Celebrating 70 years of Coronet Peak
Happy Birthday Coronet Peak - 70 years!
This weekend celebrates the 70th Birthday of one of New Zealand’s most iconic ski resorts. Coronet Peak, less that 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown, was the first commercial ski field in New Zealand, the first to offer night skiing and today has the most extensive snow making facilities in the Southern Hemisphere.
So to celebrate here is our little recap on some of the history of Coronet Peak.
The growth of tourism not only in Queenstown, but also New Zealand, can be almost solely attributed to a man by the name of Rudolph Wigley. Wigley was the first person to take a car into Mount Cook and subsequently he established the Mount Cook Group as Australasia's first bus company (as well as mail delivery company). He took over the Hermitage hotel at Mount Cook from the government, expanding it and developing the region into a mountain climbing and tourism mecca. He also was part of the Tongariro Chateau development and bought hotels in Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown.
As his sons Henry and Alexander became involved in business they expanded the empire working to improve roading and bridges on the key tourists routes. By the 1940s Wigley’s Mount Cook Motor Company had started brining people in cars to the Southern Lakes via Lindis Pass road. Ironically the Lakes County Council tried to stop the arrival of motor cars in Queenstown by banning “any vehicle propelled by it’s own power” from a critical two mile stretch along Frankton Road (same problems we have today). The Wigleys overcame this by hiring horse men to pull the cars and passengers over that section. After WW1 he purchase 5 surplus British aircraft and formed the NZ Aero Transport company which was the precursor to Mount Cook Airlines - the trailblazer for New Zealand tourism air industry.
Rudolph’s son Henry flew for the small associated Queenstown - Mount Cook Airways Limited and often spent the weekend taking locals for joyrides. In 1947 Henry “Harry” Wigley developed Coronet Peak using a rope tow made by his mate Bill Hamilton - founder of the Hamilton jet. Harry was a keen skier and member of the NZ Ski team and he also developed Lake Ohau skifield (which was near another of his fathers acquisitions - Huxley Station).
The original Coronet Peak rope tow was established in what today is known as carpark 7 (where the buses are parked are primarily parked) and was joined by a “cafe” known as the Pie Palace for it’s pie warmers. After a couple of particularly lean years the rope town was moved to where the base building is today and up to half way up the mountain to where today the main reservoir is - known as the Elephant Pit.
Over the next few years Harry establish two more rope tows including one to the top which was notorious for it’s huge dips that would leave people literally hanging in mid air. One particular story involves two ladies that were left hanging attached to the nutcracker tow when the lift stopped. The only way down was for them to remove their pants and lower themselves. The lift started and the ladies subsequently arrived at the top with their pants around their ankles.
Today Coronet Peak has over 220 snow guns providing almost guaranteed snow from June through to early October, boasts the longest ski days in New Zealand from first tracks to night skiing and regularly hosts over 4,000 skiers a day from all over the world. At a height of only 1,647 meters it is not the highest skilled around by any stretch but locals and visitors alike all agree it has one of most interesting fall lines and array of different runs for every level of skier. It is often predicted that Queenstown will experience a significant earthquake in the next 50 to 100 years - our hope is that it increases Coronet Peak’s height by another 1,000 metres - ha ha!