Snow on the Alps

In March 1878, the Evening Echo received an anonymous letter from someone under the pseudonym “Utile Dulci” complaining that there was not enough to do in Ashburton during the winter.

“Sir, – The long winter evenings are now drawing upon us, and I have observed that Ashburton is particularly barren of anything in the shape of recreation of a superior order wherewith to while away some of the winter hours. Is there no public-spirited gentleman in the neighbourhood qualified to take the initiative in the formation of a music class as the nucleus of a Choral Society? I am sure that such an institution would be beneficial to many, and doubtless in time a concert or two would be given in aid of one or other of the public institutions of the town. This is merely a suggestion, but trusting that it will be acted upon, I remain, etc., Utile Dulci.”

Thankfully, we are now living in a time where there is much more to do during the winter, as we are virtually spoiled for choice when it comes to activities involving the great outdoors, or the world wide web.

For many of us, winter is a time of shivering through our time spent outside, finding refuge in a cosy blanket and a hot drink whenever we have a minute to relax.

We may sometimes find it hard to muster up the will to leave the house on a cold morning, dreading to check whether the car windscreen has iced over or not, but winter is a great time of year despite all its downsides.

Stark or scenic?

Winter can present us with some breath-taking sights across the district.

Some may call snow-covered paddocks and foggy hills drab or depressing, but there is something truly special about the big difference winter makes to our scenery.

The sight of snow on the mountains every morning can be an extraordinary sight, but across the district heavy snowfall has proven a practical nuisance in the past, and still can today.

The snows of early July 1918 proved particularly tough, as described by a number of contemporary accounts from the Ashburton Guardian at the time.

According to the Guardian, on the morning of the 1st of July the snow fell particularly towards the hills, and was piled up to 12 inches on top of the Springburn train’s carriages.

The snow was 18 inches thick at Springburn, 12 inches at Mt. Somers, and 14-16 inches at Staveley that morning.

The next day, phenomenal winter weather had been reported across Canterbury, with snow piling up to 4 foot deep in places.

The train from Springburn had considerable difficulty that day – it was meant to arrive in Ashburton at 9.15 in the morning, but ended up arriving at 4 in the afternoon amid cheers from a number of railway employees on the platform.

According to the guard, the first challenge of the morning was getting the engine out of the shed at Springburn, as the doors were blocked by a 5 foot drift of snow.

Progress was slow throughout the day, and several stops had to be made to clear the path.

The train left Ashburton at 5 in the afternoon, arriving back at Springburn only two and a half hours later.

Despite all the difficulty many may face working in industry, farming, and other sectors, no one can deny that winter can still be a beautiful time of year.

By Connor Lysaght

This article was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 23rd of June 2020 and was modified for this blog.


  1. View of Aorangi and Hooker Glacier, across from where Hooker Lake is now situated following its formation in the late 1970s.
  2. Methven under two feet of snow, June 30th 1943.
  3. Springburn train in the July 1st snowfall of 1918.

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