New Zealand’s Canterbury area has been keeping a secret. The region’s numerous and friendly club ski fields are the perfect place to find adventure on the snow without breaking the bank. ANDREW WESTBROOK ruins it for the locals, despite fearing for his nuts… I’m handed the details of my trip and look down puzzled. At the top, in shiny red letters, is the word “Christchurch”. “Er, is there still anything there?” I ask hesitantly. I’m met with a stony silence, but it’s a fair enough question. The city, the biggest on New Zealand’s South Island, endured a massive earthquake just over a year ago. Miraculously, the Canterbury capital survived largely unscathed. That is until another monster quake hit in February this year, much nearer the centre, leaving large parts of the city as rubble. Since then, despite green shoots, opportunistic suburbs thriving and plans for a completely redeveloped CBD, a fair chunk of the centre – the elusive Red Zone – has remained out of bounds to mere civvies as, one by one, the remaining buildings are made safe or demolished. But I’m not heading to Canterbury for a natural disaster tour it turns out, hell no. I’m hitting the snow. While many of the South Island’s big, commercial ski resorts are further west, looking down on Queenstown and Wanaka, Christchurch, it seems, has been keeping a secret. In New Zealand, you see, there’s a thriving community of ski clubs offering access to snow fields on a no frills, cheap and friendly basis. There are just 10 of these so-called club ski fields dotted around the country, and seven of them happen to be within an hour or two of the Garden City. And the good news is that it’s not too late to check them out this year, as the snow season goes well into October. But more on them shortly, as my first stop is Porters, a swift 90km drive from the airport. Boasting a trio of t-bar lifts and terrain for every level, Porters is the perfect place to get your snow legs back. Porters might be more commercial than the sociable club fields, but the neighbours’ friendliness seems to have worn off, as this is no faceless resort. And soon enough I’m booted up and hitting the slopes, carving some white lines. The clear air, spacious snow and lack of lift queues means I’m swiftly back in the swing. Too much perhaps, as a crunching fall from a way-too-cocky attempt at a jump leaves me reeling. The surroundings might be breathtaking, but not as much as my lack of skills it seems. A few more runs to get my confidence back, however, and I decide it’s time to go clubbing. After stopping for the night, and soaking up some local Rugby World Cup fever, at the Flock Hill Lodge in the heart of clubland, I head back off the main road and onto the gravel. Soon I’m winding my way back up the mountain roads towards Broken River. I reach a half-full car park and pull up, wondering what’s next. That’s when I see the cable car. As Yazz once sang, “the only way is up”, so in I jump with my bags, skis and boots and press the green button, which sends me soaring up into the trees with a shudder. Once settled into my bunkroom at the lodge, I waste no time in making my way up to the slopes. “Hang on a sec,” I’m asked. “Have you ever used a rope pull before… or a nutcracker?” “Err, no…” I reply hesitantly, trepidation increasing as I accept an extra glove and tow-belt with metal “nutcracker” attached. “Okay, I’ll send someone up with you.” Now, I’d been asked this several times over the previous couple of days, and I’d never really got to the bottom of what a nutcracker was. However, judging by the wry smiles whenever I questioned it, I’d been nurturing a growing concern. After all, how the hell was I going to get up the slopes without a chairlift, t-bar, even a button lift? And I didn’t even want to think about what a nutcracker was.