Last weekend the South Island of New Zealand was hit with some pretty severe weather. Actually that is probably a bit of an understatement… Shit got wild! A huge storm came down the east coast ravaging everything in its path and putting most of Otago (the county I now call home) into an official state of emergency. The Techbox store in Timaru had to be closed due to all of the flooding outside as the petrol station across the road from it ended up underwater by quite a considerable amount. Luckily (and I am not sure quite how) our store survived unscathed with water lapping up against the door but not quite making its way inside. Further down in Dunedin panic was setting in and people were sandbagging their front doors and preparing for the worst… I on the other hand was completely oblivious to any of this starting to happen and instead was focused 100% on going away to Wanaka to try out Snowboarding for the first time in my life in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been.
I was fortunate enough to get off work early on Friday and picked up Lisa before making our way inland to Wanaka where we would be staying for a few days during our trip. A few people did question our decision to travel during the storm (which at that point was just a little rain in Dunedin) but we headed out anyway and took a steady drive. Luck again was on our side and our drive into Central Otago was completely uneventful! Apart from a little rain things actually cleared up about half way there and the rain came in again when we finally arrived in Wanaka so we thought that everything was just a little over hyped by the media. It wasn’t until we sat down in a restaurant for dinner and overheard someone on the phone talking about a big power outage in Cromwell and how bad the weather was in Dunedin that we thought we best check up on things a little more.
I happen to live on a hill and our landlord put in new drainage in the summer to keep everything clear so had nothing to worry about, Lisa on the other hand lives on the flat in an area of reclaimed land that is quite notorious for flooding so was a little more worried than I was. She had already prepared by moving all her things off of the floor and onto the bed just in case things took a turn for the worse which thankfully never quite eventuated. The back garden did eventually turn into a small lake but her bunnies were nice and safe in the top floor of their hutch tucked up nice and warm so all was well there.
After a night of restless sleep we were up bright and early to head to the mountain only to find out that due to some fresh snowfall overnight there would be delays in things opening. The power outage had also affected the Ski resort causing multiple ski lifts to be offline due to them not all having independent generators to power them. For us, none of this really mattered anyway as it just meant time to get a coffee first things and a leisurely start to the morning.
The drive to the entrance of Cardrona was nice and simple as its pretty much flat but after you enter the gates is where the real fun starts. Since I didn’t have any snow chains for the truck we had to leave it at the bottom and go up on one of the shuttle buses that they have running there which was quite an experience. The road up the mountain is steep, windy, and covered in snow and the fog kept on rolling in dropping the viability to just a few feet at times. When the fog did clear for a moment though the view was epic, looking down on all the snow-capped hills and mountains across the valley was simply stunning.
For a first timer at a Ski resort I expected to be a little lost and confused but things turned out to be much simpler than expected. The evening before we had gone into the Cardrona ticket office in Wanaka where they had sorted out our RFID cards and tickets for our first timer package which then saved us time when we got to the top. Instead of more queueing at the ticket office onsite we instead headed straight to the rental section to grab our gear and get ready. Grabbing boots and getting fitted for the snowboards couldn’t have been easier and only took us a few mins before we had all our gear and were set to head outside for our first timer beginner lesson. One quick beep of the card and there we have it, snowboarding boots. Another beep, and there is a board to go with them. Beep! Now I have a helmet and some gloves, quick and easy, just how I like it. We didn’t need to rent any snow clothing as I had borrowed some from my friend Jazz and Lisa borrowed some bits from her bother and already has a range of snowboarding jackets that looks like normal coats (she knows how to be warm and look fashionable!).
As we trudged outside into the snow and wind with our boards under our arms both of us were getting quite excited and I felt like a little kid that couldn’t want to get going! Without having to venture too far we found our instructor for the day, a nice Scottish guy called Rob, who was going to teach our little group the ropes. I can’t speak highly enough of Rob and how great he was at teaching us and explaining things throughout the day. He not only had a good way of describing what you needed to do but was also extremely patient and just seemed to love what he was doing and turned everything difficult into a fun game for us all to enjoy.
The first part of the training for me seemed to be the hardest by far as the simple techniques and balancing exercises seemed to put a lot of pressure onto my foot and bad knee which made me a little anxious that I wasn’t going to be able to participate for the whole day. I persevered through and soon realised that it was more the standing still while we were being shown everything that was the issue for me and doing the actual skills wasn’t a problem. After figuring out the basics of how to stop strap our feet in, move about a bit and stop when we needed to we headed to the beginners slope to start making our way down and get the hang of things. The beginners lift wasn’t working but to be honest the slight gradient of the hill didn’t really need a lift and we all just walked up each time after we had completed a little run and a new task set by Rob. When the lift did open later in the day I quickly found out that due to the queue and speed of the lift it was actually much quicker to just walk up anyway, plus you got a bonus workout!
The morning session seemed to fly by before we broke up for lunch and grabbed some food. At no point through the day had I been cold and in fact had been far too warm most of the time so I took that opportunity to strip back a few layers (always dress in layers for cold weather for exactly this reason) to dump with our stuff. The only moment that we were cold all day was sitting outside eating our sandwiches since the cafe area was packed! My body was perfectly fine but after a few mins in the cold wind without gloves I couldn’t feel my fingers which goes to show how good snow gloves really are.
By the afternoon session the lifts had started back up again but at first we continued on the practice slopes, honing our skills turning and stopping without falling over. I may have gotten a little over zealous at one point which involved me flying down the hill, trying to stop on my heals and hitting a little bump before plowing the front edge of my board into the snow. The fun thing about doing this is that you slam face first into the ground at pretty high speed! My Juijitsu training came into effect at this point as I happen to know how to fall without doing myself too much damage and the fresh snow also helped me walk away with nothing but a bruised ego and the new sense that I maybe needed to do things a little more cautiously although this was not the last time I would face-plant today!
After more practice we all reached a point where we were confident enough to head up the mountain on the main beginner Chondola (a combination of a Goldola and a Chair Ski lift) to do our first real run down the mountain. Yet again Rob became invaluable in keeping the team together and directing us on things to look out for and what the signs meant which is again a little daunting as a beginner. Pretty early on I managed to make a fool of myself for a second time by repeating the exact same fail as before but this time with even greater speed. I am not sure how, but somehow I yet again managed to dodge any injuries and brushed myself off and carried on. It took us a while to get back to the base starting area as we made sure to stick together and wait for each other but the feeling of just being up there was amazing. Whenever the visibility would clear up the views from up there were breathtaking. I would have taken more pictures to share with everyone but my gloves were a bit of a right fit making it quite an ordeal to get them on and off so they mainly stayed firmly on and my phone in my pocket.
By the end of our inaugural run down the skyline track it was time to start packing up and heading home. It wasn’t until we were on the bus heading back down to the car that I realised that with all my crashing and bashing I had managed to rip a hole in Jazz’s ski pants! I couldnt believe it since id not even noticed the breeze but I must have done it while practicing the one footed technique before the ski lift when I may have accidentally done the splits and fallen over. As a good borrower I obviously let Jazz know and sent him the money for a replacement pair straight away, fair is fair. On the bright side though I still saved money borrowing everything else so cant really complain.
I cannot rate the day highly enough and now I am just fizzing, waiting for a time that I can get back up there and give this all a try again. Watch this space as I am sure there will be a Snowboarding 102 coming soon!
As an extra special bonus we were also treated to a stunning sunset over the lake in Wanaka to yet again remind me why I love this country so much.