With the excitement of the ski season almost upon us the mountains in the Kaikoura Ranges outside my window are beginning to gather a few coatings of snow.
Only 50 minutes from our doorstep and 1 hour, 30 minutes from Christchurch we are lucky to have one of the South Islands amazing alpine ski experiences, Mt Lyford Ski Area.
The Simpson Family of Kaikoura who operate the Ski area developed the business on their family farm. Originally purchased as a bare block of 1200ha of land in 1979 by Doug and Jenny it has been a labour of love and plenty in between over 30 years.
With an entrepreneurial spirit they have worked together with son Hamish, his wife Caroline, their two boys Oliver and Jono, and son Tim and wife Tess. Doug and Jenny’s daughter Georgie has independent employment but loves Mt Lyford and the Ski season as much as her family, not to forget the dogs Scamp, Stella and Flick, the family has created job opportunities and employed many Kaikoura locals.
When Mt Lyford was established the locals of Kaikoura embraced the ski area as their own, it created excitement of another winter activity and opportunity for everyone to experience the great outdoors while learning to ski and snowboard. The relationship that has been created between the family and the locals has been a valuable one.
The history of Mt Lyford and the Ski Area is interesting and the Simpson family has faced many challenges along the way. The Mt Terako Ski Field opening in 1993 after a development project to subdivide and build was undertaken. With the farm becoming difficult due to the high snow risk during winter, they decided to turn it into a new opportunity to turn the liability of the towering mountains into a potential asset
A project was developed to construct and market an alpine subdivision of 97 large sections with an approximate size of one acre each. There was to be a recreational area, artificial lake and only log chalets were allowed to be built. In addition to the subdivision a commercial ski field and access road was also developed in the overlooking mountains.
When the original Lake Stella Ski Area first opened, inspired customers would be carried on a snow cat or towed behind to the top of the slope to ski down. A local helicopter operator also ferried skiers around to the Mt Terako basin until the road was extended to where the ski field now operates.
Today Mt Lyford Alpine Resort hosts a fantastic ski area in the Terako basin with an alpine village nestled at its base.
Mt Lyford Ski Area offers the wonderful Terako day lodge which incorporates the Chamois café which provides a great spot for lunch, the ski hire and ticketing office. “ It’s extremely hard work” says Hamish whose role is Ski Area Manager,” there is a lot to do to prepare the field for the day and ensure all the machinery is up and running. I would love a bit more time to spend on the skis especially now Ollie 5, and Jono, 3 are keen skiers. Tim and I run the ski field day to day, with Tim focusing on operations. We all get stuck in and help out with whatever need to be done.”
Doug is involved in numerous business ventures but helps to keep the road clear and open, and Jenny and Tess are usually found at the ticket office. Hamish says “The fun part is when cars can finally roll into the car park and everyone is excited to hit the slopes. I watch their faces and think, yep this is what we have created. Sometimes it can take 1-3 days to prepare the road and dig out the Lodge. I especially love to see the kids’ faces, as this is our new market the grass roots of what we do.”
When planning your trip to come skiing or snowboarding, be well prepared. The access road ascends through native beach and totora forest providing amazing views of the Amuri plans. A suitable vehicle is required and chains must be carried or fitted when require. There is a shuttle that also runs up the mountain from the access gate. Before you leave for your day on the slopes check the snow report which is updated daily. Make sure you have the correct clothing and the sunblock as the weather can change very quickly.
There are several accommodation options including two local townships Kaikoura and Hanmer Springs. Alpine log chalet holiday homes are available for hire in the Mt Lyford village at the bottom of the access road plus the Mt Lyford Lodge with a full licenced bar and heated spa’s overlooking the mountains. Staying in the village is a great way to enjoy and appreciate the surroundings with a drink and dinner after an awesome day on the slopes.
The Simpson family also manage three restaurants and bars in Kaikoura. The Whaler Bar and Restaurant, The Adelphi Restaurant and Bar and The Sonic Restaurant which is owned and managed solely by Tim and Tess.
“We offer learner to advanced ski areas. We are a commercial ski field with a club feel.” Says Hamish, “we are very family focussed and un-crowded so you often feel like you have the place to yourself!”.
Mt Lyford has alpine coaching available, with internationally qualified instructors that provide friendly and expert tuition for all ages and abilities.
Many schools around the country including some from the North Island have taken advantage of Mt Lyford’s great school packages. These schools have realised the great value an experience such as skiing, snowboarding and being in an alpine environment is for our children. Many of these children return in later years on their own accord to enjoy the slopes again.
When chatting with Hamish and Caroline about what challenges they face in such a changeable environment weather wise and how they cope with that as a business, Hamish says “We are fortunate we have the other businesses in Kaikoura to help offset things like not enough snow or terrible conditions on the ski field. We also take very seriously managing the risks that come with snow conditions – our main focus at the end of a day is that all our clientele are safe and made it off the mountain. “
As a freehold mountain property Mt Lyford Alpine Resort is situated in the South Island of New Zealand. The area is ideally located at the southern end of the seaward Kaikoura mountain range, between the thermal resort town of Hamner Springs and the Eco-Tourism town of Kaikoura – only 50 minutes drive to either destination.
Take the time this ski season if you haven’t been to Mt Lyford before to come and check it out, try something new and enjoy the pristine environment this area has to offer unlike no other.
Mt Lyford ski area and village is a must do destination offering an experience and a true alpine environment not to be missed.
“As a family we all get on pretty well, decisions are made over a coffee in the morning or a beer at the end of the day, that’s our boardroom!”