Broken River is a small club field in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island, around 90 minutes west of Christchurch (100km). It is run and maintained by a dedicated group of around 400 members from around Canterbury, New Zealand and Australia and is run on a not-for-profit basis.
The result is a very close knit community of families and back country enthusiasts. As a seasonal worker here you sign up to be a part of this small community and a part of those who like to get away from the commercial resorts. There are only around 7 or 8 paid seasonal staff each season in addition to a number of volunteers.
Day to day management is the responsibility of the mountain manager with oversight by a operations committee of club members.
Access to the hill is via the Tyndall Tramway – this is a 4 minute tram rail ride up through the native beech forest to the base where you can find the accommodation lodges and the ticket office. You need a car to get to Broken River; there is no public transport to get there.
There are two main bowls at Broken River - Broken River Basin and Alan’s Basin. It is not really a mountain for beginners, although a few do come and work at Broken River each season.
Broken River is much more about the hiking into the back country and finding great off-piste powder stashes. The ski area is surrounded by a number of peaks which are great to hike and to find nice chutes and steep terrain. Seasonal staff spend virtually all their time hiking and looking for fresh powder and new, interesting lines down the peaks.
Alan’s Basin is the most popular place to go in Broken River for off-piste riding within the resort boundary. There are a number of crisp lines to take through the rocks surrounded by virtually no-one. You get up via the Ridge Tow and pop over the back.
You can also use your skins and go towards Mt Cheeseman which offers some nice terrain. Around 40 minutes’ tour away is Craigieburn ski area, which is across Hamilton Peak outside the resort boundary. Remember your avalanche gear if going into the back country.
All the lifts are rope tows and involve a contraption called a ‘nutcracker’. This is a little clip that you buckle into and it pulls you up the mountain. You need to wear a ‘tow belt’ to ride these. Lift lines are virtually nil at most times. Glove savers are also a good idea as otherwise your gloves will get shredded over the season by the tows.
There is now a small terrain park at Broken River with a few rails. But park is not what it’s about here. There is also a good telemark community at Broken River.
The bowls at Broken River protect the snow quite well from the prevailing winds with the result that Broken River can have one of the longest seasons in New Zealand even in low snow years.
There are only a very few paid positions at the hill - around 7 or 8. These include: mountain manager; ski patrol; administration manager; ski instructor; groomer driver; maintenance; chef; and admin and lodge assistant.
There are also volunteer positions available each season which may include snow shovelling, ticket office, assisting the chef and cleaning duties. You will be asked to help for around 3 to 4 hours a day and in return you get free food, board and a ski pass.
Members also frequently assist with other tasks as required.
While you will ostensibly take on one job at Broken River, the reality is with such a small number of staff you will basically end up doing a bit of everything, so versatility and a willingness to pitch in is essential. For example, the chef may occasionally watch the tow or work the canteen. During busy times, you can work up to six days a week.
It is usually an awesome crew at Broken River, though it can get stressful given there are usually more tasks than people. The upshot is that you get a diverse range of ski area work and experience during the season.
There are reciprocal pass deals with some other club fields in the area.
You are required to commit for the full season. Interviews are usually held in Christchurch.
Broken River will assist in obtaining work visas for some positions (in particular the ski instructor role). See Work a Winter Season in New Zealand for advice on getting a working holiday visa to NZ.
Staff are mostly New Zealanders each season, but with a significant number of overseas staff as well – from the USA, Canada, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Australia in recent seasons.
All staff live at Custodian’s Hut which is a small, cosy hut located up on the hill above the guest accommodation. Normally, each staff member gets his or her own room. There is a lounge room and a common area.
Food is included in the price for staff accommodation - a big bonus if you are keen to maximise your time on the slopes.
Being with such a small group of people comes with obvious challenges during the season so you should be comfortable living in a close-knit environment. You also eat with lodge guests and need to chip in with chores each evening. However, the atmosphere is for the most part super chilled.
The Custodian’s Hut is about the only option for staff aside from Castle Hill village which is around 8km away. Castle Hill has a few places to rent, though there is no shopping in Castle Hill. You may be able to find places on the Castle Hill website. See www.castlehill.net.nz/village/rental_houses
Flock Hill Station is a little bit further on and is a good place for an occasional beer. There are a few backpackers here. Arthur's Pass, nearby, only has a small lodge.
The Tyndall Tramway only runs between 8:30-11:30am and 3:30-5:30pm though you are able to walk up to the base which takes around 15 minutes.
With such a small crew, a season at Broken River is not really about the nightlife. You can go down to Flock Hill Station (Flockers) for a few beers. Staff are encouraged to get off the hill, lest they go too stir crazy, as much as possible.
You can expect a quiet season in terms of nightlife at Broken River. Instead, staff love getting outdoors, getting up early and getting in as much powder and backcountry riding as possible!