CARDRONA the hum­ble ski field with the Olympic rep­u­ta­tion

Go Travel New Zealand - - Wanaka - by Rowan Archer

If you vis­ited Cardrona fif­teen years ago, you would have laughed if I told you it pro­duces the ma­jor­ity of New Zealand’s Win­ter Olympians. Back then, the odd lo­cal re­ferred to it as ‘flat white’, as it was known as the ideal place to take the kids ski­ing or to take your first steps on snow.

While Cardrona holds strong to the val­ues it was raised upon, it has evolved over the years into a re­sort that at­tracts a unique melt­ing pot of snow en­thu­si­asts. From its ‘bread and but­ter’ begin­ners and fam­i­lies to some of the world’s best elite snow sport ath­letes, Cardrona at­tracts skiers and snow­board­ers from each end of the ‘abil­ity scale’ and the many in-be­tween.

Hav­ing not vis­ited Cardrona in a num­ber of years, a small crew of us ‘late 20's ex-ski bums' de­cided to stay in the pic­turesque and peace­ful ski town of Wanaka for our week­end trip. I've done most of my ski­ing out of Queen­stown in­clud­ing the last time I vis­ited Cardrona (it's an easy one hour drive from the adventure cap­i­tal) but most Ki­wis who visit the ski area seem to stay in Wanaka which is a mere 35 minute drive away…and it's not hard to see why. With its spec­tac­u­lar lake and moun­tain views, re­laxed at­mos­phere and amaz­ing cafes/restau­rants, our group col­lec­tively agreed that we had cho­sen the right spot. While Wanaka usu­ally plays ‘lit­tle brother' to the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Queen­stown, it has had its own supreme ac­co­lades in­clud­ing be­ing named in the Na­tional Geo­graphic's ‘Top 25 Ski Towns in The World'. Such ac­co­lades have sur­pris­ingly been kept lowkey as the lo­cals don't like to brag! Af­ter a re­lax­ing night con­sist­ing of a few wines by the lake as we watched the sun go down, we awoke to one of the crew hand­ing around warm cof­fees; a pas­sive-ag­gres­sive way to say ‘get out of bed and get your skis in the car'. Be­ing ex-ski bums we all pre­fer to use our own kit how­ever there is an abun­dance of ski stores in Wanaka of­fer­ing rental gear or you can hire ev­ery­thing you need up the moun­tain. The car ride up starts with a mel­low cruise through the Cardrona Val­ley.

We were wel­comed by two smil­ing mas­cots at the bot­tom of the Cardrona ac­cess road. I couldn't pass such a friendly wel­come with­out smil­ing and wav­ing back... I wasn't sure if our cof­fee was too strong or if ev­ery­one was just fizzing to get on snow, but our legs couldn't stop twitch­ing. Af­ter a quick climb up the ac­cess road, timed per­fectly to watch the sun come up, we reached the colour­ful base area. On the walk from the carpark to the base area, the melt­ing pot of Cardrona was quickly re­vealed. Moth­ers pil­ing more lay­ers onto their kids, fa­thers un­clip­ping roof racks, groups of mid 20 – late 30-year-old snow­board­ers laugh­ing with ex­cite­ment, young ‘grom­mies' (un­der 15 year olds) whip­ping snow­balls at each other and spon­sored ath­letes stretch­ing as they dis­cussed the day's ob­jec­tives…it was all hap­pen­ing. As the di­verse ar­ray of guests made their way to the base area, it be­came clear that the re­sort has a knack of at­tract­ing all shapes, sizes, ages, and abil­i­ties. Af­ter pur­chas­ing our lift passes, we put on our boots and en­joyed an­other cof­fee while tak­ing in the stunning morn­ing views from the Mezz Café.

Know­ing we may split up while ski­ing we made a plan to meet for lunch. Choos­ing be­tween an Asian Noo­dle Bar, Pizzeria, burg­ers and wraps or mod­ern cafe dining proved tricky but we fi­nally agreed on pizza as a quick recharge to get us back on the slopes swiftly. Af­ter a few runs down the large main basin (one of three at Cardrona) I quickly re­alised how much the re­sort had evolved since my last visit. Cardrona now has seven lifts (in­clud­ing two quad ex­press chair­lifts) which is def­i­nitely on the gen­er­ous side com­pared to most of the ski ar­eas in the South Is­land. Af­ter ex­plor­ing the ex­pan­sive Cap­tain's Basin, we stopped for lunch at Cap­tain's Café for pizza as planned. Our quick stop soon be­came a lengthy af­fair since the café deck pro­vided some per­fect photo op­por­tu­ni­ties look­ing across the Cardrona Val­ley.

Back in the main basin, the ride up the McDougall's chair­lift painted a pic­ture which em­pha­sized the ski area's fas­ci­nat­ing con- trasts. On one side in­struc­tors helped first timers to make their way down the wide be­gin­ner slopes while a cou­ple of hun­dred me­tres above them freestyle ath­letes were huck­ing and flip­ping their bod­ies high out of the Olympic sized half­pipe. Switch­ing our view across to the other side of the chair­lift

we watched as in­ter­me­di­ate skiers linked turns down pristinely groomed slopes while more high fly­ing trick­sters launched them­selves off jumps in the var­i­ous other ter­rain parks. The melt­ing pot had come alive and was demon­strat­ing its di­ver­sity in true form as we en­joyed our last runs of the day. While Cardrona has stayed true to its roots as NZ's ‘fam­ily friendly' ski area, it can now add an Olympic el­e­ment to its rep­u­ta­tion. Ten of the fif­teen New Zealand Win­ter Olympic ath­letes who com­peted in the Sochi Games reg­u­larly trained at Cardrona, but it's not just the lo­cal ath­letes us­ing th­ese world-class fa­cil­i­ties. Cardrona, all the way down in lit­tle old New Zealand, graced the pages of the New York Times lead­ing up to the last Olympics as the Amer­i­can freestyle team used the re­sort for valu­able train­ing and com­pe­ti­tion time. Twenty-one of the freestyle ath­letes who trained at Cardrona in 2013 went on to win medals at the Win­ter Olympics, which meant that ‘nor­mal' skiers (like me) had a chance to share a chair with some of the world's best. Cardrona has come a long way since its days as the ‘flat white'. While still down-to-earth and friendly, it has an Olympic as­so­ci­a­tion which adds to the long list of rea­sons why vis­it­ing the re­sort is a must. We ended our ski week­end with very fond mem­o­ries of Cardrona, and we're al­ready plan­ning the next trip!

IM­AGE: Tommy Py­att

Tay­lor Seaton at Cardrona

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