Snowmaker travels the world


A “bit of luck” has taken Ohau Snow Fields snowmaker Craig Ovenden to three Winter Olympics.

For someone who did not ski until he was 19 years old, the sport has taken him all over the world, making snow at some of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Originally from the lower North Island, Mr Ovenden started off his snowmaking career at Porters Ski Area, near Christchurch, in 1991.

A diesel mechanic by trade, Mr Ovenden has been employed at Ohau Snow Fields as a manager since 2003.

He has been instrumental in attracting the US Ski Team to Ohau and preparing the courses for them.

His first big break came in 1998, when was working in Japan for a World Cup event before the Nagano Winter Olympics. The contractor he was working for was also involved with the Winter Olympics, so Mr Ovenden stayed on for the main event.

Another connection made in New Zealand led to him work at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 and the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018, as well as other seasons spent on slopes all over the world.

“Korea was a brand new venue, so it wasn’t like at a ski resort where you have to close runs off and try and maintain a commercial operation,” he said.

“It was built specifically for two races and I believe they are going to tear it down.”

He was also involved in test events for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, but did not work at the main event.

The International Ski Federation was “stoked” with the snowmaking at last year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics, so Mr Ovenden said he was likely to spend the next three New Zealand summers in Bejing to help prepare for the 2022 Winter Olympics there.

Working at the Winter Olympics was full-on, with huge investments, he said.

“The snow-making system in Russia was the biggest on the planet when they built it and the one for the Chinese venue is apparently bigger than that again.

“It was negative 26 [degC], you could just point a garden hose and it would make snow.”

Once the courses were created, the snowmakers largely stayed off them, unless there was a large dumping of snow.

“Generally then, they’ll shovel it off the raceline and then we deal with it one way or another.

“When the races are on, some of us have to be there ready to jump on a machine for whatever reason, so we stage groomers up and down the course, but you can go and watch the race from wherever it is on the course you are at.

“There are people around all the time checking the snow is packed tight to a depth of half a metre.”

Mr Ovenden said he had not had to deal with any major issues yet and, given the scale of the events, he was keen to keep it that way.

“Getting paid to sit around and watch ski-racing, it’s pretty good.”

Big toys . . . The Pisten Bully 400w at the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
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