Learning to Ski in New Zealand

Skiing. I had done it on the water with fat skis that would wiggle and jump and sometimes pitch me face first into the water. I had seen it on TV, with skiers launching themselves into scary heights hoping their strapped-in ankles wouldn’t snap like dry twigs upon landing. And I’d heard about it from friends, and there was never a shortage of stories involving a million scrapes, breaks, and hospital stays. Heading to NZ with a bag stuffed full of retro gear, and a helmet my mum bought me because she doesn’t want to have to feed me in a vegetative state for the rest of my years, I was a pretty excited. Having been to NZ twice already, I was looking forward to exploring the snowy tops, and the slippery slopes, all with my brain safely encased in my super cool (dorky) helmet.

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I’ve written about Queenstown before, but it really is a veritable paradise marred only by a few patches of red-wine tinged vomit outside of Fergburger in the morning. For those that love a little hustle and bustle, warm chocolate chip cookies, and photogenic walking tracks to limp around after a long day of skiing, you can’t go past Q-town for the perfect Southern Hemisphere skiing jaunt. With three ski fields a short drive away and another a little further out, you’re spoiled for places to strap on the skis. Having made no concrete plans, despite spending months glued to snow cams and weather forecasts, it turned out to be the easiest thing in the world to book a ski pass and transport the night before- they’ll even pick your lazy (sore) bones up at your hostel or hotel.

Having pestered every person in Queenstown- seriously, here’s a formal apology to all the sales people we held hostage for answers- about which ski field was best for beginners, we settled on spending the first two days at Cardrona Alpine Resort.

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Let’s talk about access roads for a minute, shall we?
Unlike the Northern Hemisphere where you can basically ski out of your bed, NZ’s ski fields are privately owned and perched in the tops of the island’s mountains. This means that for a day on the slopes you’re going to have to do some serious upwards driving to get anywhere with snow. When I say upwards, I do mean upwards. You’re on a bus with a stack of sleepy snow bros and gals. The coach starts climbing a dusty, unsealed road. Oh look, this road has no edge. Oh funny, I’m so cool and casual that there is a 1000ft drop with no guard rail. Is that a Boeing 747 down below us? Yes, I believe it is. How do I feel about dying today? Yeah, I’m okay with it. My obituary will say something like “She died doing what she loved.” It’s not a bad day to be made into bus mince meat. Good. Access roads make me want to poop my pants.

As much as access roads are scary, skiing is excellent. It also hurts a lot when you say hello to a patch of ice with your butt. Chair lifts? I’ve never known a chair to chuck me off down a slippery slope with an out-of-control learner grasping at the closest thing (me) as they careen towards their own icy butt patch. And when you think you’re ready to move onto more advanced blue slopes after three days. You’re bloody not! Keep on the green unless you want to find yourself filling you ski goggles with tears and having to be guided down the mountain by a kindly New Zealander. When the ski rental person asks you at the end of the day why your goggles are so damp, blame it on the sweat (ahem, what kind of giant baby cries on the slopes).img_5387DCIM100GOPROGOPR1522.

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Strapping on the skis for the first time
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first day at Cardrona had my slightly sadistic Czech ski instructor strapping on one ski and asking our group to hobble around in a circle “to get used to how it feels.” Well, it feels like I’ve got one ski on and am being forced to jog around in about five layers of thermal clothing. Sweaty, it feels sweaty. After graduating to two skis, and giggling at the poor sod who kept threatening to switch to snowboarding because it “seems easier”, Mr Czech pushed me down a little hill to the applause of a bemused crowd and Voila! I could ski.

Graduating to the nursery slope, I immediately stuck my poles into the magic carpet lift causing everybody to buckle at the ankles like immobile little dominoes (sorry). After a morning of gradual levelling up and learning how to do a pretty serious snowplough stop, we were ready for the mountain.

Heading up the mountain with some pretty hardcore images playing through my head of shooting spread eagle off a cliff when I forget how to snowplough, the view opened up before me, and I promptly forgot all lessons in awe. Snowplough, what’s that? And then I was going downhill, and skiing became something I could add to my mental list of “things I can do okay”.

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And it all goes downhill from there. Literally.
The next couple of days were spent euphoric skiing-induced bliss. I tore up the Cardrona slopes, learnt how to do a shaky parallel turn, and perfected a nonchalant exit off the chair lift. One day saw us skiing in a bit of slush up at the Remarkables (the Remarks, as the cool kids call it), confidence was way high with only a few snow-cushioned falls that left me with a mouthful of snow and a belly full of laughs. In what I like to call “the glory days” of our ski trip, I was flying high, confidence levels were skyrocketing, and ambitious plans of doing a whole season sprung up.

And then came the fall.
Buoyed with the confidence of three very successful days of skiing, my sister and I decided to tackle a slightly harder slope for the reason that Captain’s, Cardrona’s popular pizza restaurant, was at the bottom. Now there’s a real obituary – “girl dies in pursuit of some delicious pizza.” It became immediately apparent that the slope was a lot steeper, and narrower, than what we had been on.

With no way out but down, I waved my sister forward and told her that I would meet her at Captains. Five minutes later, I was flat on my back staring up at the sky, skies and legs in an unsolvable pretzel, and the air punched out of my lungs by way of my back. And boy, was I stuck. Trying to pop my ski off was impossible, my limbs just wouldn’t untwist, and the slippery patch of ice that had become my new place to lounge wasn’t letting me get up.

Luckily, a sweet South-African boy popped along and together we struggled to get the ski off my foot. Unluckily, all my previous confidence was gone. Snow plough? I couldn’t even stand in my skis without quaking with fear that I was going to wreck my body on a patch of ice again. Crying like a baby, I sat on that slope for close to an hour before a kindly lady taught me how to ski again and helped me make it down the run. Let’s just say; the pizza was not worth it.

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And like any fall, it took a while to get back up
The next day of skiing spent at the very not-great-for-beginners ski field, Treble Cone, wasn’t great. I cried, again. I joked that this felt like the rock bottom of my new affair with skiing, but if it was the bottom at least I wouldn’t have had to ski downhill anymore- It was the rock top. And so back to the nursery slopes I went where I parallel turned, snowploughed, carved (?) and zoomed past the learners in glee as I built my confidence back up again. It was only as the bus was rolling up that I dragged myself off the slope.

Skiing, would I do it again?
Yes, I most definitely would! I loved every moment I wasn’t on my back like dying cockroach.

As always, I wasn’t paid or sponsored for anything! Have you been skiing in New Zealand? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below. 

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2 thoughts on “Learning to Ski in New Zealand

  1. I would love to go skiing! It souds fun and every thing with snow gets me excited, must be because I am from a tropical country, I don’t know. Nice story and it made me wanna try skiing in NZ one day

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