A skiing novice hits the slopes in Queenstown
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.
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.