Whistler company builds, then rebuilds, N.Z. bike park 

Christchurch Adventure Park was caught up in February blazes

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - REBUILT Whistler's Select Contracts rebuilt the Christchurch Adventure Park after it was severely damaged in wildfires in February.
  • Photo submitted
  • REBUILT Whistler's Select Contracts rebuilt the Christchurch Adventure Park after it was severely damaged in wildfires in February.

To hear Select Contracts CEO Chris Sutton tell it, rebuilding the Christchurch Adventure Park was the easy part.

The New Zealand park had only been officially open for less than two months when wildfires ravaged the area around the park this February. The park reopened earlier this month.

Sutton, who heads up the Whistler-based company, explained the park was in development for roughly five years after being connected with someone who saw a need for such an attraction near the country's third-largest city.

"We had been looking for a site to do a downhill and adventure park for a few years and in 2011, someone local to Christchurch was biking in Whistler and they went to go (ask) Whistler Blackcomb if they could build a bike park in Christchurch," he said. "Whistler Blackcomb didn't want to do that, so they passed it on to me and I had a meeting with the landowner... They were interested in leasing the land to us.

"Then we went through the planning process, which was really challenging."

Because of the project's scope and scale, there was no precedent set elsewhere.

"Obviously, there are bike parks around, but there are none that operate 365 days of the year with lift access," Sutton explained.

After securing the necessary local approvals, the company then required capital, and approvals from New Zealand's overseas investment office.

"Once we got that, we only had eight months left to actually build the thing," Sutton recalled. "It was a crazy busy time. Even on the day of opening, I had my tool belt on (to put the finishing touches) on the retail space."

After opening, 50,000 people came through to experience not only the biking, but ziplining and sightseeing as well.

Then the fires struck.

"(It) started on the back side of the mountain, quite a long way away from the site, and then it just gradually blew in," said Sutton. "They tried to keep it away from the park, but the wind was against us.

"It destroyed the lift, but we managed to save the whole of the base area. We did a couple of slashes, (and) cut the trees out of the way.

"The damage was done to the trees, the trails and the chairlift."

As soon as the fires were contained and the operators regained access to the park in March, the rebuild began. With trees needing felled and much of the work having to be performed in an especially rainy winter season, the reconstruction faced some different challenges. Trees were removed from about 240 of the 365 hectares of land.

Sutton noted that the closure allowed the company to refocus.

"The initial build was so quick... After the park closed in February, it gave us a chance to catch up again and just do all the final little tweaks here and there from the build," he said.

While Sutton is trying to accentuate any positives of the new, treeless, normal at the park — sightseers will have amazing 360-degree views from the top of the Port Hills — there are a number of downsides, especially for bikers.

"It's nice to have those trees because it gives you that sense of speed. It protects you from the wind when you're doing big jumps. It helps protect trails with all the roots in place, and with the rain, the trees help a great deal. With more rain, there's more runoff onto the trails," he said.

Squamish's Ted Tempany is helping to rebuild the trails after being praised for his work the first time, while other builders have re-enlisted as the park seeks to open more sections as the Southern Hemisphere's summer progresses. Sutton noted that builders have to contend with some differences in the land after being beaten down by the inferno initially and later by excavators in the muck, but they hope to recreate, as much as possible, what the park was when it first opened.

Sutton noted the company is currently developing a freeride bike park near Wellington and hopes to build a third near the Bay Area of California.

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