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Claire Newell sits in a chair, book in hand, flicking through its pages.
“Let me just find where it all began… ah, here it is!” she says.
The book, Castles in the Air: the early history of skiing at Broken River is co-authored by Claire herself, and a founding member of Broken River Ski Club, Claire’s mother, Leith Newell.
The ski club was formed in 1951, out of the winter sports section of the Rangiora Youth Recreational Club. The club was set up after WWII to get young people doing fun activities, including ice skating at Lake Lyndon.
A member of the club had some skis, and before not long everyone tried skiing on the slopes around Lake Lyndon, before deciding to venture further afield and create their own ski club.
The 12 founding members of the club, including Claire’s mother and father Jack, came across Broken River basin, which had great snow for powder skiing, varied terrain and spectacular views of the main divide, Castle Hill basin and Torlesse Range.
By the mid 1950s, the club had developed into a lively area with more than 200 members, two accommodation lodges and a day lodge. A third lodge was built in 1979.
In 1985, the Tyndall Tramway was installed to carry skiers gear. Since 2009, the Tyndall Tramway has been certified to carry passengers up 320 metres through native beech tree from the carpark to the Ticket Office and accommodation lodges. This four minute alpine tramway is the only lift of its kind in New Zealand. With panoramic views of surrounding mountains, it is a fantastic and unique way for visitors to start their day on the slopes!
Claire says it’s fascinating how everything was built from scratch by the ski club members.
Broken River is a special place for Claire, filled with many family memories of growing up, meeting her husband and skiing with her kids. In her current marketing role, she enjoys sharing her passion for club skiing.
“It is just such a different experience, for us a busy day is 200 people, so it’s small, it’s friendly and you get to know everybody, it’s like being a part of a big family.”
One of Claire’s favourite memories was in 2012 when more than 85cms of snow fell at Broken River and they were able to have lots of fun skiing between the trees. Claire says this was a rare occasion, as skiers in New Zealand are usually skiing above the treeline in alpine areas.
“There was so much snow that people were jumping off the roof of Broken River Lodge in their skis and landing in the snow below. There was so much snow low down that you could ski right down to the carpark - the last bit down the creek was all covered in snow and the route was scalloped, so it was like skiing on snow down a bike pump track!”
Claire says you don’t have to be a member to ski at Broken River, anyone is welcome if they have experience.
“Someone’s described club skiing as the soul of skiing and it really is,” She says, “there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world. Broken River Ski Club, along with the other ski clubs are very historic and incredibly special."
As Claire closes the book, she says it was very special to be able to write and share her parent’s memories of the club’s beginnings.