Kiwi sports dig 'one ski in the grave'
At 84, Queenstown man Les Brough clocks in as one of New Zealand’s oldest skiers but when he takes to the slopes, he’s just one of an exclusive club with "one ski in the grave".
Les is a founding member of an age-exclusive, international group known as the One Ski in the Grave Club - formed on a whim by a handful of Kiwi veterans enjoying a joke, and now legendary amongst the world’s aging ski population.
Ski club born
The ski club began back in the winter of 1993 when three older skiers - Les Brough, and friends Noel McGarry and Arnold Diver - were enjoying an aprés-ski moment while "admiring the ladies" as they sat on the sun deck at Coronet Peak, above Queenstown.
When "young bloke" 59-year-old Derek McKeown walked by commenting - "What’s this? The one ski in the grave club?" - an international fellowship was born.
Nineteen years on, the One Ski in the Grave Club has gone from strength to strength. There are now more than 850 members worldwide with branches in far flung corners such as Chile and Canada - a diverse membership linked simply by a love of the white stuff, their 55-plus years and a life membership for just NZ$10.
Proudly sporting the distinctive 'one ski' patch - an embroidered logo designed by the grandson of long-time de-facto club president Noel McGarry - members can easily identify each other wherever in the world they find themselves on a ski field.
Les Brough is the only surviving member of the original trio but, each winter when the snows arrive in Queenstown, he's among the first to don his skis and hit the slopes of his beloved Coronet Peak. More than just a local legend, he is also Coronet Peak's official patron and has a ski trail named after him.
Brough's Lane leads off Coronet Peak's Greengates six-seater lift and offers stunning views over the Southern Alps and down into an area known as Deep Creek. Les says "it's quite a buzz" to ski a run with his name on it.
"You come off the six-seater and turn right into Brough's Lane, then down through the tuck to join up with the M1."
Arnold Diver, who passed away a few years back, is remembered on Coronet Peak by 'Arnold's Way', a run named after the club stalwart who skied until the end. Noel McGarry, whose skiing ended prematurely when he permanently damaged his shoulder and back in a ski accident, was still an active club supporter when he passed away last year.
"Noel was a great skier, and great racer who loved the powder," remembers Brough. "He ran the club from the day it began in 1993 right through till he died last year . He won his race [in the Masters] the day he hurt himself and had to stop skiing."
The club now has a secretary, Jan Robertson who keeps tabs on the members and makes sure plenty of new ones sign up each year.
Members are members forever - even after both skis are in the grave, their names remain on the membership list, never to be forgotten.
The Coronet Peak contingent includes 'Young Derek' McKeown who eventually joined up, along with local luminaries - some serious, some social skiers - such as Liz Wallace, Derek's wife Natalie, Sue Dwyer and Jules Tapper.
Local club members meet on Coronet Peak most mornings to ski together and share coffee and conversation.
"It’s for skiing friendship on the mountain," Tapper says. "You can ski for years seeing the same faces but once you wear the badge, you start to make conversation. It gets people talking."
"Members ski as often as they can as long as they can. It's all about the pleasure of being in a place they love with like-minded friends - taking time out between runs, and relaxing together while enjoying the surroundings," Brough adds.
The club has a few high profile members including ex-New Zealand ski racer Jean Nelson and prominent UK journalist Arnie Wilson who wear their badges for conversation and ski fun.
Coronet Peak ski ambassador
Les Brough is proud to be Coronet Peak's oldest ski area ambassador. He’s been skiing ‘The Peak’ since it opened in 1947 so in 2012 he'll be lining up for his 65th season.
"I won't ski a lot this year as it’s getting hard for me to get off the chairlifts - except the six-seater. But I'll definitely be there on opening day and will get a few runs in over the season."
An accomplished mountaineer and mountain rescue person in his day, Brough knows the mountain better than most. When he was given a police citation for half a century’s search and rescue work some years ago, he was described as a legend in his own lifetime.
He is also a member of the New Zealand Alpine Ski Club which he joined in 1948, and was awarded honorary status after 50 years membership in 1998.
"There was a group of us who used to do a lot of tramping and mountaineering - then one day someone said ‘let’s go skiing’ and we never stopped."
Coronet Peak is a very different place today to when he first took to the slopes, Brough says. In those days there were no lifts, no machines and very few people.
"We wore our work clothes - lace up work boots, gabardine trousers, probably a checked shirt and oilskin parker. We used socks for gloves - you couldn’t get gloves then - and had bear trap or suicide bindings. Once you were tied into them, you either broke a ski or your leg if there was a problem," Brough recalls.
The veteran skier admits to a few injuries over the years - "Oh you just get up and go back up the mountain - it’s great what they can do for the body these days."
2012 ski season
Sipping a latte or enjoying a gourmet meal in the Peak’s swanky panoramic cafe is also a novel experience compared to the days when the only food available on the mountain was tomato soup and a pie.
"They used to sit the pies under the snow to keep them. Come September they started calling them baby greens."
Getting up the mountain was another issue in the past but Brough now lives in the centre of Queenstown - from there, the mountain is only a NZ$15 return bus fare. Skiers can be up the mountain in about 15 minutes and Brough says the modern Coronet Peak is like an airport with smooth, efficient operation and amazing facilities so getting on the ski run is a breeze.
He reckons that modern equipment and facilities mean that just about anyone can ski these days - though admits that cost can be a consideration.
"The thing is for people over 75 it’s free and quite a lot of us up the Peak are over that. Mind you we’ve worked hard to get there," Brough says.
When the 2012 ski season opens at Coronet Peak (on or just after 9 June), Les Brough will be one of the first in the queue with fellow club members around him.
He reckons the two ski option isn’t worth considering.
Background: Coronet Peak, Queenstown
A 25-minute drive from central Queenstown, Coronet Peak is the first ski area in New Zealand to officially open. Multi-million dollar investments have transformed this much loved mountain into a world-class experience with magnificent views, a stunning base building, great on-mountain facilities and a modern snowmaking system.
Renowned for its roller coaster terrain and interconnected bowls, Coronet Peak offers exhilarating skiing and riding for all levels. A dedicated learner and novice area provides an easy introduction for first timers. Coronet Peak is home to FIS ski racing and winter down-under sees world class athletes regularly training in Rocky Gully.
The day starts early with First Tracks from 8am and on weekends finishes late with Night Skiing on Fridays and Saturdays until 9pm.
Snow sports in New Zealand
Contact: One Ski in the Grave Club
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