Snow on Tap

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As a new arrival from the stressy city of Sydney to the relaxed lifestyle of Nelson, New Zealand, I’m often surprised at what the locals take for granted. Little things, like being able to get a parking spot right next to where you want to be in town, or freakin’ huge things, like being able to head out for a day of skiing and be back in time for dinner.

Last week we thought we’d take advantage of what promised to be a gorgeous day, and drove one-and-a-half hours south to Rainbow ski field, a community-run ski area near St Arnaud village, on the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park. Leaving the car at the lower car park, we climbed on board a mini bus for a slightly hairy 20 minute drive up to the skiing (the road is pretty rough). You can drive up yourself but you have to carry chains in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. But after seeing the native keas with their huge claws hop all over the parked cars (these large, intelligent native parrots apparently enjoy ripping the rubber seal from around your windshield too), I think I’ll continue to leave our car down in the lower carpark thanks.

Rainbow ski field

I love skiing, but I very, very rarely get the opportunity to do it. In fact my last day on the slopes was about ten years ago in Colorado, USA, at Breckenridge. It seems every time I get to ski I just manage to get as good as I was the time before, then it’s a long, long break until the next opportunity. Well, with skiing like this only two hours away, I’m hoping I’ll finally get a chance to improve my skills.

That said, skiing is like riding the proverbial bike, and after a tentative start I was back on a decent slope. One semi-spectacular fall reminded me that you have to relax to ski properly, but surprisingly that was my only tumble all day, even later in the afternoon when I had a lesson that was, strictly speaking, above my current skill level, and skiied down from the top of the mountain twice. Going up on the T-bar, once you crest the first ridge, the ski field opens out into a spectacular vista of snow surrounded by a sharp line of mountain ridges and crowned by the bluest of skies. Beautiful.

To JoJo, it was all a completely new experience, but she bravely put up with my lame attempts at basic instruction and then had a one-on-one beginner’s class, and was snow ploughing down the beginner’s slope by the time the day was through. I was highly impressed; the first time on skiis can be a daunting challenge for anyone, something that’s hard to forget when you see three-year-olds swish past with utter confidence. Understandably, a lot of Kiwis from around here grow up on skis.

We left at closing time at 4pm, and were back at home by six. I’m hard-pressed to think of a better way to spend a day.

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