There are challenges to skiing in New Zealand. One is that many people ski on the mountains in much the same way as they drive on the roads – too fast, not in control, and with little awareness for anyone else in the vicinity. As with any rule, there are exceptions, but my skiing here is accompanied by a heightened sense of awareness of how to fall, the crunch of compressed snow behind me making me tense and nervous as I expect whoever it is to run into me. Although the last time I skied I didn’t even hear the guy who flattened me, I was just suddenly launched, then crashed back down with a thud, the air completely knocked out of me. I couldn’t move for a while, trying to work out what had happened, how I went from skiing carefully one moment to lying on my side with a searing pain through my hip the next. This, in addition to busy slopes and long lift queues, means I haven’t skied in a few years.
The first time I skied in NZ I was amazed at how many rocks there were, the lift carrying me over areas I would have thought it impossible to ski down, although I could clearly see people who were. Northern hemisphere skiers may be used to skiing around trees and boulders but here you have to watch out for a rock suddenly appearing in the middle of the ski run, its thin cover worn away by skis and boards during the course of the day. The wide runs I learned to ski on in Austria are a distant memory as I negotiate my way down narrow tracks, faster and more competent skiers zipping past me far too close for my comfort.
Another hazard is the weather. Used to skiing in the cold, emerging from a chalet onto snowy paths and roads, I was astounded to learn that snow doesn’t linger that low here and to get to a skifield involves a drive that in itself would class as adventure tourism in most countries. Skiing in the South Island one year we gave up as the weather closed in and reduced visibility to not being able to see my skis, let alone where they were taking me. Back at the car the only door not frozen shut was the back passenger door and Neil had to climb in and physically kick the other doors and the hatchback open from the inside. As we skidded our way around the hairpins down to the town a tractor was pulling a car back on to the road, half a dozen more awaiting rescue.
Particularly on this mountain I call home, wind is the challenge. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing fresh snow on the mountain but being unable to ski because the wind has forced the closure of the lifts (a recent storm even blew the cable off the track!) Wait, no, I’m wrong. The last three days have been what we call bluebird days – the sky clear, the mountain white, the wind a tiny drift of air that hardly moves a blade of grass. They don’t come around often. I can imagine how frustrated skiers must be that they’ve arrived with a full lockdown.