Snow biz

A ski­ing novice hits the slopes in Queen­stown

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

Tell peo­ple you’re off to try ski­ing for the first time, and sud­denly ev­ery sec­ond per­son is a sea­soned pro, full of ‘help­ful’ advice. Be pre­pared for a bruised bum, aches in mus­cles you didn’t know you had, an at­trac­tive gog­gle mark across your nose and more time sprawled on the snow than stay­ing up­right, they say. How I made it to 34 years of age with­out even set­ting foot in a pair of skis is be­yond me, but there’s a first time for ev­ery­thing, and the crew at Queen­stown’s Re­mark­ables Ski Field have their work cut out when I turn up to my les­son on a post­card per­fect morn­ing.

Decked out in my hired and bor­rowed gear, I’m in­tro­duced to Diana, an alpine afi­cionado who seems con­fi­dent she can trans­form me from wob­bly fawn to swift ski bunny in a mere two hours. We start by inch­ing along in a straight line, be­fore pro­gress­ing a cou­ple of me­tres up the field to prac­tise stand­ing in the right po­si­tion. Grip­ping the poles for grim death and clench­ing my jaw in con­cen­tra­tion,

I’m try­ing to look ahead in­stead of at my feet, as fear­less five-year-olds whizz past my sides on the world’s tini­est skis.

Soon, I’m mas­ter­ing the con­veyor belt that leads to the top of the learner area, and shuf­fling down the gen­tle slope while Diana holds a ski pole in front of me and glides back­wards. It’s the equiv­a­lent of train­ing wheels on a bike, but I’m get­ting there. Three quar­ters of an hour later, I’m slid­ing smoothly, turn­ing left with ease, turn­ing right with im­mense dif­fi­culty, and stop­ping my­self with a pass­able at­tempt at the tri­an­gu­lar ‘plough’ move. My feet might be numb, but I’m proud to say I can count my num­ber of falls on one hand, and I’m even start­ing to re­lax and en­joy the moun­tain views.

I’ve picked it up eas­ily, Diana tells me as I beam with pride. I sus­pect she says that to all the learn­ers but I’ll take it. With aching thighs, throb­bing shins and a wind­burnt nose, I’m still more sasquatch than ski bunny, but I feel like a mil­lion bucks. I came, I saw, I con­quered. The learner slope that is.

WIN­TER WON­DER­LAND

With its sprawl­ing lakes, snowy peaks and crisp alpine air, Queen­stown is the sort of place where the minute you ar­rive, you’re won­der­ing why you don’t get there more of­ten. Plus, part of the beauty of be­ing nes­tled in the moun­tains is you can be up on the slopes barely an hour af­ter ar­riv­ing at the air­port, which is ex­actly how

I kicked off my ac­tion-packed get­away.

Fol­low­ing my ski les­son, I check into my classy digs at the Sher­wood – a ho­tel with such a fo­cus on holis­tic health it’s tagline is ‘be here now’. Plus it has a yoga stu­dio on site, and crys­tals in each room. But far from be­ing new-age woo woo, it’s all about gen­tle re­ju­ve­na­tion, and it’s not long be­fore the cosy rooms, quiet spa­ces and tran­quil lake views have me feel­ing like a cup of tea and a lie down.

All this chill­ing out is a good thing, given it’s an early start in the morn­ing for an­other day up the moun­tain. It’s still dark when the bus to Cardrona Alpine Re­sort pulls up out­side the ho­tel, and ev­ery­one from fam­ily groups to sea­soned ski pros al­ready in boots and gog­gles pile on board. With the weather clos­ing in and the snow fall­ing steadily, it takes about an hour and a half to reach the re­sort. Out on the ski field, it’s a dif­fer­ent kind of win­ter won­der­land to the bright white slopes and blue skies of yes­ter­day. The soft flakes swirl like the in­side of a snow globe, the wind whips and the gen­tly slop­ing basin seems to shrink into a dense grey bub­ble. For some, this is the ideal weather for hit­ting the moun­tain, our in­struc­tor tells us, as we watch the hazy out­lines of hardy skiers weave down the pris­tine pow­der above us.

Due to the white­out, I shelve plans to try Cardrona’s long awaited ‘chon­dola’ (a mix be­tween a chair lift and a gon­dola, and the only one of its kind in the coun­try) and set­tle in for some wine at the lodge in­stead. A Swiss in­struc­tor says com­pared to the ski scene over­seas, Ki­wis are a hard­core bunch. At Euro­pean re­sorts you take a few turns on the chair lift be­fore re­lax­ing après-ski with wine and a roar­ing fire, while we seem to pre­fer go­ing up and down the slopes the en­tire day. But in weather like this, the café is packed, the vibe is re­laxed, and there are more skiers tak­ing self­ies with snow­men than carv­ing up the moun­tain.

You can be up on the slopes barely an hour af­ter ar­riv­ing

at the air­port

Back at the ho­tel, we stretch out with some yoga be­fore hit­ting up the on-site restau­rant for hearty risotto, melt-in-the­mouth fish and colour­ful or­ganic veges. I don’t know whether it’s all the fresh air, the ski lessons or the switch into hol­i­day mode, but I shun the idea of check­ing out the night life in favour of bed, and sleep more soundly than I have in weeks.

HOW’S THE SEREN­ITY?

This moun­tain town is scenic from all an­gles, but one of the best ways to get your bear­ings is with a cruise around the iconic, light­ning-bolt shaped Lake Wakatipu. We hire bikes for our next ad­ven­ture and bun­dle on board the Spirit of Queen­stown, where we glide past In­sta­gram-wor­thy scenes of the Re­mark­ables, the South­ern Alps, and the ram­bling high coun­try to­wards Glenorchy. At Mt Ni­cholas, one of the coun­try’s largest sta­tions, we set off on a gen­tle 14km ride to the ad­ja­cent farm at Wal­ter Peak.

Our group of four wouldn’t win any prizes for cy­cling speed or agility, but we couldn’t care less. Stop­ping ev­ery five min­utes to gawp at the lake views, paus­ing for sheep to cross the road and, for a city slicker like me, sim­ply en­joy­ing the peace and quiet, is all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.

In a long weekend full of ac­tive re­lax­ing, deca­dent food and end­less moun­tain gaz­ing, there’s one last thing on the wish list: a soak at Onsen Hot Pools. A short drive out of town, the pool com­plex boasts six hot tubs, each in a pri­vate room with re­tractable roof, perched above the Sho­tover River. Re­sist­ing the urge to squeal with ex­cite­ment, I’m shown to my room, where can­dles flicker in the corners and a tray of wine and choco­late waits be­side the large cir­cu­lar tub. There’s a quick demo of the but­tons to work the jets and the re­tractable win­dow, then I’m left alone for an hour of to­tal bliss.

Ly­ing back with a glass of wine in hand, watch­ing the Sho­tover jet zip past be­low and the light bounce off the Alps in the dis­tance, I con­sider Face­tim­ing my part­ner to shame­lessly brag. But then I catch my­self, put down my phone, and re­mem­ber to ‘be here now’. I came to Queen­stown to hit the slopes, but I’ve gained far more than a new­found love of ski­ing. The alpine won­der­land is like a re­set but­ton for the soul, and al­though I’m go­ing home with a few bruises, I’ve also got a spring in my step.

Can­dles flicker in the corners and a tray of wine and choco­late waits

be­side the tub

Above: Decked out in her hired gear, Sara’s all set to tackle the learner slope.

Af­ter a day in the crisp moun­tain air, you can re­fuel at one of the town’s many eater­ies, or have a deca­dent soak in a tub at Onsen Hot Pools, be­low left.

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