Teaching the kids the ropes of our slopes

Friday, 8 September 2023

Teaching the kids the ropes of our slopes

Friendly Broken River rope tow natural, Claire Newell, with our then 6 year old boys (independently riding rope tows).

Words by Anna Keeling

Let’s face it  riding nutcracker rope tows requires effort. Club fields involve more effort  maybe some walking, maybe a steeper road... there's no grooming of the slopes and no hot chocolate machine!

However, if you are functionally fit, somewhat adventurous and a bit of a go-getter, then there’s no reason not to get your kids started at a Selwyn ski club area.

We have five: Temple Basin, Craigieburn Valley, Broken River, Mt Cheeseman and Mt Olympus. There are people who grew up skiing these places. These native rope tow riders are the folks you want to find when you first take your kids up there (I am one I grew up skiing at Porters when it had rope tows!)

So, let’s break it down!


My rope tow riding husband towing our son, aged 5 or 6


How to teach kids to ride rope tows

  1. Be a solid rope tow rider yourself or hook in a supportive friend who is more experienced.
  2. Have a kid aged 4 or older, who can ski or ride a board, meaning they are a solid intermediate rider.
  3. Get a tow line  a strong rope or cord of about 3 metres in length. One end connects by carabiner to the back of your harness waist band and the other has a loop for the kid’s nutcracker. The child is wearing a harness with nutcracker. The child should have their nutcracker attached to their harness just like you. Only their nutcracker is not on the actual rope tow. They are just practicing getting pulled up by holding onto their own nutcracker. They can also just hold the rope attached to you.
  4. Get on the lift: The trick is to ensure the towline (to the child) is fully stretched out and pulling on the kid before you launch. No slack. If there’s slack in the rope, your poor child will be jerked off their feet and it will be a bad time. Try it a few times  easing onto the rope and getting a feel for the pull. Tell your kiddo to stay away from the pulleys but not too far away. Keep their skis or board straight and let their harness pull them (not their arms).  

    Modelling the take off at Awakino ski field - skis straight and a gentle push

  5. Arriving at the top: Tell the kid to keep hanging onto their nutcracker until their skis are turned away from the rope tow. They don’t want to let go too early or they risk a slide backwards.
  6. Once you have done all this, immediately ski to the lodge for a reward/treat. Then let the child play on the beginner tow and work out the nutcracker for themselves. The beginner lifts usually have only 0-1 pulleys. 

    Gaining independence

  7. Make it fun. This means you need to be comfortable. If you are stressed, you will stress out your child. You may need to practice.
  8. Kids aged 7 and up generally can begin to ride by themselves. It does depend on pulley heights. Ask a staff member what they recommend.

For the under 4’s/small kids: strong parental rope tow riders can take kids who are already decent skiers/riders up between their legs. It’s strenuous. Make sure the child leans their head away from the rope (as you can see in the photo below.)

Between the legs for smaller tamariki


Selwyn Club Areas  some are easier to learn the ropes than others:

Temple Basin: Your day starts with an hour and a half walk to the ski area from Arthur's Pass - but Temple has a goods lift. Dump all your gear at the goods lift and enjoy an unencumbered walk with lovely views above tree line - Mt Rolleston, the West Coast and back to the Craigieburn Range. Once you get to the lodges, relax, buy a hot lunch and ride the easy Cassidy rope tow close to the lodges. It’s a great place to learn - with flat take offs on Cassidy tow and friendly, helpful staff. Stay a night or a few. The ambience is brilliant.

Craigieburn Valley: There are kids riding there but they are usually with parents who are native Clubbies or have ridden rope tows for years. The access tow is fairly burly so not recommended for inexperienced riders. Give this one a miss until the crew are bigger and stronger. If they are - you’ll be skiing the big one. The Whakamaru Lodge is situated in a fantastic notch with expansive views across the ski area’s steeps. It is a training ground for future free riders. 

Broken River: The Tyndall Tram is key for access to the ski area. It takes you up to the ticket office. After that, walk the Stairway to Heaven to the Access Tow (which can be slowed to help learners to learn). Getting to Broken River can be a journey in itself but once you are up the Access tow/Rugby tow and into Palmer Lodge, you are set. Right outside Palmer is a beginner rope tow and toboggan-friendly slopes. Hang out on the large Palmer verandah, order a fresh pizza, drink a Broken River lager and watch the kids. If you are not rope tow adept, the trick is to get a friendly local to tow your kid up the access lift. There’s a summer road that can be ridden or walk back down the access lift. At the very least it’s fun to ride the Tyndall tram and tramp up the Stairway to Heaven to get a feel for how the place works. Consider a kōha for use of the tram.

Mt Cheeseman: Mt Cheeseman bridges the club-commercial paradigm nicely and has a definite family vibe. No nutcracker rope tows here. With an expansive verandah, it has a lovely sunny day lodge right next to the beginners area. They serve up classic kiwi ski fare as well as barista made coffee. Two t-bars access the upper slopes. Go there if you are sampling club skiing with kids for the first time. Only the beginner area has a rope tow and it’s not the pulley kind. 

Mt Olympus: Mt Olympus is the farmer's field. And it’s festive. Tucked behind the main Craigieburn Range, it’s accessed from the Rakaia side of the range. Similar to Broken River, the access tow is fairly user-friendly. The local’s local, Derek Parsons, will come down and pop everybody on the lift before starting it up. He’s very kind. Again - the ticket summons the more experienced rope tow fans to get the kids up to Top Hut. Order lunch and watch the kids have fun on the beginner area on a one pulley rope tow, right outside the lodge. Even better, book a night at the hut and sample NZ’s highest hot tub and a vibrant bar scene!

Club fields are unique to Selwyn - and perhaps even the world. While it does take some effort to get going at these areas, the rewards and satisfaction are worthwhile. Get yourself going on the rope tows first and once you are confident, you can get the kids up and away too. They learn fast.


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