One giant park
Few people outside of New Zealand know of the park skier and rider's paradise called Snow Park NZ. The entire resort is a dedicated terrain park boasting a 22-foot halfpipe, quarterpipe, bag jump and playground of jumps rails, boxes and wall rides in the Cardrona Valley of New Zealand's South Island.
Founded in 2002 by John and Mary Lee, a South Island farming couple, Snow Park NZ has been a major training and competing ground for the likes of Tom Wallisch, Kaya Turski, Tanner Hall, Anna Segal, Russ Henshaw, Bobby Brown, Jossi Wells and more. It's the host mountain for contests such as the recent Burton New Zealand Open, Billabong Bro Down and the upcoming North Face Freeski Open of New Zealand.
The resort was traditionally the project of the Lee's eldest son, Sam Lee, born into a ski- and snow-obsessed family who have spent the past 20 years running Snow Farm Nordic skiing resort, their "other" snow project also in the Cardrona Valley.
Sam put Snow Park NZ on the pros' map and opened the doors on a 50-bed backpacking lodge and a series of luxury on-snow apartments in 2006, enabling riders and skiers to sleep where they train. Prior to this, skiers and boarders in New Zealand have traditionally stayed in Wanaka and driven to the resort daily.
The resort has night riding three times a week and future plans include putting a gondola from the Crown Range main road in the valley to the base lodge.
All the big action sports brands have filmed and shot catalogues or hosted events at Snow Park NZ from Quiksilver to Billabong, Roxy to Burton, Oakley to Armada. Armada founding skier J.P. Auclair is an official international ambassador for the park.
The pro reputation of Snow Park may have been too intimidating for some regular skiers and riders to make the resort viable, so the Lee family put their business on the market in 2008 for a rumored $30 million.
Enter Sean and Robin Synnott, who together with Sam Lee created a triumvirate and formed Alpine Ventures, which took on the lease of Snow Park from the Lee family. Sam has since parted ways with the Synnotts, who now exclusively look after Snow Park NZ.
"I loved the idea of keeping the Snow Park dream alive," says Robin, a Boston-bred American married to Kiwi Sean. "It has so much to offer international riders but it also develops local riders to an international level."
Whenever I have trained [at Snow Park NZ] I have found myself seriously stepping up. When you have the likes of Bobby Brown and friends watching you from above, you have to.” -- Anna Segal
Robin employed John Melville from Development Snowparks, the name behind the Global Cutter that cuts 13-, 15-, 18- and 22-foot pipes. They were responsible for the pipe at the Vancouver Olympics and have been the sole designers of Snow Park NZ terrain for the past two years.
FIS Slopestyle Ski world champion and X Games medalist Anna Segal has trained and competed in the NZ Freeski Open at Snow Park.
"The vibe at Snow Park has always been fantastic," Segal says of the training facility that often hosts DJs to spin tunes on the deck. "There's one chairlift and everyone watches from the chair, which means you have to be seriously on your game. Whenever I have trained there I have found myself seriously stepping up. When you have the likes of Bobby Brown and friends watching you from above, you have to."
The beauty of Snow Park NZ is its reliability. Whether it's blessed with natural snow or forced to make its own, the design team works constantly to keep the terrain interesting and challenging for the advanced and expert skiers, but also non-intimidating for beginners.
"The market definitely has to be broadened from just pro riders," Robin says. "But you can be sharing the slopes and the chair with the best riders and skiers in the world."