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Expanded Ski Area Proposed For Porters

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Expanded Ski Area Proposed For Porters

The owners of Porters Ski Area near Christchurch have confirmed they are seeking approvals and consents to expand and upgrade the ski area, and to build a small, year-round resort village at its foot.

Porters Ski Area, the closest ski area to Christchurch, was bought by Sydney and Christchurch family interests for redevelopment in January 2007, after approval by the Overseas Investment Office.

The ski area was founded in the 1960s by local skiing enthusiasts including the Coberger and Willis families and is currently serviced by three T-bar lifts, beginners' facilities and new cafe, and running at about 30,000 skier days a year.

Managing Director of Porters Ski Area Ltd Michael Sleigh, of Christchurch, said Porters had been in talks for several months with the Department of Conservation about proposals to expand the ski area and to acquire about 21 hectares of freehold land at the foot of the ski area.

The freehold land was needed to allow conventional title-based financing for the project and without it, the project could not proceed.

"When we bought the ski area we knew it needed a substantial upgrade and we've invested about $1.2 million on a new cafe, toilets, a snowgroomer and snow guns," said Mr Sleigh.

"We also commissioned a Canadian firm of ski area and resort planners to show us what might be achieved at Porters if it was expanded into the neighbouring Crystal Valley," said Mr Sleigh (pron. Slee)

"This was on the basis of progressively installing modern lifts to service the expanded ski area and building a small, year-round resort village, similar to smaller popular family ski resort areas in many parts of Canada that have a European flavour.

"These villages have a modest number of year-round beds and services to support the ski area and provide a base for summer family activities like mountain-biking and hiking.

"With environmental planners Boffa Miskell we had set out to ensure the proposed expanded ski area and resort village would have as small a carbon footprint as possible, and to help our customers achieve the same.

"Even so, we knew we would have to show a stand-alone substantial net gain for the conservation estate before DoC could even consider freeholding the 21 hectares," said Mr Sleigh.

After a careful year-long search around Canterbury, the partners identified the little-known 15-hectare Lords Bush Reserve near Springfield which held a remnant of the original native forest that once covered the Plains.

"We bought the neighbouring farmlet and put a proposal to DoC to exchange about 15-hectares to make a viable 30-hectare forest regeneration project that the ski area would seek to undertake in the long-term, with the support of skiers and the local community, through an environmental trust.

"This would be in addition to a substantial beech forest replanting project in and around the proposed new ski area and resort village," said Mr Sleigh.

In a recent public presentation to the Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board, Mr Sleigh had said that so far there had been an encouraging response from DoC to the freeholding proposal and he was hopeful of reaching an agreement".

Talks were also proceeding with DoC about expanding the ski area into the neighbouring Crystal Valley, which was larger, sunnier, had a longer ski season, and had better skiing for family intermediate skiers than the Porters Basin. (When looking up to the existing ski area, Crystal Valley is to the right).

If approvals and local authority consents were gained, the expanded ski area would be about the size of Cardrona or Mt Hutt, with snow-making on all main trails and with modern lifts including a gondola rising from within the proposed year-round village resort.

"As a gondola lift goes, it's not a long run to the top of Crystal Valley and gondola access to the ski area and snowmaking on main trails would mean we would no longer need the mountain access road, reducing even further our carbon footprint," said Mr Sleigh.

"Skiers would have a straight run on sealed roads to the carparks from Christchurch and the airport. However, we're taking just one step at a time and have got a lot of planning work to do before we're in a position to be applying for local authority consents."

Mr Sleigh said that if the current early concepts came to fruition, a ski area and year-round resort village of this kind would generate about 400 seasonal jobs and about 35 permanent jobs.

"By and large, responsibly managed ski areas are seen as benefiting a community but they do need to earn the support of their community which I think Porters has done to date.

"We need to stress we are a quite a way off putting forward any proposals to our local and wider community for them to consider.

"There is of course an emphasis on the ski area development. But the key to the project's success is the year-round operation of the proposed Green Star-standard small resort village as an accommodation centre for additional outdoor family activities like mountain biking and hiking.

The expanded ski area would also be a "mothership" for the nearby club ski fields, and their unique skiing and accommodation opportunities would be promoted at Porters, reflecting Porters' long-time commitment to club skiing.

"What makes Porters special is its friendly, family atmosphere based on the club skiing philosophy and we'll never do anything to compromise that," said Mr Sleigh.

The three families involved in Porters Ski Area Ltd are the Sleigh family of Sumner, Christchurch and the Harvey and Bull families of Sydney.

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