Ski-Orienteering in New Zealand

A personal view from Ken & Anitra Dowling

Anitra and I took up XC skiing at Cardrona late 70s or early 80s. This downhill field was the first to provide XC trails and gear hire to our knowledge. Later the Cardrona owners sold out and established the Waiorau XC ski field (now known as The Snow Farm) across the valley on the Pisa Range.

Having a taste for XC skiing and being an orienteer we noticed that ski-O existed. I wanted to go XC skiing in Europe so timed it to coincide with the 1983 pre-ski-O WOC in Italy. Not sure if it still occurs but in those days a year before a ski-O WOC a major training and familiarisation series of events was held in the WOC area.

I got accreditation from NZOF as an official observer and off I went - paying my own way as we all did in those days. Won’t dwell on the wonderful time I had but what I did learn there stood me in good stead at Waiorau later. Of note was that NZ won its first ski-O medal. But you won’t find it in the records nor on my minuscule trophy shelf.

Picture a Kiwi, a Canadian (some Kiwis will know Bryan Chubb from Alberta) and an East German making up a relay team for the Open event. First I will deflate the picture a little by pointing out that the Open event ranked behind World Meet, Elite and Men 35 respectively – in other words we were the odds and sods. Nevertheless there were 8 teams out there ‘racing’ on snow that either had been dumped the day before by the Italian army (due to lots of brown but no white over much of the area) or was very icy. I recall about mid way on the 4.8km, 150m climb course facing the classic orienteering decision – around a long, gentle, open and icy loop or straight down a short, steep, twisting forest trail to the next control. I mmmm dithered and chose the direct route but took my skis off to do it. Coming from NZ I wasn’t used to snow under trees and spent what seemed an eternity dragging one XC ski booted foot out of a deep snow hole while straddling to the other engulfed boot. All the while trying to maintain a grip on a pair of skis and poles on a steep slope. I later discovered that some of the elites had done the same so felt a bit better.

I was last leg and coming into the finish Bryan and Reinhard were out on the run in cheering me on. A final effort and I pulled up really pleased with my personal effort apart from the ‘short cut’. We were shocked when told we were third and had a bronze medal draped around our shoulders. Well stone the crows, a ski-O medal for NZ.

Celebrations were slightly dampened that evening when we discovered a timing error had been made and we had been beaten by an Italian team. Still we weren’t too worried as medals had never been in our consciousness. The next day I went to the WOC office to return my medal which was refused. “Our mistake - you keep it”. They were absolutely insistent but so was I and in the end I left it in an envelope at the office as I left town. I then went to Switzerland with Bryan successfully seeking good snow and discovered that both he and Reinhard chose to retain their medals. Given the status of that race I am comfortable with my decision and also with theirs.

A few weeks later I ski-oed on a permanent course in Mullsjo, Sweden while staying with Kjell Mellander, one of the APOC 84 Naseby mappers. Then two ski-o events while based at Kvitavatn in the Telemark area of Norway. Anyone who watched the recent TV re-enactment of the 2nd world war commando attack on the heavy water plant at Rjukan will now be familiar with the snow covered plateau above Rjukan where Kvitavatn sits. Absolutely marvellous XC skiing.

Anitra and I had wanted to stage a ski-o event at Naseby using the APOC 84 map. Snow, when it did come there, was deep and the environment gorgeous. But it usually lasted only 2 days and arranging an event and people in that short time, assuming it was a weekend, was beyond even our ability :-) Nevertheless we had some great XC skiing there sometimes in the company of other orienteers.

Then the Waiorau XC ski area opened on the Pisa Range. We staged the first ski-O event there in 1991 which I think was Waiorau’s second year of operation. Owners Mary and John Lee gave us full support that year and every year. A photo of the 1991 event shows a mixed bunch of very warmly clad ski-oers poring over their maps in rather cold conditions. Jennifer and Grant Hudson are in the forefront and were every year along with core families such as the Grants, Ehrhardts and Cunninghames as well as the respected (or else) troika of Lyn Foote, Judy Wilson and Claire Jordan. One photo shows a feature of the early events – six bottles of champers lined up for class winners.

The earliest map I retained is for Day 1 of the 1994 weekend – getting big time. At 1:7,500 it is monochrome and I would have drawn the map area from DOSLI data (with permission it says) using OCAD. The north symbol pointed to the lower left of the map. All events that I can recall were score as the open country made it difficult to have a point to point course. The Day 2 map is a bit more conventional having north to the top, a scale of 1:15,000 and a contour interval of 20m. There were 27 controls of varying points.

I think 1995 saw the introduction of a colour map. This was drawn by Colin Hope and adapted by me. A4 1:15,000 and down to 10m contour interval. Looks a really ‘clean’ map - Colin did a great job.

I am fairly sure there has been a ski-O event at Waiorau every year since 1991 – DOC records should show. I vaguely recall one or more may have been termed “NZ Ski-orienteering Champs” – probably unofficially.

In August 2000 Anitra and I holidayed at Waiorau in the new lodge. About the first people we met there were Julie Grant and Fran Cunninghame who were there planning that year’s ski-o. I saw they had a monochrome map and suggested they contact Colin Hope for the colour map and resurrect it. I understand that was done in time for the following year’s event.

Post Script: Annie Grant writes...

Thanks for that Cross country ski history. Ken and Anitra did them from 1991 to 1995 before heading to Oz. 1996 and 1998 there was no involvment with the club. Maybe Mary Lee did some things with the local school kids. In 1997 Bjoern Lars from Sweden a double world champion in cross country skiing organised a great day. from 1999 to 2004 our family took over the organisation.

This page was written by and installed on 1 Jun 05

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