Cardrona Valley ski field developer honoured

Cardrona Valley ski field developer honoured

Holidaymakers have swamped the Cardrona Valley in central Otago to enjoy the sun and Rhythm and Alps music festival.

In the winter the same valley is crowded with people enjoying the snow, and the man who made much of that possible has just received a New Year's honour.

Farmer John Lee spent 10 years developing the slopes of Cardrona ski field, and when it opened in 1980, the ski field quickly became a roaring success.

"For just the ordinary person going skiing, Cardrona was the ideal terrain, and it took off," says Mr Lee.

It had been farmland; Mr Lee's father, a returned soldier, won it in a ballot. Mr Lee ended up with it because his two older brothers didn't want it.

"I was the third one, was given the opportunity so I took it up and turned my father's greatest liability – snow – into my greatest asset."

Once just an area of abandoned goldfields, Cardrona Valley started to boom, and a bra fence popped up.

"I was never 100 percent sure who started that bra fence," says Mr Lee.

Mr Lee then went on to develop the car-proving ground, across the valley – a snowy site that appealed to companies from the Northern Hemisphere.

"The two places they could go to, Greenland and Alaska, are a long way from hotels, so at least here they could get them into hotels, the staff accommodation being there."

Nearby, the snow farm his wife Mary ran was a training ground for many top northern winter Olympic athletes who came for off-season training. Snow Park, run by son Sam, was the playground for the trick skiing specialists.

"All my three children can probably ski better than they can walk," says Mr Lee.

While Mr Lee has sold his interests in the ski fields, the impact of his businesses on the district is far-reaching.

"Oh wonderful – it's given us a good health centre," he says. "We've got a high school here. I think those essential services have come as a result of that."

He's now a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and tourism.

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