Pic by @BelJones_
When I first moved to Wanaka in New Zealand over a year ago, it was the tail end of summer. It was hot and there was barely any snow on the mountains, and I was completely and utterly preoccupied with finding a place to live and trying to start over and make new friends in a new place. But there was one theme I quickly picked up on.
Wanaka is a place that is completely unified in the sense that everyone that lives that both loves and appreciates the outdoors. It’s mentally and physically refreshing to live somewhere that’s fiercely loved by its residents. In summer everyone is on the lake, in the mountains or climbing rocks. I suppose it helps that basically every day has perfect weather.
It didn’t take long for me to realize Wanaka is also a massive winter and snow destination, even arriving in summer. Pretty much when you meet people here it goes along the lines of something like “hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? And do you ski?”
There is definitely a strong stereotype for people who live in Wanaka, but what happens if you’re me and you only fit part of it?
I grew up in the long suburbs of Washington D.C. in Virginia, and as far as I can remember, I never really ever had the opportunity to go skiing. It’s not like New Zealand where I can see the mountain from my kitchen window. I never had winter holiday vacations with my family, only short summer stays at the beach down in the Carolinas.
Even with how much I travel, until now it never really occurred to me to try and learn to ski or snowboard. Whenever I was in the mountains or the Alps it was always summer, and since I usually travel alone, fun friend skications never really were on the cards. But living in the mountains of the South Island, mountain sports are kinda in your face 24/7, and it didn’t take long for me decide that once winter rolled around, I needed to learn. Plus winter in New Zealand totally rocks.
Last winter (July and August in New Zealand) I was mostly gone, overseas in Mongolia and Indonesia. By the time I came back, the local legendary field, Treble Cone, was only open for another week-ish. I had to jump in feet first, boots and all.
Luckily I’m just naturally good at sports. JUST KIDDING I AM NOT. Not remotely. At all.
I am 100 percent convinced a more uncoordinated person never existed. Ever. I mean, I frequently trip and fall down just walking around my room, let alone on the side of a snow covered mountain. This was going to be interesting.
I signed up for a ski lesson straight away when I got back at Treble Cone. The good thing there is that their beginner slope is free and it’s probably one of the best views in all of Wanaka. But as we headed up the pretty hectic road to station, I started to get butterflies in my stomach.
I was entering a proverbial whole new world, if you will, in an arena totally and completely foreign to me. I was pretty nervous. Treble Cone has a reputation for being New Zealand’s leading ski field for more advanced skiers and snowboarders. All my friends had done seasons and seasons here and overseas and many where even instructors. Where did I fit in? Was I crazy for trying to learn there? Was I about to get my ass handed to me in the snow?
Probably but you gotta try right?
I had the best ski instructor, Heidi, who was one of those people you can just tell really just loves the crap out of her job and being the snow. That helps a lot when you are learning something new. Personally I can tell straight away when a teacher doesn’t care, and for me, that makes it so much harder to get excited and get over the initial nerves. I really appreciate passionate guides and instructors in travel.
Unfortunately, however, I hated skiing. The boots hurt my feet so much I couldn’t focus, and when I did fall, it felt like I was going to break my legs, and then obviously I couldn’t get back up once I was down. I just didn’t feel comfortable at all.
That being said, I didn’t want to give up, so I came back the next day to try snowboarding.
Of course it didn’t help that it seemed that everyone around me was a total champ, and I was just flopping around in the snow like an upside down turtle. So graceful, I’m telling you. Literally all of these little 3 year olds padded up in technicolor snowsuits on skis as long as my arm whizzing past me without poles, totally fearless. Damn, why didn’t I learn as a kid? It would have been so much easier!
That night while skyping with my mom I asked her why she never took me to the mountains growing up. I could vaguely remember stories from her about skiing out in Colorado in the 70’s, hey why couldn’t pass along some of those skills to her only child? Come on! “Because one time I dislocated my shoulder very badly on a slope and it took hours to get brought down and it was so painful I didn’t ski again.”
Um, fair enough mom. But let me not think about that while I’m learning, ok?
Please hear me when I say it is so NOT easy for me to get up day after day and spend hours faceplanting down the bunny slope surrounded by a bunch of kids in front of all my friends (I mean Wanaka is a small town guys). I mean, half the time I fell off the damn pommel town thing that brought you up the beginner’s slope. Seriously, if you are going to learn something new, you are going to have to throw all sense of shame out the window straight away or you’ll never get anywhere.
It’s a great lesson in humility. And patience.
But I was determined to get better, and I know that was only going to happen with me with sheer force of will (and definitely not inherent athletic ability). When I commit, I commit, guys.
Luckily Heidi forgave me for switching over from skiing and I had another awesome instructor, Volker from Germany, to keep me going on the mountain. The great thing about learning in New Zealand, especially at TC, is that all of the instructors are top notch. Most of them do back to back seasons from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere so they are really good. And patient, which is key with me.
It took three days for snowboarding to “click” with me, and I was so surprised the first time it happened I fell right over at the bottom of the beginner’s slope.
Whenever I was tense or not leaning into going down or what not, I would hear Volker hollering “let it go” at me, being totally oblivious to the phenomenon that is the movie Frozen. Luckily, I would start singing “let it go” when he would do that and being on the beginner slope meant, of course, that all the munchkins would too.
On the second day I can remember turning to Volker and saying that I wanted to be able to do a run down from the chairlift by the end of the week. High fiving me, he said we can totally make it happen. By the time I was linking turns there was only a few days left of the season, and I knew it was time to take that big step.
For those of you who have been skiing or snowboarding for a long time, this might not be a big deal, but for me it was. I mean, I had never even been on a real chairlift before. How was I even going to get down? But on the second to last day, he said I was ready.
I was so nervous waiting in line for the chairlift with everyone, and I am pretty sure I sat with my back pressed as far back against the seat as possible trying to not look down, I mean damn, that shit’s high guys! Then of course getting off the chairlift isn’t exactly easy either.
But before I knew it, I was sitting at the top of the run strapping in and looking down the mountain, with views all the way down to the lake, and I smiled. All the work I had been putting in over the past few days was leading up to that moment. And of course it helped having an instructor there cheering me on.
I am pretty sure it took an hour for me to get down to the bottom, and more oftentimes than not when I got going “really fast” I would get nervous and slow down and wipe out, but I did it!
And nothing felt as good as getting to the bottom and stopping right in front of the café. Beer o’clock with my roomate, friends, instructor and some keas (the local cheeky parrots) for company.
The next day was closing day at Treble Cone, so there was a big celebration and party, and everyone was dressed up in costume. It was perfect blue skies it felt like spring truly had arrived.
After a few practice runs I decided I wanted to go down the lift one last time, this time on my own. Well, my friend’s daughter, a skier, but who was messing around on a snowboard for the day, decided to come with me too. Together we made it down again and had heaps of fun. Solidarity.
Seriously guys, there is no bigger rush or feeling of euphoria for me than doing something I wasn’t sure I could do. Learning to snowboard had been on my mind for so long, making it become a reality almost didn’t seem possible. And I can’t wait to go back this year.
Update – TC is having one of the best winters in years, with a ton of snow and epic conditions and just opened this week! Will I see you there this winter?
Are you a skier or snowboarder? Have you ever tried to learn something challenging as an adult like this? Have you ever been to Treble Cone?