New Year Honours recognise local ski manager, athlete, search and rescue

by Lauren Pattemore - Dec 30, 2023

A ski industry expert, a Wānaka search-and-rescue legend, and a 16-time Ironman champ have all made the New Year 2024 Honours list, representing the Queenstown Lakes. 

Hamish McCrostie

The former ski area manager at Remarkables and Coronet Peak has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to outdoor recreation, and search and rescue. 

He tells Crux he is shocked, stunned and humbled. 

In 1978, Mr McCrostie established the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care training and qualification, holding the pilot training course in Queenstown. This emergency care training is now a prerequisite for all adventure tourism operations in New Zealand. 

The following year he set up the New Zealand Professional Ski Patrol Association.

"When I first started patrolling, there were no qualifications apart from a standard, basic first aid course. And so we set about creating a pathway of qualifications, so we could raise the skill levels of people and a career pathway into the industry."

He says these new qualifications improve the safety of people on the mountain. 

He's a combination of shocked, humbled and stunned - Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit recipient Hamish McCrostie.

He grew up skiing on Coronet Peak, saying this is where his passion for the mountains came from, he then went into ski patrol, and later the role at Remarkables and Coronet Peak, which he held for 17 years. He was also involved in Queenstown Search and Rescue and was an advisor to New Zealand Police for 20 years, ending in 2005.

Mr McCrostie has also made significant contributions to New Zealand's avalanche training programmes. Part of the Avalanche Advisory Committee from 1985 to 2010, he set up a safety training partnership with the Canadian Avalanche Association and oversaw the development of the Mountain Safety Council's national avalanche risk reporting system.

He tells Crux the risk reporting system when he started was an "information exchange" between commercial operators and regional forecasters to produce backcountry reports, but in recent years, it has become an online portal for the general public to view safety reports of New Zealand backcountry.

"I guess the recognition is for the work we did in laying those foundations...and, from there, a new generation comes on board and they have developed it further."

He says these efforts came from a group of people, but he is very humbled to get the accolades. 

"It's never an individual effort."

Aaron Nicholson

The Wānaka local has been awarded the New Zealand order of merit for his services to New Zealand Police, and Search and Rescue. 

Mr Nicholson has managed more than 600 search and rescue operations in Wānaka in his 22-year tenure. 

In the early days of Wānaka's Search and Rescue (SAR), it operated out of the police station garage, and under Mr Nicholson's leadership the SAR had specialist rescue teams for Wānaka's diverse environments: alpine and cliff rescue, swift and water canyon rescue, sub-alpine and bush, and an incident management team. 

Also under his lead, the Wānaka SAR has raised $4 million for building their headquarters, communications and technical equipment, alpine clothing, and volunteer training. 

Wānaka SAR is the only group to be awarded the LandSAR New Zealand Supreme Award three times. 

Aaron Nicholson has managed more than 600 rescues in Wānaka.

Mr Nicholson first joined the police force in 1987 and then moved up to be the Officer in Charge and the Wānaka Search and Rescue co-ordinator from 2000 to 2018. 

Since his retirement in 2018, he is still involved in the local search and rescue as a volunteer, and also as the chair from 2020 to 2023. 

He tells Crux that nothing achieved in SAR is done in isolation, giving a special shout-out to Alan Gillispie, Stu Thorne, Geoff Wayatt, Gary Dickson, Phil Melchior and Bill Day. 

"It's a great big team game; you need good people behind you, beside you and, looking ahead, in front of you, to ensure that great work gets done and there is a lasting legacy."

He says the Wānaka SAR is a great organisation, helping those in those in need in Wānaka's backcountry. 

"What I very much enjoy is the shared ethos in the relentless pursuit of excellence within the group."

Aaron Fleming

The 16-time Ironman finisher and Queenstown resident has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the community and sport. 

Mr Fleming completed his first Ironman in 2006 after experiencing health challenges, a major surgery and years of recovery.

"I had to really focus on my health for a while there, and it's really change my value set in terms of wanting to give back and make a difference...I had a surgeon that told me that I'll never be physically active again. I used those words as motivation to prove him wrong."

While competing, he's raised $40,000 for charity, mostly going towards Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand. Due to his own health challenges, he feels a strong affiliation to the charity, wanting to try and help other younger Kiwis suffering from lung complaints.

He also connects with young people by speaking at schools, sharing some of "the tough life lessons that I had to learn".

Mr Fleming was also involved in the suicide-prevention programme the Lowdown Project.

Told by his doctor he'd never do competitive sports again, Aaron Fleming has since completed 16 Ironman events.

In 2008, he published his book, 'Purpose', hoping to share his story with others, and in the same year co-founded the Trash to Fashion Charitable Trust and the annual wearable arts event ReStyle. 

He's advocated for multiple environmental and sustainability initiatives, becoming a board member for Go Eco (Waikato Environment Centre) and establishing Kaivolution, a food rescue service which redistributes food to feed families in Hamilton. 

His love for nature and the outdoors has brought him to Queenstown, working as the South Island's director for the Department of Conservation. 

On his mission to restore himself to good health, he began to appreciate the positive impact being outdoors can have on wellbeing, and since then he's "followed where my values took me". 

"I absolutely love making a difference to the backyard that Queenstown and Wānaka."

He says what others around the region love to enjoy, he gets to call work, and that "just incredible". 

He's completed an Ironman in every continent except South America, but he's looking towards that in the horizon; afterwards, he's hoping for an invitation to the world champs. 

The award came as a surprise and honour to Mr Fleming, and he says there's been a lot of support. 

"So many people have been behind me and in my corner, or beside beside-tables in hospitals, at finish lines, at start lines...none of these things has been me on my own."

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