4FRNT Hojis.

Tom Dunbar - one of the top big mountain skiers in New Zealand or the world in the mid 2000s.

After completing the course, I happened to be at Mt Olympus on the Olympus day of the original ‘Chill Series’ Freeride World Qualifiers (Day one was held at Craigieburn Valley). This was an event that was a qualifier for the world tour, but thanks to Stu Waddel there was a category for under 18s too - and after a brief chat with Stu I scored an entry.

Having only competed in the Chill ‘Gromfests’ at Porter's terrain park, this was a complete new world - where cliffs replaced jumps, and there were no rails to be seen.  I was the youngest at 14 - and pretty scared too, but I hiked to the top of Little Alaska for both runs and ended up taking home 3rd place.

Neil Williman - who later competed on the FWT and now commentates it, took out the competition with a ridiculous line on his second run - at 4:43 in the video below, it is one of the most high consequence lines I’ve ever seen skied in person - the video not quite doing the terrain justice - nor the atmosphere at the bottom of the run.

Fast forward to later in the year, and the 2009 Black Diamond Big Mountain was happening at Temple Basin. I had secured myself a spot at this, again in the junior division, and made my way to the field - alongside a plethora of mainly adults, plenty from overseas.

It was a pretty cool world to be drawn into - as a young kid there were these big mountain heroes like Sam Smoothy, Pete Oswald, Neil Williman and others, and because there was only one division I was competing with them - and then the rest too.

With a clear demand for big mountain competitions from the under 18s, and no realistic way to send them all down the same course in the open category and to keep the event as a FWT qualifier, Stu again came to the party with the rise of the Chill Junior Series.

These competitions had multiple age categories and were held in a number of the fields, but usually on less exposed terrain than the open categories. The top placing juniors were then allowed to progress to the open categories.

These competitions were a mixture of coaching and competing, and names you’ll now see on the FWT start list were amongst those that participated - specifically at the moment, Jamesa Hampton and Craig Murray.

There were many competitions from 2010 - 2017, some which I competed in, and they paved the way for what is on offer in Selwyn now - the Chill channel from this time has a huge number of epic videos.

The Chill competitions are no longer running but competitive big mountain skiing in the Selwyn fields is stronger than ever - and there’s more opportunities to get involved in the sport than ever.

Listed below are some of the upcoming Free Ski Camps and Competitions in 2022:

Coaching Camps with the MFC crew:

For the last six seasons, MFC has hosted coaching sessions for groms - similar to those that Tom Dunbar hosted all the way back in 2009. MFC are hosting clinics at Broken River Craigieburn Valley and Mt Olympus this season. Some of the world’s best skiers - who grew up on the Selwyn fields, are coaches - including FWT riders Craig Murray, Jess Hotter, Jamesa Hampton, and others.



The New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour

Dion Newport, who was a judge right from the earliest days of the Chill Competitions, has now established a series and a FWQ (Freeride World Qualifier) event that together are part of the pathway to the world tour for any aspiring freeriders in NZ.

Here is a summary of what can be expected:

The NZ Junior Freeride Tour consist of three competitions across three fields in both islands of New Zealand, and it provides a pathway for junior skiers to enter into the big mountain world in an age group setting - with opportunities for the top performers to head to the International Junior Freeride Tour as well.  

Stop #3 will be held at Mt Olympus on 16 - 18th September

For more details visit:


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