John Lee of the Cardrona Valley
Photographs by Stephen Jaquiery
Published by Random House NZ; July 1, 2016; RRP: $50
“John’s story is one to inspire others. It’s a story
of a man with a vision, and the strength of personality and the strong
relationships with others to make it happen. It’s a Kiwi story of
determination of which we can all be proud.” –
Helen Clark, Former Prime
Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008).
John Lee has always been a law unto himself.
Entrepreneurial, inventive, determined, he
hailed from a farming background in the
Cardrona Valley; the third of five boys. Schooled
in Oamaru, the young John Lee was no fan of the
classroom – he was good at maths, but
struggled with words– preferring to spend his
time dreaming about the day he would farm
in his beloved Cardrona Valley.
What grew from John Lee’s humble childhood
dream is an extraordinary, pioneering New
Zealand enterprise. The story behind Lee’s
passion and vision for turning a remote Central
Otago valley into a thriving settlement and
tourist destination, is inimitably Kiwi in its audacity,scope and can-do spirit.
The Snow Farmer tells the rollicking adventure story
that is John Lee’s life. A visionary
par excellence, Lee’s mantra has always been to
build it first, answer questions later. Farming in the Cardrona Valley, Lee saw families moving
out of the valley, threatening the viability of the school bus. His answer? An opportunity to
enliven the valley by developing a commercial ski field, ignoring geography and bureaucracy to
make it happen. His enthusiasm for the project and ability to inspire others, brought people
and money to the table, enabling Lee to breathe new life into the valley and rescue it back
from the brink.
The Cardrona Valley of today is world-class
tourist destination for Olympic skiers, international and domestic adventure travellers. Having also
saved the iconic Cardrona Hotel from dereliction, preserving it until a suitable
purchaser could be found, he turned his energy into the Snow Farm cross-country ski area. From here,
he created an opportunity
for the Pisa Range to be developed as a cold product testing
ground. With his intrepid and supportive wife Mary, this entrepreneurial visionary opened his
slice of the Pisa Range to international tyre and car developers with ice tracks and snow roads
for development and safety testing of motor vehicles; the first of its kind in the southern
hemisphere. More recently, with son Sam, they developed the world’s first dedicated terrain
John Lee was honoured this year with a CNZM
(Companion of the New Zealand Order of
Merit) for his services to business and
tourism. His story is one of a quiet achiever, a humble man who flies under the radar but who has
brought adventure tourism to so many.
The Snow Farmer is a stand-out book about a Kiwi
legend. Written by esteemed
journalist Sally Rae, the book is complemented by Stephen
Jaquiery’s stunning photographs.
John and Mary Lee will
be talking to Kim Hill this Saturday morning and look for an
interview with John in
he Listener. Author Sally Rae is attending the launch in
tomorrow night and The Bookman hopes to have a report on the event.