Monday, September 24, 2012

Goddess blues

This year I think I can stop smirking when I use the goddess sobriquet, because I'm actually getting to a point where I can ski with something bordering on style. I'm pretty hard on myself, I know, but many hours on the mountain this winter has meant that I have made a massive progression in my skiing ability and can now knock off quite a few items on the bucket list:

1. I don't have jelly legs by noon. Mainly because I head down early for lunch, ha ha!! That doesn't mean I haven't had moments of massive thigh burn and pure exhaustion, only now it's because I'm spending most of my time off piste. To think I used to get exhausted piste skiing!!

2. I went heli-skiing! Not sure whether I mentioned this already but it was a blast! I get why people want to pay exorbitant amounts of money to ski their own fresh lines all day, but I'm unsure whether I could take all those knife edge landings. Stay tuned for the video footage...

3. Feeling comfortable off piste. Yes, I nailed this little demon this year. I tried a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT for short, go on, google it!) and even though it looks like the biggest piece of mumbo jumbo quackery, it seriously works! I no longer have an incapacitating fear that stops me launching myself into the void. I'm by no means fearless, but I'm now going places I never went before. By myself, without someone else egging me on! My final run at TC was Gunbarrel, top to bottom, and yes, I started at Upper Gunbarrel, which is one of the steepest, narrowest runs on the mountain. Then I headed to Ohau and Mt Hutt on my way up to Christchurch, and spent most of my time at both locations trying to find freshlines and pockets of pow. Yep, I'm now a confident skier.

4. I skied Cloud Nine top to bottom in one go. This is a big one for me because it was on Cloud Nine that I broke my arm 2 years ago, on my first day on new skis. I think it's also poignant that I was scooting down Cloud Nine last week on my new skis that I just recently bought (which, BTW, do make off piste skiing somewhat easier), but the other reason this is on my bucket list is that it's quite a long off piste run, and my fitness was up to the task. Burning thighs by the time I got down to the quad chair though....

5. I climbed the summit, and skied down. Not once, but four times. I could have done it a few more times, but that walk is tough, man! I didn't however, go over to the igloo, which someone built up there this year. Oh well...

6. I skiied Matukituki Basin. It was thick pow, and it wasn't particularly pretty, and I needed a deal of encouragement from Heidi, my ski instructor, but I did it. Maybe next year I'll make it down Motatupu Chutes!

7. I now ski more by feel. Rather than just look at a run, I now understand the differences in snow quality, and where to find those nice pockets of pow or creamy corn to turn in. I know the difference between icy, firm and crusty snow, and how to ski each type of surface. And I'm able to pick my lines as a result. Only watch out for that Jay ratpack when you think you've found yourself a quiet little soft line, they come scooting through like a bunch of magpies and put me right off my game!!

So what's next? Well first it's home to Oz, to visit mum, Matt and family in Canberra for a week, before heading back across to the west and home to dear Hazel, who has been hanging with the Bradleys while I've been away. All reports say she's looking good, and Demi assures me she's not missing me too much. I'm looking forward to having some quality time at home with her, doing some landscaping chores before heading north to Gnarloo for some wavesailing action. Oh, and I'm so going to try out that EFT on my forward loop impasse!!

Then next year, I'm going to go to Japan. Just for a week or so, but it's about time I got to ski in real powder. And what with my new skis - did I mention I bought new skis? - I'm all ready. 

Sitting at Christchurch Airport, I'm reviewing my last two months and all the wonderful people I've met, the great skiing I've done, and the beautiful country in which I've been. I'm really sad to leave, because this year really has been a watershed for me. I've cracked the envelope on my skiing ability, so that I now really enjoy it, rather than it just be a sport I wanted to be good at. Yes, there's a difference. Before, I strived to get better but was limited by fear. Now I can truly say I love skiing. But mostly I'm sad because I'm going to miss the people I met. Especially the hostel crowd, younger than me by a good 20 years or more, but who totally accepted me, travelled, skiied, boarded and partied with me. It taught me that ageism only exists in your own mind, if you are young at heart, then people miles younger than you will enjoy and seek out your company. It's not about being childish and irresponsible, in fact many of them appreciated being able to talk to an older, "wiser" (ha ha!) person, sometimes about quite personal stuff. Kind of a bit of a mother figure to a bunch of people a long way from home. Or as Michelle called me: Mother Bear!! I'm sure gonna miss everyone, thank goodness we have Facebook!

The locals I know in Wanaka really made my trip this year too. With most of the hostel crowd skiing and boarding at Cardies and Snow Park it was great to have friends to ski and lunch with, or enjoy a beer on the sunny verandah at the end of the day. Apres ski drinkies, pot luck dinners watching the rugby, managing to sell my old skis in record time, thanks guys!!

And one more thing, I'm just a little over Sticky Date Pudding for the time being.........

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hostel life in Wanaka

For the past few weeks my temporary home has been at Wanaka Bakpaka, a hostel set on the hill above the lake, with commanding views of the water, a great kitchen and a huge common area where everyone gets to know each other and great friendships develop. Being my third year at this hostel it really does feel like a homecoming when I arrive and the staff know me. When Hannah came to work at the weekend I got a big welcome hug as well!
For the bargain price of $25 per night I get to sleep in a four bed dorm with its own bathroom. My roomies have mostly been long stayers like myself, which means we haven't been moved around to fill in spare spaces, and have all got used to each others movement patterns, waking times and late night habits. Including going out together for a few drinks from time to time. I felt for the poor lass in the fourth bed when we all arrived home one night so drunk none of us could walk straight, all stumbled into bed at separate times, used the toilet numerous times and probably snored loudly all night!

This year has been my most enjoyable so far, because the crew here at the hostel have been such a great bunch of people to hang out with. From getting hopelessly lost in the maze at Puzzling World to drinking far too many Jagerbombs, from roast dinners and sticky date pudding fests to skiing and boarding with crew at both Treble Cone and Cardrona. Who can forget Phil serenading us every night on his ukelele with his beautiful singing that brought more than one girl here to tears. Michelle with her insatiable need to do something fun brought us hours of entertainment with the balance board and hoola hoops. We're all becoming experts on the balance board (a skateboard deck balanced on a full plastic drink bottle), yesterday morning I read the paper at the same time... 

Cooking, and baking in particular, is a real specialty at this hostel. With a fabulously well equipped kitchen you just can't help but indulge in culinary experiments. Marieke bakes bread, Yuri makes yoghurt, and the hoards of young Japanese snowboarders cook the most amazing meals each day. That kitchen sure gets well used. I repeated the roast lamb dinner again this year, with the addition of the now famous sticky date pudding. As usual, the SDP went down a treat and I cooked it again to celebrate Tina's birthday and to farewell Phil. Liz, one of the hostel owners, has been educating us with supposedly Kiwi specialties, like Pavlova, Lamingtons, Anzac biscuits and Afghans. Unsure the kiwis got there first on the first three though, bit of cross Tasman rivalry to be sure.
Evenings are spent sitting around talking about our days, viewing photos and footage people have shot. There's a team of snow kiters staying here at present, who kite up to the top of mountains and then freeboard down. Talk about amazing. Check out this video. Then there's the various national teams competing in competitions, predominantly freestyle, slopestyle and halfpipe. In fact some of the people staying here are internationally famous in their field, not that I know who they are, they're all just normal down to earth people without enough sponsorship to stay somewhere more posh.
Some people seem to think staying in a hostel isn't for them, especially the idea of sharing a room with strangers. But those strangers quickly become friends, and most hostel users are actually very considerate of others. What you give up in not having your own room to sleep in (actually singles and doubles are available), you gain by meeting a whole group of people who share your own passions for travel, skiing and boarding. You never feel lonely in a hostel. But then again, this hostel isn't just any old hostel, it's different. It has a homeliness that keeps people coming back. It doesn't court the tour group market, instead relying on word of mouth and return customers like myself. And given the hostel has been booked solid for the last month, it works!

I've a few more weeks before I leave, but from now on more of the winter ski and board crowd will be leaving and many tears will be shed. I'm going to miss every one of the new friends I've made this winter. Thank goodness for Facebook!!

Thanks to Yuri for the photos BTW