There couldn’t be a more fitting time for the phrase “Better late than never” than to refer to me going up the mountain for a little snow action. Having not decided to even make the move to Queenstown until early June – once the season had already started – I first missed out on any good deals that would make a season’s pass even remotely affordable. Then there was the whole issue of gear – board, boots, bindings, a stylish Roxy or Burton jacket with coordinating pants, of course – another pricey investment all on its own. And finally, once I actually arrived in Queenstown and realized that I’d need two quasi-full-time jobs in order to keep saving at the same rate as I was in Christchurch, I wasn’t left with much time to make all that investment in gear and a pass even worth it. All of this leading to the unfortunate reality that I had soon spent three months in Queenstown without a single trip up the slopes – a fact that left me shame-faced every time yet another customer would ask, “So you’re in town for the snow, then?”
Because, let’s face it, not many aren’t. In this mecca of adventure and snow sports, the options are extensive. An hour or two away in Wanaka (a mini-Queenstown, if you will) lie two ski fields, Cardrona and Treble Cone, one that boasts of the longest vertical rise in the Southern Lakes region. Closer to home for Queenstown residents are the Remarkables and Coronet Peak, whose claim to fame is its status as New Zealand’s first commercial ski field. Opened in 1947 by Harry Wigley, it began with only a single rope tow – compared with the $30 million invested in 141 new snow cannons last year, it’s safe to say Coronet has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
But it was to the Remarkables that I headed to for my debut run on a New Zealand ski field. Rumor has it the mountain range earned its name from being one of only two in the world that runs directly north to south – true or not, the ski field offers a little something for everyone: plenty of runs for novice and intermediate skiers as well as terrain parks for the experts among us – parks like the Stash, an “evolutionary, revolutionary Burton signature park,” apparently the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. I was initially supposed to make the trek to Treble Cone for my first run having won a free pass from the bar for being the best-dressed pirate at our Pirate Party on International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. (Turns out strapping on an eye patch, hoop earring, red-and-white striped shirt and skull socks can be good for something!) But when I went to book my shuttle to Treble Cone, neither bus company was running their service anymore due to lack of demand. (Alas, as a workmate at the bar said, I should’ve gone, “Well, I’m demanding it! Here’s your demand!”)
I trudged back to our promotions manager to see if I could exchange the free pass for the $50 voucher to our sister bar that had been my other option. “Well, do you want one for Coronet or Remarks instead?” he asked. Really? Was it that easy? Best case of “Ask not, receive not” ever! Jordan had already asked me to go up to Remarks with her on Monday anyways, so I eagerly swapped my Treble Cone pass and started making the necessary preparations. It amazes me how much this town is geared towards getting you up the mountain. Maybe I’ve just never lived in such a purpose-built location before, but I couldn’t believe how simple it was to get everything taken care of before my big day. I had about twenty rental shops to choose from when getting a board out. When I walked into the one nearest my house, the shop attendant asked, “You’ve been here a few times already, right?” Don’t you love it when someone thinks they know you and precedes to give you discounts because of it? “What was your name again?…Oh, right, right, I knew that…Where do you work in town?…Yeah, that’s what I thought…” With the price on one-day board rentals already knocked down due to spring and the end of the season, he also gave me the multi-day rate on my oh-so-modern elastic black ski pants. My outfit for the day was turning into quite the hodge-podge affair – pants from the ski shop, one of Jordan’s extra jackets, cracked goggles that a flatmate left behind after moving out – at least the beanie would be mine. Lastly, there was the transport issue to be sorted, which thankfully wasn’t the dead-end that it had been for Treble Cone. A bus would take me there and back to Remarks (about an hour from Queenstown) for only ten dollars. Done, done, and done!
And so the day came, and it couldn’t have come any sooner. Just the day before, Treble Cone, Cardrona, and Coronet Peak all closed for the season, leaving the Remarkables as the only open ski field for just a week more. Having not been on a snowboard since last Christmas in the French Alps – and then, for only a week – I was a bit hesitant about how the day would go. Jordan – herself an experienced rider – said she would stick with me for the day, but I was nervous I wouldn’t remember what to do and end up holding her back. Rather than start off on the basic beginner slopes (referred to as the Magic Carpet), I said we might as well go up the proper lift and do a real run. It was the same method the guys used on our Alps trip and I was hoping it’d work this time around, too. Despite a few hiccups at the start – buckling up my right foot in the front when I actually ride regular (left foot front), or forgetting how to carve back from my heels to my toes – it all ended up going okay. Our other flatmate Sarah, who works in the rentals on Remarks, likened it to riding a bike – even if you don’t do it for a while, boarding is something that slowly comes back to you. It was cool to actually be able to pick up where I left off in France – getting off the lifts without crashing and making a complete fool of myself, carving and making wide S’s down the slopes, and ultimately pushing myself – not letting myself off easily but putting my left front forward and going vertically down steeper slopes. Sure, the falls may be worse, but boy is the speed of the run worth it.
For our last run of the day, Jordan asked if I felt up for an intermediate track. “Why not?” I thought – better to make the most of my one chance on the slopes than play it safe on the beginner runs I’d already been on. While the first slope was the steepest I’d encountered the whole day, it was also nothing but thick powder – none of the slushy snow that had been tracked over again and again. And although the powder is a little harder to get going in (not to mention getting up from if you fall!) it feels incredible once you start carving in it – like cutting through a cloud, you might as well be floating on air like some character in Super Mario Brothers. And that is when you realize just what about this – the snow, the slopes, the scene – is so alluring for the hundreds of thousands of people that flood this town – and so many others across the world – every season. The chance to feel like part of another world, if only in the few seconds of air you get off a jump.
In the end, I was glad to see what the snow is all about. Although my bar job has given me quite the look into the nightlife scene of Queenstown, there’d been a massive blank where I spend my days behind a supermarket checkout till while the rest of the town hits the slopes. Finally it was my turn, my chance to don the gear and be the one coming ‘round the mountain.
And even if I didn’t get the goggle tan I was going for (which is a surefire sign of any legitimate skier or rider), at least I’ve got a red nose and chapped lips to show for my day up the slopes…