Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I'm adapting

Back in Wanaka for the season and it's another waiting game as the snow gods refuse to deliver enough natural snow to get the ski fields cranking. Most of the main commercial fields are open using artificial snow to create enough cover on the trails, but it's poor pickings off piste. Treble Cone, despite having more snow guns this year, still relies on the natural stuff to make its mostly off piste terrain rideable. So for the second year in a row, it's opening day has been delayed....

Last year, during ski instructor training, it became increasingly obvious that a Level 2 qualification would not get me employment in the Northern Hemisphere ski fields. The initial plan had been to supplement my income with instructor employment whilst exploring more ski fields, but the big problem is visas, or rather the lack of ability to get a work visa once you are over 30.

The ski industry relies heavily on acquiring young staff travelling on working holiday visas. No sponsoring required, and the seasonal nature of ski field employment means that the working holiday visa requirements are fulfilled. (Mostly, employers cannot employ someone on a working holiday visa for more than six months). This situation feeds a good little industry in training and qualifying new instructors each year, many of whom may never work in the industry, or will do one or two seasons before pursuing a more lucrative professional career. Which means the vast majority of instructors teaching beginners to ski tend to have minimal experience themselves.

To work in the Northern Hemisphere ( at least, being Australian I can work in Oz and NZ no problems) I need a sponsored work visa, which doesn't happen without many years of experience and at least a Level 3 qualification. This essentially means making a commitment to taking on ski instructing as a career rather than as a sideline income. I'm not sure I'm prepared to do back to back winters to achieve this....

Last year I met an Alaskan ski tourer who suggested adaptive ski volunteering as an alternative way to supplement my northern hemisphere ski trips. Not being paid circumvents the visa issue, but there's likely to be a season pass or at least some free skiing thrown in. Many North American ski fields, in particular, have large adaptive programs, and getting a US work visa: forget it!!

Adaptive skiing is skiing for people with a disability, be it physical or cognitive or both. Having been a paediatrician and GP I've a vast experience with most disabilities and certainly don't suffer from apprehension of the unknown like most of the public might. I've also often railed against the negative thinking of bureaucracies that limit less abled people rather than look for opportunities, so this field actually ticks a lot of boxes for me. And I can even get a qualification out of it!!

So this year I have joined the Adaptive Volunteer Program at Cardrona. We started with a weekend of training, which involved learning about the equipment as well as the types of clients we would be accompanying around the mountain. Learning how to guide a blind person required us to pair up, then take turns at closing our eyes and trusting someone else to guide us through a lift queue, on and off the magic carpet and ski down a gentle slope. Then there was loading and strapping people in to sit skis, loading the sit ski onto and off a chairlift, and finally, guiding a sit ski down a mountain. Depending on the client's level of disability and experience, this can be anything from the client having full control, to tethering, where the sit ski is guided using ropes, to bucketing, where the sit ski is guided by holding on directly to the back of it. There are mono-ski and bi-ski set ups for the sit skis, and they turn differently, so there are a lot of new skills to learn. But bucketing a bi-ski is hellishly good fun. Those things turn on a pin!!

We also learnt how to use outriggers, used by one legged skiers and abled sit skiers, to provide lateral stability and control, and also techniques and strategies to manage clients with cognitive impairment. School kids with ADHD, Aspergers, Autism or Down Syndrome, are the most common impairments seen, and it's the volunteer's job to help the ski instructor in a school group to keep the kids all on track and skiing together as a group. And deal with the fallout if the kid loses the plot!!

There were a lot of people at the training weekend so although it was fun, there was a fair amount of waiting around for your turn to try the gear. There's more training available throughout the season but the best way will be to get the hours in. For my Level 1 certification I only need to have 4 days of volunteering but I'd rather get a lot more hours under my belt. Luckily, I have the time to do it, and with TC still closed, there's no time like the present.

So at the first opportunity, I jumped on it. This week I've had more training at tethering and bucketing, as well as loading onto the chairlift. I'm not yet fully confident with the bucketing and loading but happy to do more practice before letting me loose on clients. So after a couple of half days of further training I accompanied a couple of volunteers with an adult client with cerebral palsy and limited verbal communication. She required full bucketing but can do some steering by leaning her body, and turned out to be quite the speed freak. As a disabled sailor she sails independently using just a toe to control the boat (must be some awesome electronics involved) so she wasn't scared of adventure so we took her down to Captains and over a few unscheduled bumps! I helped block, which means skiing behind creating a triangulated barrier to protect the disabled skier from the other punters on the hill. Not an easy task with the myriad out of control skiers and boarders on that mountain now its school holiday season!!

What was really interesting was our feedback to each other after the session. Both the other two volunteers, despite both being ski instructors themselves, said they weren't comfortable with the small talk, whereas when I joined them and immediately built up a rapport and conversation with the client that really helped them. Although they did all the physical work, I provided the light entertainment!! Of course I have years more experience communicating with people with disabilities than they do, and zero apprehension about doing so, so I was really glad I could be so useful given I wasn't doing the lifting and steering work. It really is a team effort.

By the end of the session we had all had an awesome time, including our client who was grinning from ear to ear and even heard to chuckle loudly when I sussed out that she was a girl who loved speed and adventure. All of us volunteers got such a thrill out of the experience, and I'm sure the rest of the volunteers helping her out this week will have as much fun as we did.

Later in the week I will be volunteering with a lass with Down Syndrome. I'm looking forward to that.

In the interim, we've had more snow and Treble Cone is scheduled to open tomorrow.

At last!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Road Trip to Dunedin

With almost 3 weeks till opening day at Treble Cone I've a little time on my hands. So rather than spend my time just hanging around Wanaka I decided to go on a tiki tour to Dunedin.

I had planned to visit the Catlins as well, but with so much to see around Dunedin, and the need to be back in Wanaka on Monday to open a new bank account ( I know, a bloody interview FFS!) I decided to explore this southern city and surrounds over 4 days.

I drove down via the Maniototo. I've driven this way before when travelling up from Oamaru last year, but this time I took a slightly different route and then headed south through Middlemarch and Hyde to arrive in Dunedin Wednesday afternoon. Lots of narrow windy roads and thousands of sheep! As I descended from the hills above the city I was mesmerised by how picturesque a city Dunedin is. Sorry I haven't a photo to share, I was driving at the time!

Let me introduce my new steed. I bought this sporty version of a Toyota Corolla from a Taswegian friend a couple of months ago, sight unseen. It might seem a little incautious, but I trusted Emma, and I've met and taken her mother skiing. I knew I wouldn't be buying a lemon, and so far, he's been fine, though I'll probably need new brake pads before the season is out. So many hills!! But he needs a name.....

So, back to Dunedin. Little sister to Christchurch and very much a university town, it has a great vibe. There's a mixture of old stone buildings and utilitarian 50s and 60s eyesores, and a spanking new sports stadium that is just plain ugly. But then rugby isn't meant to be pretty is it? It's more the layout of the city that makes its architecture interesting rather than the buildings themselves. There's the central Octagon with municipal buildings radiating out from it, and some seriously funky laneways. The steep streets and dark alleyways remind me of Edinburgh, which isn't surprising given the strong Scottish link this end of Ao Tea Roa.

And then there's the street art. Hidden down alleys, or spread across huge walls in parking lots, some overlooking major intersections, they are a real delight and worth spending an hour or so wandering around finding them. Photos speak better than words...

A visit to Dunedin isn't complete without visiting a few icons. Number one would have to be the Dunedin Railway Station. Unfortunately the rail line to Christchurch no longer runs a passenger service, although there is a thriving tourist train to Oamaru and Taieri Gorge, both trips I'd love to take one day. The Station itself is quite an architectural statement itself, complete with stained glass windows and tiling.

Next door to the Station is the Otago Settlers Museum, well worth a visit as it chronicles local history from Maori times through British settlement from whalers to farmers and gold miners, through to today. It has one of the best collections of 20th Century gadgets I've seen in a museum for a while. And I was particularly taken with the list of possessions each emigre had to bring with him or her when taking 3 months to sail out to New Zealand from the old country. I've been known to bring half that for a 3 month trip myself!

Leaving the Settlers Museum you turn the corner and there is the Dunedin Chinese Garden. This is  the result of a close collaboration with the city of Shanghai, where the garden was designed and constructed before being shipped and reassembled in Dunedin. It is an authentic Scholar's Garden, similar to those I visited in Suzhou many years ago, though with a little more variety and colour in the plantings. Even in early winter it is spectacular, and for a garden addict like me it's a must see.

Getting out of the city to explore the Otago Peninsula was high on my to do list. The drive out hugs the western coastline and is not only extremely scenic, it is narrow, windy and beggars belief that someone could negotiate it at the legal 70km/hr speed limit. I stuck to a much more comfortable 50. Plus I'm looking after those brake pads....

I wanted to combine a bit of rigorous exercise with some sightseeing and a little wildlife encounter, so decided to tackle some walks from Sandymount, approximately half way along the peninsula on the eastern side. This required driving on some dirt roads up and down hills and valleys to a glorious parking spot overlooking Hoopers Inlet and Allans Beach. It's hard to go anywhere in NZ without encountering drop dead gorgeous scenery.

From the carpark the muddy track entered a stand of macrocarpa (big ugly pine trees), past a shed, and then onto open land above cliffs. Green grass dotted with the ubiquitous NZ fluffy sheep.

There was a detour to The Chasm. I wasn't daring enough to lean right out over the railing to see the very bottom of the huge split in the cliff face, but apparently there is water at the bottom. Next along the track was Lovers Leap, another geological formation in the cliffs below. This one looked inviting but there was no obvious track down to it, so the only choice was to continue following the peg line along the cliff top to where it joined the path back to the summit of Sandymount and the carpark.

But that wasn't strenuous enough a walk, so I continued straight ahead for the path down to Sandfly Beach. And the operative word here is down. A sandhill. A very big steep sandhill. Of course it was a breeze, but I knew the return trip wouldn't be quite so easy.

Down on the beach were a number of Hookers Sea lions sun bathing. Mostly they just ignored me and I kept my distance whilst walking the length of the beach and back. I was blessed with glorious warm sunny weather, with only a slight icy breeze.

And then I tackled the sand dune. I'm not sure how high it was but I'd hazard it was at least a 200m climb up damp sand. Without a heavy backpack it was actually quite easy. After tackling the dunes of the south coast of WA this dune might have been steep but it was a whole lot easier than dry slippery sand. Plus it was only one dune, not multiple ones...or I'm a lot fitter than I thought I was.

Another day and another outing, this time north of Dunedin to Aramoana, along yet another windy road hugging the coastline. Out at the end of the road it was blowing a veritable gale, but rugged up in my jacket and beanie it was a very enjoyable stroll up an empty beach under huge cliffs. Really, do yourself a favour and come visit NZ, it is beyond beautiful.

Well that's it. After 3 days and 4 nights I drove back to Wanaka to sort out a bank account and maybe find a job. A big shout out to Sue and Graham for letting me stay at their Dunedin house whilst they were away on the Gold Coast. I reckon they deserve a little treat from me when they get to Wanaka for the ski season. It's certainly cold enough to crack out the sticky date pudding.....

It would be nice if it started snowing though....